Crafting Conversations: Writing Your Novel’s Dialogue In Script Form

So, I was writing one of the dialogue scenes between two of my characters, Áine and Devlin, and wanted to make sure that they kept their voices and that everything felt natural. One of the ways that I do this is by stripping away all the extra stuff around the dialogue (except for a few necessary action pieces) to make sure that they sound unique and natural. Then I’ll speak the dialogue out. If you have a friend or a significant other around, see if you can coerce them into acting the dialogue out with you. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about when I say ‘strip away all the extra stuff’. I’ll start with the original scene, and then show you the script form:

Original Prose:

“So…,” he said, still looking through the spyglass. “…are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”

He took a step back, tilting his head to the side to look at her with a raised eyebrow. The two siblings could never keep secrets from the other, so it was no surprise that he’d noticed something was bothering her. Áine glanced back towards the manor.

“You know that historia?” she asked, looking back at her brother.

“The one you fell asleep reading?”

She nodded.

“Well…it’s the strangest thing…but…,” she started, trying to figure out the best way of stating this without sounding absolutely crazy or making it seem like too big of a deal. After all, she wasn’t even sure if it was a big deal. “…I don’t remember reading it.”

“What do you mean you don’t remember reading it?” Her brother stared at her with that mild look of confusion he sometimes gets; usually when reading a book that was a little too verbose. She let out a sigh, shaking her head.

“I mean I’ve been trying to, but I can’t remember. It’s blank. I remember opening the book to read it, and then next thing…next thing I know…I’m waking up,” she dropped down to a whisper at the end, eyes darting around as if at any moment some gardener might jump out of the bushes and yell ‘Aha! Gotcha!’. Her brother followed her gaze for a moment, before hurriedly shaking his head and pinching between his eyes.

“Wait for just a moment…,” he started, before raising a finger and saying, “…you’re telling me that you – you – don’t remember a book. None of it?”

“Not a word,” she said. Now that she was seeing her brother’s reaction, the strangeness was starting to feel more real. She wasn’t the only one who found this odd. Because the truth of the matter was, out of all the books she’d read in her sixteen years of life; out of every historia, every novel…she remembered every word. Every single word. Until now.

“Have you tried your whole Mind Library thing?” he asked, whispering the last part. Áine shook her head.

“No, I haven’t had time. But still, even without that I should remember the text. I should remember the words, Devlin. Something isn’t right and…,” he placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Easy. Look, check your library. I’ll keep an eye out. Dad should be a little while. I’d say you have…,” he pulled out a little brass pocketwatch from inside his vest. “…at least another half hour,”

Áine nodded, taking a deep breath. She sat down at one of the stone benches on the sky-ledge, resting her hands on her skirt and breathing in through her nose. Half an hour. That was plenty of time to see if the book was there. She closed her eyes, letting the breath out through her mouth. In through her nose, out through her mouth.

“Oh…and ‘Lin…,” she said, opening up a single eye to look at her brother. “…stop stealing people’s pocketwatches.”

The last thing she saw before closing her eye was her brother’s mischievous grin. Then she returned to her breathing and let the world slip away from her…

Script Form:

Devlin: So…are you going to tell me what’s wrong?

Áine: You know that historia?

Devlin: The one you fell asleep reading?

Áine: Well…it’s the strangest thing…but…I don’t remember reading it.

Devlin: What do you mean you don’t remember reading it?

Áine: I mean I’ve been trying to, but I can’t remember. It’s blank. I remember opening the book to read it, and then next thing…next thing I know…I’m waking up.

Devlin: Wait for just a moment…you’re telling me that you –you– don’t remember a book. None of it?

Áine: Not a word.

Devlin: Have you tried your whole mind-dream-library-thing?

Áine: I haven’t had time. But still, even without that, I should remember the text. I should remember the words, ‘Lin, and I don’t and something just isn’t right and–

Devlin: Easy. Look, check your Library. I’ll keep an eye out. Dad should be a while. I’d say you have… *pulls out a pocketwatch* …at least half an hour.

Áine: *sits down and closes eyes* Oh…and ‘Lin… *opens one eye to look at her brother* …stop stealing people’s pocketwatches.

Can you spot the changes that were made after I wrote the scene in script form? Why do you think I made those changes and how do you think that improves the scene, if at all?  Let me know in the comments. Do you ever write your dialogue in script-form? How do you go about ensuring realistic dialogue for your stories?


15 Questions About Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Okay, so I found out about this really cool thing called Beautiful Books, and I figured I’d give it a shot. If you aren’t already aware of Beautiful Books, you can check them out through the awesome button they provided above. Pretty much, it boils down to a questionnaire that revolves around NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is this event in November where you’re challenged to write 50,000 words in 30 days. If you’ve been following my blog, you know full well that I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for the start of the event, November 1st. Pretty much, Beautiful Books is going to be set up as a series of three questionnaires: one for prepping in October, one for writing during November, and another one for revising in December. I figured this would be a good way for me to talk about Brave Albion with a little more focus, since I tend to have a habit of rambling about my process. I know, I know, I’m working on it. Also, thanks goes to Allie for making me aware of Beautiful Books through her blog, Little Birdie Books. Be sure to give her website a look and see what book she has planned for NaNoWriMo this year. Here’s a hint: it’s got ghosts.

The Questions

What came first: characters or plot idea? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

That’s a really good question, because the answer is a little hazy. Sometimes I’m a plotter, sometimes I’m not. I know, I know, that doesn’t help very much. As far as character or plots, I guess you can say both. I had a basic idea of who I wanted for a character from the beginning. It started with these two words that I developed into my character, Áine. And since I knew that Áine’s great struggle was the fact that she loved to read, but had to keep it a secret, I knew a little bit about the plot. I like to have a general outline, but most of my planning is just character development. I figure that if the character is strong enough, they’ll let me know where the plot should go. We’ll see if I know my characters well enough starting in November.

Do you have a title and/or a “back-cover-blurb”?

Yes, I do have a title. I’m always referring to the story as the world of “Brave Albion” (thus my username & the name of this blog), but the first book is going to be titled Brave Historia. And I do have a back-cover-blurb, but it’ll probably change a few dozen times before I release the first novel. Here’s what I have so far:

Áine loves to read. Her remarkable memory has allowed her to remember every word she’s ever read. But it’s dangerous to love books in a world where only the nobility are allowed to own them and any other literate person is forced to become a Librarian: bookhunters tasked with tracking down the rarest novels known as historias. As the daughter of a Librarian, she knows full well the dangers of someone finding out that she can read.

But one day, as her father delivers a strange, untitled historia on what appears to be a routine assignment, she suddenly loses hours of her time in an instant. All just after reading the book’s first few lines.Áine’s curiosity sets her on a path of secrets and riddles, shady allegiances and ancient stories. A path where nothing is as it seems. With the help of her kleptomaniac brother she’ll set out to discover the truth: of the book, the nature of magic, and herself.

What wordcount are you aiming for when your novel is finished?

50,000 words isn’t too much of a challenge, and considering the relatively small size of novels with that many words, I’m aiming for close to 100,000. Give or take a few thousand. The story will be finished when it wants to be finished. It may be 80,000 words; it may be 150,000 words (please god, no). We’ll just have to see when it’s finished, now won’t we?

Sum up your novel in 3 sentences.

Girl who loves to read is forbidden by the nobility.

Girl starts having weird things happen after reading an old book.

Girl gets in a lot of trouble and tries to fix everything.

Sum up your characters in one word each.

Áine ~ curious

Devlin ~ kleptomaniac

Allister ~ enigmatic

Lord Caladon ~ gracious

Lord Remington ~ intelligent

Mar ~ determined

Aislin ~ liar

Which character are you most excited to write? Tell us about them!

It’s Áine, of course! I’ve spent the last month trying to get to know this girl, and trust me, it wasn’t easy. It was a week before I could even get to the point where I could hear her talk. To me, she’s become the very representation of bravery. She’s a dreamer, which is a dangerous thing in a world like her own. She lives in a world where the ability to read is a crime in and of itself. Where you have to earn the right to literacy. And as if in anticipation of this, in knowing how precious each word truly was, she has the uncanny ability to remember everything she’s ever read. Like a mental library, she can browse all the books she’s ever laid eyes on. This mental library is her safe haven; it’s the place where she can dream and question without fear of losing her freedom. But what is freedom if you can’t dream and question?

What about your villain? Who is he, what is his goal?

The villain is a little more complicated; in the beginning she’s her own villain. Sure, the system that makes the nobility the only people allowed to own books is a villain. The empire who enforces it may seem the villain. But the first book isn’t about any of that. It’s about who she is, and about taking responsibility for your actions. She is her own worse enemy, and if she can’t conquer her own fears, she has no hope of conquering any terrible villain. Not that she won’t have some people to act as antagonists. Lord Remington is one of those antagonists, but I wouldn’t necessarily call him a villain.

What is your protagonist’s goal? And what stands in the way?

Her goal – at least, her greatest desire – is to write her own novel. Her own great tale, worthy of the historias all around her. Of course, the very  nature of the world stands against her. If she reveals the fact that she can write (and by default, that she can read), then she risks being pulled away from her family and thrown into a dangerous world with no one to help her. And without the love of those she cares for. Having lost her mother at a young age, she knows all too well the void that is left in the wake of a loved one who can never return. So, in a way, her greatest fear and her greatest desire are in constant struggle with each other.

What inciting incident begins your protagonist’s journey?

Áine has the ability to memorize every word she has ever read. This only seems to work for written words, and not for other things. She doesn’t remember every conversation or every event. Just books. But that all changes the day she reads a particular book her father is delivering to Lord Caladon. Not only can she not remember a single word from the book, but soon after strange things start occurring in her life. She quickly makes a decision that she needs to see that book once more. There’s only one problem: it’s locked away in the well guarded library of Lord Caladon’s manor.

Where is your novel set?

It’s set in the fictional world of Libris. The country is ruled by an Emperor, who keeps the many noble families from destroying each other thanks to his elite Archivists and the system of laws that he developed. In this world there are thousands of ancient, dangerous ruins scattered across the landscape. These ruins are the remnants of a long destroyed Library. A library that had once spanned the area of an entire country. The authors of these ancient books are forgotten, but their stories live on. However, the ability to read is a closely guarded talent; most of the common folk are illiterate, and over the centuries have developed their own myths and legends concerning the nature of these books.

What are three big scenes in your novel that change the game completely?

Girl reads book, but wakes up with no memory of it.

Girl attempts to steal book.

Girl fixes the mess she’s made.

What is the most dynamic relationship your character has? Who else do they come in contact with or become close to during the story?

Well, I’d have to say that there are three really important relationships in the first novel. I can’t vouch for the second one, I haven’t gotten that far. The first important relationship would be the one with her brother. He’s stated as being a bit of a klepto, but he’s a really good kid and Áine’s best friend. Though, they do have their disagreements. Family is family, though. The second one would be the relationship she has with her father. The nature of his job has always been something she’s disliked. He’s the very thing that he is constantly trying to protect her from becoming: a Librarian. In this world Librarians track down books for the nobility, and are usually assigned to a specific House. They got lucky with her father being assigned to Lord Caladon, who is a very kind-hearted man. Her father, Allister, usually just oversees book trades between Lord Caladon and other nobles, traveling far away to pick up whatever historia the noble has purchased. On these trips, he often takes his children with him, so they can have the opportunity to read the book during the trip, before turning it in to Lord Caladon. But, he’s also had to fight to protect some of these books, and has even turned people in for owning them when they shouldn’t. He’s confiscated forgeries from Peddlers and detained people who were found to have a true historia (which is luckily very rare, as most people simply have forged copies, which are useless and not as bad of a crime). Later on in the story, the nature of her father’s work becomes a sore point in their relationship. The third relationship that is important doesn’t come around until midway through the first book. This is Lord Remington. I don’t want to reveal too much about that relationship, but he is the main “antagonist” of the first novel, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy or a villain. That’s all I can say.

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

She becomes more sure of herself, more confident in her own abilities and in who she really is. The transformation isn’t anywhere near complete, though. She still has a lot to learn by the end of the first novel, which is why the story will take place over several more.

Do you have an ending in mind, or do you plan to see what happens?

I have an ending in mind. Sort of. At least, I have one in mind for the first novel. The rest of it is still a little up in the air.

What are your hopes and dreams for your book? What impressions are you hoping this novel will leave on your readers and yourself?

I’m hoping that I can get this novel into as many hands as possible. My goal is that through it, I can show people the value of reading; not just in our personal lives, but in our culture. I want to draw young readers towards some of the classics that might otherwise intimidate them, as well.

And, of course, I’d love for this book to sell so I can focus more time and energy on writing the sequels. If someone walks away from this story feeling like their life is richer for it, than I will be pleased.

Alrighty! That’s the basics of it. And with far less rambling than usual. I bet you’re all very proud of me. ^_^ Feel free to drop a message in the comments, contact me through twitter, or whatever. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on it. And thanks again, Allie, for making me aware of Beautiful Books!

Brave Albion Inspirations #1: Tess of the D’Ubervilles

Okay, so I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts about the works that inspired me the most when creating the characters and places in the world of Brave Albion. Since I’ve been mainly talking about characters recently, I figured I’d wrap up that theme today by talking about the character who was my initial inspiration for Áine: Tess Durbeyfield, who was the titular character of Thomas Hardy’s classic novella Tess of the D’Ubervilles.

If you haven’t read this novel, you really need to pick it up. It’s very short, but the main character is unforgettable and has some of the greatest quotes in classic literature. In my humble opinion, that is. During the time of its publication, the story was met with some controversy. In the late nineteenth century, the time when the story takes place, there was this shift in the role of agricultural workers and a crisis in the identity and value of noble bloodlines. The story spoke about these things, and in a way that most of the aristocracy at the time didn’t appreciate. Nevertheless, it’s become one of Hardy’s greatest works in recent years and gives us one of the best female protagonists in the world.

Tess is intelligent, passionate, and strikingly beautiful. But she is anything but a Mary Sue, or a model of perfection. In fact, there are those that believe she was the representation of original sin and the epitome of those who suffer for crimes that are not their own or out of their control. It is true that she is almost mythic in her role within the story. More than once she is referred to by the name of an ancient Greek goddess.

Tess was born to a farm family, long withdrawn from their supposed noble lineage. She works as a milkmaid, and a farmhand. But she isn’t content to this life, the way her parents were. No, her mind has been poisoned by the greatest disease of all. Dreams. And like any good dreamer, she reads and reads, hoping to understand more the nature of her disease, not realizing that books are simply adding to the poison in her veins. She is well-read, with an inquisitive mind. And when she discovers that she has nobility in her blood, she goes to work at the mansion of the D’Ubervilles, of which she is related. Her life is changed and she finds herself around the people her mind has always craved to be around. She is a thinker, a reader, and this is the group for which she was always meant.

In my story, Áine is the daughter of a Librarian. Librarians act as servants to the Emperor, and then to the nobility. As the House Librarian to Lord Caraway, he has the ability to read and is often sent to collect, find, and deliver certain novels. Librarians are discouraged from having children, but Áine and her brother were born before he took on the role. Understanding the beauty of books, he taught his children how to read. But it was his daughter who was the dreamer, and as I said before, books only further the poison of dreams. Infected in her heart and soul, she was addicted to reading, but in a world where that was a right only permitted to nobility and to Librarians.

She has been filling her mind with ideas and histories, stories and dreams, for most of her life. And much like Tess, it has given her an inquisitive mind and a longing heart. Also, much like Tess, she is extremely committed to her family. So, to keep them together, she must constantly hide the symptoms of a dreamer. She has learned never to ask too many questions, never to say words she shouldn’t know, never mention ideas that wouldn’t be natural for a girl of her position. Of course, as the story goes on, Áine differs much from the tale of Tess, but the heart is still there. She goes to live at a manor, she finds herself around nobility, and she discovers that it is nothing like what she may have imagined, though in ways that are very different than the story of Tess.

What great characters and novels inspired and influenced you in your books? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear them. Pick up a copy of Tess of the D’Ubervilles and give it a read sometime, as well. It’s a great story by a very talented writer. As always, thanks for reading.

Portrait of a Protagonist: On Developing Áine

It started not with a name, or a face, or even a voice. It started with two words. I had decided a while back that I wanted to figure out what my two favourite words were and after a very long time I made my choice. I settled on ‘brave’ and ‘albion’. Now, this had not been an easy decision. Close seconds were the words ‘shutter’ and ‘avalon’, and for similar reasons. Shutter and brave can both be nouns and verbs, but often their verb sides get forgotten. I decided that if it were between brave and shutter, I’d rather be brave.

The decision between avalon and albion was less about character and more about appearance and sound. I decided I liked the ‘b’ more than the ‘v’ and I went with that. Right about now, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with developing a main character. Well, it’s simple. The character I’ve created started with those two words. Brave and Albion. Brave Albion.

It started with these two words that I had decided were my favourite words, based off a multitude of things. Sound and meaning, etymology and history and simple appearance of letters. I don’t mean to say that Brave and Albion are the best words. Simply my favourite. And from those two words, I created the story I wanted to write. It had taken a lot of consideration to choose which were my favourite, so I knew these two words had plenty of meaning to draw upon.

But first came a character. I knew she would be brave, that was obvious. But what came later was that she was more than that. She was bravery. She was all that I thought to be brave and courageous, and it became for her the central-most part of who she was. And it also drove elements of the plot, but more on that later. Today, we’re talking about the main character. One word was an idea, the other one a place. But the more I branched out from those words, the more they began to relate. The idea became solid and real and the solid and real place became an idea. The idea of Albion is just as real as the place once was, and in a way, still is.

In my private definition of what bravery is, it is separate from courage. It is stronger. It takes courage to protect a stranger, to fight against an injustice, to climb a dangerous mountain. But one can be brave in the smallest of ways. One can be brave to continue believing in love, or hope, when the world has offered you nothing but pain. One can be brave when they are weak, and in many ways, bravery exists in its purest when we are weakest. Of course, these are my own private definitions of these terms, and in no way do I claim to say they are the definitions. I’m just letting you follow on what my thought process was like in the early stages of my character development.

Which brings us back to character. I knew I wanted her to be brave. And yes, I knew she was a girl from the beginning. I can never know why, and won’t pretend to understand. It was simply one of those things writers seem to just know about their worlds, as if they were facts and not make-believe. So I was thinking about bravery, and I was thinking about albion, and I was thinking about stories and books. And I knew that she must be a reader. There she was! Sitting in a little carriage, straining her eyes to see little words in the pages of a rather old book. She was a red-head, no, no, she was blonde and she had a dusting of freckles across her nose and under her eyes and her skin was a little pale beneath the freckles. But she was so pretty, I was sure she must have been nobility. A princess, or the daughter of a duchess or lord. Sure, her eyebrows were a little thick and her skin was a little pale, but those eyes were something else. Blue, like the sky on a cloudy day, almost grey in their paleness. She looked sad, but she wasn’t.

Thinking about books and stories and albion had put her in a place and had dressed and influenced her. The book she held in my mind had no title, but it had a cover that reminded me of King Arthur. And I knew more. I wanted her to be brave. She had such cloudy eyes, they reminded me of the skies in Ireland. I called her Lilian for a time, but knew she’d need a better name before I truly started. Aine was a pretty name. It was strong, and it had old roots and old meanings. Her story was a little sad, and Aine looked a little sad, but she was a survivor. It seemed fitting. I knew I’d make her go through a lot, in my writing, but I knew she could handle it. I sat her to the side for a while and I started writing more about the world.

I’d decided much earlier that books would be a key element in my story. I thought about the streets of London in the 17th and 18th Centuries. I thought about libraries, and archives, and shadows of former empires influencing modern nations. I thought about Rome and record-keeping and tales of ancient libraries. I thought about the intelligentsia of past times, of arbitrary political houses, and of the demystifying of all the world’s riddles, except the ones that are closest to ourselves. Magic would play an important role in my story, but it would be bartered with and used as a tool for an eternal cold war, rather than as an actual weapon. It would be whittled down to a practice and an art, rather like how sword melee became fencing. It would be the equivalent of royals fencing with nuclear weapons, so to speak. Books contained magic, and that magic was gathered and collected and fought for in secret, in a struggle to see who was hypothetically on top. All under the watchful eyes of the Emperor who is the one who keeps a cold war from becoming a real one, but largely with fear and strength.

I knew, of course, that reading was important to Aine. I also discovered that her only true ‘power’ came in the form of an uncanny memory for things she has read. Now, books seem to be the only things she memorizes. She doesn’t remember every detail of the world, only what she reads. I knew that she may seem a little naive, and perhaps she is a little. I knew that she had a strong sense of what was right and wrong, and that it was mostly because of the books she had read. She thought books to be safe, and wonderful and it created in her a distrust of the Emperor and even of Librarians, of which her father worked as one. Librarians tracked books down for the nobility. Librarians were commoners who couldn’t afford the right to own books, but had somehow learned how to read. If it was found out that you could read, you were sent to the Imperial Academy, where all Librarians are trained. The Academy is dangerous, and many don’t even survive the training. If you do, you simply get assigned to tracking down books for nobility. The greatest Librarians are the ones who manage to save up enough money by finding valuable historias that you can buy the right to own books, which essentially marks them as a minor noble. Other Librarians marry into one of the great Houses and become minor nobles that way, but marking themselves as allied with that noble through marriage.

Her father was a House Librarian, under the long employment of Mr. Caraway. Most of his work consisted of simply picking up a book Lord Caraway had arranged to be bought from another noble. Many nobles barter and trade with books, and this was what most of his work was. Sometimes he was sent to find books still in the old ruins. These jobs could be dangerous. Her father never allowed her to accompany him on these events. She would always be left at a hotel or an inn to wait until he came back, and then she would get the opportunity to read the little book or historia on the trip back to Mr. Caraway’s home. Needless to say, she spent a lot of time traveling, but mostly with her nose in a book. She had a brother who she loved dearly, though they were quite different from each other. Her brother was courageous.

He was also prone to stealing pocket things from people and breaking into places he shouldn’t be. I knew he had an affinity for pocket-watches, and necklaces. I was curious as to how they interacted. Did they bicker, did they get along? Was there any resentment? What would one sacrifice for the other? What wouldn’t they? I knew that it was because of her father and brother that Áine had kept it a secret that she could read for this long. She was an opinionated person, with strong ideals of right and wrong. She also had a great love for books. The idea of having to keep that a secret upset her more than anything else. Being a Librarian wasn’t all that bad, in her own mind. She’d seen her father get injuries, but overall it didn’t seem terrible. Fear of being a Librarian wasn’t a strong enough reason for her to be so careful, so against her own character for so long. No, it was deeper than that.

Áine had lost her mother, when she was four years old. She doesn’t remember much from that early in her life. She doesn’t even remember her mother’s face, or the sound of her voice. Her father worked hard, and he’d always been a bit of a distant man. At least, for as long as she’d known him. He could talk and be kind and he very clearly loved them. But his mind was always somewhere else. He was forgetful about the simple things, like preparing food or brushing your teeth, or going to bed on time. It was Áine who learned to do those things. So, in a way, she became a bit like a mother. And she was bright. At least bright enough to realize that her father and brother might not survive losing another family member.

So, her truest personal enjoyment came when she got to read. Books, as they are, exist as fuel to dreamers. They sharpen our minds and make the impossible seem achievable. In her case, this was a recipe for unease. Reading books that fueled her dreams, but still bound by love and family obligations. But her curious spirit was only being given more energy, building up inside of her in this treasure trove of stories whose words she never forgot. Her remarkable memory allowed these things to be just as strong today as they were the day before, or a month ago, or a year ago.

To truly know how she’s the bravest person I’ve ever had the joy of writing, you’ll have to wait until the book comes out. Or stick around and keep an eye out for future scenes from the work in progress. Let me know in the comments about how your protagonist came to be.

What Exactly Is Brave Albion? A Brief Description

So, the question remains. What exactly is Brave Albion? Well, it’s the title of the series I’m currently writing, a fantasy story set in a world of magic books called historias. The first book is currently in the works and will be titled Brave Historia. For the reason behind the title, you’ll just have to stick around to find out. Here’s a basic synopsis of Book One in the Brave Albion Chronicles:

Anya loves to read. Her remarkable memory has allowed her to remember every word she’s ever read. But it’s dangerous to love books in a world where only the nobility are allowed to own them and any other literate person is forced to become a Librarian: bookhunters tasked with tracking down the rarest novels known as historias. As the daughter of a Librarian, she knows full well the dangers of someone finding out that she can read.

But one day, as her father delivers a strange, untitled historia on what appears to be a routine assignment, she suddenly loses hours of her time in an instant. All just after reading the book’s first few lines. Anya’s curiosity sets her on a path of secrets and riddles, shady allegiances and ancient stories. A path where nothing is as it seems. With the help of her kleptomaniac brother she’ll set out to discover the truth: of the book, the nature of magic, and herself.

Thanks for reading and I hope that piqued your interest. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and feel free to ask questions. I hope to hear from you.

Story Challenge of the Week

Broken Mirrors

Well, welcome to a new week. Today I start a massive reading binge to catch up. It should be… enjoyable… at least mostly. Pincoffs’ manages to be interesting and immensely boring at the same time. I have to admit that is rather frustrating. However, I have a story challenge for you. You know the rules: I give you a picture and you give me a story of 1000 words or less (at least if you want to post it here) that explains what is happening in the picture. Remember the lesson from last time, stay true to the picture. Let the audience know what is happening in the background of the picture without actually altering any of the picture’s own details. Enjoy:


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Writing Saved My Life

This is my story, and I’m just going to come out and say it. It shouldn’t be shameful. It shouldn’t be something I keep hidden away, or locked in a journal, separate and unidentifiable in comparison to my “internet identity”, which quite frankly, barely even exists.

I am a writer. That’s who I show myself as on here and it’s what I spend most of my days working towards being able to eventually support myself doing. But supporting myself by writing isn’t why I started and it’s not why I continue to this very day.

I write because of who I am. And it’s more than just someone in front of a screen, putting up quotes and instructions on the flimsy hope that I’ll get anyone (anyone at all) interested in my stories. Which are beautiful, wonderful, heartbreaking and lovely, if I do say so myself.

I started writing as an escape. My life has never been glamorous, though it wasn’t always terrible. Not until one day when my mother moved me and my younger siblings to a shack in the backwoods full of moldy clothes and rats, so she could switch from being a part time meth addict to a full time one.

Yeah, it was sad. Yeah, it sucked. But something beautiful happened to me there that I wouldn’t trade the world for. I fell in love with writing. I could create worlds that made sense. With characters that could be sad when I couldn’t be, who could be angry about things I had to grit my teeth about, but also could be courageous and capable of love. All the things I lacked in my life and in myself at that time.

I was creating a safe haven, to hide from the things I struggled to cope with. To forget about the known child molesters my mother allowed in the house, the junkies in my living room, or the fact that we gathered loose change from the cushions to buy things to eat at the corner store.

And when my mom was arrested, my sister split from me to live with an aunt, and me and my brother shipped off to another state to be raised by relatives we didn’t know? Writing became the way I came to terms with that. It has cradled me while my mother has been absent, it’s taught me what it means to be a man with my father not around. I’ve questioned, analyzed, and argued all the points in my life that have troubled me through the guise of fiction.

I’ve developed the types friendships I’ve never had the good fortune to have, I’ve felt the loves that have always been fleeting. I’ve questioned what it means to be brave, or good, or trustworthy. I’ve found answers to questions I didn’t know I was seeking, and I’ve sought the family that’s always been lacking.

Writing has saved me.

It saved me at 4am on a Wednesday in April when I was trying to figure out how someone you love could hurt you. It saved me during the long winters, when I was trudging through knee high snow on the way to a gas station, because I owed a man my life and I wasn’t allowed to forget it. It saved me from myself, when after years of lies and hurt and confusion, I’d nearly forgotten how to dream.

To believe that I am good. That I am brave and strong and smart, whether the world sees me as valuable or not. So, you know what? I may never have anyone care about what I’m writing. None of you may ever send me a message, or read my stories, or my novel, or my thoughts. But the reason that upsets me, is because I wish you could.

I wish you could read about these places and these characters, because they’ve saved me from so much and I truly, honestly, with all of my heart and all that I am, believe that means something. And because I know I’m not the only person out there having troubles, struggling to make it by, or who has had a pretty messed up childhood. These characters helped me through those things, amd they’ll continue to do that. I really think they could do that for you, too. If you’d give them – give me – a chance.

I’m gonna be sharing more of my fiction in the future. I was originally going to use this blog as purely a place to talk about the craft of writing, but I’m not going to do that anymore. There may be some of that, but from here on out, I’ll primarily be using this as a platform to showcase my actual writing. Some will be scenes of my upcoming novel, some will be musings on writing itself, and other things will be random short stories, scenes, and even poetry that I write. Once a week, I’ll put out a lesson on some individual aspect of the writing craft. I know the internet is afraid of words, but that’s all I have to offer. I just have to hope someone out there thinks what I offer is worth it.

I’ve gone through homelessness, but I’ll take that before hopelessness, anyday. And I will never, until the day of my death, stop writing the stories that I love. I’m done ranting, I promise.

This story that I’m writing is the cumulative result of my entire life. Every experience, every pain, every hard learned lesson. But it’s full of a thousand dreams, as well. It may appear to be a story about a girl with a remarkable memory in a world of magical books, but it’s more than that.

It’s about family, and loss, and betrayal. It’s about seeking knowledge, and finding solace in fictional worlds. It’s about that night at 4am on a Wednesday morning in April when my heart was breaking, as much as it’s about all the hundreds of other little moments in my life where I needed answers. So, yes, I think you should read it. I really think you’ll enjoy it.

Mock Scene #2 – Revision

The book, bound in cracked leather, was only a little larger than Lilian’s open hands; the pages smelled of vanilla and grass, and on the cover there was the faded picture of a willow tree with a sword in its roots. Such a simple thing. Yet, when Lilian read it, she did so with the full knowledge that if anyone saw her, it would be the end of her life as she knew it.

The motor carriage rocked and rattled constantly, but luckily Lilian had long ago grown accustomed to reading under these conditions. The interior of the black carriage was lit by the hum of electric torches, which cast their orange glow across the worn leather seats and the family of three that sat in them. Her younger brother, Jasper, sat snoring in the passenger seat.

“Have you decided on a title, yet?” her dad asked from the driver’s seat. He was the odd one of the trio, with dark scruffy hair and a salt-and-pepper beard. Both her and Jasper had the same honey-blonde hair and almond colored eyes.

“I haven’t even started reading, yet. I was waiting until the village lights were out of sight,” she said. Behind her the town of Corse had become little more than dancing fireflies in the night. The cobblestone street had already faded away to dirt roads, and as she glanced back one last time, it was to see the last glimpses of the town disappearing through a thicket of trees.

“Good girl,” her dad said with a tired little smile. He never took his eyes off the road. From where she was sitting, Lilian could see the bags beneath his hazel eyes, even behind the wire-rimmed spectacles. He’d barely slept since they went looking for the book. She could still see the stain of blood on the sleeve of his white button-up.

‘The dangers of being a Librarian,’

“It’s strange, a historia with no title,” her dad said, interrupting her thoughts. Once more, Lilian glanced down at the small little book in her lap. Yes, it was strange. A hundred books had passed through her hands, and each one had had a title. If not on the cover, then printed inside. But not this one. There was only the picture of a willow tree, with a sword in its roots.

“It probably faded away,” she said, trying to offer her best explanation.

“Probably,” agreed her father. He glanced at her in the little mirror, and for a moment she saw the strangest look in his eyes. But then he was staring at the road, and she dismissed it as simply being tired. “I think we’re safe. You should start reading now, we’ll be there by tomorrow morning. Mr. Caraway is already expecting us,”

Mr. Caraway was a nice enough man, as far as nobility went. He called her dad “Mr. Allister”, unlike the other nobles. Most of them simply called her father “Librarian”, as if he were nothing more than a position and not a real person. At least Mr. Caraway treated her father like a human being.

‘I’ll still never understand how he just keeps all his books on shelves,’ she thought, bitterly. The idea of all these books being owned by men and women who would never truly appreciate the wonderful stories within always irritated her. She knew she had only a few short hours before the book in her hands would be on a similar shelf, out of her grasp forever. Librarians only deliver books, they don’t own them. Lilian, as the child of a Librarian, had neither privilege. These precious moments on the road, so few and far between, were her only opportunities to do what she loved most. Read.

‘So small, for something so dangerous,’ she thought, opening the book to the front page. It crackled under her touch. The pages were coarse, but not stiff, though the edges had begun to chip away. With one last glance at her father, she stared back down at the page, found the first few words, and began to read…

In the forest, there was a creek…

…and then everything changed. It happened in the blink of an eye. One moment, she was sitting in the motor carriage, reading pages from the book. Then it was as if she had awoken from a strange dream. Her mind was grasping for details, trying to align the dream into something that made sense, but it was all torn away by the sound of someone saying her name.

“Lilian,” her father said. “Lilian, are you alright?”

Lilian stood there in numb confusion. ‘Why am I standing?’ She blinked, taking in her surroundings. Everything had changed. She looked around at the polished decor, the finely carved furniture, the glittering chandelier. She knew this room. It was the foyer to the home of Mr. Caraway. Assuredly, there was Mr. Caraway himself, in his navy blue dinner coat, grey mustache, and his cane with the stone headpiece shaped like a bear.

“I’m sorry, w-wh-what was that?,” she stammered.

“I asked if you were alright. It looked like we lost you there for a moment. Daydreaming again, dear?” her father asked. He had a worried look on his face, matched by both her brother and, surprisingly, by Mr. Caraway himself. Her father turned to look at the noble with an apologetic smile. “I apologize for the concern, Mr. Caraway, we’ve had a long trip. You know how long travel gets to you,”

Her father was wearing a light brown, nearly beige, jacket; underneath it was the same shirt he’d been wearing in the motor carriage just moments before. Or what had felt like moments before. She fought against the climbing feeling of confusion and panic, hoping for all hope that her father finished as soon as possible.

“Oh, no worries, no worries. I completely understand. I’ll let you take your leave. I’ll have the money for retrieving the book sent to your place of residence, as usual,” Mr. Caraway said, raising the little leather-bound novel in his hand. Lilian stared at the familiar cover. A willow tree with a sword in its roots. Her brother who was standing to her right caught her eye and gave her a look that clearly said, ‘What’s wrong?’, while their dad finished wrapping up pleasantries. She shrugged and mouthed the word ‘later’, before returning her attention to their father.

“Thank you, sir. I’m glad I could be of service,” her dad said. He turned around and ushered them out the front door. Lilian blinked as the sun hit her eyes, the crisp autumn air carrying the smells of leaves and warm hearths. Astonmire sprawled before her, a jumble of red-tiled roofs and brick chimneys in a flatland dotted with clusters of trees and surrounded by small hills. The manor of Mr. Caraway was on one of the tallest of the hills, on the far east side of the city.

“What was that about?,” Jasper asked, the moment they were out in the open air. Her father grabbed her by the elbow before she could answer and led her to the motor car waiting for them in the driveway. He walked around to the other side of the vehicle and turned to face her.

“Lilian, you need to be more careful. What happened? I had to ask you three times to hand over that book. We’re lucky Mr. Caraway is a forgetful kind of man, or he might have been suspicious,” he said, lifting up her chin and staring into her eyes. He was doing that thing again, where he looked at her as if she were a sick child and he were a doctor.

‘Maybe I am. You’re losing time now, Lilian,’ she thought, but when she spoke it was to say, “Dad, really, I’m fine. I’m sorry. I’m just really tired, is all,”

She gave her best impression of a carefree smile. He kept his eyes on her. For a moment she was worried he might start one of his lectures, to remind her what would happen if people found out she could read. But then he nodded and opened the back door to the carriage. She climbed in, sighing with relief.

‘Am I really alright? That historia…,’ she thought, picturing the book Mr. Caraway had been holding. Lilian couldn’t be certain, but she was sure it had something to do with that book. She’d been known to lose track of time when engrossed in a book, but this was something entirely different.

Jasper climbed into the passenger side, turning around in his seat. Outside, her father was cranking the engine back to life.

“So, how was the book?,” Jasper asked. “You were practically in another world the whole time you read it,”

She opened her mouth to answer. She was going to tell him about the sudden loss of time. The two siblings told each other everything, and there had never been a secret between them. Unless it was a secret they were both sharing. But just as she was about to speak, the car door opened and her dad climbed in. He took off his gloves and rubbed his hands together, looking between the two of them.

“Alright, who’s hungry? You can tell us all about the book over something hot to eat,” he said. Jasper was still looking at her, and now so was her dad.

“It wasn’t that bad of a book, was it?” her dad asked in the middle of the silence.

“Strangely enough…I-I don’t remember,” she said. And the strange thing was…she was telling the truth.

“You,” her brother said, “You don’t remember,” as if that were the most ridiculous statement he’d ever heard.

“Yeah…,” she said, before adding, “I must have been really tired,”

Her brother and dad exchanged looks, but no one said a word. Jasper turned around in his seat, but not before giving her a look that clearly stated he wasn’t satisfied with her answer. He probably thought she was just waiting until she could talk without dad around. No one voiced their concerns, and without any more questions, the motor carriage began rattling down the drive. Lilian gave a glance behind her at the manor of Mr. Caraway. Inside he was probably tucking that book away on a shelf somewhere, under lock and key. Just part of a collection.

No one needed to tell her how strange her statement was. They were all thinking the same thing. Because in her sixteen years of living, Lilian had remembered every word she had ever read. Every word, until today.

Fictional Writers – On Developing Lore For Your World

“It was a city dreamt in autumn. The street garden trees had shed their leaves and they were scarlet, and they were yellow; and they were the roof tilings, and they were Ana in a dress; they were the roots who split the cobblestones and they were the ivy, on a home, with a window just the size for dreaming,”

-A City Dreamt In Autumn

So, I figured that since I’m in the middle of doing this for my own story, I’d take a moment to talk about the subject of creating lore for your fictional world. In the story I’m currently writing, my protagonist lives in a world where books play a crucial role. Not only are they central to the culture, but they constitute the basis of my world’s ruling structure, laws, and even magic. On a more personal level, they are extremely important to my protagonist, and a particular book even plays a pivotal role in the story itself.

In worldbuilding, something that is often overlooked is the nature of ideas, stories, and histories. A world is understood through their records, their works of fiction and non-fiction. All great ideas, revolutions, theories, and dreams spawn thousands of pieces of writing. In fact, written communication is one of the most fundamental elements found in the creation of a civilization. So why do we so often overlook this in our own worldbuilding?

If there was an event of great importance in your world’s history, surely someone wrote about it. Thse writings would have influenced ideas, manners of speech, common sayings. And there would have been writers who spoke strongly on both sides (though in history, the writings of the winning side are often the easiest to find) and not just in history books, but in songs and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, essays and novels.

For my story, my character has a remarkable memory. No doubt she’ll draw on quotes to try and prove points, and so for me, I’m having to make sure that there are things for her to draw from. Of course, I also don’t want to write a dozen books just for background information, either. Instead, having a list of important subjects and ideas is the way I go about this. Under each subject, event, idea, or place that would have been written about in this world’s history I am listing a few brief summaries of fictional writers and what they wrote, with a few fake quotes so I can remember what kind of voice I was using for that person. Which leads me to my next point. The voice of your fictional writers should be distinct from your own style. Luckily for us, we have thousands of wonderful writers in our own history to draw inspiration from.

Of course, this level of detail isn’t necessary for most stories, but it is still something I believe we should all at least keep in mind while we’re writing and worldbuilding. Whatever time period or type of event you are writing about, there have been similar things in our own history that you can guarantee someone wrote on. Read those things. This includes essays and journalism pieces. There are some great non-fiction writers out there who could shed great insight in on whatever subject you’re writing.

Let me know in the comments below any thoughts you have on the subject, I’m curious. Also, let me know of any moments where you’ve used non-fiction (or something else) as a resource for your story.

Crafting Your First Page: A Practical Lesson On Writing Your First Scene

We both know that writing a good opening scene is hard. It’s got to be perfect. These next few sentences are going to determine whether or not someone reads your book or puts it down right then and there. That’s a lot of pressure. If you’re anything like me, you may sometimes spend more time on your opening scene than any other. But what makes a good opening scene?

We all know about creating a hook. We’ve heard it a million times. You’ve probably read a thousand things on what constitutes a good hook, but it still isn’t working. I’ve heard it mentioned a few times about how a conflict should be introduced right away. Put them right in the scene. Introduce the protagonist.

There’s even more material out there on what NOT to do in your first scene. From opening cliches, to whether prologues are a good idea or not. But what I’ve found works for me, is to just ask myself a few simple questions. What are the single most important goals of understanding?

What are goals of understanding? They are elements of your story that the reader needs to know. It constitutes plot points, locations, worldbuilding elements, and characters. Characters is a broad term in my vocabulary. Anything that elicits an emotional response from my protagonist is a character. From places, to enemies, to customs and traditions. Anything they have an opinion on, is a character. And the things that will influence the emotions and actions of the protagonist the most are the first goals of understanding we must reach.

So, clearly, we need to know who our protagonist is. This doesn’t necessarily mean your main character must be introduced, but rather than someone who represents our protagonist. For example, say your main character is a farm-boy. He’s a laborer, a male, and he’s young. In the first scene, we could show a young, male hunter out in the woods. He discovers or comes across whatever the threat of the book is, and he is killed by it. Or flees.

This way, when you move to the next chapter, and introduce your main character, the reader instantly understands the relation. You introduced the danger, and now we know the stakes for this main protagonist. In fantasy fiction with different races other than humans, it is good enough to just have the first person and the second person be the same race. Or of the same faction, group, organization, etc. This type of element is what was used to great effect in G.R.R Martin’s first epic Song of Ice & Fire book. We see these grizzled men of the north type people, in great fur coats and black, who call themselves men of the Night’s Watch. They confront this terrible force, get killed, all but for a single man who flees. After this we meet the Starks. Still a cold land, still obviously not too far from where we just were. Indeed, one of them has even announced that he plans on joining the Night’s Watch not too far from then. We know what danger he goes to, but he doesn’t.

These types of elements are what make stories like that so engaging. Even as you reveal goals of understanding, you raise a new question. Conflict would better be described as tension. There’s an engaging desire, a fear, a question. You want something, but you don’t have it. The answer. The full picture. What happens? Wanting something and not having it is the base of tension and conflict. So, I’ve decided to use the mock scene I wrote up yesterday as an example. Let’s start with the first paragraph, and then we’ll break it down.

The book, bound in cracked leather, was only a little larger than Lilian’s open hands; the pages smelled of vanilla and grass, and on the cover there was the faded picture of a willow tree with a sword in its roots. Such a simple thing. Yet, when Lilian read it, it was with the full knowledge that if anyone saw her, it would be the end of her life as she knew it.

Alright, let’s look at what I did here, and why I made the decisions I did. After many revisions, it whittled down to this. In the novel, this book will soon play a pivotal role. That is why special attention is spent describing it. It’s telling the reader, this is important. But not only that, introducing the book allows me to introduce the element of Lilian’s world that is so different than ours. A worldbuilding clue. In this story, books are ancient, powerful things. Because of their potential, and their uses, only two kind of people can read. The nobility, who are able to pay for their freedom and right to literacy, and the Librarians, who are commoners that learned to read and now work for the nobility by tracking down books for them. If anyone is discovered to be able to read, they are given two choices. Pay for a tutor who can train you to understand reading and the powers that come with it, or be taken from your home and family to be sent to a school, where you will eventually become a Librarian. Living your life in service to the nobility. To some people it’s worth it. Be sent away to a school, learn about books, and get to read stories all over the world and deliver them to nobles. But Lilian has a family. As we are soon to find out.

But, she also knew that come tomorrow, she may never get the chance to read this book again. It would be out of her hands, stuck on the shelf of some noble who would never truly appreciate the wonderful story within. A hundred books had passed through her hands and each one had been the same way. Delivered by her father to someone with enough money to buy the right to read. But how anyone could read a novel and not care about the story was something she would never understand.

As you can see, the questions that were raised in the first paragraph are expanded on. We were left wondering how her life would end as she knew it, and why this book was important. Now we’re told that all books are like this, we’re told that she has a father, and that it was because of her father that she got to read books. And she loves reading, as we are about to find out.

Her dad had decided to take the long way back to Corseil, just so she’d have more time to read the book before they were forced to finish the delivery. He was a Royal Librarian. And a Librarian only finds books, they don’t own them. Lilian, as the child of a Librarian, had neither privilege. So these precious moments on the road, so few and far between, were her only opportunities to do what she loved most. Read.

In this paragraph, we’re given some locations. We’re told more about the nature of her father’s job, and more about the circumstances of her reading. We’re given more information about where they are. And since the last two paragraphs were about ideas, the next section should ground the reader again. As you can see, I’m already preparing to bring the scene back into focus, by mentioning that she’s on the road, so that in the next paragraph, the transition is smoother.

The motor carriage rocked, clattered, rumbled, and rattled constantly, but luckily Lilian had long ago grown used to reading under these conditions. The interior of the black carriage was lit by the hum of electric torches, which cast their orange glow across the worn leather seats and the family of three that sat in them. She looked at her younger brother, Jasper, who was snoring in the passenger seat next to their dad.

And we’re back in the scene again. We’re in a carriage, it’s clattering and generally being uncomfortable. The name and the image of it rumbling gives us a pretty clear idea of what kind of vehicle this is, and what sort of time period this is similar to. Not only that, but we get introduced to the third character, her brother. And in the next paragraph, we’re told a little more about him.

Lilian and Jasper shared the same honey-blonde hair, and though he was almost two years younger than her, people often mistook him for being the oldest. He was nearly as tall as their dad, who was the odd one amongst the trio. He had scruffy brown hair and a short beard that was already developing flecks of grey.

Here we get some description of our three characters. Notice how I use differences to invoke similarities and create an image. Comparing one to another is a great way to highlight features. Also, it lets you know that if they don’t look like their father, they must look like their mother. Bringing to our attention the fact that she hasn’t been mentioned. This is key piece of information. Without even saying it, I have allowed the reader to understand a plot point. I didn’t infodump, I didn’t break POV to tell you, and I didn’t force them to have some contrived conversation to bring up the fact. Trust that your reader is smart enough to figure things out on their own. Not only that, but when you let them discover and imagine and think up conclusions on their own, and then be right, it gives your reader a feeling of success, which draws them deeper into enjoying your story.

In the first five paragraphs we’ve introduced our protagonist, the two most important supporting cast members, the most important elements of the world, and a conflict. We’ve also hinted at a secret, in the mystery of why the mom isn’t there. Each sentence serves a purpose, and anything that isn’t necessary has been stripped away. Feel free to read the full mock scene. It’s exactly 1,667 words, so if you were wondering how much you’d have to write a day to complete NaNoWriMo, there’s a good visual reference. Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, critiques, or comments, leave them below. I’m always interested in hearing about different people’s methods and techniques. Happy writing!