Image Prompt 052 Response – Lunch Tray Sledding

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I chose the image of a college students sledding on a lunch tray for my twenty-minute sprint this week.  I have fond memories of that evening, so I wrote about something similar for my scene today.

Lunch Tray Sledding:

“Come on, go for it,” Miles urged, handing the lunch tray to Emily.  They’d smuggled four of them out of the dining hall their first winter on campus.

“I’m not falling off,” Emily declared as she took the tray.  The snow had stopped falling finally, but there was plenty on the ground, and she didn’t want to end up with it soaking through her clothes like Randy and Hana.  Emily positioned the tray at the top of the hill and then stepped carefully onto it, crouching down and using one hand to push off.  She had waterproof gloves, so she left her hand down to act as a sort of rudder and keep her facing forward as she started down the hill.

Miles let out a yell behind her and Emily let out a whoop of her own as she picked up speed, barreling toward Randy and Hana at the bottom.  The two looked up, saw her, and scrambled out of the way, laughing the entire time.

The lunch tray came to a stop at the bottom of the hill and Emily stood up, arms in the air.  “Victory!” she shouted.  She was the first one to make it down the hill still on the tray.  Everyone else had whipped out or fallen off half way.

“Incoming!” Miles yelled as he launched himself down the hill face first with the tray under his chest.

Emily laughed as she grabbed her tray and dodged out of the way, joining Randy and Hana off to the side so they could start back up to the top.

Miles turned as he went down, ending up sideways by the time he reached the bottom.  He also lost the lunch tray at some point, coming to a stop at the bottom on the hill on just his jacket.  He was laughing the whole time.

Emily smiled.  She loved how much fun they all had together.

“Speed record,” Jenn calls, making a running start before jumping, her feet landing on a tray.  She zipped down the hill, somehow managing to stay on her feet.

Emily laughed.  Jenn was such a daredevil.  It helped that even if she took a tumble she wouldn’t be hurt enough to still feel it in the morning.  Emily planned to avoid any bruises tonight.

They spent another thirty minutes taking turns going down the hill.  Emily could barely feel her fingers by the time Randy declared it was time to head for the student union.  They stopped at Miles’ dorm so he could run the trays up to his room.

“Nobody got too cold?” Jenn asked as she held the door to the union open for everyone.

“Nothing a hot chocolate won’t fix,” Emily said.  “We can’t all be superhumanly warm like you.

Jenn smiled and laughed.  “No but I’d make sure you got the warmth you needed if it were ever a problem.”

“I know,” Emily replied.  Jenn was amazing.  She and Hana really looked out for all of them, making sure they were safe and well taken care of.

“Hot chocolates all around,” Randy said, heading for the little convenience store in the union.  It had one of those steamer/latter/hot chocolate machines that turned powder and hot water into steamed milk beverages.  They were pretty good, especially when you were half frozen.

They all filed through the store, grabbing cups and filling them before paying and heading right back out.  They took over one of the many corners with couches and cushions and started shedding outerwear.

“That was great,” Jenn said.  “Does this mean we’re studying tomorrow?”  It was Friday night and they’d all decided to skip their usual study group activities in favor of sledding.

“Or we could just gather our stuff after we’ve thawed out and head to Hana’s for a few hours tonight,” Emily suggested.

“I could go for that,” Randy said.  “Get things out of the way and then sleep in tomorrow.”

“Sounds good,” Miles said.  “We’re all on the way to Hana’s.”

“We are such nerds,” Hana said, laughing.

“Absolutely,” Jenn said, raising her hot chocolate in a toast.  “To being incorrigible nerds who will study no matter what anyone says.”

Emily laughed.  Hearing it from Jenn, with her neon pink and black hair just made it so much funnier.

They all raised their glasses with a happy “cheers” before taking careful sips.  No one wanted a burnt tongue.

“So what else are we getting up to this weekend?” Randy asked.

“I have zero plans,” Jenn said.  “But I do probably need to finish my paper draft before Sunday study group.”

“Definitely complete nerds,” Miles said.  “That’s my plan too.”

They all laughed again.  It was great to have likeminded friends who were as dedicated to school as she was.  Emily loved them all dearly.

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Camp NaNoWriMo Success

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April was a very successful writing month.  My goal for Camp NaNoWriMo was 30 minutes a day of work on some writing project, whether it was new words, editing, rewriting, or planning and world building.  I ended up doing a little bit of everything too.  A secondary goal was to at least do five minutes of work every single day, and I accomplished both goals.  My final count for the month was 1415, 515 above my 900-minute goal, and I didn’t miss a single day.

I worked on a variety of projects.  I did a little bit of drafting new ideas, worked on the edits for book two, and came back to some older fanfic stories to try to finish them off.  I decided to repost some of my fanfic since the original site it was posted to went down a couple years ago.  I think it will be good for my emotional wellbeing to see the reviews that come in, or even just see the view counts going up over time.  Writing is primarily about its value to me personally, but sharing it with others and seeing them enjoy my work is a very close second.

I’m proud of myself for keeping to my goals, even on days when it was hard to force that five minutes of work into my schedule or make my brain do it.  I think it’s been a productive month as well.  Instead of waiting to feel ready to write, I’ve just been doing it.  If one project wasn’t working, I moved on to another one, and most of the time I was able to move forward again on the original project when I came back to it.

I’m going to try to keep my streak going (I’m at 35 days now) for May and the rest of the summer if I can manage it.  My Habit Tracking goal requires 20 minutes of work, but I’d like to keep the consistency going even if I’m only getting 5 minutes in.

I’d been so focused on getting book two revised during the first few months of the year that I’d lost sight of the fun parts of writing, like drafting and fanfic, and I think I need to find a balance between the three.  And I definitely need to be reading more.  Reading always helps increase my creative energy and output.  April’s Camp NaNoWriMo session helped me get back to my roots as it were, and hopefully that will help me move into the summer with a better work ethic and more energy to dedicate to my writing.

Storytelling

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I was browsing through my list of blog post ideas and suggestions today and came across one that suggested writing about the first piece you ever wrote.  I find this idea very interesting partially because I have trouble defining what that first piece was.  Is it my first novel-length work?  The first story I wrote after I knew I wanted to be an author one day?  The first story I ever wrote down?  Or is it the first story I ever told?

Obviously those are all different things for me, which is why I have fun thinking through this question.  We’ll go backward chronologically and maybe you can help me decide which one is truly my first piece.

My first novel-length work was written between my sophomore and junior years of high school.  I was sixteen.  I spent a lot of time talking through it with my best friend at the time and all the characters were based on friends in my role playing group.  They weren’t very faithfully based, and the characters all changed and grew over the writing of the novel, but they were supposed to be based on my friends at any rate.  This was the creation of Alimonhal, which I’ve talked about on the blog before.

That first novel was a lot of other firsts for me.  It was the first time I tried to do extensive world building that I actually wrote down (there were maps and files full of explanations and everything).  It was the first time I felt confident enough in my personal (ie not done specifically for school) writing that I showed it to a teacher.  It was the first “public” reading I even did when during my senior year my creative writing (and AP English) teacher asked me to read the first chapter to the creative writing class as an example of a good hook for the reader.  (Yes, I’m still super proud of that praise.)  It was the first novel I ever entered into a contest (a national contest for high school writers that I did not win).  This was a very important part of my writing journey, but I don’t think I’d call it my first piece.

The first thing I wrote after I realized I wanted to be an author was a school assignment.  And it might be more correct to say that this was the piece I wrote that made me realize I wanted to be a writer.  The assignment was to take a picture the instructor put up on the overhead (yes, I’m old enough to remember overhead projectors in schools) and write a story about it.  It was a picture of a big, leafy, tree.  It made me think of tree climbing and treehouses, so I wrote a story about sisters (I think they might have been triplets?) who stayed too long in their tree house and got stuck when a pack of wolves showed up at the base of the tree.  Their parents came and rescued them of course and there was a happy ending.  I was in sixth grade.  I don’t know what about that made me realize I wanted to tell stories my whole life, but that was the moment when the goal of being an author really coalesced for me.  I wish I still had this somewhere.  I know I typed it up, and at some point I probably had it backed up, but it’s likely on a three-and-a-half-inch floppy disk, and I know I don’t have a drive that can read those anymore, let alone a program that would recognize the file.

The first story I ever wrote down was probably also a school assignment.  I don’t actually remember most of the school assigned stories I’ve written, but I know there are some illustrated stories from my early elementary school days.  My mother still has them in a box somewhere.  If I ever find them, I might actually post them just to show that from small beginnings we can come so very far.

Whichever of those counts as my first piece, none of them are my first story.  I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember.  One of the very first was probably the one about the family of mice that lived in my bellybutton.  Yes, I know how weird that sounds, and in my defense, I was about three or four at the time.  Apparently, I was very concerned with drying my bellybutton after baths, and that’s the story I told my mother to explain why.  This is probably proof that I’ve always been this weird, but I’m proud of the weirdness now, so I’m okay with that.

My storytelling didn’t stop there.  I acted out stories with my stuffed animals and then with Barbies and various other figures.  Later on, this turned into telling stories with my friends.  We’d create elaborate situations for our toys and we’d act out how they resolved them.  Sometimes the characters were just people (Barbie and friends), sometimes not.  There was a long stretch when everyone was an animal.  First it was plush dogs from 101 Dalmatians, then it was plastic figures from Aladdin and later The Lion King.  (Disney is a key feature in the childhood of most children who grew up in the US during the 1980s and 1990s.)

As I grew older and the figures and toys became less important, I would talk through my stories out loud.  I’d have whole conversations (yes, I talked to myself a lot as a kid).  I’d imagine situations for my characters and they’d talk about them and experience them and talk some more.  I don’t think it ever occurred to me to write any of my stories down until that assignment in sixth grade.  And I think this has helped me as an author.  I have a great memory for characters and plots, developed from years of keeping them all in my head.  I also to this day talk through my dialog out loud.  I thing it greatly improves my dialog and makes it sound more realistic and less stilted.  Sometimes I’ll talk through a conversation two characters will be having five or twelve times before I ever write it down.

Whatever my first piece was, I’m glad that I wrote it and I’m glad that people encouraged me to keep writing more.  I believe that everyone has a story to tell and that everyone should have the space to tell it.

(The image on this post was created from stock photos.)

Balance: Narrative, World Building, and Backstory

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Progress on my latest version of book two in the Swords & Shields series is going very well.  I’ve done some major cutting and rewriting over the past year and it’s vastly improved the book.  My latest task in the revision process is to add back in a little bit of a planning scene and it’s gotten me thinking about the balance every author has to strike between their narrative, world building, and character backstory.

In this equation, the narrative is by far the most important.  That is the story you are telling right now.  The rest doesn’t really matter if the narrative gets lost.  Character backstory can also be important, but a little can go a very long way most of the time.  World building information has been my struggle with book two.  Because this is a modern day fantasy there’s some terminology that’s not familiar to the average reader, so I’m having to include enough context for readers to pick up on the meaning on the new words.  This goes well enough for vocabulary, but world building can come in many forms.

World building includes everything about your world.  Why do people act as they do, live where they do, or have the jobs that they do?  How is society structured?  Even a setting that is largely based on our own reality relies on world building to define certain relationships and facets of the world.  Social and political relationships can be especially tricky to properly describe to readers.

As an author, I’m trying very hard to make sure that the narrative is getting the proper treatment as the primary part of the novel, while not excluding so much of the world building that readers get confused.  That can lead to some very specifically designed scenes, which is not my strong suite as a writer.  I much prefer to let the scenes evolve and grow with the story rather than write something very specific to fill a very specific hole.  If I’m lucky, my readers will never be able to pick out which scenes are the ones I’ve struggled to add in and which ones I’ve whittled down from earlier more rambling versions.

I’d love to hear how you strike a balance between your narrative and the world building and backstory.  It can be a struggle to get the balance exactly right in any given book so I’m always looking for new ways to look at the problem and new techniques to try out.

Image Prompt 049 Response – Fair Folk

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I chose the image of the Welsh castle ruins for my twenty-minute sprint this week.

Fair Folk:

Calum ducked behind the partially ruined wall, his heart pounding.  He’d just come up to take some pictures.  The place was usually either completely deserted or crawling with tourists.  He’d thought he’d lucked out and it was a slow day and he’d get shots without people in them, but then he’d heard voices.

He turned and slowly peeked his head up over the wall enough to see the two figures he’d overheard.

Hearing someone say “If you don’t do as you’re told she’s going to have you killed,” had freaked Calum out enough that he’d run away from the pair.  Looking back at them, he was glad he’d run.  They didn’t look entirely human.

The taller of the two was wearing a dark green jacket.  He also had no pants, and his legs had backward knees, thick brown fur, and ended in cloven hooves.  Calum was fairly sure there were little horns at his temples too, but he was just far enough away to doubt his eyesight.

The shorter one at least had all his clothes on.  They looked like something out of a medieval fair though.  Slightly baggy pants tucked into boots that were fastened with leather tied around the outside, a loose shirt tied at the neck, and a tunic that hung over the man’s hips.

Calum ducked down again, not wanting them to notice him.  They were either seriously dedicated actors of some kind, or the rumors about the ruins were true, and the two men were some of the fair folk come to the human world.

The death threat actually made Calum hope for the later.  Unless it had been a line from a play?  The ruins would be a great place to do an in situ performance, or even to film a screenplay, but there was no evidence of an audience or any recording equipment.

Calum wasn’t sure how the two would react to being overheard, or seen for that matter.  He didn’t think he could get back to his car without being noticed though.  Carefully, he peeked up again.  Neither man seemed to have noticed him.  Crouching down again, Calum surveyed the slope back toward the parking lot.  Maybe he could make it look like he hadn’t seen or heard them yet?

They were still talking, though Calum wasn’t close enough to make out the words now.  They didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the rest of the area.  Calum peeked up again, bringing his camera with him this time.  He wanted one picture, just to prove to himself that he wasn’t crazy.  He snapped it quickly then ducked down again.  He started moving along the wall, putting more distance between him and the two men.  If he was on the other end of the wall, he could pretend he hadn’t seen them and head back toward the parking lot.

When he made it to the far end of the intact portion of wall, Calum took some shots of the stones, it gave him a reason to be down here and a reason to not have noticed the other two men.  He slowly stood as he took more pictures, glancing sideways to see if the men were still there.

They were gone.

2019 Writing Goals: January Progress

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So, today’s blog post is late (but still on Friday!) and I don’t have any good excuses.  I have lots of excuses.  I’ve had a cold, my husband has had a worse cold, I was the Dungeon Master (DM) for my first session of a co-DMed Adventure Guild campaign of Dungeons and Dragons last night, and I’m sure I can think of more.  But none of those are good excuses.  I had time.  I just spent it doing other things.

Most of my January didn’t look like this week has.

I’m doing a challenge this year where I am trying to spend at least 240 of the 365 days of 2019 doing at minimum 20 minutes of creative work, be it writing fiction, editing fiction, world building, character creation, or other related items.  This averages out to 20 days each month.  There are months (like November) when I’ll be hitting a higher number.  So some other months (like December) I can safely work on 10 or fewer days in the month.

January has been a good start for the year.  I worked on 24 of the 31 days, which is 77% of the month.  Shout out to all the NaNo folks who have continued to join me for a 20-minute sprint at 6:50am weekday mornings.  That’s been helping me get my minimum in a lot more often that I might have otherwise.

I have not been working on book two of Swords & Shields as much as I’d intended.  I have written several prompt exercises, started a few random story ideas, and generally explored characters and scenes.  February will be a dive back into book two.  I will report back to let you know how successful that declaration is.  I have partial feedback from one beta reader, and another who will be able to look at it later in the year.  My goal is to make all the edits needed based on reader one so that reader two can have the updated version.

If I did a good job during the last major revision of book two (which wouldn’t have been the same without my beta readers), then I’m hopeful that this round won’t need as much work.  I did basically rewrite from scratch though, so I might have introduced more issues than I solved.  We’ll see.

I hope all of you are doing as well on your 2019 writing goals as I’ve managed to.  If not?  February is a brand new month, don’t worry about January and just push forward to meet your February goals.

Image Prompt 048 Response – Broken Down

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I chose the picture of the couch in the snow for my twenty-minute sprint this week.

Broken Down:

Caleb walked along the side of the rode with his arms wrapped around himself.  The snow was still falling slowly down around him as he trudged along.  He was glad for his thick winter boots and his heavy winter coat, but even than wasn’t much help when he’d been out in the swirling snow for more than two hours.  He hadn’t realized how far in the middle of nowhere he was when he decided to walk toward civilization instead of staying with his car.

It had probably been the right decision because he still had a dead battery in his phone and he hadn’t seen a single car on the long stretch of highway he’d walked so far.  He knew his aunt lived in the boonies, but hadn’t expected his car to die half way between town and her place.

He crested a hill and paused at the top.  There were some buildings ahead, that he didn’t actually remember passing on the way down.  Maybe he hadn’t been looking far enough from the highway?  Or maybe he’d stumbled off the highway and was now hopelessly lost.  The buildings still seemed like a good bet.  They might have a land line he could borrow to call his aunt or a tow truck.

Caleb started down the hill, still walking along the road, which was nominally cleared, so that he wasn’t wading through the foot-deep snow.

As he got closer to the little cluster of buildings, he saw a brown leather couch sitting in front of the fence near the road.  It was covered in snow like everything else, but it still looked so inviting.  Caleb shook his head.  He wasn’t that tired.  He didn’t need to sit down on a couch in the snow.  With his luck, he’d fall asleep and end up dying of exposure.

Just past the couch was a wooden gate that stood open at the end of what looked like a gravel driveway.  It wasn’t cleared of snow enough for a vehicle, but he could see furrows that meant a human being had been up to the mailbox and back some time in the last day, so Caleb followed the tracks down the drive toward the buildings.

As he approached, Caleb could see that the closer building was a barn, followed by something else that was probably another barn or a storage shed of some kind.  Past that another hundred yards or so was an old farm house.

The barn was closed up tight, but Caleb could smell animals as he walked past it.  A working farm would have people around.  No family would abandon their livestock even for a storm like this.  Hope made Caleb move a little faster as he trudged through the snow toward the house.

There were three steps up from the drive to the porch of the farm house.  There were two pickup trucks and a little sedan parked off to one side, and Caleb thought he saw light coming around the curtains of one of the front rooms. He knocked his boots together to get the bulk of the snow off them and shook his coat out on the first stair, then climbed up onto the porch.  It was a big wide, wraparound style with a couple rocking chairs on one end and a porch swing on the other.

The mat at the door said welcome, which Caleb hoped was promising.  He raised his hand and knocked.

“Was Manny planning to come by or something?” Caleb heard someone call from inside.

“Not that I know of,” someone called back.  Through the door it was hard to tell anything about the voices.

Caleb smiled when the door opened, pushing his hood back and hoping he didn’t look threatening.

The young woman who opened the door looked utterly confused.  She was a little under five feet tall with her brown hair pulled back in a braid, wearing jeans and a heavy gray sweater.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Caleb said.  “My car broke down, and I was hoping you had a phone I could use since mine’s dead.”

“Dad,” The girl yelled over her shoulder.

“Who is it, hon?” her father asked as he walked up behind her.  He was definitely her father.  They had the same nose and the same pale blue eyes, but he was over six feet tall with thickly muscled arms shown off by the blue t-shirt he wore with his jeans.

Caleb repeated his apology and request to use a phone.  “I was on my way to see my aunt when the storm caught up with me.  I hadn’t expected the snow until this evening and then my car died.”

“Come on in out of the cold,” the man said.  “We’ll get you sorted out.”

“Thank you, sir,” Caleb said in relief.

The man opened the storm door and Caleb stepped inside, the warm air making his cheeks hurt and his eyes water.  He blinked trying to see, and managed to identify a neat line of shoes beside a bench next to the door as well as his host’s bare feet peeking out below his jeans.

Caleb sat down on the bench and pulled his boots off, not wanting to track snow through the kind man’s house.

“You can leave your coat on the bench and follow me to the kitchen,” the man said.

“Thank you very much, sir,” Caleb replied.  He stood up, careful to avoid the snow already melting off his boots, and shed his jacket.