The Tower of Storms: Part 2

Read part 1 here!

Baird balked and turned on the spot, sprinting for the stairs, throwing himself down them three at a time. Like a clattering juggernaut, Baird hit the ground floor and rounded on Frenzy, sliding to a halt. Someone in a long, dark hooded cloak was softly patting the horse’s nose with one hand and feeding him a carrot with the other. The figure was startled and turned to him, dropping the carrot. An unperturbed Frenzy casually bent his neck down and retrieved it. Baird’s heart was doing triple time. He had finally seen his legendary adversary. It was a little underwhelming.

The sorcerer appeared to be a young man, about Baird’s age, slight and porcelain. He also appeared to be terrified, quivering like a rabbit. His eyes moved from Baird’s face to his chest and back again. Baird grinned deeply – the sorcerer must have recognised one of his protective sigils, one that was effective. His work had paid off.

“At last,” Baird said, deepening his voice to sound grand. “You, vile sorcerer, shall finally meet your e- HEY!”

The sorcerer raised his hands with a flourish and within the space of a second he disappeared from toes to head, as though he were a rapidly drawn up blind. Baird cursed and stomped his armoured foot. Frenzy shrugged.

“Bastard! Coward!” he spat. “I’ll find him Frenzy and I’ll kill him! You see his face?” He frowned, remembering sorcerer’s visage, and shook his head. “ONE of these trinkets works and HE knows it!”

Frenzy blinked.

“I just… Why did he give you a carrot?” Baird’s eyes went wide. He rushed to Frenzy’s side. “Was it poisoned? How do you feel?”

Frenzy blinked again, thinking he’d be a lot better if this idiot went and did his job so they could both go home.

Baird spent another anxious minute with the horse but it seemed more irritated by his fretting than it did sick so he resumed his climb of the tower. The first three floors were much of the same. The five after were simply deserted rather than derelict. There was nothing except a thin layer of dust across the hauntingly empty floors. The tenth flight of stairs took him to one that was both the same and different. Utterly deserted like its predecessors but absolutely spotless. The faultlessly clean windows meant that this floor was brighter than the others, only accentuating the difference. The floor glistened, pale stone marbled with blue tendrils. Baird’s steps echoed gently as he approached a window. The weather was fierce as always, battering against the glass and howling like a league of wounded animals. He had never been so high up but couldn’t see far before everything turned into dark grey haze.

Before today is through, he thought with conviction, I will stand at this window and see all the way to the Glen. So distracted Baird was by his fervour that he didn’t realise he was looking in the exact opposite direction to Glen Feen.

He continued to scale the endless supply of steps past many more pristine and empty floors until something was different again. A soft blue light came from the top of the next staircase. He carefully unsheathed his sword. With renewed caution, he carried on upward.

As he ascended the last steps, a large glass sarcophagus came into view alone in the centre of the room. He paced closer. Azure light radiated from it, soothing and peaceful. Inside lay an immaculate woman. The tint on her lips and the darkness around her eyes added to the unnatural stillness telling Baird she truly was dead. The faint thrum of magic was present. Preserving her, Baird guessed. He wondered if it was grief fuelling the sorcerer’s torment of the land and scowled at the thought. No good woman would want such suffering in her name.

He glared at the next set of stairs. He must be getting close now. The sorcerer clearly wanted her near him. He stepped past the coffin and started upwards again. Nearing the last steps, he rose up into a room so lavish it could have belonged to the Duke. Everything was rich, dyed and velvet. There was a creak above Baird and he looked up to see a bundle of extravagant furniture suspended over his head. Then drop. He dove forward onto the thick, spongy carpet, rolling and springing back to his feet. The furniture clattered against the stairs.

“Why aren’t you dead?” came a voice, deep and menacing.

Baird spun to face the sorcerer. “Ah-HA- …ah.”

The man before him was more than double the age of the one he’d seen before, with a long, greying beard and the trappings of an especially vain king, all jewels and finery.

“Give me some credit,” he said. “You’ll need more than a sofa to-“

A low coffee table shunted toward him, straight into back of Baird’s knees. His limbs flailed as he sprawled across the carpet. The man—the sorcerer?—sighed. “Just another fool with a sword.”

Baird raised his chin and sneered. “Not quite.”

He yanked one of the glass bulbs from his belt and hurled it at the sorcerer. There was a soft ‘thwp’ sound as it collided with the sorcerer’s glorious crimson robe and again as it impotently dropped to the carpet. The sorcerer raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him and Baird grinned before burrowing his face in the soft pile, covering his head with his hands.

The bulb exploded, showering the room in tiny shards of glass which tinkled against Baird’s armour. The sorcerer wailed and yellow streaks of wild magic crackled around the room. Shelves were sheared in two and cushions exploded in puffs of feather down. Baird sprang to his feet, darting for the only exit – the stairs leading up. He shot up onto a floor like the last but partitioned. Furious, uncontrolled magic followed him so he carried on, ignoring the separate rooms to his sides and running for the next set of stairs. He needed just a moment to compose himself.

With far less bounds than there were stairs, Baird was at the top of the next flight with his back pressed against the wall, breathing hard. It wasn’t the extravagant bedroom Baird was expecting. Before him was a latticework of cages, dark and shadowy with boarded up windows. It stank the foul, foetid stench of death, stinging at Baird’s nostrils. Some of the cages had skeletons or badly decomposing bodies. Some wore armour Baird recognised.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” said a small, shaky voice. Baird caught sight of the younger sorcerer. He looked afraid. “No one should.”

Baird raised his sword. “I can’t let you continue to torment the realm.”

“He’ll kill you,” the man said, backing away.

“I’ll kill you both first.”          

“Tamin!” boomed the elder’s voice from Baird’s side. Startled, Baird stumbled deeper into the dungeon. “I told you to kill this wretch.”

“I thought he was leaving,” Tamin wailed, fear thick on his face.

“I said kill,” the elder spat, backhanding thin air. Tamin was lifted from his feet and launched across the room, slamming against a cage so hard half the room rattled. He slumped to the ground out of sight. The elder looked to Baird and shook his head. “Don’t have kids,” he advised.

He swatted the air in Baird’s direction. Nothing happened. He gave until the old sorcerer looked truly confused before allowing himself a grin.

“Some kids do their homework,” he said.

Baird struck at him with his sword but the sorcerer recovered quickly, conjuring a metallic staff from motes of light to block the blow. He was freakishly strong, stopping Baird’s arm dead. The shock through his limb was so painful he almost lost grip on his blade. The sorcerer grabbed him by the throat and shoved. Baird staggered backwards into a cage, tripping on bones and crashing against the bars. The door clanged shut and he felt sick with panic. He kicked at it but it didn’t even rattle.

The sorcerer’s shadow fell over him and Baird looked up into his sneer. There were a few bleeding cuts on his face and a burn on his chin. “On second thought, I’m glad Tamin didn’t kill you. Such an arrogant little boy. I look forward to hearing you beg.”

Baird went cold as the sorcerer turned away. He scrambled to his feet and shook at the bars. They didn’t budge. He watched with growing despair as the sorcerer disappeared to the lower levels. He had failed. The sorcerer had beaten him without even trying. And now he was going to die.

Read Part 3 here!

The Tower of Storms: Part 1

Baird stood in the musty stable strapping Frenzy’s saddle in place. The door opened and a furious, icy wind swept through, disturbing hay and toppling buckets. Rain and sleet splattered across the wooden floorboards, soaking the straw as several horses grunted disapprovingly.

“Duke’s hairy arse,” someone grumbled as they slammed the door shut, muffling the hideous weather outside. It continued to howl and roar around the building. “Ne’er gets any better, does it?”

Baird smiled as he secured the final strap of the saddle. “Give it a couple of days.”

The man, Erlon the stable master, laughed as he shook out his cloak. Enough water poured from it to make a puddle around his feet that Frenzy took to lapping at.

“Aye, about that,” Erlon began. “I thought it best to collect your stable fees before you left, if you know what I mean.”

“I know precisely what you mean,” Baird said, fishing around in the coin pouch at his belt. “You’re afraid that I shall be so mobbed by adoring fans upon my return you’ll never get near me.”

“Sure,” Erlon said. “Let’s go with that.”

Baird flicked a coin to him and returned to tending his horse. Erlon had to juggle a few times before he got a proper grasp. When he did, he scowled.

“Aye, and the rest of it,” he said, brandishing the coin. “This is a half.”

“Erlon,” Baird began, turning to the man with an easy smile. “Come now. Just think how much business you’ll get when people find out the saviour of the Glen stabled their horse here.”

Erlon held his hand out with a glare. Baird kept his earnest grin firmly affixed but Erlon did not budge an inch. After a moment Baird finally accepted his loss, pouting.

“Oh fine, take it,” he huffed, digging out another coin and flicking it to Erlon with a touch of venom.

“What’s wrong with you, boy?” the stable master snarled as he retrieved the coin from the dirty floor. “Not like you to be so tight fisted.”

Baird focused intently on Frenzy as he ran a brush needlessly over the beast’s coat. “I just… I wanted to give that to my mother.” He then shot a sharp look at Erlon. “Just to tide her over until my return.”

A half sovereign would tide the woman over for weeks, never mind his short trip. Erlon looked down at the coins in his hand and then up at the well-stocked horse. Well stocked with weaponry and armour. A glance didn’t reveal much food or camping gear. “This is all you’ve got left?”

“It’s the off season,” Baird said with a noncommittal shrug. “Won’t be until the festivals that all the bandits show their heads again.”

Erlon sucked his teeth. It was true enough and Baird had been buying unusual and expensive equipment for his go at the quest, attempted by many over hundreds of years and completed by none.

“You’ve waited this long. Why not leave it one more half year?”

“I’m done waiting,” Baird replied. “I’m finally ready.”

Erlon sighed and shook his head. “Here,” he said, thrusting his hand out to Baird. The adventurer lifted his head and the stable master dropped both coins into his palm. “For your mother. She’s gonna have enough to worry about.”

Baird quickly looked away, tucking the coins into his purse. “On my return you’ll be repaid tenfold.” He gave Erlon a furtive glance and returned to the finishing touches with his horse. “Thank you.”

The stable master nodded. It was the closest to humility he’d ever get out of the little shit. “Be careful. And don’t be stupid. A lot of folks have actually managed to come back in recent years.”

“Unsuccessful.”

“Think of yer ma,” he persisted. “No one’ll judge you for coming back.”

Baird turned and looked at Erlon levelly. “I will be back, long before those coins run out. I’ve slain more than anyone in this Glen, mundane and magical alike. I will kill that sorcerer, Erlon. Not even the gods can stop me.”

He went to his mother’s house direct from the stables. She was delighted to see him, despite berating him for dripping all over the floor. He gave her the coins, which she repeatedly tried to give back, and did a quick inspection of the house to ‘ensure there weren’t any leaks.’ There was enough in the house she could sell to keep herself fed, if anything happened. Not that it would, obviously, but it was reassuring to know.

Then there was nothing else for him to do but set out on the road. He’d waited for this his entire life, dreamed of the moment his blade severed the sorcerer’s head and the storms that had plagued the Glen for centuries fell silent. He’d tried to imagine it as a child, shoving his head under pillows or hiding in cellars but the constant roar of the wind and the rain could not be suppressed. Baird’s hands shook with excitement, hardly able to believe it was finally his turn. He would be the one to bring justice for the weather goddess.

The journey was wrought with gale force winds that caused Frenzy to stumble; with rain half ice that mercilessly pelted Baird’s body, penetrating his thick travelling gear; with such poor visibility that he may as well have shut his eyes. So like a trip to the baker’s, just longer. There was no shelter on the road and while trying to sleep Frenzy made an exceptionally poor and cantankerous windbreak. Rumours told him that long ago, before the winds, trees were a common thing – that there had been whole forests of the things. Now only the most gargantuan of them remained upright and even fewer alive thanks to the constant storms.

Despite everything—his growing hunger, exhaustion and cold—he soldiered on. The route, at least, was in his favour. So travelled the path to the tower was that what had once been a beaten track was now practically a road. It was more frequented than most trade routes. His lack of needing to pack up camping gear and Frenzy’s slow yet unfaltering gait meant they made very good time. Most horses tired quickly in the weather but Frenzy was bred to be a cart horse, not some idiot mercenary’s steed. After three days of journeying a tall, thin shadow began to stretch up past the horizon, a grey omen barely visible against the rain and clouds.

Baird grinned, water dripping down his face from his somewhat ineffectual hood. “Good job, Frenzy,” he said, giving the horse a slap on the side of the neck. “This is it. My destiny. I just know it.”

If Frenzy could have rolled his eyes, he would have.

Over the next hour, the tower grew up high into the sky until the base was just visible through the weather. From then, it took even longer for the tower to start feeling as though it was drawing near. Eventually, it loomed over them both.

Baird looked up at it with a wide smile, his face pelted with rain and his hood filling like a water skin. After a moment it slipped from his head, depositing the water onto a disgruntled Frenzy’s back. Baird leapt to the ground, stumbling. The wind here was the worst he’d ever experienced, to the point where he was astounded that any manmade structure could have survived all this time. He drew his sword and stalked forward as best he could braced against the gale, ready for assailants to jump out at any moment. Frenzy, thoroughly unimpressed, plodded after him.

Baird approached the doors, easily three times his height, with caution. He’d fought magical types before and didn’t believe a single sorcerer could not have met their match after all these years. The number of challengers compared with the number who actually came back was not promising. Sword raised and ready, his foot touched the steps. The doors swept slowly backwards into the tower of their own accord. Baird hesitated, then shook his head.

“Come on, boy,” he said. “Let’s see if there’s another way in.”

They circled the tower, finding excesses of uneven scrub and solid masonry. There were also skeletons. Lots and lots of discarded skeletons. It didn’t take long for them both to be staring into the gaping maw of the same doorway again, inviting them in from the fearsome storm. There was a flash across the sky, accompanied by the rumble of thunder. Frenzy nudged Baird’s shoulder with his nose.

He approached the doorway. Everything inside was still. He crossed the threshold, stepping out of the rain. The tower’s base was a single room, gloomy and derelict. The floor was dim and dusty, fallen victim to time and neglect. There were marks in the dust and not just Baird’s, easily identifiable due to the water droplets all around them. A wide, spiralling staircase led up. The dust on the steps had been brushed by something as well. With quick, graceful steps, he checked behind each door and scouted the room, finding nothing malicious. Satisfied that he was alone on this floor, Baird brought Frenzy inside and the doors swung shut by themselves. Baird exhaled and took to strapping on a few additional pieces of armour.

He pulled a belt from one of the packs on Frenzy’s back, covered in thick glass bulbs with powders and liquids. He might have been a cocky bastard but he always made sure he was prepared. Especially where magic was involved. All of his trinkets, talismans and potions had, after he’d given his last sovereign to his mother, left him penniless. He took some ancient wristbands and tied them on, the warm, pink stones clacking quietly together. It took time to strap every piece of protective gear he had to various parts of his body. His years of delay had been filled with research. He might act arrogant and fearless but he valued his life. His self-assurance came from a lot of hard work.

Hands trembling with anticipation, he placed the chain of the final protective sigil—a shielded silver stick figure—over his head, to let it sit upon his breastplate. He was ready. His whole life had been building to this moment and he was finally ready. He patted Frenzy with a wide smile.

“When we return, my friend, it shall be as kings.” Baird turned and made for the stairs.

Frenzy would have liked to point out that they lived in a duchy. Alas, what with being a horse, he could not.

Baird had mostly stopped dripping by the time he began his ascent of the stairs. The first floor looked much like the ground floor and there was disturbance apparent here as well. There was something in this tower and it wasn’t a rat. As his foot touched the first step of the next flight of stairs up, a piercing whinny came from below.

Read part 2 here!

Living By The Sea

For almost all of my life, I’ve lived close to the sea. It has a special place in my heart and has always been a part of my everyday life, whether viewing out of my window or wandering along its beaches or up its piers. The last year especially, I lived in a tiny little fishing village. The sea was a stone’s throw away; the harbour visible from my window. As much as last year was cruel to me, I will very much miss being that close to the sea as now I’m living far from it. So, for today’s post I have decided to write about what it’s like to live in a tiny seaside village.

Writing a story set somewhere like that? Here are some things that are obvious, and some things that aren’t.

 

The Good Side

 

It’s almost guaranteed to be somewhere beautiful. The sea is beautiful all by itself. Small fishing harbours, cliffs, beaches – they’re pretty hard to mess up. The setting is good for the soul. As a writer, even the bad weather can be fantastically atmospheric. You know in those old films, where the wild literally howls? That actually happens. It’s easy to dismiss as creative hyperbole but there were times where I wasn’t sure if it was the wind or real voices. Between the wind and the haars—thick, rolling fog that devours everything from sight—even the bad days can really put you in the mood to write. And, if you’re a writer writing one of these dark, spooky scenes, you can take solace in knowing that this isn’t the fancy of some old, overly purple prose. Between screaming winds, consuming fogs, misty rains, and every other type of weather you can think of, there’s plenty of scope to put your characters in whatever atmosphere you need.

Even the tiniest, least touristy places are probably going to have at least one great ice cream shop. And, if you’re anything like me, if you live somewhere like this long enough then you’re probably not going to just save it for the sunny days. There’s nothing unrealistic about your character going out for ice cream in the rain.

Not always applicable if the town is more cliff than anything, but there’s a good chance you’re going to have a beach right there. Depending on what route I was taking, I’d have to walk across it to get to the shops. I skipped across stepping stones that crossed the river right where it met the sea as I walked home from dentist. Seaside towns, especially old ones, have weird layouts.

cof

 

In the summer, it becomes dog central. Now, I’m actually pretty timid around dogs but I can appreciate how darn adorable they are. Where do people who can’t afford to take dogs abroad or don’t want to put them into kennels go? The seaside. If soaking in the ambience of strangers’ adorable furry friends sounds like a good time to you, get yourself to the seaside in the summertime. Want a little extra authenticity to your summer seaside scene? Dogs.

There are other critters who are here all year round. Crabs, cockles, fish, jellyfish, sea birds, non sea birds (birds don’t give a damn) – a lot of cool things hang out in and around the sea, including some things you wouldn’t expect. Most people don’t generally consider mallards to be sea birds but you’ll still find them bobbing about close to shore.

 

The Bad Side

 

Winter sucks. And that’s speaking as someone who normally prefers winter to summer. My particular town took the full brunt of the North Sea winds, right in the face. And of course, it was an old town, full of beautiful buildings – which were all listed. That means no insulation, no double glazing, and a very unlikely chance of having decent heaters. We spent as much on heating over the winter as we did on rent, and we were still cold all the time. We lived in one room, because there was no way we could have afforded heating more than that. I couldn’t feel my toes until the end of March.

Every now and then, you’ll wake up ready to face another day, expecting to be gently rocked awake by the soft light of morning. It’ll take you a moment to realise that something is wrong. You frown, confused, and go to open the window. For some reason, you really need to get some fresh air in here. Only when you do, it gets worse. That’s right. We all know it, people are just afraid to say it. Sometimes that great majestic and mysterious body known as the sea quite simply just smells like farts. Often it’s subtle. Other times? It’s not. Just occasionally, it’s so thick you can taste it, like you’re stuck in a lift with that person. The entire town stinks and there’s nothing you can do. You’ve just gotta ride it out.

Another one that is easy to forget amongst the romantic idealistic idea of living next to the sea is that, depending on the town’s layout, there are occasions when the main road and the sea are the same thing. You’ll look out the window and think “wow, the tide’s really in toda- oh.” Good luck catching that bus! Always fun if you really just want to mess with a character’s day.

As mentioned previously, it gets busy in the summer. There’s people everywhere and they’re all in holiday mode. That means they’re walking slowly, taking up the whole pavement, and getting really confused and annoyed when someone is actually trying to hurry somewhere – the same type of people who’d probably kick a granny out of the way to get onto the train on their way to work. Anyone who lives in a holiday destination will probably know this already – people who are on holiday have the amazing ability to forget than not everyone is on holiday. Why in such a hurry, they wonder as they eat their ice cream cone. I wonder whoever sold them it, since everyone is on holiday. If your character is in a hurry in the height of summer, even if it’s getting into the evening, they’re probably going to have crowds to contend with. The town might not even have that many tourists but let me tell you, the older it is, the less it’s going to be designed to accommodate a lot of people.

This brings me to my next point. In the summer, every night is Saturday night. If your character lives between any pubs or restaurants and somewhere people might be staying, they’ll get to enjoy listening to drunks every night. Admittedly, I did have the worst of this as I lived right next to a pub. It was a poor choice.

Your character has a car? Great! They’re going to spend a lot of time swearing and/or parking really illegally. My partner and I used to have a game counting how many illegally parked cars you could spot in one place. The best we got was eleven on one corner. As you can image, this makes getting around—both on foot and by car—more tricky.

 

gull

 

That’s right. These bastards. They sit on roofs and squak, swoop down and steal your food, sometimes they just stand in the way and refuse to move. It’s even more annoying than you’d think to walk around a stubborn seagull. Like sure, I’m probably sixty times your weight but I’ll walk around you, bird. Great.  Stories of seagulls aggressively swiping things out of your hands or just point blank ignoring you as you try to walk past it aren’t exaggerated. They’re used to people. They don’t fear you. They don’t fear your character. Not even that cold blooded assassin of yours. They’re watching. They’re waiting. And, if you’ve got a poke of chips, they’re coming for you.

Day and Night

Another short from the writing classes. In this exercise, we were tasked with studying sound in two contrasting things.

 


 

When the sun is high, the world is full of the babble of laughter and voices. Cars rumble past in a persistent, growling stream. Little bells jangle as the shop doors on the street open and close, the crinkling of shopping bags constant.

Only twelve hours later and those sounds are gone. The babble is replaced by a cool silence to those who do not wish to hear the night. My steps are gentle footfalls on the concrete. A soft rustle to my right – just a cat inspecting a bin. At this time, my breaths are loud and the soft breeze whispers to me. Just as I feel peace in this serene nightscape, there are footsteps behind me. I turn quickly. But behind there is only empty space and the footsteps remain. When the sun is high, the world is loud and I am safe from the sound. But it isn’t.

It is dark and it is cold and still the footsteps remain.

 

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Aurora Borealis

A few weeks ago I promised that I’d start posting some of the flash fiction from my writing class exercises! So here is the first one. This came from an exercise about describing a setting with the senses, using a place from a childhood memory.

 


 

Icy air gusted softly by as we stood beneath the stars, staring upwards past the looming grey pillars of the hilltop monument and into the crisp night sky. Specks of silver glistened in the void above us, stiff bristles of heather rustling by our feet. A couple of snowflakes twirled on the salty air, the very first of the fall. It wouldn’t be long before the encroaching grey clouds obscured our view and snuffed out our chances.

Dad held his camera aloft, hoping for those eerie green lanterns to splash across the sky. They never did. Never on the nights we tried. But we always went. And tonight, deep between those twinkling dots of light in the sky, something moved. We both tensed, excited, my numb hands clenching tight. This was it, our time. The thing that moved did shimmer with emerald wonder but it did not spill across the night. It moved closer, growing larger. I held my breath, the crunching of my raincoat falling silent as I stood stock still. Drifting up high was a perfect viridian disk.

My mouth fell agape, breath misting on the air. I glanced at my dad, the camera clutched white knuckled in his chill burned fingers. His brow furrowed, disbelieving and almost annoyed by the object above. Whatever it was, it drew nearer, silent as the snowfall. The quiet drew out long enough that the gentle whispers of the wind became unnerving.

The sudden click of the camera startled me and the haunting thing rose so swiftly upwards it was a dot within a second. It became a pinprick among the starts and then it was gone. I stared a long while, just in case it returned, while Dad scowled at the little preview window of his camera. The display showed perfectly the eerie form of the green glowing UFO, proof that the incredible spectacle we’d witnessed was real. He muttered under his breath and shook his head.

“We’re never gonna see those bloody lights.”

A Ramble About My Writing Classes

A few weeks ago, I started attending an evening writing class. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time now but I’ve always lived too far out to go to any. Luckily and seemingly completely by chance, the tiny little town I live in now has one set right in the community centre! Never having any formal lessons on the craft is always something I’ve been self-conscious about, even though at this point I think I’m self-taught enough to have a fair idea of what I’m doing. Really I’m here for the reassurance and quite simply the fun of it, with the hope to learn some great stuff along the way.

Writing is one of those vast, nebulous things that has no definitive answer. There’s always ideas or theories or tricks that you don’t know, that you won’t have thought of or stumbled across on your way through the journey of discovering your voice. For instance, I had never heard of the “save the cat” method even though it’s actually found its way into the latest draft of Through the Black (scary, subterranean bat people count as cute little kitties, right?).

It’s also a really good feeling to meet with people face-to-face who are interested in writing. I’ve talked before in my posts about the workshops in the past about how lonely writing can feel. Even with the hugely supportive online community, you can feel very disconnected from the world around you. There’s something homely and reassuring about meeting with like minded people every once in a while – especially after so long flying solo. This class, unlike the one off workshops I’ve been to before, means actually getting to know people a little too, which is great.

The class I’m in is very small—there’s five of us on a good day—so there’s lots of room for discussions and input and no one gets left on the edges, which is both nice and terrifying for an introvert like me who normally hides on the edges intentionally. To add to the scary factor, and something I’ve never done before, it’s a common exercise to do a short period of “free writing” and then to read it aloud. Let me tell you, that is not easy. That said, it’s probably a good thing to get experience and practice of for later down the line.

So to sum up, there’s lots of new things to learn, new experiences to be had and new friends to be made! All in all, a success if you ask me (even if the reading out loud drives me to chocolate). If you’ve ever been thinking about trying out a writing class, even if you think you don’t “need” it, I’d definitely recommend trying it out. I’m having a great time with mine!

Snowflake and Characters

As you know, I’ve been working on a side project partially for fun but mainly to see if using the Snowflake Method of plotting would be beneficial for me in the future for serious projects. Work has been continuing slowly on that but it hasn’t been prioritised over other work – though it seems to want to get itself promoted to a serious project. My plate feels rather full at the minute but we’ll maybe see in the future.

Capture

I was making fairly quick progress through all the steps – until I got to stage seven. This part involves very in-depth character profiles, going into every little detail about the characters, and I am finally making some good progress on it. Before I was getting really distracted and skipping ahead to the next phase (I know I shouldn’t but I just love planning scenes) and just generally struggling to get in the rhythm of filling in the incredibly detailed sheets the template came with.

It’s very strange for me to go into so much detail with characters before I start writing. Normally I have to get started and let the characters grow from the page, emerging with the story and influenced by the situations they get put in. I’ll have a rough idea but I won’t really start to know them until I write. I won’t know how they speak or interact or even what they’ll do until I actually get them doing things. It means that in the early chapters of a rough draft they can come off as very dry – because they are. By the middle they’ll have some personality and background and I go back and fix the start during edits.

Using the Snowflake Method means I’m going to know my characters really well before I even think about the first scene. By the time I’m finished stage 7, for each of them I’ll know their histories, their speech patterns, influences and ideals. There’s sheets that probe into areas I wouldn’t have thought of looking at ever and even my ‘main’ minor characters will have comprehensive histories. It really gives the feel that my first draft will have far more robust and interesting characters and that this would lead to far more character driven stories. Now that they already have personalities and histories, they can’t be moulded to the story – it must be moulded to them.

I’m really excited to see how this effects the end result – the way the characters appear on the page. Will they be more rounded, relatable and all around enjoyable as a result? Or will they lose that natural and organic feeling? Honestly, I don’t know yet but there’s only one way to find out!

Snowflake So Far

You may remember me mentioning that I was going to try out the Snowflake method to see if it’s something I want to use in the future when plotting stories. So far, I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful tool. Already I’ve identified several major problem areas and managed to change them quickly, all before I’ve actually gotten to the point where I need to go back and alter other things. Let’s look at the list.

First, I found the character arcs really helpful. This is where a one paragraph synopsis is rewritten for each of the MCs. For one thing, I noticed that one of the MCs had basically no arc whatsoever. She was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl without being manic, pixish or a love interest, which was kinda impressive when you think about it. Noticing this now allowed me to really look at her and her story and make sure that she had goals and pursuits and a purpose other than holding up the other characters. I rewrote her paragraph and turned her into a fully-fledged story all herself. And I didn’t have to alter 70k words of prose to do it – a nice change from my usual method.

Next in Stage 4, the plot expansion step, I was able to combat another old nemesis of mine – the “things are too easy” problem. I make a bad habit of this one and it’s led to me having to insert entire arcs into already fully written manuscripts, and of course alter all the rest of the novel appropriately. Here I could tweak just a few sentences to make things more interesting and less predictable and it only took me an hour or so as opposed to a couple of months.

Stage 5 is very good for weaving all the characters’ stories together and finding ways to add depth and intrigue to use characters to their full potential. It made it easier to keep track of subplots as well, as it allows for slight tangents away from the overarching stories to look closely at each character. Doing half pages for minor characters is something I’ve never done before – I’ve never put much thought into them before the actual writing and always let them develop with the story. It feels very different and I’m interested in seeing how this effects the story and how my secondary characters feel.

I’m currently on Stage 8 – the outline stage. This feels like more familiar ground as it’s extremely rare for me to write without at least a rough scene-by-scene. Naturally, I like the idea of this stage but I found working in a spreadsheet pretty clunky. I’ve modified it a little and instead jumped into Scrivener, using the corkboard feature. This allows me to very easily move scenes around and also put notes and ideas into each document as I go. I’m just too addicted to being able to put extra info absolutely everywhere, and being able to rearrange with just a drag and drop is so convenient.

cofNeedless to say, this new project has become way more of a thing than I ever intended so whoops on that one. What can I say, I need something to distract me while TE1 is with the betas! That said, playing with this story is going to slow down considerably as TE2 has sat long enough. It’s time to work out those huge structural changes that I’m trying to prevent in future projects.

Wish me luck.

Comedy and the Happy Ending

An incredibly late post about the comedy writing workshop I went to for the Aye Write festival about a month and a half ago. Overall it was great fun, though there was this one point that I disagreed with. During the workshop endings were discussed and the author running the workshop said that comedies can only have happy endings, and almost everyone in the workshop agreed with her. For her specific genre, which was romantic comedies, what I’ve seen from publishers and readers shows this to be true but there’s a lot of scope for an “unhappy” ending in a comic story. Within context, the correct unhappy ending can either be a.) very fitting to a story or b.) hilarious in its own right.

The next contains spoilers for an old TV series and an old film so, uh, the 1980’s called and spoiler alert?

For my first point, perhaps the most memorable and most powerful example I can think of is the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Set in the WW1 trenches, you can imagine the scope for happy endings. The series comes to a close with the main characters going “over the top” in a suicidal charge infamous for devastating loss of troops. While the episode makes liberal use of extremely dark humour (for example, as the troops wait to go over and Darling exclaims “Oh , we’ve survived it, the Great War, from 1914 to 1917!”), it ends an on especially bleak note. The entire atmosphere of the program seems to flip with three simple words from the overly optimistic, nothing-can-bring-me-down George. “I’m scared, sir.” That’s when it hits. All the characters are going to die. The jokes keep coming but they are the characters’ last words. It’s over. And finally, it ends with Blackadder’s famous “good luck everyone” and they go over the top. The series ends.

It is dark, and unfunny, and brings people to tears. It is also perfect.

The second point, where the unhappy end can actually be a joke by itself, has a few good examples – in fact my favourite film is one of them. Evil Dead II is a comedy horror film, your classic “terrible things happen to young adults in a cabin in the woods” story. Everyone’s favourite one-handed, chainsaw wielding, shotgun-toting white trash asshole Ash Williams spends the film freaking out and killing demons. Just as he finally succeeds, as he triumphs over the horrors and is given perhaps a chance to return to his normal and safe life, he is transported back to 13th century England (it makes a little more sense in the film, though admittedly not much) where there’s an army waiting, expecting him to lead them in a great war against the demons. The film ends with this army chanting that he’s their deliverer, and with Ash stood on a plinth screaming in despair.

Trust me, it’s much funnier than it sounds.  Ash doesn’t get what he wants, in the most ridiculous way possible, and fits with the “what other terrible things can we do to this guy” humour that the film employs liberally.

So while the advice that certain genres of comedy require a certain type of ending, I definitely don’t believe it’s true for all. Yeah, you probably don’t want your rom-com to end with a tragic double murder, but a war setting has much more flexibility. Blackadder nailed it. Irvine Welsh’s Filth could never be disregarded as a comedy but at the same time really couldn’t have ended well. Wars? Corrupt police? End of the world? A family reunion? All these things have the potential for both comedy or tragedy but the two aren’t mutually exclusive, if you ask me. Over running the world with nightmare horrors can actually be pretty funny, but isn’t necessarily going to end breezy. The possibilities for dark endings in funny stories are limitless, within reason.

Remember the magic words: Context and audience.

Anything can be funny if you’re smart about it. Then again, maybe I’m a little twisted.

Testing the Snowflake Method

While actually writing is vital to becoming an author, so is identifying one’s weak areas and working to improve them. I certainly know I’ve got a few but I think at present my biggest issue is with story. Not so much the larger, overarching story but all the little bits in-between that get us from A to B.

A while ago while I was procrastinating work things by looking up other work things, I stumbled across a few templates for writing using the Snowflake Method. This involves plotting your entire story starting from a single sentence and then slowly building up and up, expanding into increasingly longer synopses until you’ve got a story. It’s a technique I’ve wanted to try for a while because my own method of planning generally ends up a bit chaotic and my stories often feel very linear. I think this is because in general my mind works on a small scale when planning, moving from scene to scene and ending up with something that’s a bit too straight forward.

I’ve been tempted to try the Snowflake method as I think it might help me see the big events earlier and more easily see things that are too simple or boring. It’s a problem I’ve got in many of my manuscripts and leads to a LOT of work later when editing. While I’m still on schedule with The Fairy Godfather, I’ve made a lot of extra work for myself by having to entirely re-work huge sections of the novel. Plotting is clearly something that I need to work on.

I’ve decided that as a side project I’m going to try it out on a fun personal story I’ve had bouncing around in my head for a while. Not one that’s meant as a serious piece, more as just a workout to see if this method a) works for me and b) helps me with some of the issues that I know I have with plotting.

Also, as I have a love of templates and filling out boxes, I’m going to be using Caroline Norrington’s Scrivener Template. It’s got documents for all the steps of the snowflake method, scene planners, huge character templates – all the good stuff. As this is a basically a side side project, I most likely won’t be sticking to the schedule listed in the template even a little. It’ll be a while before I’m doing a first draft of a proper project as opposed to something just for fun for myself, so I won’t need results any time soon.

Hopefully by the end of it I’ll end up with another daft story for myself to enjoy and a bit more skill when it comes to creating compelling stories.