“More Than a Blank Page” Short Story

I’ve been sitting in the same corner of the same coffee shop staring at the same page for hours now. I’ve reached the dregs of my coffee (and swallowed them too for good measure). I’ve started to massage my neck, praying my back won’t kill me later (though I know it will). The page is still blank.

It takes me a minute to notice he’s standing there. He’s striking, but he has a goofy grin – and he’s awkwardly staring at me. I look around, but no one else seems to notice he’s there.

“Can I help you?”

“Just stopped by to talk with you.” He sits down across from me.

I raise my eyebrows and point to my nose.

He nods, and lifts my coffee cup. “You had to drink it all,” he says on a heavy sigh. Then he extends his hand to me.

Reluctantly, I take it and shake. Then he starts to talk. And he talks.

He tells me where he was born, how many siblings he has, how he grew up, why he enlisted, his deepest fears, his first love, his longest love, his path of self-discovery, and his newest love. Then, after a deep breath, what he will be, where he will be, who he will be with, and why.

I nod, my eyebrows creased, still reeling from the fact that this radiant, golden stranger is talking to me at all.

But someone clears their throat next to me, and I don’t have time to process before I am thrown into confusion again. She smiles brightly, runs a hand through a messy mane of hair, pushes into the booth beside me, and speaks as if we’re old friends.

She keeps asking me about moments as if I remember them… As if I was there with her. And oddly enough, I find I do remember them. And vividly. All of her moments: the joyous, the fun, the hilarious, the heart-breaking, and the tragic. Right up until her death.

“It was fairly gory,” she says matter-of-factly. And I blink, startled, because at first I think she can’t be serious. But then I remember it. Vividly. And I’m glad I’d already finished my coffee, because my stomach is so knotted at the thought that I think I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore.

But I don’t even have time to dwell on it before two more people show up. A boy and a girl. He is a simmering fire, and she is as relaxed as the breeze. Still, his arm is slung protectively around her. She’s confident, but I can tell in an instant that she is genuine and kind. She is someone I would aspire to be.

They’ve been through more than I ever have. Their stories soar and then plummet through successes and then new trials. And they all treat me like I’m worth something more than a blank page. And the constant confusion I’ve had since the golden man first approached me starts to clear enough for me to find my words.

At the next pause in their steady recollections, I break in, “And what did you say your names were?”

The first stranger nods at my computer, drawing my eyes back down to the forgotten screen. There are words on the page. Their names, their histories, their loves, their deaths – their stories. My story.

A few weeks ago, someone posted in our writers group on Facebook asking about how characters work, everyone’s process for creating them. Or meeting them, as it were. I tried to write it out in a paragraph, I really did. But this happened instead.

And I should also probably say it wasn’t always like this. I used to do 50 page long character sheets, asking questions – trying to figure out how they fit into the world, into the story. I wanted them to be different and unique, and creating them didn’t come naturally. And in all honesty, I have no clue why it changed.

But one day, I woke up from a dream, and my head was a lot more crowded. They’ve been the most talkative cast of characters I’ve ever met. And they just keep coming. (I just met a whole other group of people in this universe, and they’re being just as nosy and invasive as everyone else in this world.) But everyone’s process is different, and frankly the assertiveness of these characters still confuses me, because I don’t quite get how it works.

But I’m grateful for them, however confusing their creation and existence might be. Hopefully I can pay them back by making sure their story is told. 

Zutara Week 2013 Compilation

Not everyone on my blog may be interested in reading the fanfics I wrote for Zutara Week 2013. Still, I figured it’d be good if I compiled the links to all of them. Of course, I have no rights or claims to the characters, but it is a cool experience to try and get in their heads. And, seeing as I posted my thoughts on fanfiction already, with reference to this week-long project, I figured I’d share.

Calor “Heated Words

Euphoria “Heritage of Water and Fire

Voices “If Not for the Voices

Gravity “Alone in a Nation

Bound “Save the Cabbages

Soothe “Searing, then Soothing

Spark: I’m afraid I never quite finished the last one. My job got so hectic and it was the only one I didn’t get around to in time. It’s halfway finished, I’m afraid. If I get it up ever, I’ll fix it here.

I’m not proud of all of them; some of them were pretty rushed. But I had fun and that’s the important part, right? I hope you enjoy these!

Fan Fiction FTW? (Or WTF?)

Let’s be completely honest: most fanfiction is complete and utter crap.

I’ll be completely honest: I’m not big on the genre.

I mean, to each their own. You like fan fiction? Great! All power to you. I just never much got into it and I certainly never wrote it. The biggest reason for that, though, is that you have to wade through stories upon stories of crap until you finally find a gem. And I never wrote it because the prospect terrified me.

How do you write a story that isn’t your own?

How do you stay true to another author’s characters?

How do you attract the interest of fans?

There are two camps: Fan Fiction FTW and Fan Fiction WTF. FTW updates every week, has a plethora of followers, and religiously reads other stories. WTF – the camp I have always shamelessly been a part of – isn’t nearly as willing to comb through the stories to find the good ones. And sometimes they accuse fanfic fans of extreme nerdiness (which I never did, I am a huge nerd and have no right to call others more nerdy than I). Still, when I thought of fan fiction, it was with a small level of disdain. As if I thought I was better than that. (I know, it’s terrible. Hear me out?)

So, when our last assignment in my creative writing workshop was to write a fan fiction short story, I was beyond stumped. Heaven knows, I have enough games, tv shows, and books I am a fan of and could write about. But to actually participate in fan fiction writing…

I struggled. It was so hard. Suddenly, I understood why so few fanfics are any good. It takes a talented writer to compose a story based on someone else’s ideas. And I believe even experienced writers struggle to step into another author’s shoes completely. As authors, characters live floating around in our heads. Sometimes their words and actions even surprise us. So how do you embody characters that don’t live in your own mind?

That being said, fan fiction has become a new writing exercise for me. Since it presents such a challenge, it stretches me as a writer. I don’t do it often, but I did participate in Zutara Week this year for the first time, writing a different themed short story every day. I have a chance to glimpse how things might have been with characters in a different world. I have to stay true to their pre-existing personalities, adapting them with time, and making sure they remain distinctly their own.

Practice in these areas translates greatly into writing original stories. Sometimes we are unaware when character personalities begin to blend. We have to be consistent with their traits, even as they develop and mature. We have to let them be their own people and do things as they would do them, not necessarily as we would. Practicing this from a fanfic standpoint makes it easier as an exercise. The world and characters have already been created, now it’s up to the writer to manipulate them. It hasn’t been easy for me, but I feel I’ve already seen good results.

When it comes to reading it, I’ll probably stay in Camp WTF, but when it comes to writing fan fiction? Definitely FTW.

Pruning a Plant (Or Weed-Whacking It)

I always dreaded the editing process. Not that I’d ever actually gone through it with a full-length project. In ways, I was right to fear it. The editing process is scary because I know I’m going to have to take crap and make it coherent. Not to mention, it involves much more critical thinking than just the creative flow that the first draft involves. I dread the massive amounts of time consuming editing involves, in order to be thorough. That is hard as a college student! (Tests, papers, short stories, reading, studying, presentations, blah, blah, blah… How do you sit down to edit a novel in the midst of that?!)

But, now that I’m sitting down to focus on it, I don’t get why so many people complain about it! Or why I ever was so afraid!

Editing has been so thrilling. I’m effectively hacking it to bits: cutting the crap, keeping the gems, and making it work.

I can see my novel getting smoother before my eyes. I can sense the flow of the story improving. The characters are establishing themselves more. The scenes aren’t needlessly wordy. The puzzle pieces of plot are fitting perfectly into place one at a time. It’s such a relief to know that, once I’ve finished, I won’t be ashamed to let other people read my work.

It’s like pruning a plant. I’m slowly and carefully picking off the crumpled dead leaves so that the flowers can live, thrive, and grow. The more dead leaves I pull away, the lovelier the plant becomes. It’s a delicate process. I’m picking off the inconsistencies, the extra words, the typos, the wrong words.

Not like I’m taking a blade to it or anything. But I am hacking a lot of stuff. Some doesn’t fit, some is unnecessary, and some just isn’t right. Like right now there is a weed entwined with my flower and I’m completely destroying it. It’s choking out my flower right now. And what good does pruning the dead leaves do if the weed is still there killing the plant?

And it feels good. Seeing the progress I’ve made so far, looking at how much better it is (and I’m only 1/20 of the way done). Pruning (and hacking) is such a rewarding experience. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll find myself dreading editing again. I’ll just be really excited to prune and hack away to the final product.

Coming Out (as an author)

April is over and so is my excuse that I was too busy with other writing projects to blog. Not that I’m stopping all writing projects. In fact, with the onset of summer, I hope to shift this blog from failed attempts at depth to something more practical for an aspiring author. Not that more personal ponderings won’t be posted on occasion. (“Ponderings” is a made up word. I’m a writer, I can do that, right?) But in the high hopes that one day I will actually have fans who read this ridiculous blog, I need to start toward a writing-oriented goal.

Also with the onset of summer, I’m sitting down to focus on some of my completed works. They need pruning, refining, and a lot of editing. Consistent consistency issues all up in that draft. I anticipate sending out queries by the end of the summer. So, before I go back to classes in August. Which means I have to work quickly. I have three completed works (abbreviated for my own convenience):

KM: an epic fantasy that probably needs to be altogether scrapped and rewritten

SOL: a modern fantasy with extensive character sheets, first draft totaling at 90,000 words

SOTS: a sci-fi/action, first draft totaling at 52,000 words

RS (in progress as of two days ago): a modern paranormal fantasy because why not (1,700 so far)

I like YA fiction. My mom still likes YA fiction. I will probably still like YA fiction when I am my mom’s age. Not all of my ideas are sci-fi/fantasy. Promise. I have several adaption ideas, two romances in mind (though I hate reading them so we’ll see how writing one goes), and I want to write crime novels once the complexity of a mystery plot line stops intimidating me. Still, the four listed above are rather varied sub-genres.

This poses a huge question: which one of them do I focus on prepping to pitch? Which one of these do I want to come out with as an author? Whatever I choose–assuming it’s picked up–would establish my career for life. Not that I need to stick specifically to a genre to keep fans, but how do I want to be remembered? Which is the most important and which one best represents my style and voice?

At this point, I think I know. I think I’ll be focusing on editing SOL this summer, alongside my new project RS. (My dog just came traipsing across the keyboard. I guess she says hi!) I just want to be sure that whatever I pick represents me well and makes a positive impact.