For a while now, I’ve been looking for an excuse to start posting more writing on here. I saw the Flash Fiction Challenge over on Chuck Wendig’s blog the other day and decided to give it a shot. This week’s challenge was to take one of ten random titles and write a story around that. I went with “A Year of Bodies.”
This is my first attempt at flash fiction, but I had fun writing it, so it may become a regular thing! Also, fair warning, it’s a little on the fucked up side. I hope you enjoy!
“A Year of Bodies”
By Brian Work
“A little to the left. Just raise the—Like that, but… Yes, perfect!”
Roland stepped back and admired his handiwork. It was nice, but something was… lacking. The servants kept looking from Roland to his latest piece. They didn’t understand his genius, but that wasn’t what he paid them for.
Nobody appreciated good art these days. It was Roland’s least favorite part of the twenty-first century. Everyone was so damned politically correct nowadays. No calling women broads. No making fun of fat people. No peeling the skin off trespassers and carefully wrapping it around a mannequin.
Oh well. His house, his rules.
The servants—Jose and… Esta-something-or-other—had lasted much longer than the last pair. They were quiet. Roland liked that about them. The last two hadn’t been quiet, and he’d had to add them to the collection. If there was one thing an artist hated, it was being rushed in his work. A masterpiece takes time. Not that Roland considered any of his current works masterpieces. If anything, these were derivative of his Victorian collection. He wanted to blame it on his materials, that today’s subjects just weren’t as attractive as they were back in the day. But Roland knew that was just an excuse. He was the problem.
He slipped each of the men an envelope and let them go. They wouldn’t say anything, Roland was sure of it. They were quiet. Roland liked quiet.
As he walked the length of his gallery, Roland knew he was due for an expansion soon. It had been a busy year. He hadn’t dabbled with statues for decades, not since the pathetic excuse for art that was his Woodstock collection. But the girl at the opera had been so lovely… and so insistent.
He’d tried to be satisfied with the sex, he really had. But after living as long as he had, a woman needed to be truly spectacular to leave an impression. He would have left it at that, but she so badly wanted breakfast the next morning, and well… he was hungry.
Roland ran his fingers through her hair. Such lovely black hair… He smiled. This is what she would have wanted. She died as she lived: Enjoying the finer things in life.
And she would never have to suffer the injustice of losing her beauty. She could remain young forever. It was the best gift he could have given her.
Well, second best, but this century wasn’t well-suited to siring. The logistics were such a nightmare. Easier to just kill them and be done with it.
So he had. But then the next week there was the girl at the theatre. Then the woman at the bar. Then the bartender. Then the detective…
Art was addictive. As soon as you thought you were done, it pulled you back in.
She was a fine piece of work, though. She’d preserved nicely. That was a stroke of good luck. Even if you used the best techniques and materials, you couldn’t always account for genetics. Some bodies just preserved better than others. It had been a hard lesson to learn when he was younger, but it was a valuable one. Sometimes, the blame just didn’t lie with you, and you had to accept that some people just made terrible subjects.
But this girl… Roland almost regretted not turning her. She had the looks, the attitude, the hunger… Unfortunately for her, he just wasn’t in the mood for a commitment.
Roland paced down the gallery, each step a little heavier than the last. He let out a long sigh. That girl really was his finest piece here… It was almost depressing. Usually his collections gradually progressed in quality, but that wasn’t the case here. Twenty-seven works of art, and none could match her in beauty, form, or pure fun of the kill.
He stopped. His head snapped back to look at her.
That was it! He wasn’t losing his touch as an artist. He was losing his touch as a killer! All the others had been kills of necessity or some sort of… obligation to create. A true artist couldn’t force art to happen on just any canvas that walked by. He had to be discerning. Seek out the best canvas possible. Only then could real art happen!
Roland laughed. He rushed back to his muse, his Calliope, and kissed her cold lips. This beautiful, wonderful girl. He’d been so blind, and now she’d opened his eyes.
He brushed his thumb over her cheek. The rest of them could burn. She was the only piece worth saving. He would take his lessons from her and use them for next year’s collection.
Next year, he would reintroduce himself to the world.
One of the benefits of having a beta reader who’s also an awesome artist is you get sweet fan art like this from Marissa Trudel, featuring Lilah Martinez (aka Chimera) from the first book in my upcoming Knights of Fate series. Even superheroes-in-training have their role models.
I’ve found that, especially in the last several years, I’ve been more drawn to writing female-driven stories. My female characters tend to be the ones I enjoy writing the most and whose voices seem to come most naturally. I think a big part of that is because I was raised by, grew up around, and befriended lots of badass women over the course of my life.
So this is a thank you to all of the badass women who have helped shape me and inspire me. I wouldn’t be the badass I am without the badasses all of you are. Much love!
UPDATE: The movie was amazing! It was everything I wanted it to be and more. No Man’s Land had me all sorts of emotional.
For the last decade or so, I’ve been doing all my writing on a computer. Before then, I wrote everything by hand and then transcribed it, but as I discovered writing programs like Final Draft, Celtx, & Scrivener, I started doing all my writing on the computer. And that worked fine for a while.
Lately, however, I’ve been finding myself way too easily distracted when at the computer. I fall into the black hole of Facebook & Twitter, & the next thing I know it’s an hour later & I haven’t written anything. Such is the result of having the willpower of a blueberry scone.
When I was creating the outline for Into The Black, I did the whole thing by hand. It was freeing and helped me to just get words down on the page without feeling like they were set in stone. I wrote the first draft in Scrivener, but I definitely spent more time procrastinating & being distracted than actually writing. And a big part of that has to do with the damn computer itself and the stupid internet.
As I looked at the middling progress I’ve made on my found footage horror novel over the last month, I knew I wanted to try something new with it. So rather than writing on the computer, I’m disconnecting and doing the writing by hand. Less distractions means less excuses I can make for myself.
I have stories to tell, and nobody’s going to give a damn about them if they never get written. And that’s on me. That’s something I can control.
I mean, shit, I wrote, directed, & produced a feature film. I can look at the Uncommon Law blu-ray shelved right next to Underworld in my movie collection & see proof that I can make things happen. I’ve got a completed draft of Into The Black as a constant reminder that I can get things done if I stick to them.
So no more excuses. No more avoiding writing due to a fear of failure. Time to kick fear’s ass and send it packing. I don’t have time for that shit. I’ve got work to do.
When I was in college at Valdosta State, I wrote a one act play called “Reason” about my friend Jenny who passed away suddenly a few years earlier. The next year, it was produced at VSU as part of the Immediate Theatre Project. The whole process, between writing the play & seeing it produced, was cathartic for me & helped me come to terms with her death.
I’ve been wanting to revisit it since then, as I feel I can do it greater service & tell that story better, but I wasn’t sure how to build on it. Recently, while working on my found footage novel, I finally realized how I can tell this story in a way that will better allow me to explore the emotions that have been tugging at me since she passed.
I may already have a lot on my plate, but I’m going to see if I can fast track this project for this year. I’ve worked with great teen actors at three high schools in the area, so I know the talent is there. Now’s probably a good time to do this, seeing as I don’t know for sure that I’ll still be in Atlanta a year from now. More importantly, this is a story I need to tell, and it’s something I just feel I have to do.
Despite the eternal struggle that was 2016, it was an extremely productive year for me professionally.
– After 5 years, my first feature film, Uncommon Law, is officially complete & available on digital, DVD, & Blu-Ray!
– Completed the first draft of my debut novel, “Into The Black.”
– Directed two plays: “Much Ado About Nothing” at Parkview High School and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” at Collins Hill High School.
– Taught high school drama for three months at Collins Hill.
– Shot the video portion of a found footage YA horror novel I’m working on.
All in all, a successful year! No time to slow down, because my goals for 2017 include:
– Editing “Into The Black” and querying agents.
– Writing & editing the found footage novel.
– Finishing the three screenplays I’ve got in various stages of completion.
– Resuming work on my urban fantasy novel.
– Making more regular blog posts on here.
Time to get at it!
This month I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo with the goal of wrapping up the first draft of Into The Black, the fantasy novel I’ve been working on. I’ll make another post later to go into more detail on that.
While talking with a couple friends who are also participating, the subject of character sheets come up. I’m a big fan of character sheets. I’ve got one that I fill out for all of the notable characters in any fiction project or screenplay that I write, and another more in-depth one that I use for POV characters. The sheets I use were pieced together from multiple ones that I found online (credit: dehydromon & The Lazy Scholar) and modified to fit my needs. They’re constantly evolving as I find new information I want to include, & a lot of my projects require specific fields that aren’t a part of the base sheet you’ll find below. Change yours up and make them your own!
Character sheets are good for a lot of things, but there are three main reasons why I love them:
1. Fleshing Out A Character
This is the obvious reason. After I became a member of Team Outline, I started to really enjoy developing my characters before I ever started to write the story itself. I found it extremely helpful as a means of fleshing out characters who I hadn’t quite grasped yet. It’s easy to come up with ideas for POV characters and other main characters as you write, but too often minor characters fall by the wayside. Having a predefined set of information to fill out gave me a great starting point, and in the process I’d usually grasp onto something that gave me a solid idea of who the character is.
Ideally, every character should have a rich enough backstory and defined personality that you could tell the whole story from their perspective. Now, it would be a very different story from the one you want to tell, which is why you didn’t choose them as a POV. But if you’ve taken the time to dig deep into that character, identify who they are, where they came from, and what makes them tick, they’re going to jump off the page a whole hell of a lot more than one that’s just a generic stock friend/co-worker/family member.
2. Differentiate Characters
Worried that your characters are too similar? At a glance, you can check their sheets and make sure they have distinctive appearances, backgrounds, likes/dislikes, you name it! Sometimes this has to do with physical characteristics, which is usually the audience’s first impression of a character and how they keep them separate in their minds, and sometimes it has to do with how they speak or where they come from. Having character sheets saves you from having to dig through your memory or hundreds of pages of story to make sure you didn’t make five characters who all unintentionally look like Dolph Lundgren.
3. Keeping Track of New Information
This has to do with more than just looking back at your original notes to make sure you got so-and-so’s hair color correct. As I’m writing and I come up with more information or details about a character, I’ll go back and add that information to their sheet. That way, instead of having to find the specific chapter where I mentioned something, I can just refer to the character sheet and find the information (along with a footnote saying where in the story it came up.)
This is where the three sections at the end (Biography, Additional Notes, & Things To Include Later) come in handy. Biography is where I place background information & things from the character’s past. Additional Notes can be anything that doesn’t fit into the other sections, from personality traits and desires to questions that I still need to answer. And then Things To Include Later is where I put ideas for things I want the character to do later in the story (obviously.)
Place of Birth:
First Appearance in the Story:
Theme Song (what song best describes this character?):
How does the character dress?
Equipment or anything else they carry with them:
Habits (smoking, drinking etc.):
Talents, Skills, & Special Training:
Most Important Relationships
Additional Notes on This Character
Things To Include Later
Death (If Applicable)
Age at Death:
Place of Death:
Manner of Death:
I had a great time talking with the Atlanta Film Chat podcast this week! We had a really fun conversation talking about Uncommon Law, writing, the struggles of making a film without a budget, my love for romantic comedies & Japanese RPGs, and more. Please download & give it a listen!
When you think of an “indie film” you don’t typically think of a romantic comedy. The genre gets derided as being formulaic and unimaginative. However, filmmakers like this week’s guest Brian Work disagree and only want to make the films they want to make.
I’ve made a number of attempts at writing a novel over the years. While I’ve succeeded at writing and producing plays and screenplays, a finished novel has eluded me. There’s one series in particular that I’ve been working on in one form or another for about five years now. On the first draft I got seven chapters in before restarting, writing another seven chapters, restarting again, writing another two chapters, and then starting over again.
The fourth draft has been more successful. I had a few of the main plot points figured out, but I was still flying by the seat of my pants for the most part. This time around, I got twenty five chapters in and just… hit a wall. It’s not that what I had was bad. I actually like most of it. But I felt like the last few chapters had the characters spinning their wheels, venturing off on this mission, and then that one. Something was missing, and I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
It was around that time that I had to focus on finishing post-production for Uncommon Law, so I set the book aside for a while as I completed the movie. When I was finished with that and went back to the book, I realized I still didn’t know where I was going with it.
And that’s when I knew I had a fundamental flaw in my writing process.
Whenever I’ve written a play or a screenplay (you know, those things I’ve actually completed and put out in the world,) I’ve had an outline that I worked from. However, anytime I’ve written fiction, I’ve been a pantser, someone who just writes as it comes, without any outlining or significant planning. Which, I realized, may be why I’ve never actually finished a book. Some of this probably goes back to the times I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, which has traditionally been the domain of pantsers. Now, don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing wrong with pantsing (unless you’re in public, in which case nobody wants to see that.) It’s great for some people, but it just wasn’t working for me. I had to try something else.
I searched online for different outlining methods, but none really struck my fancy. In my search, though, I saw a number of people on Writer Unboxed and the NaNoWriMo forums recommend K.M. Weiland‘s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. Enough people seemed to swear by it that I decided to give it a look. Reading through it, I felt like it had some good info in it, but I wasn’t certain how much of it would really be helpful. But hey, the old method wasn’t working, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a shot at putting Weiland’s lessons into practice.
I set aside my in-progress novel and pulled out an old idea from over a decade ago (that longtime readers may remember as my short-lived fantasy web comic “Into The Black.”) I had jotted down various ideas or thoughts that had came to mind over the years, but I’d never actually written it. I believed it had a lot of potential, though, so I knew it would be a good candidate to try out the lessons from Outlining Your Novel.
I’m not even a third of the way into the steps listed in the book, and I’m already a believer. Not just in a “hey, this kinda works” way, but in an “I’ve got to obnoxiously tell all my writer friends about this book” sorta way.
Right off the bat, what I love about the method in this book is how it replicates the part of my previous process that actually worked, only it allows me to do it on my own. Previously, one of my best friends acted as a sounding board for my ideas, and we’d have hours-long phone conversations going through all the various “what if” scenarios that could pop up in the book. But, as it does, life happens, and she suddenly had law school, a full time job, and a wedding to plan, so our conversations became shorter and more focused on the personal side of our lives (because as great as it is to have a sounding board, I still prioritize her friendship over all else.)
One of the first things the book has you do is list all the potential “What If” scenarios that could occur, and it encourages you to write down everything, even if it seems ridiculously silly. Following that, you pick out the ones that have the most legs or that give you a visceral reaction, and you extrapolate like crazy on those. Just from doing that exercise, I not only learned things about my characters that worked so much better than the notes I’d already written down, but I’d also figured out what the story should be about and the right angle to take to introduce this world. Some people say they don’t like outlining because it takes away the exhilarating sense of discovery that comes from writing, but damn, I was getting that exact same feeling from brainstorming these ideas up front.
Another recommendation the book made which has been extremely helpful to me has been to do the brainstorming/outlining process by hand. Way back in the day, I used to write all my notes out on notebook paper in three-ring-binders, but when I was in college I switched to doing everything on a computer. In doing so, I found that I’d fallen into one of the traps Weiland mentions: When you’re writing on the computer, it feels so permanent. I had a lot of ideas that would come to mind, but I wouldn’t type them up because I didn’t know if they were worthy of going into my Scrivener file. So instead, they just sat in my mind until I found the right way to incorporate them, or else until I forgot all about them before I could figure out how to make them work. By returning to my old three-ring-binders, I’ve given myself permission to write down every single idea that comes to mind, no matter how implausible, and then when I reach the end of the outlining process and am ready to write, I can transfer all the ideas I’m keeping into the notes on my computer. Also, it means that when I’m outlining, I don’t have all of the distractions of the internet at my fingertips (a big problem of mine.) I still plan to do all the actual writing on my computer in Scrivener, but so far this is working wonders for the outlining/brainstorming process. Boom. Best of both worlds.
I’m looking forward to my daily writing sessions each day as I get further along in this outline and continue to make discoveries about this story, the characters, and the world it’s set in. I can’t wait to start writing the actual story, and feel the relief that comes from knowing where I’m going every step of the way.
The TL;DR version: I was having crazy trouble writing as a pantser, and K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success has completely changed the way I write and reinvigorated my creativity. If you’ve been struggling with writing by the seat of your pants, I highly suggest checking out this book. Hopefully it’ll do for you the same as it’s done for me.
I went to C2E2 last weekend and checked out a couple of the writing panels. One that caught my interest was The Art of Worldbuilding featuring Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse series) and Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel’s Legacy series), moderated by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires series.) I jotted down some notes for myself, but I thought I’d share them on here in case they’re of interest to anyone else.
Disclaimer: Everything below is paraphrased as best I could write/remember. I won’t be writing the notes in first person because I’m not comfortable representing my notes as quotes if they aren’t verbatim. If any of the authors or their representatives feel that I accidentally misrepresented any comments, please contact me & I’ll modify/remove as requested.
CN: Chloe Neill
CH: Charlaine Harris
JC: Jacqueline Carey
Q: How much research and planning do you do before you write?
CH: Doesn’t do a lot of advance planning. Sets the basic rules of the world, but lets most of it come in the writing process.
JC: Does a lot of research upfront, then finds out the rest while she’s writing. Loves writing historical fiction because she can pick what she likes from history & change what she doesn’t (as long as she avoids glaring anachronisms.)
Q: How do you keep track of everything in a large series?
CH: Has someone in charge of continuity for her books.
JC: Keeps track of it all in her head.
Q: How do you balance magic in your world?
CH: The magic system must have checks and balances so it’s not too powerful. For example, in her world the vampires are day sleepers.
JC: Started with the idea of why magic exists in the first place. For her Agent of Hel series she went off a variation of the Hermetic Principle: If it is so below (in hell), then it is above (on earth).
Q: What resources do you use?
CN: Uses encyclopedias of vampires/werewolves/witches that show all appearances in pop culture (I believe these are the encyclopedias by Rosemary Ellen Guiley)
JC: The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology
Q: How do you use language in your works?
CH: Tried to give each vampire his own verbal ticks based on their origin.
JC: Began writing in clean, crisp, short prose. Finally accepted that it was okay to allow flowery prose. Her characters have different voices depending on their background.
Q: What is your daily schedule like?
JC: Usually writes 4 hours per day, and edits as she goes. She starts by editing the previous day’s work. Writes in Word, but does her research longhand.
CH: Finds that the business aspect can overwhelm the creative. On a good day, she revises the previous day’s work & writes 1800-2400 words.
CN: There’s no right or wrong way to write. Find what works for you that you can do every day to keep writing.
Q (from the audience): How do you keep your characters from being perfect & turning into Mary Sues?
CH: Perfect characters are boring.
JC: If they’re perfect, there’s no room for growth.
Miscellaneous notes (I either can’t remember the question, or I only wrote down one person’s response)
CH: It’s a different process writing/worldbuilding for a novel vs. a graphic novel. In a graphic novel, you can’t write what the artist can’t draw.
CH: Her biggest surprises in writing came in the bad things she could do to her characters.
JC: Does a lot of plot outlining. Because of the scale of her books, she has to keep her characters on a short leash.
JC: When naming characters, she would go back & look at the history of names & use the older versions of modern names.
CN: The advantage of using a major city is there’s a lot of well known places to draw from, but she also makes up enough that she can layer her own places in. People WILL let you know if you got something wrong.
JC: Picks what to write by creative Darwinism. Let the ideas fight it out in your head until there’s one you can’t resist.
CH: When you get writer’s block, go & write something else.
JC: Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
JC: Focus on the details that jump out the most to you. You don’t have to describe everything, just grab the few things that define it the most.
CH: Characters must be anchored by the concerns of everyday life.
JC: She wrote the first Kushiel’s Legacy book in a way that worked as a stand alone. She only wrote the sequel after her agent told her she should.