Locker Room Talk

I was playing with boys about my age (10?) in my neighborhood..

The part I didn’t mind: getting pinned and having a hand held over my mouth. We were playing spies or ninjas or something agressive, and I was enjoying myself.
The part I did mind: when they started talking about how they were going to rape me. I shook them off and changed the game, but that rattled me. Remained stuck in my mind over a decade later.

Not that they were actually going to rape anyone… at that age. I doubt they even really knew what they were talking about… but the fact that they were talking like that shows problems with their parents, peers, and media intake. With, in fact, their culture.

If 10-year-old boys think rape is a game, are they going to take it any more seriously when they’re bigger, stronger, and have sex drives?

No, our culture answers clearly. Not in the least.

 

Remembering

I’ve been dreadfully busy, these past two weeks. Some people don’t take that as an excuse to miss blogging and writing, but… I guess I do. Some people say writing needs to be a habit like brushing your teeth in the morning, but guess what? When I get too busy, I don’t remember to brush my teeth. Don’t remember to drink water unless I’m reminded. Don’t remember to eat. Don’t remember to write. I’m that bad at habits.

To be fair, these past two weeks have been fraught. I’ve been planning trips, making reservations, driving my family around, navigating without GPS, seeing sights. Castles. Palaces. Rivers. Shops. Paris in one day. You know, the firstest of first world trials. We can’t afford to eat at most of these places. I don’t remember to eat much of what we packed. Don’t remember to drink, unless my mother, or sister-writer, press bottles into my hands and order my hydration. Don’t remember to write.

When we do eat out, I forget anything else. Revel. Carp! I forget anything else. Eclair! I forget anything else. Warm brie and pear! I forget anything else. Sister-writer remembers to take pictures. Bad lighting. Good faces. Good food.

I’m bad at all-the-time habits. But I’m good at coming back to things. Circling back around. Beginning again. Carrying on. Remembering, if not in time, in time. I walk through the woods with my mother. The light is perfect. I remember to take pictures. She’s beautiful.

I think maybe that’s how I’m meant to be. Not remembering always, maybe remembering enough. I see my mother in Paris and forget to take pictures. I see my mother in the trees, and remember. It is good.

I remember to write a blog post. I’ve forgotten dinner.

Maybe it’s enough. Maybe it’s good.

Abridged Reality

If you try hard enough

You can grow deaf to the world

Live in absentia,

Home-grown dementia,

A home grown right

Between your stoppered ears,

Sand filling your mouth and nose.

Little pockets of bliss;

A determined abyss:

Life has always looked better

In the director’s cut.

 

Driving Forces

I learn more about my characters by letting them hang out in my real life, even if it’s nothing like their own world.

Dalvin, for instance, likes to blare pop rock music and take the wheel when we’re in the car. She’s a surprisingly competent driver, for a girl from a world in which mills and magic are the height of technological advancement.

When I ask her why she likes it so much, she answers, “It’s a lot like battle, isn’t it? One wrong move and you’re dead or injured, and there’s nothing for it but to let your body outpace your mind and do what you’ve taught it to do. It’s very relaxing.”

hydroplaning-397359_1920

Relaxing? To think that you’re one wrong move away from injury or death? I certainly don’t want to think of driving in that light… How on earth do you find your looming mortality relaxing?

Rarely interested in self-reflection, she only shrugs. “Everything’s too immediate to be fussed with thinking about it. I don’t like thinking.”

Huh. That’s an odd thing to say. Why don’t you like thinking?

She gives me a dirty look. “I don’t know,” she says slowly. “Do you want me to think about it?”

Ah. Looks like I’ve used up her introspection for the day.

*****

Check out Grace the Mace

In which Dalvin is forced not only to fight for her life… but to think about it.

We’re Mostly Mad Here

I was standing at the stove with my friends lounging around me as I poured pasta into boiling water, laughing at an exchange between Will, Sy, and Gilbert, when a sudden worry flashed through my mind.

How am I going to feed so many people with just one box of mac-‘n’-cheese? I frowned.

Then sanity resurfaced, and my face went red as I realized it was just me and my best writer friend Danielle standing in the kitchen. The hilarious Will, Sy, and Gilbert were our characters and muses.

I revealed my lapse in mental acuity, and they laughed at me—three imaginary, one present on the common plane of reality, and all four mocking my madness.

That's right, keep laughing at the chef. That will never have any consequences.

That’s right, keep laughing at the chef. That will never have any consequences.

But this madness—while entirely laughable—stems from a very important part of my writing process: taking my characters seriously.

Now, you don’t have to slip that far down the rabbit hole to be a good writer. But whether or not you consider your cast to be real, you must consider them valid.

Even if you think your characters to be players in your plot, not friends hanging out in your kitchen, their truths (not just their mutable facts) must be given due consideration. Avid readers can smell a cardboard cutout character an aisle away. Even side characters are better for having an underbelly. Even if it’s never shown in the story you’re telling, it will influence the visible surface, lending depth and truth.

Writing Grace the Mace, I considered the forces that had formed each character, and the impact each one would have on the others–in shaping, motivating, and provoking.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the title character herself. Dalvin Grace is shaped by two opposing forces—her mother, and the rest of the world. She resembles both her caring mother and her cruel environment. She resents both her “weak” mother and the buffeting world of the Great Graves mountain nations. Her feelings are spurred by—you guessed it, both her mother, and the world around them.

Had I treated Grace as simply a cog in my plot, I might have decided that she would defend her mother—another cog, a porcelain figure in maternal damsel-ish distress, serving the plot much as love interests commonly serve. That would have left me with an action-adventure novel that read much like an old, two-dimensional video game. However elaborately I plotted the “levels,” the main character would move through them, and collect the prize—mother’s safety—at the end.

But Weylah, the mother, is a valid person in her own right. Sweet, feminine, naive, and near-magically buoyant—those facts I knew from the first brush. I delved beyond the ultimate image of maternity, looking for personhood behind those soft, amber eyes. I asked a lot of questions. What were her fears? Regrets? Strengths? Worst memories? Doubts? Faiths? Worldview?

I can’t say a bell rings in my head at the precise moment a character goes from being an idea to being a person. But usually, the change is near the moment I understand their deepest, greatest why. Writing is an art, not a science, and the artistic process is never entirely predictable, but if they haven’t made that transition from pile of facts to true person, I know I’m not finished. If the people aren’t true, neither is their story.

If I didn’t understand Weylah, I wouldn’t understand the unique tensions between the flowerseller and her mercenary daughter, and how the push-and-pull of that relational tide shapes Dalvin’s very existence, for better and for worse—and for the plot.

Some authors are of the opinion that characters only serve the plot. But characters known in their own right will serve a plot far better than dress-up dolls sewn for the part ever could.

People are the heart of any story, and if you don’t write it with pumping blood, the best you’ll ever get is the interesting corpse of an idea.

You hardly need to go so far as to mistakenly make dinner for five, but a character that inhabits a writer’s head is, of course, that much more likely to stick in the head of a reader.

I think of fiction as a happily catching madness.

*****

If you’d like a disgruntled, paranoid mercenary rattling around in your head,

Check out Grace the Mace, available on Kindle in paperback.

 

 

 

Less Than True, Greater Than A Lie: Writing what your characters think vs. what they do

Have you ever created a scale of values for your characters?

Grace the Mace would say hers looked something like this:

Strangers < Friends < Comfort < Pride < Ambitions < Survival < Mum

The truth, interestingly enough, looks a little more like this:

Comfort < Strangers < Pride < Survival <Friends < Ambitions < Mum

The differences between a character’s self-perception and their true values is often as telling as the scale itself.

That said, it can be tricky to portray a difference between perceived values and actual values within your writing, especially in first person or third person close. The narration must strike a balance between being true to the truth, and being true to the character’s perception of the truth.

The best way I’ve found to stick to both sides of the story at once is to set the opposites right next to one another—as I did with Dalvin’s coin and discourtesy in this passage, and again later with one of my favorite lines in the book:

Dalvin scowled, dug in her purse for a silver dragon, and flung it at the girl. “Get a pair of shoes, and stop being such a worthless friend.”

Grace constantly outs herself by what she’s willing—and unwilling—to give up. While neither her words nor the narration will admit to it, she proves her scale of values again and again by what she sacrifices.

Of course, the same can be done with a character who thinks themselves benevolent or benign, and proves, without a hitch in the narrative’s self-assurance, to do entirely cruel or thoughtless things. One need look no further than The Children of the Light in The Wheel of Time, The Shepherdess in The Legend of Eli Monpress, or Eli Ever from Vicious to find characters of that stripe.

These sorts of internal discrepancies are not just allowable in fiction, they’re to be expected! Cognitive dissonance is a very real part of the human makeup, and a character with impeccable self-perception is an incredible rarity—and I’m not just talking about the female lead who thinks herself plain or ugly when everyone else considers her gorgeous. Don’t take your characters’ word on who they are and what they value. See what they sacrifice when push comes to shove—and let the reader see the truth for themselves.

What do your character’s value scales look like? Do they know themselves as well as they think they do? Leave a comment!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Bonus scale:

The values of Weylah, the Mum in question, would go something like this:

Comfort < Pretty Things < Plants < Animals < Strangers = Friends = Lovers = Family

Her self-perception… doesn’t exist. She’s like the opposite of a narcissist. When she reflects, it’s never on herself except in terms of how she could better serve her values–i.e., people.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Grace the Mace now available for sale on Kindle and in paperback.

 

A Vicious Tribute

A cosplay shoot depicting V.E. Schwab’s novel, Vicious. Modeled and photographed by Tirzah Duncan (me!) and Danielle E. Shipley (the bestie!).

Blackout 05

The marker hissed as he drew another line, blotting out several sentences in the middle of the page… He skimmed the words and smiled as he found another section to ink out. By the time the first bell rang, signaling the end of Victor’s art elective, he’d turned his parents’ lectures on how to start the day into:

Be lost. Give up. give In. in the end It would be better to surrender before you begin. be lost And then you will not care if you are ever found.

He’d had to strike through entire paragraphs to make the sentence perfect after he accidentally marked out ever and had to go on until he found another instance of the word. But it was worth it. The pages of black that stretched between if you are and ever and found  gave the words just the right sense of abandonment.

Ice 04_best

Victor perched on the tub, clutching a drink as he stared down at Eliot Cardale’s corpse.

Eli hadn’t screamed. Pain had been written across every one of the forty-three muscles Victor’s anatomy class taught him twisted together in the human face, but the worst Eli had done was let a small groan escape between clenched teeth when his body first broke the surface of the icy water. Victor had only brushed his fingers through, and the cold had been enough to elicit a spark of pain up his entire arm. He wanted to hate Eli for his composure, had almost hoped―almost hoped―that it would be too much for him to bear. That he would break, give up, and Victor would help him out of the tub, and offer him a drink, and the two would sit and talk about their failed trials, and later, when it was a safe distance behind them, they would laugh about how they’d suffered for the sake of science.

Knife 01

But he needed a sign. God had seemed, in the past few days, like a match-light next to the sun of Eli’s discoveries, but now he felt like a boy again, needing sanction, approval. He pulled a pocket-knife from his jeans, and clicked it open.

“Would You take it back?” he asked the dark apartment. “If I were no longer of Your making, You would take this power back, wouldn’t you?” Tears glistened in his eyes. “Wouldn’t you?”

He cut deep, carving a line from elbow to wrist, wincing as blood welled and spilled instantly, dripping to the floor. “You’d let me die.” He switched hands and carved a matching line down his other arm, but before he’d reached the wrist, the wounds were closed, leaving only smooth skin, and a small pool of blood.

Cards - Eli, back

“Wouldn’t you?” He cut deeper, through to bone, over and over, until the floor was red. Until he’d given his life to God a hundred times, and a hundred times had it given back. Until the fear and doubt had all been bled out of him. And then he set the knife aside with shaking hands. Eli dipped his fingertips in the slick of red, crossed himself, and got back to his feet.

Cards - Victor, back

Eli was like a thorn beneath Victor’s skin, and it hurt. He could turn off every nerve in his body, but Victor couldn’t do a damn thing about the twinge he felt when he thought of Cardale. The worst part of going numb was that it took away everything but this, the smothering need to hurt, to break, to kill, pouring over him like a thick blanket of syrup until he panicked and brought the physical sensations back.

Cards - Eli, front 01

“―Self-righteousness,” Victor said. But when Sydney looked confused, he added, “He heals. It‘s a reflexive ability. In his eyes, I think that makes it somehow pure. Divine. He can‘t technically use his power to hurt others.”
“No,” said Sydney, “he uses guns for that.”
Victor chuckled.

Cards - Victor, front

The paper had called Eli a hero.

The word made Victor laugh. Not just because it was absurd, but because it posed a question. If Eli really was a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain?

He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that.

Cards - Eli, deuces

She wrapped her arms around Eli’s waist and kissed the back of his neck. “You know I don’t want this kind of control,” she whispered. “Now put the gun away.” Eli’s hand slid the weapon back into its holster. “You’re not going to kill me today.”

He turned to face her, wrapped his hands, now empty, around her back, and pulled her close, his lips brushing her ear.

“One of these days, Serena,” he whispered, “you’re going to forget to say that.”

Cards - Victor, deuces

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Thirteen,” she lied, because she hated being twelve. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two. What happened to you?”

“Someone tried to kill me.”

“I can see that. But why would someone try to do that?”

She shook her head. “It’s not your turn. Why couldn’t you become a doctor?”

“Because I went to jail,” he said. “Why would someone try to kill you?”

She scratched her shin with her heel, which meant she was about to lie, but Victor didn’t know her well enough to know that yet. “No idea.”

Wineglass 04

The air was crisp and he relished it as he rested his elbows on the frozen metal rail, clutching his drink, even though he ice made the glass cold enough to hurt his fingers. Not that he felt it.

Graveyard 21

Truth be told, Victor didn’t care for graveyards either. He didn’t like dead people, mostly because he had no effect on them. Sydney, conversely, didn’t like dead people precisely because she had such a marked effect on them.

Graveyard 15

He hardly felt the cold through his coat. He was too busy trying to picture what Eli’s face would look like when he received their message. Trying to picture the shock, the anger, and threaded through it all, the fear. Fear because it could only mean one thing.

Graveyard 17

Victor was out. Victor was free. And Victor was coming for Eli―just as he’d promised he would. He sunk the shovel into the cold earth with a satisfying thud.

Graveyard 12

Thud. Thud.

“Are you one of the bad ones?” asked Sydney. Her watery blue eyes stared straight at him, unblinking. She wasn’t sure if the answer mattered, really, but she felt like she should know.

“Some would say so,” he said.

Thud.

Shovel 11

She kept staring. “I don’t think you’re a bad person, Victor.”

Victor kept digging. “It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Thud.

“About the prison. Did they… did they let you out?” she asked quietly.

Thud.

Victor left the shovel planted in the ground, and looked up at her. And then he smiled, which she noticed he seemed to do a lot before he lied, and said, “Of course.”

Shovel 01

There was a moment of silence, almost reverent, before Victor’s hand came down on her shoulder.

“Well?” he said, pointing to the body. “Do your thing.”

Shovel 08

“Oh, sure I can,” he said pleasantly. “I can shut the lid. Put the dirt back. Walk away.”

Frenemeses 01

Hate was too simple a word. He and Eli were bonded, by blood and death and science. They were alike, more so now than ever. And he had missed Eli. He wanted to see him. And he wanted to see him suffer. He wanted to see the look in Eli’s eyes when he lit them up with pain. He wanted his attention.

Frenemeses 02

“You can’t kill me, Victor,” said Eli. “You know that.”

“I know. But you’ll have to indulge me. I’ve waited so long to try.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Cards - Schwab

Eli: Wha…?

Victor: Who?

V.E. Schwab: It’s great to be the one pulling the strings.😉