Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Starborne - My Entry into the Literary Boot Camp

You're in for a treat: my first writing sample online. It's not my best, but it's what got me past Orson Scott Card's screening and into his 2008 Literary Boot Camp. The assignment was to offer up the first page of a short story you have written. I wrote this little bit exclusively for this assignment, and it never progressed beyond the first page. It's my first stab at science fiction, and though I'd love to flesh it out into a full novel, I don't see that happening any time soon.



            He held his mother’s hand, her grip strong and warm. He shifted his weight as the crowd pressed in about them. Glass and shrapnel crunched beneath the soles of his shoes.  Looking up to his mother, he tugged on her hand. She smiled at him, her look one of anticipation and excitement. She plucked him up and settled him onto her hip. He would soon be too old to be held like this. He was growing, changing. Everything was changing.
            He looked over his mother’s shoulder, past her raven hair, and over the heads of the people behind them. A crowd of hundreds, maybe thousands had gathered in the town square. Behind the masses stood the broken remains of glass buildings, tenements, and shops. Windows had been blasted out, their sills long since empty. Every structure bore blackened scars from the war.
            Some of the people stood atop firebombed autos, crushed gliders, the remains of the monorail, and the insect-like shell of a fallen hover transport. He had no memory of the war. He had only been three when it ended. That was four long years ago.
            “Look!” his mother said.
            He turned to see her pointing to the skies overhead, and he looked up too.
            The man and woman had finally reached the top.
            They stood atop a metallic platform suspended by a three-hundred-foot crane. They had spent the last five minutes climbing up, and now they stood ready. Even at this distance, he could see that they were naked. His face flushed with embarrassment. They held one another’s hand as they stared at what lay beneath them. Their pale skin glowed golden from below.
            “Who are they?” he asked his mother.
            She looked away from the two above them and down to her son. “The Chosen,” she said. “They were chosen for this.”
            “Are they going to jump?”
            “They are.”
            “Are they going to get hurt?”
            “I don’t think so. I heard some techniks talking earlier, and they didn’t think so either. And they helped make it.” She nodded to the expanse before them.
            “Why are they going to jump?”
            “They are the Chosen. They’ll set the pattern. For us.” She glanced around her to the others. “For all of us. When they jump, they’ll activate the Sea.”
            “Activate it?”
            “Yes, Jacob. Watch.” She pointed to the pair suspended above them. The buzz of the crowd died down as the two stepped to the edge of the platform. The man, looking fit and in his prime, leaned in to the young woman and kissed her. She kissed him back, her hand stroking his cheek. Then they parted and held hands once again. They dangled their toes over the edge of the platform.
            They stepped off the edge as one.
            They descended hand in hand through the black sky, their bodies aglow. Jacob watched as they plummeted toward the Sea. And then, with only the smallest of ripples, they plunged beneath its surface, a golden expanse that filled the once empty valley.
            Within moments the Sea began to toss and heave.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Know Your Characters

To better understand the importance of knowing your characters through and through (the old saying, you should know what they had for breakfast and what's in their closet), try writing a very short story, of any genre, in which your main character is a very close friend or relative. Since you'll be working with a character that is fully fleshed-out and real in your mind, you'll find that writing the story is that much easier. And you'll come to understand this maxim more readily: know your characters.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Writer's Block

I've wondered if the term 'writer's block' is more harmful than useful. So many different things can cause it, that I don't know how helpful it is even to have a term for it. Oftentimes, it's a lack of imagination. Orson Scott Card says that it usually comes when we're being dishonest in our story, or to our story. I like that. I've also found that my biggest hangups happen when I'm asking the question, what should I do next. Wrong question. The question should almost always be, what should this character do next? Let the characters decide.

Writer's block can be as much about not knowing how to proceed as anything else. It's a craft, a skill, and often we are not sure how to do a thing, or we're fumbling with trying a new technique. If piano players are allowed to fumble over a new piece, and painters are able to ruin canvases and start over, why can't writers have their creative juices dry up when confronted with a tricky part of writing?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Restraining Your Muse

Artistic inspiration must be tempered with reasoned judgment. Just because your muse came up with a great idea doesn't mean your publisher or agent will like it. Your muse rarely thinks about the sellability of your work; it's much more concerned with indulging itself with a great new twist in your tale, some new tangent. Often these developments bear fruit. But often they don't. Thus, the metal ingots of raw ore your muse digs out of your creative mine must be tempered in the furnace of your reason, and hammered out on the anvil of your judgment.

Some ingots will prove to be worthy additions, needing only a few puffs of the bellows or a few strokes of the hammer. Some ingots will need to be cast out. Can this be done? Should it be done? Should one dare put shackles on one's muse? Absolutely. You do it all the time. How many times in the course of a conversation do you think of a funny comment to make (your comedic muse whispering in your ear), but you know darn well that you better not say it, not in this company, not at this time. You've just screened your muse and shut it down, though you may laugh inwardly. How about Lady Wisdom? You sometimes gag her, don't you? You can be in that same conversation and suddenly get keen insight into the vanity or pride of your companion, but you wouldn't tell him that, would you? Your muse needs a handler.

True, sometimes you need to give your muse free rein, knowing all the while that you'll have to ply your delete button to his work later when your muse isn't looking. Muses can be petulant creatures, and sometimes will refuse to perform at all unless given center stage. But at other times they can be reasonable, if you talk to them nicely and don't wound their pride when you strike down one of their ideas. Inspiration, when tempered with judgment, gets good results.