Writing your setting

Settings are a vastly important part of a novel. We’ve all heard varying advice on the subject, some think it’s more important than others, but no one will give you a pass on it altogether. The fact is that we need setting to make connections. Is this conversation you’re having done while riding horses down an easy trail? Or is it sitting at a table? Has anyone gotten up? Is anyone holding anything?

Setting can mean the difference between a scene that falls flat and one that leaps off the page, ensnaring the reader. No one wants their worlds to seem like cardboard, but how do those gifted authors make their settings so powerful? They never seem to be doing anything with the language, in fact when a master is behind it we hardly even notice it happening

That, in part, is one of the keys to writing setting well. When you do it well we shouldn’t see it in the story, it should just be there waiting for the characters to come through it. A sign of a more inexperienced writer, and we’ve all read these books, make the setting feel forced. Big blocks of text detailing everything the eye can see, and this is true with well established, even famous writers sometimes, but that doesn’t make it great writing anymore than it makes us devour each word they put on page just because so and so wrote it.

Ask yourself when you usually skim while reading, and be honest. Is it during those big blocks of nothing but descriptors? I know I do it. Luckily there are a few things to consider when writing setting that can help to keep the reader glued to the page for every word. After all, we are here to entertain, we want them to hang off every word. Poor reader engagement is liable to result in a reader putting our work down, and once they do that who knows if they’ll pick it up again.

This starts right from the conception of the scene. What is the scene going to do? What is its purpose in your story? Sometimes your scene will have to be set in a specific place because of something written earlier, but sometimes the author can put it anywhere they can imagine. So where do you put it? Consider what your scene is doing, and incorporate the setting in a way that can amplify that. Is this a fight scene? Great! Fights often move around, so if it’s outdoors maybe the terrain gets a little uneven and someone gets an advantage, write that in. Inside? Well, the sword fight on the stairs is cliche, how can you put a twist on that?

Is it a highly emotional scene? Maybe it’s a nasty break up. Your protag has been feeling stuck in a relationship for way too long, and can’t stand it anymore. There’s a screaming match, and that’s it. They’ve had enough, it’s over! Where can we have this break up? Why not in gridlock traffic? Or a commuter train? In other words, somewhere the setting can reflect how stuck your protag feels in the relationship.

Don’t be afraid to use symbolism! The sole purpose of a symbol is to pack a ton on meaning into a small package, which is great for your word count because it leaves you with more from for plot or narration instead of details. Play around with it, it’s something I’m trying to incorporate more into my own writing.

So you know where it’s happening, but how do you detail it? People have varying ideas on this as well, of course. Some people do like having every detail, and others like having the broad strokes and letting their mind fill in the rest. You’ll have to write both ways and ultimately see what you’re good at and what you prefer. Personally, I like the broad strokes with a few unique details. I like seeing a few things that would stand out, a particular smell or sound for example. Maybe the light flickers, and it pisses off the protag to no end, which brings me to the next point.

Lists of details are boring. Okay, so there is a smell. Great. It seems like rancid fish? Okay, that’s better. I know that’s gross, I can even imagine it. A character covered their mouth and fought down the urge to throw up as the smell of rotting fish took over? That’s better still, and it only gets better the more I am bonded to this character. It’s no secret that if we can bond the reader to our character they’re more willing to go with them. If they feel sickened, the reader will too, they buy in. To achieve this we need realistic, fully fleshed out characters our readers can relate to.

Luckily for us writers, we can characterize with setting too! Remember when you conceived the scene? I hope when you did this you though about what your protag was bringing into the scene. What kind of mood is s/he in? Ever notice how cheery people always find a way to see the bright side, even in dark situations? Maybe you’ve noticed how some people can find the flaw in anything, no matter how great it may be. Aren’t those people downers? Well, so can your characters be when you’re describing setting. Take your POV character and filter the world through them. Your happy character might notice the birds chirping, while the one who just got dumped can’t see past the barren spot in the yard where grass just refuses to grow, despite everything they do.

Personally, I find it easiest to simply write the scene objectively (as in, not filtered through anyone’s POV, or just a detail or two if I do) in the first draft. For me the first draft is just about getting words on the screen. In the subsequent drafts I can filter the world through the different lenses as needed. Then I can fix those words and make them better, make them flow, and make them unique to the character. I encourage every writer to try a variety of methods and see what works best for them. Remember, anything you don’t like can always be fixed, but first you have to get it written.

Hopefully you can take something from this, some mistakes I’ve made lots of times in the past, and try it out in your own writing. Does using setting to shed light on a character’s mood make the world, or the character, seem more realistic? Does using the setting to mirror the emotion of the scene make it more powerful? What are your methods for making a scene resonate with readers?

-C R Alexander

 

Learn From My Mistakes – Negative Information

While I may not be a world famous author who can shed light on the ins and outs of successful manuscripts, there is something that I am doing at a good rate, and that’s learning. I’ve made my share of mistakes and I’ve learned their lessons the hard way. I won’t pretend to know enough about writing to tell what you should do, but I’ve come to think that other writers might be able to benefit from my mistakes and what I’ve taken away from them.  Maybe I can help show you what you shouldn’t do.

I’ve done more than a few things wrong, even in my relatively short time as a “serious writer.” Hey, we’re all learning and constantly improving.  The aim of this series of blogs is to take one specific area of writing and analyze it, including examples as best as I can explain them.

Today I plan to start with a pretty important area I didn’t even realize I was neglecting until I got an edit from an established author within my genre (fantasy, if anyone is curious). That aspect is negative information. First let me clarify what I mean when I say negative information. In a nutshell, it’s; using a phrase or word that offers nothing to the story.

It’s different from a superfluous word, those should be cut outright. It’s more choosing the wrong word, one that adds nothing, when you are intending to add something to the story. I was doing it without even noticing, thinking that my descriptions were perfectly fine until I had it explained to me. After that it became rather obvious, and no doubt I would have come to it myself in time, but I didn’t. If I can help you make that same connection, hopefully before you submit that next project, then this post will have been worth it.

Let’s take an example, something easy.

Example one: She paused for a moment. “Is that so?”

Simple enough, and we all understand what it means. Is it wrong to write this way? No, technically it’s not incorrect. It’s just not great writing, look at the word ‘paused.’ What is it telling us? Not a whole lot, honestly. What’s worse? It’s taking up valuable real estate in our manuscript. Word guidelines are fairly strict for first time novelists, and the debut author doesn’t have room for words that don’t have a purpose.

What can we say instead? Maybe something like this.

Example two: She rolled the stem of her wine glass between her fingers before setting it down on the table. “Is that so?”

Hold on though, if ‘paused’ took up valuable real estate why would we use this? It’s even more wordy! Yes, it is. It’s also better writing. The issue with example one is not only that paused doesn’t really tell us what she is doing, but it’s vague and lacks purpose. ‘Moment’ is another weak, vague word. Example two has a clear purpose. It helps give us a sense of her mood, and including the table adds an element of setting. The words have some context to them now. They would have more with an entire paragraph behind them, and even more with a whole scene/chapter/novel drawn out this way.

This is one of those things about writing. Word limits are (supposedly) fairly strict, but the exception to this rule seems to be the writer who knows how to use each and every one of his or her words to their fullest potential. All of them have a purpose. The story doesn’t work without them there. Once you can achieve this you just need to make sure each word makes the reader want to read the next one.

That’s vitally important as well, but a topic for another day. For now, I’m focusing on eliminating my negative information. I learned from my mistake, now hopefully you can too.

Write on!

C R Alexander

NaNoWriMo

Lots of exciting stuff has been going on with me lately, but for now there’s one thing on my mind: today’s date. It’s November first! Hope everyone had a nice, relaxing Halloween, cause for us writers (who participate) it’s about to get busy!

One of the great joys of November is NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated on a few occasions, winning in my first year and falling short ever since (but that’s another post for another day). For those who don’t know, the object is to write a novel within the month of November, with novel being defined as 50,000 words.

NaNo organizers encourage writers to plot, do their research, and outline to their hearts content before the event begins, but to keep the novel a blank page until November first rolls around. Once it does the race begins with Wrimos (the name given to participants) writing an average of 1667 words a day to meet the goal. Many NaNo novels are done this way, but not all, and yours certainly doesn’t have to be.

One of the best parts of NaNoWriMo for me is the pep talks from established authors. Their words of encouragement gave me more hope than any other outside source in my first attempt at writing a novel. But that’s not all, there are forums where people can talk about their works, and even regions for participants to organize write ins!

While NaNo officials may have their idea on how the month should go, don’t feel bound by their rules. Indeed, some of the best advice I got in a pep talk was from Patrick Rothfuss (author of the King Killer Chronicles) who encouraged people to break the rules and write whatever they wanted. Want to use the month to rewrite a novel? Go ahead. Want to stop accumulating words and edit mid month? Have at it. Instead of one novel you want to write a series of novellas? Sounds great! The path you take as a writer is entirely yours, and NaNoWriMo is just another tool on you journey.

Which brings me to the biggest advantage and help I’ve gained from previous years I participated. As writers we’ve often heard the same old advice. ‘Want to write better? Write more.’ We’re told to expand our efforts and learn new techniques, to read genres we would not typically read and learn from them, and to just read more in general, but one of the things I hear more than any other piece of advice is to write every single day. Even if I’m tired. Even if I’m cranky. Even if it’s only five minutes before bed and it feels like nothing really got done. Write every single day. That’s a hard habit to get into, and it’s also what NaNoWriMo demands of you.

Writing 50,000 words in a month is no small order, and the best way to accomplish it is to write (1667 words) every single day. It’s far and away the best habit I got out of the experience. Even though the novel I produced was garbage, and it was, there was a lot I learned from the experience. If you haven’t tried NaNoWriMo before it might be an idea. Looking at writing from different angles and trying different things is how we learn and how we become better. I’ll be participating this year, rewriting my current novel in progress. It’s demanded a major overhaul, so I should be able to get to the 50,000 word finish line. Hopefully I’ll see you there! Happy writing.

C R Alexander

Firearms and the Importance of Research

Tom loaded another clip into his six shooter and waited for his partner Peter’s signal. Gunshots rang off the car’s body, deflecting the bullets away. Tom could only hope none of the ricochets would hit Peter as he got into position. Tom wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, he’d never been in a gun fight before. What if he screwed up? What if he froze? What if someone got hurt, or killed, because of him?

There was no time to fret though, as Tom heard the full auto repetition of Peter’s M-16 from the other end of the parking garage. Without taking a moment to think, Tom leaped into action. He pulled back the slide on his gun and came around the corner ready to fire at anything that moved. As he stepped out though, he saw Peter had already cleaned up. The bank robbers lay in a pool of blood, motionless.

“You okay Pete?” Tom holstered his gun.

Peter was still looking down the sights, slowly moving forward. Tom squirmed. Should he pull his gun back out? He glanced to the fallen gunmen. Surely they were dead. They had to be. He could count the wounds on two hands for each downed man. Pete was a sharpshooter, or so they said back at the squad house. Never a wasted round. It was like magic.

Finally Peter lowered his gun, letting it hang by its sling. “Yeah. Yeah I’m alright. Just a little shook up. You ever shoot anyone rookie?”

Tom shook his head. He’d thought about it a lot. He dreaded it actually.

“I’d tell you to prepare yourself for it, but the truth is nothing can prepare you for it. It takes something out of you each and every time. Just hope you never have to do it kid.” The grizzled vet turned away from the pile of men in disgust.

Before Tom could get in a word the familiar whistle of a silenced bullet whizzed right by his left ear. Tom fell to the ground instinctively, pulling out his gun and locking the hammer back in one fluid motion. He’d practised his draw for weeks, and now he was thankful.

From the ground Tom saw one final shooter hiding behind a car. He closed one eye and aimed with his strong hand while bracing himself with the other, to keep himself as still as possible for the shot. His heart was thundering in his chest he worried the sound would give him away, but then he remembered the man had already taken a shot at him. He knew where Tom was.

Tom pulled the trigger and the smell of gunpowder filled his nostrils. It was almost soothing, but then Tom had always liked shooting. He had been a fair target shooter before joining the force, even won a competition once. He struck his target in the ankle and already had his next shot lined up by the time the cylinder cycled the next round. He fired off another half dozen shots before he realized the man had to be dead by now, but his finger kept moving until the gun clicked impotently with each trigger pull. He was empty.

Tom got up, nearly falling over doing so, and clumsily opened the cylinder and ejected the casings. Once he was loaded again he swung the cylinder shut just like in the movies, even though he knew it was bad for the mechanism. Hell, he’d just shot a man a dozen times, who cared about the mechanism? He was more concerned with keeping the bile down, a task that was taking more of his attention than he had hoped it would after his first shooting.

“It takes a lot out of you.” Tom nodded. “I see what you mean.” Tom’s voice come out as little more than a croak. It was only then that Tom noticed Peter was down. He must have been shot. Panic took Tom over as he rushed to his partner’s side. He couldn’t see any visible damage, just the holes torn in his shirt. How was he shot with no damage? No blood? It didn’t make sense.

Peter’s eyes opened, surprising Tom so much he almost fell back. “That’s gonna leave a bruise.” Peter groaned.

“What? How?” Tom stumbled over his tongue to get the question out.

Peter grinned, undoing the buttons on his shirt.

“Bullet proof vest.” Tom laughed. “I should have known.”

—–

Okay, so I’ve exaggerated the problem somewhat, but the point stands. The way guns are portrayed in the media is quite often inaccurate, if not just plain wrong. The above passage (created as an example) illustrates quite a few of the recurring issues regarding gun usage in all types of media (TV, film, book, etc.). Put together like this it’s quite comical, a competent author won’t make so many mistakes so quickly. Instead they might only use one or two of the mentioned errors, or something not listed. The problem is even a single error, if grievous enough, can turn off an astute reader.

While literary invention can make for good fiction if your reader isn’t familiar with firearms, it destroys everything you’re trying to create when they are. We’ve all been there, in the middle of a tense moment in a book when suddenly our minds catch an error. ‘Wait, that wouldn’t happen like that,’ or worse, ‘that’s wrong.’ Our mind tells us these things and then its over. The moment is lost, the tension slips away, and the reader is left feeling cheated. They were cheated out of a scene, pulled from it when its author may have invested hours building it up, and usually over something an author could have googled in five seconds to figure out.

Let me start by saying no one is going to expect you be able to explain the ins and outs of everything you write, but the suspension of disbelief is a tricky thing. You can stretch the truth to varying lengths given what genre you’re writing, but when you do something inaccurately, like loading a revolver with a clip, you’ve blown it to anyone who understands what you’re talking about. Depending on how grievous your mistake, how central the error plays in the overall plot, and how forgiving your reader, you may have lost them after all those hard earned pages spent building tension and getting them hooked.

The above example was created to showcase a number of commonly used myths and errors in the portrayal of firearms. How many of them can you spot? I’ll highlight a few of the biggest ones.

Terminology:

Again, remembering that the reader knows a human wrote the book and can’t know absolutely everything about every topic their novel covers. There is a bit of room to play with. If you fudge something most won’t know about, then the odds are that the majority of readers will likely give you a pass. For example, if you refer to a clip and a magazine interchangeably, most readers will probably let it slide. There will still be the gun “snob” who (correctly) points out they are different things. If you really want to impress them dig a bit further and draw the distinction. Even the best example will have the occasional slip up, everyone makes mistakes. Do your due diligence, but don’t fret too much amount small stuff.

Function:

It’s the basic functions, however, that most people will catch. In the example scene Tom loaded a revolver two different ways, and that’s something people are more likely to catch. You did, didn’t you? In that case the continuity is perhaps worse than the factual error, but all the same loading a revolver with a clip/magazine is something a good number of readers are pretty likely to notice. At least, anybody with a passing knowledge of firearms. Likewise, racking the slide on a revolver is a no no. Revolvers don’t have slides. When you reference a specific firearm, make sure it actually has a manual safety before you have your protag engage it. There are a number of firearms that have no manual safety. ‘The Walking Dead’ is pretty bad at this one. People are told to safety weapons without a safety, scopes are often installed backwards, and in some scenes characters fire their weapons (on full auto) into hordes of zombies without even using iron sights. Just firing blind.

Use of fully automatic weapons:

Full auto is used more or less for one purpose: suppression fire. There’s no way Peter is going to walk calmly forward firing full auto and land six rounds into each man without wasting one. Never mind that he only has thirty rounds in his magazine, and that will be spent in about four seconds. The practicality of aiming a gun on full auto pretty much guarantees this cannot happen. Anyone familiar with recoil will know why this is. This is a common error with action TV and film. A surprisingly good example for it is the animated TV show ‘Archer,’ where characters will actually yell suppressing fire/cover fire.

Keeping track of your rounds, suppressors, and the term bullet proof:

There are few other errors in the passage, Tom fires rounds he doesn’t have from the revolver, suppressors don’t actually silence guns (they quiet them, but far from silent), and of course, the perils of calling anything “bullet proof.” This in itself is an error, as nothing will ever call itself bullet proof. Why? Liability, pure and simple. If it’s called bullet proof someone will inevitably test this, find a way around it, hurt themselves (or someone else), and the manufacturer will be sued for millions. Vests are considered bullet resistant and rated for specific firearms (and sometimes other things, like knives). Virtually every action/spy flick is guilty of this one.

Guns are loud:

If a gun is fired next to someone’s ear, it’s going to hurt (this actually happened in a book I’m currently reading, and yes, it took me out of the moment). When a gun is fired in an enclosed space it’s going to hurt everyone in that space. Ears will ring, and permanent hearing damage is possible. A great example of this done right in mainstream was in ‘The Walking Dead’ when Rick shoots his pistol at a zombie inside of a tank. For a moment the viewer hears nothing but a ringing, and the scene becomes choppy and hard to follow. Rick is disoriented, and they portrayed it very well. I’m sure we can all think of a time it wasn’t done properly. Another common variation on this is people talking at normal volume during a gun fight. Nope. Sorry. They won’t be talking at normal volume over all that gunfire. At least not if they want to hear each other.

Okay, good to know. I didn’t write a gun scene though:

This isn’t solely intended to help you to improve your gun scene. I also consider this a call to do some careful research when you’re writing about any topic you’re not familiar with. No, watching Hollywood movies, or even other novels in your genre isn’t research (at least not technical research). The reason I used guns is because it’s commonly misused and it’s a topic in which I have knowledge to share.

The bottom line is the more carefully you research your novel the more authentic it will come off to the reader, the easier it will be to maintain the tension/suspense (because you’re not losing it with simple factual errors), and the more you’ll know about the topics you’re writing about. This will open up your options a writer. The more you know about a thing the more you can do it with it. Something you come across might give you a great idea how to execute that plot twist, or go the other way with it and make it a character moment by having *them* make the simple mistakes.

After all, better them than you. Good luck and happy writing!

—C R Alexander

Why do I write?

It seems like a simple question, and it is in many ways, but there are also reasons which are difficult to put a finger on until you start searching for their meaning. The simplest truth is that there isn’t any one reason why I write. I write for a multitude of reasons, though admittedly some may be bigger reasons than others.

I get the feeling from some that I’ve shared my writing with that they think it all just happens. That I just plunk myself down at a computer and sooner or later I have a story on page. While this is true to a certain, small and very literal degree, it also is very wrong. They have however unknowingly hit on what of the hardest parts of writing for me, and that’s the very act of sitting down and grinding the words out. After all, it’s much easier to edit a bad piece of writing than it is to pull perfect phrases out of your head.

The reality, at least for me, is that it all starts with an idea. That idea eventually combines with others to become a premise, then an outline, before becoming a more detailed outline. There may also be character outlines and other information to varying degrees of detail. Ideally, I’d like to have everything figured out beforehand so I can sit down and start writing. After it’s as ready as I’m getting it, it finally gets to go on screen in a first draft, but many edits follow still. So as you can see, it’s far from ‘oh I had this idea and started writing and the words just wrote themselves.’ In fact, from what I’ve heard from other writers, that phenomenon seems to be a myth. Certainly there are times when the words come easier than others, but to craft a solid, well rounded story or novel takes time, and it certainly takes effort. Some of my best writing has come from the most difficult passages to write on the first pass.

Okay, so it takes even more effort than previously thought, that’s just another reason not to write, isn’t it? No actually, quite the opposite. I enjoy the process of creation quite a bit, and it’s a good feeling to see something that was just the seed of an idea take shape and sit before you in the form of a short story or novel.

The desire to write is more than that though, it’s a need. It’s a compulsion. I have to write, otherwise I go crazy. Perhaps not literally, but I will literally be short a hobby I love.  I’d be short an escape, which we all need from time to time. Writing is something I love, and I can’t imagine not doing it. I can’t fathom a future in which I’m not typing out my latest idea to see where it takes me. You see, I have a thousand thoughts swirling through my head at any given moment and the only way to let them out is by writing them down. Ideas swirling in my head need to find their way out my fingertips, freeing up space for other thoughts.

If I neglect to write the ideas pile on top of each other until they are nothing but an incomprehensible jumble. Writing them down actually makes the ideas clearer and easier to understand. By clearing out the log jam I have more brain power to devote to a single idea. Ideas that were once singular lump together into more ambitious projects. Exploring them, unfailingly, leads to a cascade of new ideas and wrinkles to explore.

In short, the fuel for writing is nothing less than writing itself. The way to clear my head and maintain my sanity is to write. It is a wonderful system for those who enjoy the art. It is even more wonderful given that the best way to improve writing is, not coincidentally, writing itself. Reading cannot be understated as well, it is vital to improving one’s writing. One thing to keep in mind is not only must one read, one must read as a writer. More on that another day, maybe, though it’s well documented already.

To add to all of this, if I had to pick one reason for why I write it would be this: I have a story to tell. A story that doesn’t just need telling, it doesn’t just beg to be told, but something that demands monumental efforts to be told in the proper way. Something that requires I take the hundreds of hours to lay everything out for whoever will read.

I need to let it out, I need to tell other people about Devinin, Simon, Kyla, Hansen, Maeve, and whoever else swims in my head (all from current works in progress). Any and all of them have their own unique stories that require an appropriate telling to do them justice. To do anything less than I am capable, than they deserve, is a disservice. It’s unfair to the characters themselves, to not bring them to their full potential. It’s unfair to me as the writer to not push myself as far as I can go, otherwise how will I grow and become a better writer? Ultimately it’s unfair to the reader who will suffer through a story that’s not as good as it could be, and should be. So for anyone out there who is willing, thank you for reading! I’ll be doing my damned best to make sure I put out the best I can for you.

—C R Alexander

General update

Well the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on since 2010 has finally been finished.  It’s a very different novel than it was five years ago.  I suppose technically it is a second draft, but it is so very different than the first I consider it to be a first draft of a new, yet similar, novel.

In the coming weeks I’ll be putting the chapters together, weaving the POVs into proper chronology and concentrating mostly on continuity for the second draft.  Some chapters will require major overhauls and I’ll tackle those as well on the second pass.

The third pass is where the work will really begin.  A scene by scene analysis ensuring proper tension, impact, emotion, etc. is present at all times.  Once the third draft is complete I hope to feel like I can see a real novel in front of me.  Right now I see potential, but it hasn’t come across on the page as I’d like yet (hey, it’s only a first draft.  It’s basically words vomited on screen).

After that I’ll start to play with individualizing characters and settings more, speech patterns, cadence, word choices, cultural differences, and so on.  This will likely be a pass for each POV character and then some to hit all the minor characters as well.

Finally, the project will be looked at as a whole and tightened up where necessary.  Ensuring the high impact areas hit hard, the high tension areas keep readers turning the pages, and everything is consistent with itself and with the world.  Then comes the copy editing.  This phase lasts until querying begins, and after that it’ll either get accepted with recommended changes, or it won’t and I’ll have to tweak things to get it accepted.

Beta readers will be utilized at various points throughout the process, but likely no earlier than the completed third draft.  At that stage, I’ll have most of the story set and can get feedback on which characters are working, and which need more.

A second novel?  Yes, during the time off between finishing the first draft and starting the second, I was struck by inspiration and outlined an entire novel.  I even wrote the first draft of the opening three chapters.  I’ve sent these out for critique to a few friends, and thus far have received mostly good feedback.  I’m still waiting on word from a few people though.  Again, some of these may end up on an online forum for feedback.

I’m also working on a short story for submission to a genre magazine, not sure which one yet.  Start at one and keep going until it’s accepted somewhere I suppose.  I’ll be sure to keep this blog updated on if/when someone takes it.

A lot of time lately has been spent on trying to improve my writing.  This ranges from listening to what various authors have said in Q & A sessions about their writing habits (then incorporating that into my life) and reading books aimed at improving writing.  I’ve read from authors like Django Wexler, Brent Weeks, Orson Scott Card, and Peter V. Brett, to literary agents such as Donald Maass, and as many other sources as I can find.  Currently waiting on Stephen King’s book, ‘On Writing’ from the library (huge wait list, as you can imagine).

Lot of good advice out there, but in the end it’s up to me, the author, to utilize it all effectively.  If my writing is sub par I can’t blame the advice for being poor, or not coming across the right book to help me.  But that’s another blog post entirely.  For now, let me just say that I am finding Donald Maass’ books of great help, specifically I’ve read ‘Writing the Breakout Novel’, and ‘The Fire in Fiction’.  Currently working through ‘Writing 21st Century Fiction’.  I can’t measure how helpful these books have been to me so far, but I would recommend them to any author looking for ways to improve their craft.

Continually moving forward to improve myself, I’ve found the only way to gauge this is by continually writing (I feel I’ve seen a good leap in quality).  So for now I’ll tackle the short story and then I’ll head back to my novel, (working title Time’s Scar, though I’m not happy with that so it won’t make it to the final title) for some heavy editing.  In the end, hopefully I’ll get a book on the shelf with my name on it, literally.

Currently reading: The Shadow’s Edge – Brent Weeks, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling (to my kids, but I enjoy it too), Writing 21st Century Fiction – Donald Maass

—CR Alexander

The Botched Job – short story

Here’s the other one (submitted to Fantasy-Faction.com for their monthly contest) I promised to share.  I’m relatively happy with this, but there are flaws which are easier for me to spot now.  Hopefully this means all the effort I’ve been putting into honing my craft is paying off.  This, as well, may get a couple alterations before making it up on Wattpad, but again this is the story as it was submitted.

“Stay with us, Thar.” I squeezed his arm. My hand came away red, warm, and sticky. He sprawled on the carriage floor wide eyed, holding his stomach. His white shirt was soaked with red, which seeped between his fingers and trickled down his side. It had already begun pooling around his body. “Can’t these damn horses go any faster?” I shouted at Rowan.

“Sure, I can go faster.” He narrowed his eyes as he turned and met my gaze. “Won’t be able to keep steady though. Want me to kill him?”

“We need the healer. Now! He’s losing a lot of blood here.” I said through gritted teeth.

“I thought this was supposed to be easy money.” Rowan shouted after several moments of silence. “You said this guy was harmless. Next thing I know he’s swinging a knife around.” Rowan shook his head as he urged the horses on.

“This guy is half elf.” I stared at him with my mouth agape. “You insulted him, so he got excited. You know their kind. If Thar didn’t step in it’d be you who got a knife in the gut, so treat him with a little respect. I’d start by caring about whether or not he makes it.” Rowan glanced back at me again and opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but clamped it shut wordlessly.

Couple misses, but one good shot.

“I care…just didn’t realize elves were so damn proud.” Rowan shook his head as he muttered.

Thar started to struggle for breath. His face twisted with pain and he started to moan.

“Almost there.” Rowan glanced back. “He still with us?”

I nodded. My lips sore from being pressed together. “Barely.”

When we arrived I leaped out of the carriage down into the muck below. My boots squelched and twisted as I rushed to the old wooden door. I hammered on it with the palm of my hand until I heard movement within.

“This isn’t some witch doctor, is it?” Rowan called from the carriage.

“Witch doctor?” I turned my head to look at him sideways.

“You know, not some old nut with a wand…or something? He’s an actual doctor, right?”

I shook my head. “She’s a healer.”

The door swung open suddenly, flooding the outside with light. A young woman with half moon glasses and a mop of curly brown hair opened the door. She puffed on her pipe and blinked at me before looking beyond to the carriage. She paused for a moment, squinted her eyes, and then dropped the pipe in her rush to get to Thar. Her shoulder bumped into mine as she went by.

*

“What happened to him?” I asked to Rowan as I ran a hand through my thick, curly hair.

That’s a lot of red…

“Stabbed.” Rowan said.

“I can see that much.” I inspected the wound, then clamped my hand down on it. “What happened?” I looked back towards Lorne.

“Thar was dealing.” He shrugged. “It went south. Honey tongue over here,” Lorne jabbed his thumb at Rowan, “got into a fight over price and the guy pulled a blade. Thar tried to break it up and ate steel as a thanks.”

I nodded silently and reassessed Thar’s wound. “I can’t do anything for him here. You,” I pointed at Lorne, “run inside. Tell my husband to clear the table.”

He nodded and disappeared inside, slamming the door shut behind him.

“There is,” I coughed awkwardly while I maintained pressure on the wound, “of course, the matter of pay.” I did my best to look apologetic as I brought it up. “Lorne can assist,” I nodded toward the house, “I’ll cut your rate considering.”

“Rate?” Rowan’s brow furrowed. His eyes flicked curiously from Thar over to me.

“You think you get back alley healing in exchange for nothing? ” I shifted my weight and felt my foot sink further into muck.

“I…guess not.” Rowan blinked. “How much?” He eyed me suspiciously. Looking me up and down as if appraising my skill as a negotiator. Luckily, most men have no idea how to do this when it comes to women. “Not a witch doctor…are you?” His eyes narrowed.

“Witch doctor wouldn’t do much good here.” I shook my head. “I apprenticed under a magi. I know my craft.” I smiled. “But the fact remains, Thar’s dying. I could ask for your whole purse. Are you really willing to say no? To waste Thar’s life haggling? Try explaining that to Lorne…” His eyes shifted to the door. “Unless you want to stick your hand in that wound.” I raised a brow mockingly.

Rowan eyed the wound and quickly looked away.

Squeamish? That’s lucky.

“Not…particularly.” He admitted with downcast eyes.

I grinned. “Luckily I have a fee structure. Reduced rate is five coppers.”

“Seems reasonable.” Rowan shrugged as he reached into his purse to fish out the coins.

“…Then add the danger pay.” I continued.

“Danger pay? What are you doing that’s so dangerous? Anyone holding steel to you?” Rowan’s voice was starting to rise, his face flushed.

“If he gets caught here he’s going to the noose. Who do you suppose will hang beside him?” Rowan’s mouth twisted as he thought about it. The light in his eyes changed as understanding dawned on him. “That’s right. Another five coppers for the risk. Add the standard two silver for good measure. Three silver in all.”

“For good measure? What’s that mean?”

“Means I keeps quiet and only ask two silver for it.” I fixed Rowan with a stern gaze.

Rowan glared at me and weighed his coin purse in his hand. He looked about to say something when Thar started shaking violently. “Wh-what’s happening?”

“He needs a healer.” I looked at Thar with wide eyes. My forehead wrinkled as I raised my eyebrows. When I made no motion other than to eye the coin purse suggestively Rowan grumbled angrily as he reached into it. “Fucking angel, aren’t you doc.”
“I can’t eat gratitude.” I grunted as the door opened behind us.

“Fiennes!” I turned to see Lorne hurrying over. The muck sucked at his boots making him strain with effort.. “All set in here. He okay to move?”

Rowan slapped the coins into my hand. “Grab his feet.” I grabbed Thar’s upper body and we carried him toward the house.

“Meet me at the safe house tomorrow. Sun down.” Rowan called over. “If I’m not there…leave town.”

I bumped the door shut as we carried Thar to the dining room. We lowered Thar to the ground. “I’m famished. Got anything?” He beamed.

“Help yourself.” I smiled and gently slapped Thar’s face to rouse him.

*

“Sleep herb wearing off Thar?” Lorne was grinning ear to ear.

“How did we do?” I blinked down at the impressive red stain on my shirt. Looks like I died…

“Took him for three silvers.” Fiennes smiled. “I hope you know you’ll need a scar if you expect him to go for the long con.” She eyed my stomach. “You had another episode too…”

“One each? Not bad.” I nodded thoughtfully. “The fits are coming more frequent lately.” I shrugged, “and as it so happens…” I lifted my soiled shirt and wiped the fake blood. Right where I was supposed to have been stabbed there was a scar.

“Nice planning.” She nodded approvingly though her eyes betrayed her concern, “it’s old, but I’m sure you can dress it up to look fresh.”

I nodded, my mouth twitched upwards.

“What’d you give the guy who show-stabbed you?” Lorne tilted his head.

I shrugged. “A few irons. Had him convinced he was getting the better of me too.” I chuckled. “Probably thinks he made out like a bandit.”

After the long con goes through, Hennen and I will split your shares and he’ll be right. It’ll be sad to turn on people I’ve called friends for years…

“Him?” Lorne laughed. “Half elf, half idiot.” He and Fiennes giggled incessantly.

I flicked my eyes from one to the other and my guilt melt away.

They’ve become like a family. Unfortunately for them, ‘like’ family isn’t enough…not if we’re going to buy our sister back from the slavers.

“To the long con.” I raised my glass. Almost there now, Ava. Everything is in motion. We all clinked cups and swallowed deep before pouring over the details and final preparations of our long con.

Of course Hennen and I had ours worked out already.

I grinned. Wine never tasted so good.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read!  I’ll try to post again later today as more of an update on the novel projects.

—CR Alexander