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IWSG – The Green Mile

  • Posted on July 1, 2015 at 8:10 pm

It’s the last bit of the book. The climax, the final battle. The most terrifying, wondrous conclusion of several years of your life, and you are shaking with excitement. Then, it creeps up on you. The fear. This is it. This is the end. You’re about to finish the last bits, and there is so much to be done after that, but it feels so… So final. You’re terrified.

That’s how I feel right now, actually. I’m at the cusp of my final victory, the triumph of finally finishing. And I can’t put fingers to keyboard without wanting to curl up in a ball and say No, it’s not done, it’ll never BE done. I think that perhaps that fear sits on me, crushing me. Worse than writer’s block, this comes right before a deadline, and locks me up.

The worst part is, it’s right at my worst writing too! An emotionally charged battle with dialogue. Yeah, I know, the bread and butter of fantasy, but I can’t help it! I’m still learning! It’s my very own green mile, the last long walk before the gallows of the public eye, and I’m sitting here terrified to take that first step.

What if it fails? What if my inability to write makes my words completely incomprehensible to anyone? What if all this time has been wasted? What if I could have spent it building models of airplanes and selling them on craigslist? What if, what if, what if?

Like many, I’m going to just have to move past it,  kick myself in the arse and go on trying. Because I can’t just let this die. Not after spending so much time and energy, so much blood and sweat on it. I won’t allow that to happen. And that’s the key. You can’t allow yourself to be your biggest enemy. There’s nothing worse than failure, except perhaps self-sabotage.

So buck up, self, and quit sabatoging! We can do this, and we are gonna knock their socks off!

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part Six

  • Posted on September 7, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Welcome to part six of Breaking Down Nemesis! Part Five ended at the end of Miss Marple’s first day of her tour, gifted by the dead Mr. Rafiel. She’d been vaguely introduced to fourteen people who would be sharing space with her, and confirmed another part of our Agatha Christie Code.  For those of you just joining us, Part One explains the Agatha Christie Code, and what we’re looking for to confirm it.

I’ve finally figured out what has been bothering me with the last few chapters. And to be honest, it’s what we’re looking for in the first place, so I’m not sure WHY I didn’t notice it before! You see, Homestuck had this same situation. The beginning was so boring, and lifeless, that I almost quit that too! In fact, I did, for several years! And then, I came back, reread it all, and got past the parts I thought were boring, and managed to delve into the meat of the story! I’m glad I did reread it too, because it had a lot of content that made future bits make more sense!

Now, often people compare Homestuck and Agatha Christie novels, because people believe that Homestuck follows the Agatha Christie Code. So, I stuck it out, and kept reading Nemesis. And it turns out that Nemesis is following the same key! The intro is long, descriptive, and can sometimes be considered boring, but is full of rich information that one needs in order to understand the later plot.

In fact, in this chapter, we begin to learn more about those around us, which is going to come in handy later, I’m sure. The chapter begins in a Queen Anne Manor House. For those who don’t know what those are, Queen Anne Manor Houses, are a type of architecture popular during Queen Anne’s reign in Britain (1702-1714). It’s a type of Baroque architecture,  noted for it’s grand, yet simple designs.

A Queen Anne Manor House

A Queen Anne Manor House

In fact, one of the guests on Miss Marple’s tour, Mr. Richard Jameson, is an architect who happens to be in love with the style. In fact, he’s hijacked the entire tour in order to go on and on about it, pointing out things like special moulding on fireplaces, and historical references similar to the ones I just gave you.

The tour-guide gets a little tired of it, and declares that in the next room, the White Parlour, was where they found the body. However, before you think that this is the murder that Miss Marple is to put to rights, he is quick to inform you that it was in the 1700s, and begins to tell the tale.

A young man, with a dagger through the heart, right on the hearthrug. The Lady Moffat of the day, had a lover, and when he came through a small side door and down a steep staircase, Sir Richard Moffat, her husband, caught them together.

Mrs. Butler, the american woman, declares it absolutely romantic, and her husband begins to inform everyone that she’s ‘sensitive to atmospheres’. I take this to be old-timey speak for psychic. Miss Marple, along with a few others, quickly make their escape, before Mrs. Butler and her husband can swindle them all out of their pocket cash.

Miss Cooke and Miss Barrow have followed her, and Miss Marple manages to explain that an old friend of hers had a nerve-racking experience with a dead body on her library floor one morning. While discussing it, Miss Marple recounts that the dead body had been a young woman in an evening dress. In fact, she’d dyed her hair as well.

And this triggers the memory of having met Miss Cooke! I knew that name was familiar! See? It pays to keep attention on previous bits. Now Miss Cooke has in fact dyed her hair! It was dark, but now she’s blonde! Maybe she did it because blondes have more fun? However, Miss Marple doesn’t bring it up. She doesn’t have time.

Mrs. Riseley-Porter interrupts, declaring she can’t go up or down any more stairs, and decides that everyone is going to take a tour around the garden instead. Since she was an authoritative old lady, she got her way, and Miss Marple, Miss Cooke, Miss Barrow, and Colonel Walker all headed to the garden, where Miss Marple took a seat.

Miss Elizabeth Temple followed her, and the two old ladies bond over how boring the lecture in the house was. Which of course, leads into a discussion about the tragedy of when people die young. Miss Marple argues that it is a tragedy, and that they miss so much. Miss Temple argues instead, that they miss nothing, for they are dead.

“What did T. S. Eliot say: The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of equal duration.”

I greatly like this quote, and I feel it would be something that people were forced to learn in school. It makes a very good argument towards Miss Temple’s side of things, of course. Which is, perhaps, the reason Miss Agatha chose it!

An awkward conversation leads to Miss Temple asking Miss Marple to guess why she is here. We discover that Miss Temple is on a self-imposed pilgrimage Whatever that means to her, of course. Luckily, this leads to a conversation about Mr. Rafiel, and we find out another interesting tidbit!

Miss Temple was acquainted with a girl who DATED Mr. Rafiel’s son! Again, I’m relatively sure that Miss Marple needs to find out what happened to Mr. Rafiel’s son. Also, I wish I had another name to call him besides Mr. Rafiel’s son, because that gets very tiresome. Anyway, it turns out that the girl was engaged to Mr. Rafiel’s son, but didn’t marry him.

She died. Of course she died, and it turns out she died of… Get this. LOVE. That’s all Miss Temple will say on the matter, too! How mysterious? Who was the girl, and why did she die? And what did Mr. Rafiel Jr. have to do with it? Oh. That’s it. I’m calling him Junior from now on. Anyway, what did Junior have to do with her death? Was this the reason he was considered taboo? And what is Miss Cooke doing? Why did she dye her hair?

As you can see, Miss Agatha has clearly mastered the art of leaving us with more questions than she answered! Not only that, but we’re getting even more insight into the other characters, as well. We now know Mrs. Butler, who’s nickname is Mamie, by the way, is ‘sensitive’. Why is she ‘sensitive’? What point was there in knowing that, other than to make that character mildly interesting for a few moments?

The lesson here? Leave more questions than answers. Especially at this early stage in the book. We are, after all, only six chapters into a twenty two chapter book! So, ladies and gents, tell me: How do you intend to leave your readers guessing? Leave a comment with some explanations, or maybe an excerpt or two!

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part Five

  • Posted on September 4, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Welcome to Part Five of Breaking Down Nemesis! In Part Four, we discovered that Miss Marple’s original idea, of meeting Mrs. Anderson and asking her about the deceased Mister Rafiel, turns out to be a bunk. In fact, we are no closer at all to finding out the mystery that Mister Rafiel wanted us to find, nor are we actually anywhere closer to the actual plot! It turns out that from what we’ve found out, Mrs. Anderson doesn’t have anything to do with it at all!

Luckily enough, this chapter is entitled Instructions From Beyond, so I don’t doubt we’ll finally get some directions! It starts out with a letter that arrives three or four days after the confrontation with Mrs. Anderson. I’ve copied it here, for your perusal as well!

Dear Miss Marple,

By the time you read this I shall be dead and also buried. Not cremated, I am glad to think. It has always seemed to me unlikely that one would manage to rise up from one’s handsome bronze vase full of ashes and haunt anyone if one wanted so to do! Whereas the idea of rising from one’s grave and haunting anyone is quite possible. Shall I want to do that? Who knows. I might even want to communicate with you.

By now my solicitors will have communicated with you and will have put a certain proposition before you. I hope you will have accepted it. If you have not accepted it, don’t feel in the least remorseful. It will be your choice.

This should reach you, if my solicitors have done what they were told to do, and if the posts have done the duty they are expected to perform, on the 11th of the month. In communication from a travel bureau in London. I hope what it proposes will not be distasteful to you. I needn’t say more. I want you to have an open mind. Take care of yourself. I think you will manage to do that. You are a very shrewd person. The best of luck and may your gaurdian angel be at your side looking after you. You may need on.

Your affectionate friend,

J. B. Rafielmr.rafielgrave

My fangirl instincts are beginning to really enjoy the idea of these two in a romance.  However, putting that aside, Miss Marple is quickly contacted, again in two days time, by the Famous Houses and Gardens of Great Brittain. I won’t type up their whole letter, it basically states that she’s been given a free tour around London, and after checking with a few of her friends to make sure the company wasn’t a scam, she made arrangements.

Once again, we are treated to a scene with Cherry. She’s worried that Miss Marple might not be up to the long amounts of walking involved with the group tour. In the end, Cherry decides that so long as Miss Marple doesn’t “Fall down with a heart attack, even if you are looking at a particularly sumptuous fountain or something”, that she’s fine with it.

Another two days later, and Miss Marple carries her small overnight bag as well as her new suitcase onto a very nice new bus. Another bit of her genius shows through, as she studies the Passenger list, along with the daily itenerary. Apperantly, the itenerary was quite well arranged, with two seperate tours, one for those fleet of foot, and one for the elderly who can’t really move that well. Miss Marple then began guessing who each name on the passenger lists belonged to.

Now, during this particular strain of thought, Miss Marple uses that term again, that I took exception to in the second chapter. “Old Pussies” is a bit… Well, problematic nowadays. So, we’ll not be going over that too much. I’m attempting to take this book as the time period it was written in.

To be quite honest, this chapter really didn’t interest me all that much during my first read through. It was mostly descriptions of what people looked like, and how they struck Miss Marple, which while normally quite interesting, was, in this case, quite boring. Of the fifteen passengers, she determined quite a few things. Unfortunately, with the way it is written, and how tangled it all is, I honestly can’t begin to untangle it.

However, this does bring credit to our Agatha Christie Code theory. Miss Christie just added sixteen new characters to the story, and gave them all very in depth descriptions, and as noted, my brain basically just GAVE UP. Luckily, in the next chapter, we get slowly introduced to them a little easier, so I’m not really going to lay them out now. However, I am going to note a few bits of good writing.

Once again, we’re treated to a very organic thought process from Miss Marple. She goes from thinking about the four other old women, which is realistic mostly due to the fact that people generally note those similar to themselves. I know that I tend to look at young women on the bus before I look at old men, or older women. We see again, how she compares others to those that she knows. Specifically, she compares an old woman to someone called “Dame Emily Waldron”, a notable scientist, and a Principal of an Oxford College.

Perhaps we should learn from this. The next chance you get, take a moment and categorize your own thinking. Take notes on what you notice first, and follow along to your next thought. When you read books, note the thought processes of the characters that you’re reading.

The first day of the trip passes, without Miss Marple determining if anyone was involved in a murder, and she goes to bed, hoping that she might find something out the next day. Before bed, she spends a few moments, noting things down in her notebook. Which, honestly, is a wonderful way to bring us into re-thinking the things she’d discovered today as well. A wonderful narrative device, in fact.

So what have we learned today? Having an organic thought process for your character, as well as showing creative narrative devices to re-iterate information that may have been hard to understand in the first place, are keys to salvaging a rather horrid chapter.

For those of you following along, what did you think of this chapter? For those of you who aren’t, Share your experiences in the comments, with books that start slow and boring, and then pick up?

 

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part Four

  • Posted on August 27, 2014 at 8:31 am

Welcome again, to another installment of Breaking Down Nemesis! Once again, we are here to learn and experience Miss Agatha Christie’s work, and perhaps find a link to the elusive Agatha Christie Code that I keep hearing about. Essentially, the idea is to break down and discover if an Agatha Christie novel really is addictive! For this experiment in literature, I’ve chosen a random novel from her Miss Marple series, titled Nemesis. 

If you’re lost already, please see Part One, Part Two, and Part Three for the previous installments, that way you can keep up with the mystery as it unravels! And don’t forget to subscribe to see future installments, as well!

In the beginning of this chapter, we are introduced to Miss Marple’s sneaky side. In chapter three, we get to see her be sneaky when she asks Cherry, her assistant, to phone Mrs. Anderson, in order to find out if she’s at home, or out and about. This plan included a caveat that was to have Cherry inform Miss Anderson that she, Cherry, was Mr. Broadribb (Mr. Rafiel’s lawyer)’s secretary, and that she was to meet him at his office, but only if Miss Anderson was out and not to be back today.

The brilliance of that plan still makes me giggle. Honestly, it sounds a little like something I’d have done when playing Dungeons and Dragons, and setting up a trap for someone! Unluckily for us, we don’t get to see how that might have played out. I’d like to point out that this sort of organic thinking is coming a bit more often now. Or maybe we’re beginning to understand Miss Marple’s thought process a lot clearer, now that we’re actually involved in her investigation? Miss Christie certainly has me by the ear.

It turns out that Mrs. Anderson was out shopping at the supermarket. And who should she collide with, but Miss Marple herself! And as if the old codger wasn’t planning the whole thing, the two of them talk as if they’ve just run into each other. Instead of having the conversation she wants to have right there, Miss Marple instead arranges to visit Mrs. Anderson at home, instead.

Now, this might seem odd, but if you think about it, honestly, Miss Marple has the right idea. Mrs. Anderson will be more comfortable at home, and we might get to see what it was that the two of them are so at-arms with each other about. I can’t wait to find out myself!

The two exchange pleasantries for a little bit, and then Miss Marple seems to try to slide small questions in there, to find out more about Mr. Rafiel’s supposed request. She also takes a moment to notice that the oppulence of Mrs. Anderson’s new home, and connected it with a possible inheritance by Mrs. Anderson from Mr. Rafiel. Miss Marple asks if he left anything to the Nurse-Attendant Jackson, and finds out no he did not, and Mrs. Anderson hasn’t even seen the gentleman since they worked together.

Another series of questions by Miss Marple, and I’m beginning to see that she has a bit of a built in camouflage.

“…I was thinking it only the other day, after I’d seen the notice of his death. I wished I could know a little more. Where he was born, you know, and his parents. What they were like. Whether he had any children, or nephews or cousins or any family. I would so like to know.”

Esther Anderson smiled slightly. She looked at Miss Marple and her expression seemed to say “Yes, I’m sure you always want to know everything of that kind about everyone you meet.”

We’re getting more hints as to how people see her. Mrs. Anderson clearly thinks of Miss Marple as someone who is overly curious. But it’s tempered by the old-woman camouflage I was talking about. Everyone expects her to be nosy, because that’s how old women are! Take this lesson to heart. Let your characters use their own camouflages. If a woman wears glasses, let her put her hair in a bun, and pretend seriousness, despite her real personality. If a man has a raspy voice, let him pretend that he is dark and dangerous, when necessary. And when a person looks younger than they really are, let them use that childishness to their advantage to make others underestimate them! Remind yourself constantly of who they appear to be to others, so that this can be turned one-eighty and used against them!

The two go on to discuss more information, specifically about how Mr. Rafiel lost his wife long ago, but had three living children. Two daughters, and a son. One of the daughters married, and now lives in america, and the other daughter died, very young. It turns out there was trouble between father and son!

Picture Courtesy of bildungblog.blogspot.com

Picture Courtesy of bildungblog.blogspot.com

Apparently, the son was a scandalous sort, and died a few years ago. Mr. Rafiel never spoke of him. Odd that a deceased son, who was involved in scandals shows up just as Miss Marple is looking for a mystery, don’t you think? However, the two of them quickly come to a derailment, as the events at St. Honore get brought up again! And it turns out that Mrs. Anderson is still upset with something Miss Marple did in the Caribbean, but instead of actually discussing it, Mrs. Anderson stares coldly at Miss Marple, who takes her leave.

After leaving Mrs. Anderson’s home, Miss Marple determines that maybe, just maybe she was wrong to visit Mrs. Anderson, and thinks that perhaps there’s nothing to do with her at all in this mystery. I’m not quite so sure, but I think Miss Christie wrote it that way. I still can’t tell if this is a red-herring, or if I’m honestly right when I think that Mrs. Anderson is going to have something to do with it.

Eventually, after doubting herself a little bit, she comes to the same conclusion I have, which is that her old-lady-camouflage is a wonderful trait to have, and that she comes to recognize what people are like, based on who they remind her of. After that, she goes to sleep, thinking that it is entirely up to Mr. Rafiel to give her some sort of sign as to what exactly she is supposed to be doing.

This chapter in general, I think, was to show us more of Miss Marple’s character. I’m not sure anything really got done, other than, perhaps, clearing Mrs. Anderson of suspicion, and refusing to hand us any real clues as to what it is that Miss Marple is really supposed to be doing. Another point towards the Agatha Christie Code, as I was told that there was to be a lot of description, and slowness getting to the main plot. Which this chapter seems to embody quite a bit.

I find myself, however, instead of growing intrigued, growing a little bit bored of it. I’m starting to wonder, just like Miss Marple, if there really is any mystery to be solving at all! Which, I’m not sure if that’s a good way for a mystery novel to begin. However, dear reader, I will slog on, in order to find out! Just for you!

Please, however, do me a favor! In the comments, give me an idea or two of what you think the mystery is going to be! Do you think it’s Mr. Rafiel’s deceased son? Do you think Mrs. Anderson perhaps murdered someone? Do you think something entirely different is going to happen? Let me know!

Weekly Writing Update: 08/24/14

  • Posted on August 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Hello again! This week has been a ripsnorter of a week! I’m actually really surprised I survived it! <3 Honestly, after everything that’s happened, I feel a lot less accomplished than I should. So I decided to write this up, because somehow, that makes me feel better.

Word Counts

Kurylian Saga: The Sorcerer and The Swordsman – Edit one – 11 pages

Kurylian Saga: The Prince and The Corpse – Rough Draft – WC: 1,348

Kaimi Rowe Series: Seeker Born – Rough Draft – Restarted – Outline phase

Unnamed Scifi short story – Idea stage – Minor research done

Blog Posts

Politics of the Kurylian Saga

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part two

Breaking down Nemesis: Part Three

A Review of ‘Eat That Frog!’ by Brian Tracy

Books Read

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy

Goals

Finish Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Six total chapters of Nemesis reviewed/blogged

Finish Tithe by Holly Black

Write a 2000 word short story (this I’m going to post up here, so you guys can see it! <3)

9 Ways to Fix your Stereotyped Character – A guestpost by Cindy Grigg

  • Posted on August 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

So You Wrote a Stereotyped Character…9 Ways to Fix Your Story

 

I’ve recently been doing a blog post series on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters, which included a list of 19 Female Character Stereotypes to Avoid.

Since Nicohle and I are swapping blog posts today, I would love to take that list one step further and show how I would fix a stereotyped female character (but the same concepts apply to any character).

Why You Don’t Have to Start Over

If your female character falls into a stereotype, it’s not so much that you’ve written her wrong as that you’re just not done writing her.

Writers revert to stereotypes or tropes rather than fully articulating what makes a character unique. It’s tricky because you may not feel lazy as you write a stereotypical character. You’re still sitting in the writer’s chair fulfilling your daily word count or time quota, but essentially you’re being creatively lazy about who you are writing about.

1. Rearrange what you’ve got. A lot of creativity is a matter of how you arrange the disparate parts of something to make a whole. Which aspect of your character is the focal point? By restructuring which personality traits are pivotal, you could create a more fresh character.

2. Add something to the character that scares, stretches, or otherwise challenges you. If writing about a certain characteristic your character possesses makes you think about the world in a new way, it likely will do the same for many readers.

3. Change how long your character stays a stereotype. Maybe your character can start out as a character but be changed by a new event. Maybe reveal they were hiding their true nature for some good reason. Think: Scarlet Pimpernel.

4. Look around you. Think of the most unique people you know and add some part of their personality to your character.

Rarity gives you an example reaction.

5. Add more weaknesses, flaws,  fears, and losses! I like the trick of thinking, What is the worst thing that could happen to my character? Then consider adding that to your plot so your character has to really solve and struggle.

6. Put your character in strange situations. Brainstorm several seemingly unrelated scenes and put your character in them. Consider crossing genres with this exercise. Put your fantasy heroine in a murder mystery and see how she behaves, etc. You may stumble upon an interesting nuance to add to your story.

7. Change your character’s past or future. If the character seems flat or one-dimensional, hook the audience into caring based on something terrible or wonderful they went through or will go through.

8. Give your character a unique motivation. Most of humanity is motivated to some degree by love of family, romance, personal gain, or moral/spiritual paradigms, for example. But what if you made your character also motivated by something kooky like a love of snails, and wanting to save those snails from extinction, for example?

9. Create personality contradictions. I love giving a character two characteristics that seem paradoxical or at odds with one another, then showing why they are this way.

Both fixing characters or scrapping them will require a lot of editing, so I figure you might as well refurbish your stereotyped character rather than starting from square one.

While it takes more effort, it’s more fun and interesting to write well-rounded characters. For me, this comes down to asking, But who else is she/he?! By consciously steering clear of stereotypes, writing becomes more adventure. More fun.

Cindy Grigg

Cindy Grigg writes speculative fiction and instructional non-fiction. She is the author of the HULDUSNOOPS series, a middle grade mystery and fantasy adventure about Icelandic Huldufolk or “hidden people”. As About.com’s Office Software Expert, Cindy also writes about technology and productivity (www.Office.About.com). Find her writing advice, blog, and other projects she’s working on at www.CindyGrigg.com.

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