Last Pages: a short story

I can’t claim full credit for this story. It was the product of a ‘what if’ conversation between a friend and I about diaries and writing and death. I knew at once I had to put it in a story at some point, and this was the result.

Coaching(6)

All they’d left were the books, dusty and stained with blood and tears.

Kyth stood among the rubble, tiny pebbles skittering around his boots in a hot wind. The sun glared from the pale, iron sky, unforgiving to any who ventured into this forgotten crevice.

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Do you really want to make your reader cry?

As writers, do we really want to make our readers cry?

Well yes. Of course. Why else do you write except to harvest those precious tears?

Yeeeaaaaahhhhhhh…

Or maybe not.

I’ll admit that reactions from my readers, especially to something heartbreaking, is… fun. I have convoluted ideas of fun, I know. Bear with me.

See, I have a theory (I do form those on my own, sometimes). The theory is this: making readers cry and breaking their hearts is not the point of writing. Crazy, I know. Let me explain.

No, there is too much. Let me sum up.make your readers cry

Very few books have made me cry. Movies, yes. Books… not so much. But there are two main ones that have. The end of Mockingjay and the end of the Wingfeather Saga. Yet the tears were for completely different reasons.

I cried near the end of Mockingjay because of the sheer sorrow of the main character. There was so much death. So much sorrow. There was no hope. No God. It was all a great, muddle mess and there seemed no way out. She’d gone through so much and there was… nothing.

The Wingfeather Saga was a completely different story (literally and figuratively). Possible spoilers ahead, so be careful. I’ll try to be vague. The end of that series did make me cry, but it wasn’t because of despair. There was heartbreaking sorrow, yes, but there was sacrifice. It was the culmination of learning to give one’s self for another. There was hope and light, even in the pain.

Which brings me back to making readers cry.

Now tears (generally) mean readers have connected with your characters. They feel for them. They love them. And when a reader has connected emotionally to a character, then it means we’ve done our job well.

But pain needs to have a point. Suffering and death builds up characters, drives the plot forward, and plays out in theme and arcs. Frankly, almost anything can be done when one has theme as an excuse. But when planning pain, always keep the focus in mind. (I mean… assuming people actually sit down and figure out a heart-wrenching scene first, then figure out how it fits into a story. Not like I’ve ever done that. Ever.)

You’re showing the trials a character must go through to get what is right. You are showing how good can stand up through evil. You are showing hope and light in the darkness of time. Giving readers feels is great. But don’t just randomly add death and torture for no reason except feels.

Focus on the point of your story. Use pain to bring across your point, if needed (I mean, who really wants to read about a hero who has no trouble reaching his goal), but don’t focus solely on what you can do to upset a reader. There is hope in life. Keep hope in your writing, no matter how dark it might get.

In the end, you only need to remember a simple guideline:

Don’t be afraid to break your reader’s heart. Just make sure there is a point. And put their heart back together again by the end of the book.

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Miss You

I almost published a short story today, then realized it was the 4th of July weekend. So I decided to go with something more patriotic.

As some of you might know, I have one brother who is a Marine. Another is heading to Marine Boot Camp in three days. So I wrote this poem for him. Maybe I’ll even let him read it…

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Three Things Writing Taught Me About Life

Writing isn’t a form of escapism. It isn’t a luxurious way to spend time. One doesn’t make thousands of dollars and live a dream life. Writing is hard. Writing is painful. And writing builds character.

While there are many things I’ve learned while writing, I’m only going to list three today. Because three is the magic number. Besides, it sounds cool. Three Things Writing yeah. We’ll settle with three.

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Just Shut Up and Do It

My mother gave me some advice a number of years back. Like… back when I was the age of the heart-wrenching children I like to put in my stories. Seven or eight, perhaps.

Regardless, I had to make bread. (Yes, we’ve made our own homemade bread for as long as I can remember. Long enough we don’t appreciate it like everyone else seems to. Or maybe we all just have picky tastes.)

But I didn’t want to make bread. Like really, really didn’t want to. Procrastination comes young, trust me.

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Between Two Worlds: the danger of writing

Writing isn’t safe.

It’s not that words are powerful (though they are). It’s not that everyone will end up thinking you insane (most generally do anyway).
It’s a deeper problem than a questionable mental state.

And it’s something I end up writing as a free verse poem around the end of last year because there was no other way to put it into words.

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The Stealthmaster’s Shadow is here!

The Stealthmaster’s Shadow is finally here!

I know it’s a cliche thing to say, but I am excited about sharing it with you all. Then again, there are so many books out there now days… so I’ve been wonderfully kind and listed the pros and cons of The Stealthmaster’s Shadow.

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The Stealthmaster’s Shadow Collage Winner!

I’m going to forgoe my normal ‘this is me post’ of the month. Suffice it to say it’s been crazy between outlining, traveling, and getting ready for the launch that starts tomorrow.

Today, however, I have a collage for you all. Not my own collage this time.

Some of you might remember I posted contest entries a week or two back for you to vote one.

Well, a winner has been decided (thanks to all of your votes).

And the winner is…

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Using Fantasy Cliches the Right Way

Clichés abound in fantasy. The dashing prince rescues the helpless princess. The mentor dies and his student going on to save the world. The villain dresses in a long black cape with a pet snake on a staff.

A cliché, by definition, is anything which is trite or commonplace through overuse. These can be phrases, such as ‘right as rain’ or ‘red as a cherry’. They can also be a character, such as the carefree friend or the grim mentor. And, of course, there are cliché scenes: a handsome prince glimpsing a beautiful princess through a tower window and falling desperately in love. The mentor dying. The villain telling the captured hero all his plans.

How to Use Cliches

Many clichés remain popular because they work. Who doesn’t thrill over the heroic rescue or ache for the main character as his mentor dies saving him? Yet, because of the overuse, once exciting scenes can lose a bit of their luster. Don’t throw out all clichés at once, however. They have their uses.

Twist clichés

It is amusing to take a cliché and twist it just enough that it’s recognizable. Keep the grim mentor, but let him make puns with a straight face to infuriate his apprentice. Perhaps the foolish antics of the court jester covers a formal character who drops hints about his king’s table manners along with his jests. Maybe the new knight tries desperately to be heroic, completely fumbling the bows and formalities of rescuing his betrothed, while the demure maiden provokes her captors with irritating pranks they can’t trace back to anyone.how to use fantasy cliches the right way

This is especially pleasing when done with phrases. Start with a common cliché phrase, then twist it into something completely new. Instead of ‘pale as death’, find something suiting the character, the setting, and the emotion for ‘pale as the marshmallows he inhaled by the dozen’. Instead of ‘all’s fair in love and war’ change it to ‘all’s fair in love and the pursuit of chocolate’.

Make fun of clichés

Or, instead of simply freshening a cliché, you can make fun of it. If something is cliché, and the character recognizes it as cliché, the possibilities are enormous. They may embrace it, or make fun of it, or use is as a starting point for other actions. ‘Well, since I’m obviously the villain and wearing black, I decided I’d better take a trip to the pet store and find an intimidating animal’ *presents hamster* *alternately presents snake, holding it as far from self as possible with thinly disguised disgust, then quickly depositing it back in its box*

Change cliché endings

Opening with a clichéd line or scene and then changing it halfway through can be hilarious. Although not fantasy, one of my favorite moments in Avengers: Age of Ultron is where Iron Man asks Ultron about something. Ultron replies with ‘I’m glad you asked that, because I wanted to take this time to explain my evil plan…’ and then proceeds to attack.

Note the normal course of events in clichés, then turn the character or setting on its head. Maybe it’s the apprentice who dies and the mentor has to go save the land. Maybe it’s the dragon who rescues the prince from the princess.

Overused fantasy clichés

While clichés can be twisted or sometimes used outright, there are several main ones which have lost their effect through extreme overuse.

The villain monologue

These are easy for the writer because we can give our character and reader the information they clearly need. It’s also lazy on our part.

A scene where the villain tells the character his plans could work in the right setting, but it needs to fit with the characters and the themes. Is it something the villain would really do? Does he need recognition? Is he someone who has to prove what he can do or rub it in the main character’s face? Or is he cautious and quiet? There are other ways the main characters can figure out what has happened: vague comments and orders, notes, letters…

The mentor’s death

No matter how heartbreaking the scene, too many mentors have died. Your reader’s eyes will begin to glaze. Yes, they might be sad your mentor is dead, but the death of a more unexpected character, such as a best friend, will have a deeper emotional impact.

Sometimes mentors need to die in a story. But since they are generally wiser and more skilled than the main character, don’t let them die for a minor reason. Only kill them if you must. And, if you do kill them, make the scene as fresh and memorable as you can and make sure there is a valid reason for their death.

Villain security

He’s reached his position by being cautious and smart. His security is going to be tight. He’s going to hire good soldiers. If your character is attacked by several guards, he’ll have to be very good to defeat or escape them. Slipping past the villain either for infiltration or escape is not an easy task.

Clichés are still used nowadays because they worked. They had power. Even the ones fading from overuse can be dissected. Figure out how they pull on emotions, then build up a new idea around that grain.

Keeping clichés in mind can be very useful. But, because of how common they are, work on freshening your clichés, making fun of them, or turning them on their heads.

In the end, you’ll get a story worth its weight in gold. Or chocolate. Or maybe even moon gems.

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