1812 – Year of the Zombies (And my return to the scene)

I feel a little like a zombie right now, actually. All of my Assignment’s have been handed in, my semester exams are over and on top of that I have the Flu. Since March, so much of my time has been dedicated to reading textbooks and essays and writing essays and assignments that now I have the freedom of the winter holidays, I forgot what I’m meant to do with myself.

Perhaps that’s why when a writer-friend Alerted me to Acacia Moon’s upcoming Zombie Anthology ‘And Then Jayne Was A Zombie,’ I was hit with a sudden bust of inspiration. A good thing, too – I was finding it hard to get back into the middle of a project after so long of writing nothing but History and Psychology assignments (As much as I enjoyed writing those – Particularly my major essay on the Industrial Revolution. Fascinating stuff). And so began a frenzy of thinking and note writing that would steal yet more sleep from my tired body.

I have yet to see zombies done correctly, yet to read a book or see a movie that really makes me think ‘Yes, this is what Zombies are.’ (I think I may have told you this before, Internet…) Don’t get me wrong, I love zombies and Zombie fiction to (un)death – WWZ by Max Brooks is my favorite (But His Zombie Survival Guide is cringe worthy), and I have all of Romero’s Zombie flicks – even the bad ones. 4pocalypse by Dark Red Press deserves a shout out here because I didn’t have the time to review it – though I loved it – and it has some very cool takes on the Zombie theme (and a Swordfight.) I have about two hundred and sixty hours clocked on Left 4 Dead, and it remains one of my favorite games. But I have never quite seen Zombies done – in any medium – in a way that completely fills the hole in my heart brains, so to speak.

Now, I’m not about to say I’ve written it. I would love to one day, and probably will end up doing so (I would have loved to be the first to combine Zombies and Steampunk – two of my favorite themes – if Cherie priest didn’t bollox it already) but not now. To be honest, I’m not even sure exactly what I would consider the zombie ‘perfection’ – Probably something of ‘War of the worlds’ style – a tale of survival until the Zombie menace falls to decomposition, with a heavy dose of humanity and human nature through a magnifying glass,  inspired by my many hours of Sneaking around Chernarus in Day Z(I wrote an essay about that, too – Perhaps I’ll fix it up and post it here) No, I don’t think I can do Zombies justice yet, so my Zombie Magnum Opus will have to wait.

But even so, I am excited to do something with zombies for the anthology (And, well, just because I love zombies, in case you didn’t get that) so I filled three pages of a notebook with notes on Zombies and a dozen half-detailed ideas. Originally I wanted to explore some of the themes of my essay (That, I have decided, I will fix up and post in the near future), which can be summarized as a look at why survivors tend to shoot each other out of fear of being shot themselves – Along with themes like Scavenging and guerilla warfare, Heavily inspired by Day Z. However, I was finding it difficult to pull together a nice, coherent plot – especially as I had assumed a somewhat modern-day setting, and I am terrible at modern-day settings. So I took all of my Zombie Ideas travelled back a few hundred years, to the setting I work best with, and – in a Brilliant coincidence – This is when Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture started playing over my trusty digital gramophone (Read: I-tunes), so I thought – Zombies, in Napoleon’s 1812 Invasion of Russia? This could be very interesting.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dig out my books on the Napoleonic wars.

Advertisements

The Baron’s Daughter – Reflection

A few days ago I posted a short story titled ‘The Baron’s daughter’ that I had written for a short story competition. Now, I’d like to look at the story in a little more depth. If you haven’t read it and would like to, it can be found here.

The short story opens with Aralia facing her father, the baron, after refusing to attend an arranged marriage with a prince. Here, I dive right into the first redemption arc. Furious with his daughter’s disobeyal, the baron vents his anger and sends her to the mines to redeem herself for disobeying him. This starts the first of two redemption arcs, but it should be carefully noted this one is a subversion of the theme. Aralia does not particularly care about redemption, and just wants to escape the prison-mine.

The next scene shows Aralia arriving at the prison-mine, where she has a discussion with the prison warden, a man named Panax. This is the major characterizing paragraph for Aralia, and is supposed to paint her as a somewhat witty/snarky character, perhaps a little too self-assured and self superior.  Originally, I had a scene directly following this where Aralia immediately starts a fight because she is not shown proper respect as the daughter of the duke, but the scene had to be cut for word restraints. Essentially, Aralia is not meant to be a very likeable character at this point. She is selfish and considers everyone else below her.

The next scene serves to detail the conditions of the prison-mine. It is short and passive not because of word count restraints, but because it would slow the plot down if it dragged on for too long. In all honesty, I’m not too happy with the way this part turned out. It seems forced and on the tell scale of the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. Ideally, I would have woven the information into the scenes around it, but I certainly didn’t have the word count to do that effectively.

Warden Panax then takes Aralia to his office, a little foreshadowing for the ending, and offers Aralia ‘redemption.’ Panax tells Aralia she will be able to leave the prison if she sets a trap for the other prisoners, explaining the mine is no longer turning a profit and the continued existence of the prisoners it too costly.  Aralia, thinking only of herself and escape, accepts. Here the real subversive nature of the redemption arc comes into full view. Redemption is, traditionally, about a character seeking to undo or atone for some horrible past action, not actively cause death to save their own skin.

Aralia continues to set up the device; however she is trapped in with the fallout through a beautiful turn of Karma. This signals the beginning of the second redemption arc, the one that is played straight. Aralia is saved by a prisoner named Rauk, and this was meant to be a character-flipping moment. Aralia realizes the full magnitude of what she has done, and realizes the true redemption she needs to seek is for this.

After realizing exactly what had happened, the Prisoners decide their only option is to escape. Seeking Redemption, Aralia offers to go through with a plan that will allow the prisoners to escape. She doesn’t want to put anyone else in danger by letting them do it, and goes ahead with it despite her broken arm.

Redemption was the prompt of the contest and the central theme of the story. My single largest goal was to make the redemption theme as clear and exciting as possible, without slipping into cliché. I think having the nature and meaning of redemption to the character change as the story progress was a really cool idea, especially having one cause the need for another.  I think, in this respect, I was successful.

That said, the rest of it was pulled off pretty poorly. Character and general writing quality would be my biggest concerns if I ever write a re-worked version. Some work though the middle on developing Aralia and introducing the prisoners that show up later would not go astray.  Another big part would be at the ‘turn of redemption’ where Aralia has her epiphany – That part is quite poor, and I think would be the first section I revise.

So what have I learned though this experience? First of all, that I can’t write short stories. I think, if I had left it, this would have turned out between 6000 and 8000 words, all together. However, that’s a bit negative so let’s see what else it taught me.

I think working under such a strict word count with such a ‘big’ idea really forced me to change my style and make everything much more concise.  Especially near the end. For the most part, I don’t really like the style, however I have noticed some things work well here that have always felt a little odd under my normal style. I’ll give an example of something I sometimes do that has always annoyed me; let’s say a character was sitting down at a desk reading a book when he hears a knock on the door.

Bob placed his bookmark within the paperback’s pages and snapped it shut, letting it rest on the desk in front of him.
‘Just a minute!’ He called as he pushed his chair back and stood. Bob walked to the door and turned the handle, pulling it open.

Now, that is just not very good. Ignoring the fact it’s a rather mundane example, it’s far too long for what little it says and really just holds everything up. Perhaps something similar could be selectively used to create tension in the reader, but it certainly doesn’t work in general use. Whenever I catch something like this in my writing, it always annoys me a little. Working on a word count, however, forced me to shorten things.

Bob snapped his book shut with a bookmark and opened the door.

That is thirty-five less words. Already, I can’t believe I was working like the first example. That’s the biggest lesson i learnt– Just do it. Just have characters do what they need to and move on, not every little detail needs to be explained.

So what do you think? Is the story worth a major touch up, or should I let it go and focus on larger fish?

The Baron’s Daughter

And here it is!

This is ‘The Baron’s Daughter’ A short story I did for LegendFire’s annual ‘Legends contest.’ In all honesty, it was a bit of a rush job (especially the ending) and I got it in just in time.  That said, I’m rather proud of what I was able to achieve working with the restraints I was working with – time, word limits and from a prompt. I have a fear of mandatory prompts, a symptom of English at high school I’m afraid.  I may spend some more time on this, fixing her up. I still have the deleted scenes and know I need to work on character and most of the style. If nothing more, to keep it consistent. But then, that takes time from my already overwhelming projects. Tomorrow (or sometime within the next few days) I will post a more in-depth analysis to explain what I was trying to do, and why I did what I did. Watch out for that if you want a window into the way a (read: this) writer does things.

Please remember this is not me at my best. So, here we go – The Baron’s Daughter, Third place winner of LegendFire’ 2011 ‘Legends contest’ for fiction.

Yes, My LegendFire pseudonym is PenPen. Does anyone know what it’s from?

Continue reading

Legends Contest Debriefing

The worst part about word limits is cutting back.

Earlier I made a post about a Writing contest based on the theme ‘redemption,’ hosted by Legendfire.com, a community-based writing website. After some initial worry, I was able to come up with an idea I thought would be of the right size. As someone who writes primarily novel-length stories, the word limit of 3500 was a real (but welcome) challenge. Fortunately, I made it at 3494 words, just in time. Though I can’t give out any specific detail until after the winners are revealed (January 14th) , I can say I’m pleased with how the piece turned out – given time and word constraints, especially with the stress of the holiday season. It’s not the best I’ve ever written, but it’s not the worst.

But it took some effort to get it to the place it is. I should have seen the trouble coming when my plot outline was 1700 words.  By the time I had finished my first draft, the whole thing was 5200 words. That’s more than a little over, and especially troubling considering my habit of forgetting or skipping parts in the first draft. I had to cut a lot from the story, including some semi-important scenes in the middle. In my previous post, I spoke of the importance of character when dealing with a theme like redemption, so it’s unfortunate that characterizing scenes had to be cut. The Main character is far from as fleshed out as I wish they were, but I think it’s enough to carry the story. The bigger problem comes from the lack of development of the side character’s who seem to pop into the story at the end, out of the blue.  I initially had some introduction scenes where they appeared before they became really important, turning them into Chekov’s gunmen, but that had to be cut entirely. That’s what I get for using a three act structure in a one-act play. The plot made it though alive, even if there is a noticeable scar across the middle. (Perhaps I can only see it because I know it is there?)

Another sacrifice I had to make was the description and detail. You see, I like detail. Now, I’m not talking about purple prose or describing everything in such excruciating detail it becomes tedious, but I like sprinkling detail around to add flavor. Occasionally, I’ll even stop to describe something important to the plot in a few hundred words, especially if it’s awesome. I had to cut a lot of that flavor out, something that really bothered me. It leads to a very snappy writing style I’m not sure I like, especially near the end. It’s almost possible to see the point where I realize I’m running out of words and start to cut down heavily. That’s probably not a good thing, but maybe – like above – it’s something I can only see because I know it’s there.  Overall, it’s very quick and skeletal. Don’t get me wrong, I like a fast pace, especially in combat, but I like description too. I’ve struck an odd balance in my writing style, but I had to cut it away for this.

I might play around with this new style in the future, as I think I could learn a little from it. (And isn’t that the best prize I could possibly get from a contest?)

One healthy lesson is about transition sentences between actions. Sometimes, I know where my character is and what I want them to do, but don’t know what to put in between. It always felt weird to have ‘nothing’ in between, but writing with the limit forced me too and, after re-reading the results, I can honestly say it works a little better at many points. I know I’m being vague. I’ll post the story here once the contest has been decided, with some short pieces of analysis so you can see what I was trying to do at certain parts, and how I was doing it. I may even put some of the deleted scenes back, but I want to keep the work true to its purpose – and that was to be short.

Where ever you are in the world, happy New Year and good luck with those resolutions. My biggest resolution is to stay on track and see Treasonists published, so there’s still more on that to come!