Adverbs Aren’t Evil

Posted: February 20, 2016 in Uncategorized
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Adverbs aren’t evil; said isn’t dead
Please stop hitting the wall with your head

Active is grand but not always the best
Sometimes it’s passive that passes the test

Some write with style, others write plain
Let’s all agree that writing’s a pain

The ‘rules’ can be broken, twisted, or bent
All that matters is that you are content

Make your own story and write your own way
This has been a writer’s PSA

In the past four years of writing, I’ve learned a lot of things through stupid mistakes. Really stupid mistakes…

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Mistakes that made fanfiction of Twilight written by fourteen year olds look good…

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Man, I wrote some really dumb stuff. But! All of those idiocies and rampaging monstrosities helped shape me into the writer I am now. I hope to have a few post like these where I can help others learn from my mistakes. Here is the first piece of advice that I wish I could give to my younger self.

Experiment on a small scale

I cannot emphasize enough how important this is for a new writer. Do not set out to write a ten book epic fantasy on your first try. Do not type out your first words when they’re burdened with the thoughts of dozens or even hundreds of characters. Though the ambition is fantastic, trying to juggle something of that scale when you’re unfamiliar with pacing and POV and plot structure and character arcs (and about a million other things) will backfire on the writer nearly every time. At LTUE and Comic Con and all these conventions I’ve gone to, I run into a ton of budding writers with a lot of potential that very rarely make any progress from one year to the next because they bit off more than they could chew.

Think of it like a Mythbusters experiment.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the show, the mythbusters takes myths and legends and folktales and try to see whether or not it could be even possible. But before they do anything grand (or use C4 for that matter), they always map everything out and try it in a small scale first. It’s fantastic to have grand ideas but grand ideas deserve good writers and the truth is that new writers are almost always bad. I know I was.

Short stories can help a writer understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie. For example:

– Do you prefer first or third person narrative?

– Will you restrict a story to one person’s head or have multiple view points?

– Present or past tense?

– What kind of plot structure? [There’s the seven basic plots. The Monomyth or ‘hero’s journey.’ Dan Wells’ seven point plot structure, etc.]

– Do you plot your story ahead of time? [Architect] Or do you prefer to let your story grow on its own? [Gardener]

– How do you create the atmosphere of a different time or place without info-dumping?

I could literally keep going for hours but I think you get my point. Not only will writing small-scale stories help answer some of these questions and guide you to a more comfortable writing style, but in the time it takes you to write one novel, you can explore a whole lot more in a series of short stories or single chapters.
If I could go back, I would’ve done a lot more writing exercises instead of obsessing on my imagined series.

– Write the last chapter of a book.

– Write a story from both the hero’s and villain’s perspectives and make them both sympathetic. Then make them both evil.

– Write in a perspective that you’re not familiar with, or champion a character with the opposite moral values of your own.

– Write a short story without using the words ‘could’ or ‘had’ or ‘was.’

– Write a conversation between three people without ever using dialogue tags so that their only distinction is their slang and accent and whatever quirks you give them.

– Write about something wacky falling from the sky.

– Write about random things around your desk that come to life.

– Write your own death scene.

Just write! Large projects are tough to muscle through because it can feel like you’re never going to make it to the end. Even if you do stick it out, writing a book can take years. But a short story might take a week, maybe even less than a day. By spending your first year as writer on these types prompts and ideas, you can strengthen your writer muscles. You can be prepared for the burdens and questions and struggles it takes to write a fully fledged novel.

The great news is that you can get writing prompts all over the place! Like Reddit. Or Writer’s Digest. Or pretty much anywhere online.

Anyway! That’s enough from me for today. As always, good luck!

sherlock _ I love you

Editing (in gifs)

Posted: October 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
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A while back I did something like this about writing. Right now I am neck deep in editing four different manuscripts and I felt like it was time for another one.

Inexperienced authors (aka ME four years ago) often think that writing a first draft is the hardest part. And yeah, it can be difficult: you need a solid plot, interesting characters, a background that fits but doesn’t distract from the rest of the book, subplots that make sense without drowning the main story, etc. But I’ve come to believe that editing, whether it’s self-editing or editing someone else’s work, is where a writer really does all their heavy lifting.

Let’s start out with a bit of stretching first.

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[The armor is important to protect against emotional wreckage and brain damage from terrible first drafts.]

I’m going to start with self-editing because it’s always a good idea to look over your draft before sending it to editors/writing group. 

Self-editing can be particularly hard because you start off knowing what the story is SUPPOSED to be like.

You know your characters intimately.

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You’ve spent months, maybe even years (sometimes decades) building an intricate world and story.

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And then you look it over, still on the high of having hit “The End” but instead of feeling good, this happens:

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And this.

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Going through the manuscript and pulling away to see the big picture leads to a very surreal dichotomy.

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[That one action scene is just as awesome as you pictured it, but the main character comes across as flat or stereotypical. That one brilliant plot twist you thought of in the shower fits but you forgot to add in the foreshadowing and now you’ve got to somehow work it all in. I once forgot a secondary character so I killed him instead of trying to rewrite the book.]

The killing blows are when you realize that you need to cut out your favorite scene/character/line in the book.

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And your characters’ emotions spike all over the place because your wrote the scenes four months apart but for the character it was only one day so they go from this:

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To this:

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And back to this:

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All in the space of a couple hours and as the writer, you just want to smack them upside their heads and yell.

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And sometimes you’ll be reading your own book and be all, “Wait. Why didn’t they just do ____?” or “How did [Character B] know that?” etc.

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Even if you’ve got the big problems worked out, you keep finding typos and minor inconsistencies even on your tenth read through.

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And by the end of the process, you feel like this:


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And you start talking to everyone within reach about all the possibilities and struggles you’re having.

going crazy and taking you with me

And that doesn’t even cover the constant battle of show vs. tell. The struggle over choosing what you love in a book or what actually WORKS for a book. Cutting out redundant characters or even adding in new ones. Going through stiff dialogue. [Honesty time: I once had a villain say “Oh, it’s a trap all right.” in a first draft. I still cringe when I think about it.] Trying to convey all the details of a world without info dumps. Etc. But it’s time to move on to another subtopic.

 

Editing someone else—whether for a writing group or professionally.  

Getting the manuscript and looking it over for the first time: 

They open up with a fifteen page synopsis of everything that’s happened in their world for the past thousand years. Or starting out with an semi-preachy essay about the ‘true meaning of fear’ with vague hints to how this will unfold in the book.

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A character starts randomly talking about things that have nothing to do with the scene.

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Or better yet, a random person shows up and there is NO context for who they are/why they’re important.

and you are

And you start having all sorts of internal debates. Is there character flat on purpose or are they written poorly? Is this supposed to be a Harry Potter imitation or is it seriously a coincidence that the heroic trio feature a dark-haired boy with glasses, a ginger, and a book smart girl?

And their characters have really strange emotional arks or moments. Like having a teenage girl go on for five pages about clothes while her house burns down. Instead of, I don’t know, worrying about her life. Or her family. Or her life.

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Or they have a reformed villain who is instantly forgiven because they had ‘reasons’ for his killings.

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And the authors will spend three chapters with their characters relaxing by the ocean before their big battle but has the battle itself summarized in a paragraph.

youve got to be kidding me disappointed

On the smaller scale, you’ve got long and awkward sentences to weed through.

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And they love using certain words all the time.

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[I hate it when people misuse the word decimate.]

After weeks to months of editing, you finally get to meet them in person and talk things over: 

It can get really hard to stay professional at these times. Try and adapt a poker face if you’re bad at diplomatic answers.

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[I will not rant about how bad it was, I will not rant about how bad it was, I will not rant…]

Because most of the time, when you tell them about a major plot hole or something that literally CANNOT happen by the laws of physics:

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Their response:

loki _ why not

Or even worse:

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Or the most common reaction of all:

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And if they DO recognize that something needs to be edited (it is crucial to realize that early and middle drafts will always suck), when you try and offer suggestions on how the fix the plot holes, they’ll sometimes blow you off with some nonsense about it being too complicated to explain.

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But you know they’re lying.

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And after an hour or so [my longest editing session was seven hours], they’ll often start losing their temper.

Which sucks for both of you because you’re honestly just trying to help. And you both wind up like this:

dean spn internally screaming

But it can be really interesting to see what they do in their consequential drafts. Even if they completely ignored your feedback…

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But at the end of the process, it’s still THEIR book and all you can do is let it go and say,

I really hope youre happy

 

Being edited: 

I can not stress enough how important it is to have others look at your work. Heartbreaking at times, it is crucial if you want to grow into a good author.  I would recommend letting your story sit for a few months and you giving it a good once over before sending it out to others.

When you first start out, your confidence tends to be fairly high. You think you’ve got all the major kinks out and you’ve been around the block.

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But then someone picks on an inconsistent detail or two and it starts to unravel the whole story.

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The biggest obstacle, of course, is the emotional stress.
Even if you’re a consummate professional, when people rip apart your work, you feel like this on the outside:

editing feels

But have to act like this:

thank you for your cooperation

While your editors act like this:

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[Don’t cry on the couch; it’s new.]

Or they might even act like this:

editing sympathy

And you just kinda sit there:

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And that’s if you’re LUCKY.

Since professional editors can be extremely expensive, especially for young/new authors, writing groups made of other writers are a good idea.
… assuming they actually contribute. Despite how hard it can be to see your baby ripped apart, it’s a lot worse when no one gives you anything to work with.

More often than not, people in your writing group will show up like this.

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But they’ll still expect you to give them feedback.

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And you’re left with questions in your head like “Do these character’s interactions feel realistic?” “Was the twist too obvious?” “Were the antagonist’s motivations clear?”
But no answers.

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Or the ever vague, “Yeah, it was great.”

cant I say anything reaction
spn not amused

 

In a nutshell, editing in hard. Either on the giving or receiving end, it can be a very emotional process. The first time I was in an editing group was particularly hard. I was nineteen, it was the first time I’d ever written an original story (apx 10,000 words) and my entire creative writing class read it. When people started saying how bad and cliche some of the lines were, how typical the setting was, I felt personally attacked. [To be fair, my writing back then was pretty bad…] It took years of forcing myself to be edited by both friends and strangers until I became semi-comfortable with the process.
The frustration, however, doesn’t go away.

A final pointer. When you receive edits, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to follow through on any of them. You, the creator, will always know your characters/world/plot best. The trick is figuring out which parts of your story are actually worth keeping and separating them out from the parts of the story you want to keep just because you like them.

 

I wish you all luck in your editing endeavors!

have a good day

 

 

Recently, I entered into the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge. My prompt was Horror/Lumber Yard/Puppy. I had 24 hours and under 1,000 words. With confirmation from them, I can finally share the story with the internet!

Short stories isn’t my forte. In my first creative writing class when I was supposed to write a short story, I ended up with something about 13,000 words long. Most all attempts at writing flash fiction since then have ended up a similar length so this was a really good challenge for me. As a writer, it’s important to try things you’re not familiar with. Write poetry, write short stories, write stand alone novels, write sweeping series. Stretch into genres you don’t normally tread into. Even if that cowboy time traveling romance doesn’t work out, writing is never really wasted. Maybe you’ll have a character you fall in love with and use again in another story. Maybe you’ll learn a new technique about how to ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ action. Maybe it’ll just be one line of dialogue that really stands out. Either way, writing does not go to waste. So try new things and don’t be afraid to be bold!

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I’m lucky enough to have an awesome brother, Dave Butler, who also happens to be a fiction writer. He dabbles in all sorts of speculative fiction including Mormon Steampunk, YA Dystopian, and epicly high-action dark fantasy. He tweets @DavidJohnButler. Dave was the one who graciously invited me to be involved in this bloghop. Thanks, Dave! 

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A bloghop is a chain of interconnected posts across different blogs. The bloghop comes with an explanatory quote:

We writers share these things, but informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook…

It even came with some questions! 

1) What am I working on? 

I’ve got one main project coming to a head with a few new stories on the horizon. Right now, my Sonya Fletcher serial is my top priority as I’m polishing up the third episode. Sonya’s dreams become more unsettling as her powers begin to advance out of her control. West strikes up a romance with her but Sonya’s lies are becoming harder to keep track of as she starts to crack under the strain of her new reality. Damian watches from the rafters while playing puppet master with the other Hunters’ lives. As for Michael, killing off Claire has left a power vacuum in the Vampire hierarchy. If he doesn’t rise to the challenge, his isn’t the only life that will end. 

Upcoming attractions include a short story about bounty hunters in space, a stand alone epic fantasy about assassinating an emperor hellbent on destroying magic, a short story with Lovecraftian roots, Sonya 4, etc. 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

I suppose that depends on which genre you would label Sonya as. (I’ve heard people call it Horror, Dark Fantasy, Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, Mystery, etc.) For starters, my protagonist is in her early twenties instead of the typical teenager so often seen in books with Vampires. My books have a good balance of intrigue, action, and humor. While I might want the reader to fear for the characters’ safety from time to time, I also want them to laugh once and a while. Despite monsters abounding everywhere, I try to keep my fights (and the resulting injuries) fairly realistic. And last but not least, Sonya isn’t the Chosen One born to save humanity but rather becomes the catalyst for it’s destruction: more Hellboy, less Harry Potter. 

3) Why do I write what I do? 

I’ve always liked the sentiment that a writer should create a book that they’d want to read. The stories that always drew me in the most growing up were ones with rich characters that made my heart ache for them. I love characters who simply refuse to back down, who start small but grow into titans. I love adventure and romance and struggle and triumph through the blood, sweat, and tears of those who would stand up to the face of evil whatever the cost. Plus, writing speculative fiction is just straight out fun. Robots, time-travel, magic, spaceships, human-hybrids: there’s an infinity of possibilities to explore. 

4) How does my writing process work? 

It usually starts with a simple idea. eg: How fun would it be to write a Vampire parody? With that simple idea, not even a plot, I start building my characters. Physical appearance, psychological profile, family history, personal history. The more I flush out a character and get to know them, the easier it becomes to predict what they would do in any given setting. Once I’ve got about five or six main characters, I’ll flush out their timelines. I always go backwards, from the start of the book to everything that happened before page one. During this time, I’ll start having vivid scenes popping into my head about these characters interacting. Setting these scene into a sort of word-map, I connect them together to build up a plot. Stage one, complete. With this hodge-podge of an outline, I start on page one and write a full draft all the way through. By the time I finish, I’ve usually scrapped all the early scenes because they no longer fit. But it’s worth it because I know my story has improved with each bit of excess I cut away.

My daily writing process is much simpler: sit at computer, stare at screen, bash head against keyboard until 2,000 words come out. Caffeinate. Repeat. 

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That’s enough about me. Time to keep this bloghop going! 

McKelle George writes both speculative fiction and exciting re-tellings of Shakespeare’s plays. On top of being an amazing writer, she also works as an editor at Jolly Fish Press. Her first book is a YA adventure in the land of Dreams and Nightmares as young Violet must help the prince of Nightmares save his kingdom. She has several other novels out with agents and I highly recommend checking her out for more about that! You can also follow her on twitter @McKelleGeorge

Sarah Seeley is an extremely talented young lady who has penned multiple short stories for several different anthologies, has written a short orc love story, an incredibly twisted vampire novel, as well as some pretty awesome stories about genetic diseases and human mutations. With a degree in geology and her heart dedicated to paleontology, she’s got one eye on the ancient past and another to the future of fiction. Her twitter is @SarahESeeley

Angie Lofthouse has the rare talent of being able to blend science fiction with religion in a world setting where both build upon each other. On top of that, her novels are fast-paced, gripping and yet clean enough that most of the family would be able to enjoy one. Her love of science can be traced back to her early intentions of being a particle physicist before falling in love with fiction. She’s published short stories in numerous magazines and anthologies and can be followed on twitter: @angielofthouse

Check them out! They’re awesome! 

 

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I’ve touched on originality before in my LTUE report but wanted to go more in-depth. Examples. Pictures. Fun stuff. 

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“Originality” is tricky. It’s essentially impossible to have a purely original story, and if someone managed to pull it off, it would probably be a story so weird and strange that nobody would like it. As human beings, we love familiarity. And yet, editors/agents/publishers will often say how they want something “new” or “fresh”. And yes, they might even use the word “original”. But it’s really creativity that send those shivering sparks down our spines when we read something that feels new and exciting. 

While you can have plot twists or settings that set a book above others, I believe that creativity shines through the details. A well-known example of this is Harry Potter. The plot to Harry Potter is not “original”. There were dozens of novels and series about a gifted child sent to a special academy where the kid grows into the savior of their generation. Charlie BonePercy Jackson, etc. What really set HP at the forefront of its competitors was the details of the world. She didn’t just make the school, she made up an economical system, fashion, transportation, sports, entertainment, etc. Chess -> Wizard chess. Latin -> Language of magic. Penny/Shilling/Pound -> Knut/Sickle/Galleon. She took every-day experiences and items and shifted it just enough to make it different. 

 Another good example of this is Once Upon a Nightmare by my friend and fellow author, McKelle George

This awesome book is about how Nightmares and Dreams are real, living entities which enter our minds while we sleep, living off our fears and joys. The Prince of Nightmares, the literal Fear of Hell is trapped inside young Violet’s head. Adventures and dangers ensue as things go from bad to worse. Nightmares and Dreams being real–cool, but not “original.” A young girl dragged into a fantastical world as she strives to save both herself and those around her. Awesome, but not “original.” But the details in this story are amazing. Ever read about a hellish version of Candyland where a demonic Lord Licorice tries to kill you? No? Well, this book has it, and it’s awesome and fun and extremely creative. How about finding out the guy you’re crushing on is a Night Terror? Or watching the embodiment of the Fear of Hell fight Dreams with fire? Sound awesome? It is. McKelle George took a good and solid outline and fleshed it out with a lot of details to give her story life. 

A third example is the serial Rock Band Fights Evil

This series is about a group of damned men fighting the powers of hell to win back their souls. Not exactly “original”, right? Try this on for size: Eddie sold his soul and wished to be the best rock player ever. Of course, he forgot to specify guitar in there and gains the awesome skill of being the best tambourine player in the world. Sounds awesome, right? How about Satan’s son? There’s a lot of literary versions of him walking around. Well, in here, Jim just wants to be left alone and so keeps a vow of silence so the Hellhounds can’t find him. He can only sing because music is a gift from the angels. Throw in a shape-shifting fairy unicorn man/woman entity named Twitch, a powerful wizard with a horribly inconvenient case of narcolepsy and this rag-tag teams overflows with creative details that set this book apart from a lot of dark fantasy books out there. Oh, and there’s lots of guns and explosions and awesomeness. 

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(That is genuinely how you will feel if you read it)

Ideas are cheap and easy. In fact, it’s probably the easiest part of writing a book. A good (albeit painful) way to ensure your stories retain creativity is to scrap your first two plot/character/event ideas and keep going. For this, I’ll use my own Sonya Fletcher serial as an example.

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When I started writing the series back a few years ago, it was started out as a parody on Vampires with Michael as the main character. Sonya was a last-minute addition because I wanted a character half human/half monster. It was fun, but nothing new. Not really that creative either. Turns out, there are TONS of Vampire books all over the place. Looking over what I had written, I knew the characters were good enough to make a great story. So I went to the drawing board and approached the characters I had made in a more serious light. When I flushed out Sonya’s background and personality, it hit me that her story was a lot more intriguing (sorry, Michael). With her in the center stage, everything else shifted. Instead of a spoof, I had this weird action/thriller/horror/comedy/mystery adventure with a lot of monsters thrown in. With Sonya herself, I went through a multitude of ideas for her parentage. At first, her father was an archangel. I quickly tossed that. Angel of Death? No. I wanted monsters, not demons. But the Death idea stuck. Daughter of the fourth horseman? Now that sounded cool. Still not “original” in many ways but with that idea in mind, everything else fell into place and unique details began to build through the cracks of my abandoned plots. Adam Frankenstein running the monster underworld of Canada. A human linking souls with a Vampire–both of them wanting to kill the other, etc. 

In short, don’t hold back. When I first started writing, I was always worried if my ideas were too silly or stupid. Maybe they were. But, so what? I can promise that it’s a lot more fun working on something that’s crazy and sort of out there. And if you have fun writing it, chances are someone will have fun reading it!

When it comes to writing (and life):

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Go forth and write! 

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New Possible Book

Posted: March 29, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

As I haven’t uploaded anything in a while so here are the first couple pages of a new epic fantasy novel I’ve been mulling over as I’ve been hacking out Sonya #3.  In case it copied strangely, I included the document link at the end.


 

There was nothing Kaiden hated more than a stubbed toe. Not scrounging for food in the Cavick slums. Not freezing in the Varrys Mountains. Not even the man who was going to cut off his head.

Kaiden shook out his injured foot as the cloaked mass pushed him down, pressing Kaiden’s neck against the blood soaked groove. Kaiden inched around and winked at the executioner—only his eyes showed through the dark blue of the Tavish military uniform. The man kicked Kaiden’s ribs in response. The growing crowd, dressed in the vibrancy of wealth, cheered as his neck was latched into place.

You try to be friendly, Kaiden thought as he tugged against the ropes that bound his wrists. The harsh material bit into his skin and made it burn.

“Kaiden Mallis,” read an elderly, bent-backed man from a scroll that had seen better days. “You have been found guilty of theft, insubordination, murder, and treason. For these trespasses as well as your participation in war crimes with the enemy, the only sentence is death. Lord Weaver, in his mercy, has granted you the privilege of the quick death you did not give to those you betrayed.”

The seething mass in front of him angered towards a riot. He looked up in time to see a rock the size of a child’s fist hurtling towards his face. Jerking to one side as much as his binds allowed made the stone strike his cheek instead of cracking his skull. Blood slid down his face from the cut.

Apparently, spoiled nobles had good aim.

He’d learned a long time ago that slums were better for the stocks—more rotten fruit. Anything that could be used as a weapon or tool was too valuable to waste on the likes of him.

“Traitor!” a woman yelled. “Kill him.”

Traitor. He’d been carrying around that title for a while now. A twisted truth. Worse than a lie. Not that anyone here would be interested in something like the truth. They had more important things to worry about.

The announcer placated the crowd with soothing gestures of his warped hands. Kaiden scoffed at the arrogance in the old man’s face and wondered if it was money or brute force that had earned the silence of the others.

“Wait,” Kaiden licked his cracked lips, searching the crowd for his contact. “Don’t I get to have some last words?”

Another kick to the side.

He’d met the woman only once before his sham of a trial. Tall and slender—as was typical of her race—she’d offered freedom in exchange for what she had called ‘his unique services’.

Cold metal threatened the back of his neck as the executioner judged his placement.

He was starting to regret not signing on. The woman had promised she’d speak to him again before the end, give him one last chance to reconsider, but like most oaths, her words had been empty. And what right did he have to expect so much of a stranger when his own men—the few who’d survived the massacre—wouldn’t support his claims?

The weight lifted off his neck as the executioner prepared for the final swing of his ax.

Kaiden closed his eyes.

“Will you accept my offer now?”

Kaiden surveyed the people below his platform. Their hard eyes called for his blood. When he heard the question again, quiet and rough, he wondered if the whole thing was in his own head.

“Get on with it!” the reader ordered, his calm mask cracking.

“Choose,” the voice urged. Could no one hear it but him? “Now.”

“I’d like to stay in one piece for a bit longer,” he muttered.

Kaiden heard the rush of wind as the ax cut the air. He scrunched his eyes, hoping he didn’t have too ridiculous an expression as he died.

 

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