I have written before on inspiration. In this post I wanted to share some of the pictures I have taken during my daily walks. Nature and reality should be the basis of all fiction and it is the duty of all writers to try to capture its magnificence. Sometimes, that is easier said than done.
It is strange when I’m between writing books. While working on manuscripts, the stories become like old friends to me. I immerse myself so much into the stories that it is almost jarring when the initial writing is finished, leaving a void. However, it is always relieving to finish the first draft of a book.
Editing though is not something I particularly enjoy. Sure, I could leave the bulk of it for my editor, but then how could I learn to improve myself? My editor is also very busy and I want to make my projects as easy for her as possible. That doesn’t make the process easier or more fun. Editing is tedious, and requires intense attention, which makes it more challenging for me to do a good job without taking frequent breaks.
In the meantime, I am thinking about what to write next. Should I write a science fiction novel? Should I write the final novel in the Goandria series? I hope to have an answer within a week.
The orange and green sphere gradually enlarged before the woman’s cockpit. She pulled down on the throttle, and the whine of the engines subsided to a barely audible din. “There it is, finally,” she breathed, shifting in her seat. “Hopefully the air is breathable, I need to stretch my legs.” The triangular wing of her craft reflected the nearby star’s light, into her face. The woman raised her hand to shield her eyes while she arced her vehicle so the light wasn’t as much of a problem.
“That has to be a body of water,” she changed the direction the craft was heading again toward a blue-green stain on the sphere. The star ship’s pointed nose arced down through the atmosphere, flames licked the black shiny hull of the vehicle, the woman eyed the orange and red tongues, but her face remained unchanged. “Just a little further,” she whispered as the ship started to rattle violently, fire now filled the view port’s exterior. The woman pressed a series of small buttons on the left control panel before her and a blue mist sprayed the exterior of the viewport and the flames died down enough for her to loose a short sigh.
The pilot set the ship down at the edge of the lake. Its green liquid sloshed against dark gray, nearly black sand. She unbuckled the seat harness and depressed a glowing button five feet down from the cockpit, placing a breath mask over her face. The woman unclipped a white, thin, square, device with a five-inch glass screen. She pressed a button on the side and the device lit up. “At least the air isn’t toxic, but it’s barely thick enough to breath,” she said, removing the mask. “But the water isn’t really water, great.” The woman then pulled out some thick gloves from her pocket and put them on.
Even being on the day side of the planet, three moons were still clearly seen in the sky, one of which was a deep, rust red, giving an eerie glow in the already yellow-tinted atmosphere. She walked to the edge of the liquid body, holding her instrument in front of her. “Water, methane, and an unknown substance,” she read off the readings that showed up on her device. “That isn’t exactly what I was hoping for, oh well, I guess it’s time to leave.”
There was a ripple in the water, the woman stared, watching, waiting, then as she was about to turn there was another, this time larger than the last. “I’m not sticking around to find out what caused that,” she uttered, running back to the ship. Before she could arrive at the vessel, a loud growling, howl echoed. The astronaut spun around, and saw it. A black mass, with four clawed legs, propelled it out of the water. The alien creature’s body reminded the astronaut of a slug or worm, it was long and segmented, yet looked like it had armored plates haphazardly stitched to its sides, reminding her of a patchwork amateurish art. The alien’s face was a canine-like snout with rows of square teeth that looked like hatchets protruding from its gums. Seven spines awkwardly poked up from its spine and the tips bent slightly before ending in a blunt end. She withdrew a small laser pistol, knowing the weapon was unlikely to do much to defend herself. The astronaut fired her weapon, and the bolt struck the creature in the side, it howled in pain, and charged at her.
Realizing shooting the alien beast wasn’t a wise idea, she dove to the side, just before the creature was about to trample over her. The alien now stood between her and the ship. “Don’t’ step backward and damage my hull, I don’t want to be stranded here,” the woman shouted as if the beast could understand her.
She fired off a few more shots, and the creature lumbered toward her, swiping at a tree-like plant that reminded her a little of celery. The plant crashed down, causing a crevice in the soft ground, but fortunately it missed the astronaut and her craft. The woman pulled the trigger three more times, aiming for the alien’s head, two missed and the last one hit it in the snout. The beast stared her down then leapt up and its hook claws tore through her suit, blood dribbled down her arm. She pulled the trigger on her weapon again, but nothing happened, a soft beep sounded from her weapon noting the charge was low. She holstered the pistol, eyes darting around, looking for a suitable weapon of some kind. There was nothing, save for a few rocks which would hardly work to defend herself. She gritted her teeth together, grabbed the heaviest rock she could find and hurled it at the alien. The rock thudded into the ground, completely missing the target. Unsurprised, but grateful the distraction the rock provides, she bolted for the ship, opened the door and quickly sealed herself inside before the thing outside knew what happened. It screamed and hollered in anger, madly searching for her, but its cries were answered by the roar of the ship’s engines.
She pressed a series of buttons and grabbed the craft’s yolk, blasting off to the safety of space leaving the creature behind confused and upset.
They say a lot of things about this place. Things only the irrational and superstitious would believe. It is a forest, and forests often conjure fear in the uneducated, or so I thought. It is easy to dismiss other people’s experiences with the unknown when you haven’t seen what they have. Until now, I never believed in anything I couldn’t see or touch. I thought everything that exists would one day become knowable, that it was only a matter of time. I used to not believe in true good or evil. They were mere constructs of human cultures, and ultimately the human mind. There is an evil here. The first thing I saw, as many others have reported, was a dark shadowy mass.
Knowing the brain is very capable of conjuring phantoms that aren’t real, I ignored it and continued along the hiking trail. Tall spruce and white pines grew beside me, and the nearly-full moon shone, adding to the eerie, Halloween-like atmosphere. Yet, it was Spring and All Hallows Eve wasn’t even close. Since things were feeling spooky, when I saw the shadow-mass run across the trail, I told myself it wasn’t real. The mood of the evening was playing tricks on my mind, tapping into the primal fear that still remains in all of us.
I decided it was late and probably time to make a fire for warmth, and I hoped to eventually fall asleep next to it. The forest grew colder by the minute, and goosebumps ran down my body. I grabbed some tinder and kindling, along with a few small logs, and piled them up to make a fire. Once the fire was lit, I held my hands over the flames. I felt as if thousands of unfriendly eyes were watching me, but there was nothing there. Again, I told myself I was being paranoid and silly as I stirred the fire some more. The flames started dying down more than I liked, so I got up to gather some more wood. Armed with a hatchet, I set out. My heart raced as I hastily searched the nearby woods for something dry and large enough to keep the hungry flames fed for a while. There were a few big branches on the ground that looked like they would suffice, and after several hits, the wood was in short enough chunks for my fire.
Beside me there was a rush and leaves crushing beneath something. Thinking it was probably a deer or something, I paid it no mind, but then whatever it was let out a terrible gurgling growl. I tripped over my feet, gazing into the wilderness. I didn’t see anything, so I gathered my wood and ran back to my fire. The flames came to life upon receiving the parched logs. I threw in a handful of leaves for fun, but as the fire grew, more shadows began to dash back and forth overhead, no longer bothering to conceal themselves. Terrible screeching and hissing echoed around me. I felt surrounded and unsure of myself. Should I run? Should I stay by the fire? Either decision was really no decision at all, so I stayed and waited, hoping the shadows of fear would pass. Instead they multiplied, blacking out the stars and moon in the sky. Hideous low-pitched laughter came from some, while others vocalized animalistic sounds. It was strange and terrifying at the same time, mostly because I didn’t know what these shadows were or what they wanted.
I kept my head angled upward, huddled as close to the fire as I safely could, watching those things. Then, I saw an army of them amassing before me, taking vague shapes of people while still retaining their black, non-corporeal appearance. I knew that was time to leave. Not bothering to douse the fire, I grabbed my hatchet and flew through the forest as quickly as I could. To my left there was a loud “snap,” and a tree toppled over. Distant laugher echoed, sending chills down my spine. Indescribable sounds were everywhere. I kept running, not even sure where, because I had already lost my way, but that didn’t matter in the moment. Getting away from those things that haunted the woods was the only thing I cared about. It was around the time that I realized I was lost that I also remembered the campfire I made was still burning. I slowed enough to safely check behind me. The faint light in the distance told me the fire was still contained, and for a moment I was torn between putting out the flames and continuing to run. My internal debate didn’t last long. I don’t know how long I ran, but the forest thinned, and I saw a town in the distance: my town. The ghastly beings that tormented me were gone and the forest was still and silent. Then the wind returned, and the soothing chirping of crickets made me wonder if anything I just experienced was real, but I know that it was, despite what I wanted to believe.
1. People say they want originality, but not too much.
How often do we see articles or hear in conversations that people want originality? No one wants to read a carbon copy of another story, obviously. When that happens, it is simply lazy and not worth the effort to read. However, originality is a tricky thing because most people approach genres with certain expectations. If those expectations are not met the end result could be a turn off to the intended audience. This isn’t always true, as I will address later on in the list, because while people are wanting familiarity, the Fantasy genre is changing. There are certain unspoken parameters of Fantasy that people expect, while at the same time demanding originality. How many Fantasy books written since Tolkien’s works have included elves, dwarves, and humans? Most, save for very recently. How often are elves portrayed as extremely beautiful and immortal or at minimum long-lived? Almost always. How often are Dwarves portrayed as greedy people with Scottish accents? Almost always. There isn’t anything wrong with including these things, but it goes to show that there is a lot of familiarity in Fantasy and most readers have come to expect this.
2. I cannot please everyone.
This is rather obvious and straight-forward. However, the truth is writers want their stuff to be liked. We wouldn’t do what we do, work as hard as we do, if only to expect most people to hate what we write. No matter how well the book is written, or how hard we work on it, someone will hate it. Someone will inevitably write a lukewarm or negative review and the temptation to let that crush us is great because we put so much time and money into our books. Yet, like anything in the arts, rejection is a part of it, in fact it is a necessity.
3. What’s popular isn’t necessarily what I like.
The popular trend in Fantasy lately is dark, gritty, with cynical undertones. I can appreciate some stories that take this approach, and I have even enjoyed them. Yet, I tend to enjoy the more traditional Fantasy of good versus evil and the triumph of darkness. Good doesn’t have to always win in every story though, but like everything in writing here must be a purpose to good losing. This direction of Fantasy isn’t what I grew to love about the genre. I know the purpose for the dark and gritty tales with characters dropping like flies is intended to be more realistic, yet personally I see enough evil in the world. That doesn’t mean the stories I read and write are always rainbows and sunshine, but what I am saying is that I don’t try to overwhelm my audience with darkness and gloom. I try to attract people who might read the Shannara books, or Tolkien more than GOT.
4. Selling books is harder than writing them.
Convincing strangers who never heard of you to buy your books is far more difficult than it is to write a book. With time and patience, a writer can finish a book and with editing and revising the story can become solid and publishable. Selling the book takes even more patience and a different type of creativity. Discovering one’s audience and placing the book in front of them is a constantly evolving process. On top of all that, generally it takes years to become established as an author and that is if you did everything correctly combined with factors outside of your control such as luck.
There is a trend lately I’ve noticed. Perhaps it’s been this way for a long time, but it didn’t start to grab my attention until about five years ago. I don’t know if it is the hypersensitive culture we now live in that’s contributing or not, but it appears that individual characters in fiction are viewed as representing a whole group. An example, someone I used to know made the comment he doesn’t like the show Home Improvement because Tim Taylor is aloof and a bad example of a husband, father, and a man in general. That assessment may be true, but that isn’t the point. Tim’s character isn’t supposed to represent all men it is an exaggeration of what some men might be like, or more specifically these are traits specific to his character that are hyperbolic due to the comedy genre.
I have come across countless critiques like this where someone will complain about a character poorly representing women, the LGBT, religion, race, or anything you can think of. There may be certain isolated incidents where this complaint is warranted due to shady motivations from the writer. However, unless there is evidence to support that the writer is using a character to propel stereotypes, that shouldn’t be assumed.
The personality traits of my characters reflect on them alone. If a woman has a weakness that doesn’t mean I think all women are weak or need to be saved by men. If there is a male character in my books that is a little dull that doesn’t mean I think men are dull or can only survive if a woman is there to prop him up.
Fiction, if done right, should not be afraid to have a variety of characters and the personalities of the individuals in the story do not necessarily reflect on a greater whole.
Recently, I heard powerful testimonies from a few people who endured several hardships. It got me thinking about characterization in fiction. We as reader’s demand that the characters grow and change over the course of a story. That’s what makes characters relatable and intriguing. On the other hand, we have all known people who remain pretty much the same throughout their entire lives. They maintain the same behavior as they did in high school or earlier, even well into their fifties and beyond.
These people who would be labeled as “static” characters in fiction may have children, have gotten married, maintain a home and mortgage, but still excessively party and have an immature black and white view of the world. Especially with all the explosive controversies arising lately. I have seen people from older generations have an “agree with me or you are evil” perspective. Now, I understand I’m only getting a small glimpse of these people’s lives on the internet, but there are writings and social media posts from some folks that maintain a similar theme, “I’m right and everyone else is wrong.” There are of course, issues that should be black and white, but immature virtue signaling that appears to be all too prevalent.
I heard a quote, “If you aren’t growing you are either stagnant or regressing.” That means if we are not actively seeking out growth than we are at very least staying the same. It is entirely plausible to have a story of static characters and have it be “realistic.” That would not be an engaging tale that most wouldn’t finish. We expect growth and change from fictional characters, but what if we held ourselves to the same expectation? In the real world, true well-rounded people who are constantly growing sometimes seems like the exception. Imagine if that was the case in fiction? Everyone would undoubtedly be bored. It is easy to fall into the rut of routine of work, bills, and general numb feeling to the day to day life. I challenge myself and those reading this to work toward growing a little every day.