In Memory Of: Goodbye, Beautiful

To my friend, who died not 48 hours ago

Looking at the sea, she watches the sun set into water. Long shadows stretch over the ground and reach across the sand like fingers. So many things these shadows have touched.

Wind tugs at her hair. She brushes strands from her face, but her fingers crumble apart. Little flakes of her dead flesh drift away as the breeze carries them into the water.

“So, then.” She smiles, both beautiful and sad. “This is it.”

Who knew her time would be so short? Only 23 years. She looks back at the long sunset-cast shadows as her wrists crumble away, her toes too. Ah, she sees such life behind her. Perhaps her time was short, but memories made it brilliant and bright, full of colors and laughter. Regrets do creep into her mind, dream unfulfilled, years unseen, but she embraces what she had and did.

Up to her elbows now death has claimed her. The sobs of those she’s left behind carry in the wind that carries her away. Eyes closed, a tear slips free. Yes, she thinks, there is another thing I regret to leave behind. Such a large family she had! So many brothers and sisters . . .

“And I the oldest too” she sighs. “What will they do with me gone?”

Still staring behind her, her arms and legs have fallen away. She floats now, more spirit than flesh, her hair wavying around her like a halo. She sees the glass lightening has made in the sand. Each moment of her life that stuck another’s solidified her in both hearts. Yes, she left friends and family now, but they will cling to those share moments, when two lives touch and change each other.

There will be no body for her. The wind has spirited it away. Her soul yet lingers, watching. She turns around and lets go. A bright light. Her soul winks away to those pearly gates.

Goodbye, beautiful.

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How to Develop Your Characters on a Deeper Level

Many authors turn their main characters into reflections of themselves.

Now, before I go any further, let me clarify that, yes, each and every character you write about will in some way reflect yourself. You can’t help it. You can’t stop it. Every experience you have had up till this point will imprint your characters, from how you view colors to religion. It is somewhat foolish to think you can completely detach your mindset from your characters.

Okay. So we know that wholly detaching ourselves from our character is impossible. What can we do?

Characters are limbs.

Think of characters as an extension of yourself. Your hands are nothing like your eyes. If you showed a hypothetical alien who had never seen a human a picture of hands and eyes, the alien may think they are two different organisms. That’s what you want to do with characters. They will have bits and pieces of you in there (even if your character’s views contradict your own, it is still a contradiction of you), so your goal is to make the characters developed enough to stand as their own being separate. You are the mind of these characters, and your blood will pump through them but they can look different and act different.

So how can we do this?

We certainly don’t want flat and uncomplicated characters whose stereotypical personalities become predictable, cliché, and boring.

We don’t want spaz-monkeys whose emotional development and decisions don’t make any sense.

Most (and I say most here because some authors have found success doing this, though I don’t recommend it) don’t want characters who are “empty shells” the reader gets to identify with and pour his or her own personality into.

There’s a plethora of suggestions on how to lift characters off the page. Why? Because readers want “real” characters who and come to life before their eyes and seem so real they’re like a friend (or enemy). In most cases, if you have a great character the plot doesn’t matter as much. Character driven stories tend to be more successful and stick with a reader longer. In the writing world, many will agree that characters are “king” (or queen).

As an author, you have to create another person. And, generally, multiple people because books tend to have more than one character. This person should think differently and view the world differently than you (at least some of them should). So, after you plan out your characters however you plan out your characters (mock scenarios, those charts people fill out (If NAME was a color, what color would s/he be?)), take a personality test for the character.

What? A personality test?

Yep. According to psychologist’s (really, one of the founders of the study of psychology) Carl Jung, everyone can be broken down into 16 different personality types. Each type reacts to situations and views the world differently.

So . . . take the test for yourself. See which of the 16 personalities you are. Then, take the test for your characters. First, make sure your characters have a variety of the 16 types (note: if they all got your type, you may want to revise your character). Then, read the breakdown of each type your characters got. This will give you a better understanding of how they think and will help fine-tune them from “flat” to “real”.

Taking these tests for your characters also challenges you and forces you to really get inside a character’s mind. Give it a try. You can find dozens of these tests online if you type “myers briggs personality test” or something of the like into Google (or the search engine of your choice). I do, however, recommend you take the same test for each character. All the tests will asks different questions and you’re more likely to get clearer results (speaking in terms of better understanding and differentiating your characters) if you use the same test.

Let me know how it works out!

Smooth as Glass

Smooth as glass. Ha. What a hilarious comparison. Glass sure doesn’t feel smooth when it breaks your skin open. Now blood, that stuff is sticky. And when blood covers a jagged piece of glass, it’s just a mess. Funny that’s what I think about as my brother dies in my arms. Does that make me a horrible person? Probably.

            Bang!

            Half the people in the cathedral flinch. The others don’t care anymore. Dull-eyed, they just wait. The Visine will break in soon. With the windows blown out and the door giving way, our time has run out. That’s okay with me. I’m sick of running, fleeing from continent to continent, traveling across oceans, and even flying on dragons to get away. If the Visine want to kill us so badly, just let them. I’m done.

And so is my brother. The glass shattered over his head went the windows broke. Little pieces still pierce his flesh; like a prevented star they catch the sunlight and reflect it into this dark room. But one shard punctured his inner thigh, right on the vein. He ripped it out before I could tell him not too. He’s bleeding out and all I can do is watch. Won’t be long now.

“Kierk?” he whispers. I lean closer to him.

“Yeah?”

“I can see them. Ma and Da. Juali too.”

I frown. His brain’s going with his blood. No one can see the dead. I lost the rest of my family a while ago. I’d never see them again. Nothing happens after death. You just vanish like a fire, here then gone. Some believe otherwise. I had, before the Visine decided all Fleours must die. And all because we look different and believe in a different god—one I don’t even believe in anymore.

My brother pales and pales, a faint smile on his lips. “Ma,” he says. “Da. Juali.” He looks up, fingers stretching towards something. He’s too weak to move his arms. Then, I watch it happen. His eyes flutter once, twice, and close.

They won’t open again. I know that.
I pull his body close, hugging him. I’ll probably die before it turns cold.

I close my eyes. What’s the point in keeping them open?

I keep them tight and see only darkness. I hear breathing around me, heavy, quick. Some people whisper. One child cries. Otherwise it’s silent. In that silence, I can hear my memories, see them. I run across the lawn with my little siblings. I am the dragon who swoops down and pretends to eat them. Hah. Not such a funny memory now. But they laugh and laugh while a pretend dragon pretends to eat them. Who knew it could be so much fun. I can almost hear their laughter now. Geez those two irritated me, clinging to my legs all the time, asking about this or that. Boy, hindsight is great. What I wouldn’t do for them to ask me something now; I’d even cry with joy if they threw a tantrum over something stupid. Being persecuted really makes you re-think life.

How differently I would have lived if I knew then what I do now.

Now all I’ve got left is however long it takes for the Visine army to break down the door and slaughter one more group of Fleourien survivors.

I run into the darkness around me towards the memories floating just around my thoughts. I embrace them and slip into a dream. I won’t wake up. And, like my brother, I’ll join my family now and share a last few moments with them before I die and become nothing. False moments, sure, old moments, but still.


So that was a little depressing; I apologies for that. I didn’t mean to write something so dismal, it just happened. I got caught between deciding if I should write a novel, novella, or short story out of this scene. But, it ended up just being a flash fiction. I’m not a “gardener” in my writing style, so this will probably remain a depressing piece of flash fiction. But, how knows. These characters may come back and haunt me until I write about them. I just have two major problems with that. One: I can’t leave the bad guys as Visine–which I named after the eye drops one my bed . . . yeah. Two: I don’t know where this story goes. Kierk (the narrator) could go anywhere. I thought about having someone from the future come back and ask him if he wants to try again. I thought about having the Visine outside the door attacked and Kierk and the Fleouriens surviving, forcing him to learn how to live without his family. I thought about letting him go back in to the memories and leading the reader to this point (I sure want to know about how he got away from the Visine). Alas, I, nor anyone but Kierk and his family, will probably ever know. All those possibilities seemed too cliché and predictable for me.

Anyways, if you have any questions about it, let me know. And I’d love to know how others felt about it. I don’t typical write about atheist characters so I wanted to challenge myself.

How Much Attention Should You Give Your Worlds? Advice for crazy people aka Fantasy Novelists

“How developed should my world be?” is a question many fantasy writers have posed, and with good reason. In some fantasy novels, multiple countries, continents, or even dimensions exist. As an author, you want the world to feel real, to be real in your and the reader’s minds, but you don’t have thousands of years to build a culture (this blog post doesn’t necessarily have to be just for fantasy writers, but that is what I write and understand best, so I will always just refer (default?) to fantasy. This advice can be applied to any genre, really).

So . . . how crazy should you go? You could invent language (or several) like Tolkien and proceed to put entire songs in that lovely language in the book or every article of clothing to have ever existed in the world like Jordan seems to do (for the record, I am a massive Tolkien fan and fan of Wheel of Time as well. Who doesn’t love reading poems in elvish or what Rand and everyone in the room is wearing?). You could develop certain aspects–religion, education, history, gender roles, architecture, literature, science, government, food, fashion—the list could go on and on and on—in great detail and leave others more vague. You’re trying to build a world, and entire culture when you probably don’t even know everything about your own, let alone others, let alone inventing one, or several.

That’s the key: you don’t know everything. Your readers don’t need to know everything about your countries or cultures either. They need to feel submersed in a world, but trust me (as an fantasy fan) when I saw they do not want every . . .itty-bitty . . . detail of your cultures and world. Weaving culture in, making it seem natural to the characters while still teaching the readers about it and enough of it to make it seem real, that’s the key. Easy, right? Well, no, but it is fun.

As far as how much world you should “build”, that’s up to you. How much do you want? Do you want to do. You can go crazy and create every itty-bitty detail; you can focus on the aspects important to the story, character, or what interests to you (for example, I enjoy detail the religion, art, and gender roles of my worlds); you can focus on the things that might seem radically different from our culture and let the readers fill in the familar–you can do whatever you want. You’re the author, after all. However, a good rule of thumb I learned from watching Brandon Sanderson lectures (DO THIS. If you want to write fantasy, just type in “Brandon Sanderson lectures in a Youtube search. The man can break down books and teach you how to do a better your writing (the entire process) without telling the “right” or “wrong” way to do it) is that you should build about 20% of the world (the tip of the ice burg) and leave the other 80% for the reader to imagine on their own, just dropping hints here and there. Let them create a bit of this world themselves, let their imaginations run wild and truly make your story their own.

For all my dear gardeners, I am obviously an architect. I plot like crazy before I write. If you just let the words take you places, then let the world take you places too. Just make sure you edit once you’re done so the world stays consistent.

One quick tip (not so quick, but still important) before I’m done. If you decide to add something radical to your world, make sure you outthink the reader as to how this “thing” would change every day life. Take magic for example. If you have magic people who control the elements (Avatar The Last Airbender (which is highly recommended form me) is a great example of this) , make sure the characters’ everyday life is affected by this. If everyone can control water, are there firemen? Do they have showers or baths? Do people drown? Do people use water to drown others? Have boats been invented? Wells? Does this extend to controlling blood? Can you stop a wound with it? Make someone your puppet? You have to decide how the world changes around the differences you’ve added into it. Obviously you can’t catch everything or consider every possibility, but your goal is to make sure you think of more than your reader. It’s okay for them to think of a few things, but try to catch the obvious implications and a few of the more detailed one. You can always guide your reader into a certain implication. If you had your “thing” change the world in this radical way, the reader may think of another but still find how you thought this “thing” changed the world was interesting.

As always, feel free to ask questions! I think I might start asking you questions at the ends of future posts. For example; how do you build your worlds (how exciting was that!!)?

Lastly, I can’t be the only person who thinks of Cowboy Bebop when the “beep beep beep” text it shows when you’re getting ready to post.

See you space Cowboy . . .