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Turn-a-trope Tuesday #5: “Opposites Attract Revenge” – #woegttt

Welcome back to another episode of Turn-a-trope Tuesday, where we take a standard trope and attempt to tell a story that turns it on its head! What does that mean exactly? I think I’ve explained this enough by now, people! C’mon! ;)

So, last week was a skip week, but that gave us a little extra time for a tough trope to crack – “A Man is Not A Virgin.” We had two entries, though, so let’s check them out and see how they handled such a challenging trope!

A Boy or a Man, at Helen’s Ramblings on This Thing Called Life

The Measure of a Man, at Woegman’s World of Witty Wonder

For this week’s trope, we’re hitting up a classic: Opposites Attract Revenge

From TVTropes.org:

A type of Love Triangle — heavy on the triangle, light on the love. When a girlfriend leaves her boyfriend, and ends up in a relationship with the boyfriend’s ideological rival, resulting in a vendetta between the two men.

 It works with the genders switched around, too.

As usual, you have 1000 words to turn this trope on its head. Have fun! :)

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“The Measure of a Man” – Turn-a-trope #4, #WOEGTTT

This one was incredibly tough! Were it not that I refused to be beaten by my own challenge, I would have tossed in the towel. That said, I think the following tale does a decent job of skewering the trope, “A Man is Not a Virgin.”

Enjoy.

Tomas rode with the fury of a man possessed. The gates of the ancient temple of Kalziban lay behind him, and in his wake, the bodies of a legion of slain hellions. Ahead, he could see the door that lead to the inner temple, and the Pool of Tears. He knew that he would find her there. Lillian. His sworn ward.

As the Knight of the cloak, it has been his responsibility to protect her. And he had, through countless dangers, countless attempts on her life. She was the last of the purest bloodline, and her death would profit many an evil man. He had fought dozens to defend her, and bested them all. Sir Tomas of the Cloak was, perhaps, the greatest knight who’d ever served.

She had vanished in the night, despite all precautions. Tomas knew this time would come, had since the moment of her birth. Tonight, the moons above aligned with the Dread star, the Blood Eye of Kalziban. He knew that whoever took her, would take her here. His horse stumbled, fell. Tomas leapt from its back as it went, tumbling to the ground in clash of steel and leather. He cried out as he struck a stony pillar. His horse, ridden far beyond exhaustion, cried out, and expired. He rose to his feet, and ran up the stairs and through the temple’s doors.

“You’re too late,” Alcyon cackled. The dread summoner held up his hands, dripping with blood. “Too late, hero, too late to save her, too late to stop the summoning!”

Tomas fell to his knees with a sob. Before him, splayed across the pentacle carved into the ground, was Lillian. Sweet, innocent Lillian. The last of legal heir to the kingdom of Tancreath. The Virgin Princess. The Keeper of the Barrier. His sworn ward.

Tears fell from Tomas’ cheek. He cast away his shield as he took her hand in his own, felt the cold lifelessness therein. Her body, a ruin of blood and savagery, her thighs, a spectacle of disaster and debauchery.  Tomas’ sword slipped from his free hand, and reached, tenderly, for her cold staring eyes, unfocused and staring into the void. He closed them, softly, and brushed away a lock of coal black hair.

“It would have been enough,” the knight croaked hoarsely, “to have just killed her. ”

“Oh,” the summoner spoke, his voice filled with sarcastic mock pity, “yes, it would have. But then I would not have gotten to see this, would I have? The undefeatable Sir Tomas of the Cloak, brought to his knees? Not by a sword, not by a lance, not by an army of men…but by a man. A single man, with nothing in his hands…but blood.”

Alcyon continued to laugh madly. Tomas felt his head swim. A strange, numbing wave crashed against his nerves, his face, his limbs tingling. He rose, slowly, a final sob given to his fallen ward as he raised her up in his arms. He turned, looked to the Pool of Tears. Slowly, he walked towards it, heedless of the summoner and his madness. Around him, lights began to grow, strange, glowing, otherworldly emanations that rose from the ancient runes and sigils carved and cast throughout the hall.

“Too late!” Alcyon cried, sobbing in mirth, “She is dead!”

Tomas didn’t listen. He continued to the pool, till he stood overlooking its pale, milky waters. A drop of blood fell from Lillian’s outstretched arm, and slipped into the pool, an angry red swirl on a sea of pearl.

“She is dead,” Alcyon repeated, but his laughter cracked, slowing, “It is over, fool! And besides…”

The summoner nodded at the pool.

“It takes the life of a virgin of royal birth to halt the summoning of the Dread Lord Kalziban. She was the last. It is over!”

Tomas, silent still, lowered the girl’s body to the pool, then watched her slip beneath the surface. He stood then, turned to the mad summoner.

“Do you know the measure of a man, summoner? Do you know why I took up the Cloak?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. Alcyon’s grin faltered.

“The Cloak is not an easy burden to bear. Its wearer must be good and strong. Generous and just. Compassionate and merciful. Swift of blade, swift of defense. Trustworthy and…pure.”

The knight turned and looked at the summoner, his eyes rimmed with red, stained with tears, but cold, so cold.

“Pure. Untouched by the hands, the lips, the body of a lover.”

Tomas ran a hand through hair as black as pitch, the same color as Lillian’s.

“I took the Cloak because I was born a bastard. And now…”

Tomas stepped to the edge of the pool. Alcyon stumbled forward, slipped in blood. He crashed to the ground, then looked up, his eyes wide with something they had never known.

Fear.

“…now I will see my sister safely to the Underworld.”

Tomas dived into the pool. Alcyon shrieked, raged, as the knight’s heavy armour pulled him quickly downward. The summoner scrambled to the pool, plunging his arms in, staining the water pink with blood. But the knight was gone, the pool empty.

Around him the walls began to shake. The sigils began to glow a violent red.  A sharp smell of ozone filled the air, and the crack of the barrier, the gateway between worlds, slammed through the air. Alcyon howled as the dissipating energies tore about the room. The ceiling quaked, and pieces began to collapse.

Then bitterly, he laughed, as the temple collapsed around him.

“What the Heart Seeks” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Doing The Subgenre Twist, Once Again

Another week, another interesting challenge form the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig!  This week, we had to choose two story genres at random, and mix them together into a single story of subgenre-melty-goodness in 2000 words or less. As usual, I used the random number generator/recorder at Invisible Castle to keep myself honest, and came up with an 18 and a 2 – a Noir Dystopia. Shiny!

I came two words shy of the goal with the following piece, “What the Heart Seeks.”  It was harder than I thought, inserting dystopian elements into a noir world. I ended up adding a touch of sci-fi to the mix, and shook it real hard. I hope the results tickle your tastebuds.

I knew she was trouble the moment she walked in the door. Her hair was long, loose, dark, falling over her shoulders like an avalanche of black curls. Her eyes, green as a piece of fine jade. Her lips, shockingly red and shockingly full. Her skin, lightly tanned, as if the sun had kissed her ever so gently. Her clothes so tight, I’d have sworn she was shaken up and poured into them. Every bit of her, head to toe, was a violation of the Morality Code. And frankly, I didn’t give a damn. I tossed out the garnish of taboo and drank her in like a drunk at an open bar.

“Mr. Monroe?”

I must have been staring too long, because her eyebrow raised, and she cocked a hand on one of those impossibly curvy hips. I went to speak, found my jaw was hanging slack, closed it. Rolled my head and shrugged.

“What’s it to you?” I said, trying to play disinterested, though I was sure I’d blown that hand already.

“I hear you’re a Seeker, Mr. Monroe. A good one.”

I put a toothpick into my mouth, gnawed on it. I wanted a cigarette, bad, but I was out of cards for them and though they were plentiful on the black market, getting caught sucking down on one without a ration stamp was more trouble than I wanted to get in. And no matter how tempting she looked, I didn’t know this dame. Best to play it safe.

“I have been known to find things, sure. For a price.”

“What kind of things?” she asked, sauntering closer.

“Things,” I shot back. I don’t like being interrogated.

“You ever find…people?”

I paused. My chewing stopped. I reached up and pulled the toothpick from my mouth, and spun it in my fingers. I knew what she was asking, and it could get me in a lot of trouble. Unlicensed use of meta-human abilities was punishable by…well, anything they damned well wanted to do. Still, there was something about her. I gave in.

“People are tough. Not like objects. They change too much, nothing solid to focus on. Besides, most the time, someone goes missing, it’s because they crossed the Greycoats.”

Outside, a shrill whistle sounded, followed by the sound of running, cries. Punctuated my point perfectly.

“Tough,” she said, almost a whisper as she leaned in real close, “but not impossible.”

I couldn’t help but get a whiff of her, of that sweet, unidentifiable but completely irresistible perfume. I can’t deny, it had an effect. Down below, I felt myself stir in ways both immoral and illegal. Damn…this dame was trouble. Why, oh why do I like trouble so much? Still, long as it had been, much as I may be driven by those illegal, animal desires…I don’t work for free.

“No. Not impossible, Miss…”

I paused. I hadn’t even thought to get her name. It’s like she pushed every single one of my buttons, just right. I felt a flush rise to my cheeks.

“Neris. Neris Molpe, Mr. Monroe,” she said, with a smile that could melt even the black heart of a stalwart Greycoat.

“Uh, you can call me Sam.”

“Alright…Sam. So…will you take the job?”

I almost said yes. Hell, if she had asked right then, I might of walked right up to a Grey Inquisitor and pissed on his boots. But there’s one thing that drives me more than even the most primal lust.

“First, there’s a matter of cost. Seeking’s risky business, and battin’ those eyes won’t pay the rent. Or the taxman. Or bribe the Inquisitors. I need to know what you’ve got to offer before I can say one way or the other.”

Her demeanor cooled slightly.

“Of course,” she said, and the chill from her lips could have frosted over glass. Oh well. So much for that fantasy. She reached into her bag, a nice, colorful thing that would have gotten her arrested in a less questionable part of town. Color incites passion, passion incited immorality. That’s what the loudspeakers said, anyway, wasn’t it? Her hand slid in, slid out, now carrying…

My jaw dropped. My heart pounded wildly beneath my wrinkled shirt and battered overcoat. I literally had to rub my eyes, to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. I even thought about pinching myself.

“Are those…”

“Reproduction licenses, Mr. Monroe. Two of them.”

She may well have said she held the contents of the Imperial treasury in her hands. Reproduction was highly, strictly regulated. It could take a couple a dozen years or more to get a license for a single child. Many who got them found that years of chemical libido inhibition also killed their ability to have children, but by some strange lack of oversight, the licenses were open. They weren’t bound to a particular name or couple. They were transferable. And very, very pricey.

I licked my lips. Didn’t want to seem to eager but I really couldn’t deny that I was. I rubbed my jaw, felt the stubble that had grown there.
“Alright, Ms. Molpe…”

“Neris, please.”

“Yeah. Alright Neris. You have yourself a Seeker.”

***

It’d been a long night. Miss Molpe…Neris…was hesitant on the details. Couldn’t blame her for that, though. These days, anyone could be a Greycoat. Even me.

We’d evaded three patrols so far, running through dark alleys and abandoned service tunnels, following the distinctive pull my mind felt towards the object of her desire. Every once in a while, the trail would start to dim, and I’d have to ask her for another detail to freshen the imprint. Like I’d said, humans are tough. Changing. Moods shift, and something that defined a person one moment might change the next.

It’s easier, of course, if the person in question has some sort of unchanging feature; a significant scar, a great hairy blemish, a tattoo…well, a tattoo would work if they hadn’t been outlawed by Imperial edict. Even then, though, the way a person views their own attributes can sway how well they can be Sought. Where I might see an angry red scar, the bearer might see a proud badge of heroism. The devil is in the details, they say.

And the devil was poking me, hard. I fingered the stiletto hidden in the sleeve of my trench coat, then sighed.

“I need something more,” I said, sucking on my teeth as I tried to pinpoint the fleeting tug of my Seeking. Neris leaned against the alley wall, trying to catch her breath. I guess we’d been moving a bit faster than she was prepared to go; hard to say. When I start Seeking, I tend to loose myself in the pursuit. She held up a hand. I nodded.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. It was clear that she was trying to find just the right detail out, that wouldn’t expose too much information but give me enough to give her a lead. A tingle of paranoia crept up my spine like a spider up a drainpipe, but with a shiver, I dismissed it. Paranoia was the norm these days, ever since the emperor dissolved the senate and handed power directly to the Inquisitors. As much as I might distrust her, she surely distrusted me.

“Can we rest a moment more?” she asked, opening her astonishingly jade eyes and batting her lashes. Those things had to be a mile long. I grunted, gave a nod. But something was nagging me, and I had to ask.

“Who are we tracking, Neris? Boyfriend? Relative?”

Her cheeks flushed the color of a cheap wine.

“No…nothing like that. He’s just…someone who…has something of mine.”

“A thief?”

She shrugged, looking away from my eyes. My jaw tightened, eyes narrowed.

And then she looked up at me again. Those eyes, those impossible eyes, gazed at me like she was drilling a hole in my soul and looking to strike gold. And damn if she didn’t.

“Please, Mr. Monroe…I can’t. I can’t talk about it more than that. Is it enough that he has something of mine? Can we work with that for now?”

I concentrated, felt the return of that familiar tug. Yes…that would work. I nodded, and we were off again, chasing the ghost of her little thief. Whoever he was.

***

We hunted most the night, when we finally came upon the end of the line. The tugging within me, the feeling I’d followed all night, released. Tension fled from me like water from a sieve. I felt my muscles loosen, relax.

“He’s here,” I told her, nodding towards the abandoned storage buildings across from us. “He’s inside one of them – sorry I can’t be more accurate, but this is as close as I can get with people.”

Neris nodded, and started to walk briskly towards the buildings, when that wave of paranoia hit me again. I reached out, stopped her.

“Wait. Something’s wrong.”

My eyes narrowed, searching, not Seeking. It was quiet. Too quiet. No sounds of whistles, no barking dogs. No signs that an Imperial patrol had been through here, no sign that they were coming. And where there are no signs of Imperials, there are almost always signs of crime. This place was clean. I pulled Neris back behind me, reached into my jacket, pulled my unlicensed revolver.

“It’s a trap,” I growled.

“I know,” she said, and I felt the cold, round touch of a barrel against the back of my neck. Every bit of me cringed. I’d been had. Hard.

“Your gun. Drop it.”

I considered, briefly, resisting. I’m no slouch when it comes to using a gat, and my impression thus far was that this dame wasn’t used to getting her hands dirty. Not this way at least. And then, the Greycoats came. A whole squad, swarming out from the storage buildings. I may have been able to take her, but my gun was at least a dozen rounds shy of taking the rest.

“Excellent work, Mrs. Molpe,” the lead Greycoat said. “We’ve been after this Seeker for some time now, but he has always proven too slippery a fish.”

Mrs. Molpe? Fuck me.

“Stop, Donovan,” she said, her voice cracking in what almost sounded like sorrow.

He slapped her, hard.

“That’s Captain Donovan, you dirty little Enticer.”

An Enticer? They sent an Enticer? It all began to make sense. The loose details, the feelings of paranoia, the way I set aside my usual distrust so easily. I looked at Donovan. Shit. He was the one I was Seeking the entire time.

I looked over my shoulder at the apparently married Neris Molpe, and sneered.

“Don’t,” she pleaded, “Don’t hate me, Sam. They have my husband. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Everyone has a choice, Neris.”

“Not true,” Donovan said pointing his gun at me menacingly, “You are out of them, Mr. Monroe.”

I smirked. Couldn’t help it. I  had a choice.

I lunged, and as I did, pulled the stiletto from my coat sleeve. Donovan’s eyes widened; guess he’d never had anyone resist before. He tried to bring his gun to bear, but I was on him to quick. I buried my blade in his throat. He gurgled, gasped, fell backwards.

I felt the first shot that hit me, but I didn’t feel the rest. My body became suddenly heavy, and I slipped to the ground. I heard Neris scream, and a moment later, felt her arms wrap around me, cradling my head.

“Sam! Oh, Sam…I’m sorry Sam!” she said, sobs wracking her body. I tried to move, couldn’t. Hurt.

“S’ok, dame. I made my choice.”

Coldness swept over me. My sight began to fail. I looked at her, at those impossibly green eyes, and smiled. Imagine that. Me, in the arms of a beautiful dame, her eyes heavy with tears for a cagey old Seeker. I tried to laugh, coughed blood instead.

There were worse ways to go.

Turn-a-trope Tuesday #4: “A Man is not a Virgin” – #woegttt

It’s time again for Turn-a-trope Tuesday, where we take a standard trope and attempt to tell a story that turns it on its head! What does that mean exactly? Well, essentially, it means to take a common element of fiction and to do something unexpected with it. As you can see from past entries in this series, sometimes that means a complete reversal of the trope, and other times, it means a small subversion, a slight alteration that still leads to the unexpected. Why do we do this? Because it’s good for a well balanced writer to be able to spot and break cliches, and to learn how to surprise a reader while setting them up for something else entirely.

But first, let’s have a big round of applause for last week’s entrants in the “Resigned to the Call” challenge! Check out their stories, and see how they twisted that trope to delight and surprise you!

The Guardians, at Helen’s Ramblings on This Thing Called Life

To Ask or Not To Ask, at rhonwynalyna

To Heed the Call, at Woegman’s World of Witty Wonder

Now, on to this week’s trope – A Man is Not a Virgin

From TVTropes.org:

“While teenagers Can’t Get Away with Nuthin’ , and characters in slasher films often suffer Death by Sex, it is understood that the leading male must be sexually active. A guy who has never Done It, or even just does not Do It often, is simply Not Man Enough to save the day, solve the mystery or whatever. It doesn’t matter whether sexual experience is in any way relevant to the skills needed in the plot, he just has to be Man Enough so he has to have Done It and preferably Do It Regularly. That’s How It Is. Don’t Argue.

Establishing the character’s sexual competence varies from seeing a beautiful blonde, who has nothing to do with the plot and no lines to speak, crossing or leaving his bedroom early on in the film, to references to his ex-wife or old flames. Generally, however, the more macho Action Heroes don’t have wives or steady girlfriends when the adventure starts, because that would stop them from hooking up with the female lead. We just have to be made aware that she is far from being the first beautiful woman he’s had (Direct-to-DVD movies often get much lazier about this and combine it with the requisite sex scene, and will often have the male protagonist have sex with a few girls on screen while he’s in the process of falling for the female protagonist).

It also, of course, serves to make the audience absolutely and totally sure that their hero is ardently heterosexual. After all, while homosexual or bisexual characters are becoming more and more common, the number of them that are leading characters can probably be counted on one hand. Establishing the male lead’s heterosexuality assures the majority of the audience that it is thusly safe for women to want him and men to want to be him. Note that the term “virgin” originally meant “a female who has not had sex with a man”, and thus literally no male was ever a virgin — which sort of underscores the trope. The definition became more vague as language evolved.

This trope is NOT simply for examples where a male is expected to have sex and/or teased until he does so. This trope is for when a male is portrayed in-universe as feeble, pathetic, and poorly adjusted, with his virginity as an implicit or explicit cause. “

As usual, you have 1000 words to turn this trope on its head. Have fun! :)

 

 

(Edited to fix a typo – you get 1000 words, not 100!)

A Little Bit of Magic…

A short piece, just a scene really, that popped into my head. Not written for any contest, just written for the heck of it. Should I continue it?


Boom! Magic – it’s a crazy kind of thing. It doesn’t always work the way we want it to, and when it does, it’s not always predictable. So the fact that it did work this time, that I found myself staring at a pair of shocked but pouty lips and two eyes sparkling like diamonds under a star field, left me almost as shocked as it left her, the girl of my desires. There was no time to waste here – right then. Down to business.

I reached forward, before her shock could vanish – shock is a funny kind of thing, with magic. It can actually make effects last longer, so I intended to take advantage of it. I took her quickly into my arms, and pulled her close, pausing only for a moment to breathe in deeply of her scent. I wanted to remember that later. I heard her gasp, felt her chest contract as her lungs forced themselves empty in shock. I gave her a half second to breathe back in again. She was going to need it.

Time was running short. I could feel it,  had wasted enough already. My right hand moved up to her head, fingers digging into that luscious sea of blonde locks and grasping tightly at her scalp. My left stayed low, cupping the small of her back and drawing her impossibly close to me. I leaned slightly, and pulled her close, my eyes and hers closing subconsciously as our lips began to part.

They touched. And fuuuuuuuuuuck. I hope you’ll excuse my lack of interesting transition there, but there really is no other word to describe the way we sparked when our lips met. It was, for lack of a better term, climactic. It was the bang at the end of the big one, the kind that forms universes in its wake. Our tongues darted back and forth, carefully dancing about one another and drinking deeply of the myriad of feelings that erupted with every touch and taste. She began to moan softly into my mouth, and damned…I can tell you now, there’s not much sexier than that. I moaned too. Couldn’t help it.

My left hand slid down her back, across the magnificent roundness that was her perfect ass, and I thrilled as she jumped a bit from my squeeze. Her shock was fading, her arms wrapped around me and for a moment, it felt like we were going to melt.

And then pop!

The magic reversed, and I found myself kissing nothing but air. I sighed, ignoring the strange looks of passersby. The thing was, it worked…and if it worked once, it damned sure would work again.

Hopefully for longer next time.

Turn-a-trope Tuesdays, anyone?

I have to say, I’ve found the flash fiction challenges I’ve found on WordPress to be some of the best inspirations for writing that I’ve had the luck to stumble across. In the interest of giving back a bit to this awesome community, I feel inspired to create a flash fiction challenge of my own.

But first, are you familiar with TVTropes.org? Here’s a brief description of the site, in their own words:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite.” In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them. “TVTropes .org

So, here is my idea. On Tuesdays, I am going to randomly select a trope, and I am going to post it here on my blog. Your job as a writer will be to take that trope and turn it; that is, write a story with that trope at the center of it, but turn the trope on its head. It doesn’t have to be the exact opposite of the trope, but it does have to challenge what we know are the expectations of it.

There you have it. Let’s set a 1000 word limit, due by the following Tuesday.

Shall we start then? Today’s trope is…. Born Detective!

“Kid Detective who grows up to be a Private Detective, with the help of his/her Badass Family. In short, a parent was a PI (or other profession) and raised their child from a young age to help Mommy/Daddy spy on other people, etc.”

Due by Tuesday, June 10th. Post it in your blog, with a link to it here in comments.

Have fun! :D

Kick Fear in the Sack…

Three days of not writing is all it took to make it hard again. Well, not terribly hard. After all, here I am, writing and reading and commenting. The latter part helps more than I would have guessed; reading the works of the brilliant (and sometimes terrible) minds of the people I’ve stumbled across on this journey of habit formation is sometimes the very cure I need to my lethargy. I read your words, my friends, and weep. I read them and laugh. I read them and shout with excitement. I read them…and feel. Oh, so very much. And what is writing, what is reading, if not feeling?

A friend of mine, a fellow writer, mentioned that sometimes, she sits down to write, and wonders if it is worth it, if there aren’t better things she could be doing with her time. She also asked what excites us about writing, and what makes us scared. This was my reply:

Imagine if Hemingway had asked that. Or Tolkien. Or Rowling. The thing is, ALL writing is worth your time. Even if you were a terrible writer (which I doubt absolutely), the time you spent would not be wasted. I have read some terrible, awful fiction…and yet, it got published. And that terrible stuff inspires me to write. Maybe something less terrible. Maybe even something great, that will inspire and entertain, and maybe even teach someone a little. The point is, that wondering, that questioning of worth, is just another aspect of fear. Another way that fear is manipulating you and keeping you from doing what your heart wants. Kick fear in the sack. Write.

My moments of excitement are easy to define – they are the ones where I begin writing and become lost in the world of my imagination, when the words flow from my brain through my fingertips and onto the screen and I can say to myself “this is good stuff!” The moments of fear are less hard to define, as they can be so insidiously subtle. They are the moments where I am too tired to write (but not too tired to play a video game for several hours). They are the moments where I have a great idea, then sit down at the screen and stare at it blankly. They are the moments where I am a hundred pages into a work, then go back and read it and rip it all to shreds and start over. Fear sucks. Fear is, as Herbert so eloquently put it, the mind-killer. But when you conquer that fear? That is the best excitement of them all.

So that is my advice for today. The advice that I am going to take myself.

Kick fear in the sack.

Be excited.

WRITE!

About Critiques, Part Two

As promised over in part one, here is part two on critiques! In this post, I’m going to talk about how to accept a critique. I don’t believe I need to go into the backstory on this one, so let’s jump straight to the five rules of accepting a critique.

1.) We are all writer friends here. Yes, I know, this is almost the same rule number one as the rule number one of the previous post, but that doesn’t make this point any less important. We *are* all friends here, and that’s an important thing to remember because the critique you receive may hurt your feelings. And it won’t be because we *aren’t* friends, but because you have been lead to believe that friends are going to deliver praise and adoration for the things you have written (we’ll get to that in rule number two). But what we are is writer friends. We practice the same craft you do, and we’ve come to a fairly shocking realization…

2.) You can’t trust the opinions of your friends and family. That sounds harsh. It really isn’t meant to be, but you see, we’re used to having our friends and family tell us how awesome we are. It’s one of the great advantages to having supportive friends and family. We write, they read, they rave about how awesome it is, how talented we are, and how we are totally doing great. And man, that feeling is awesome. So you take that story to a writer’s circle, a convention, maybe a workshop…and it bleeds. The red pens fly with frightening fury, and suddenly, your confidence in your work is shattered, as is your faith in the critical opinions of your friends and family. Curious as to how I know? I’ll let you guess…Thing is, you don’t have to lose trust in them. It’s not that your friends or family were trying to be dishonest with you. They most likely legitimately believe what they’ve said. But they love you. And love has a funny way of glossing over the details that would cause someone less emotionally involved to take pause. So love your family and friends. Trust them in all things. Except for writing critiques.

3.) Don’t take it personally. Really, don’t, because it’s not. No matter how your critique turns out, none of it, not a single bit, is a personal attack on you. Now, it may feel a little like it is. If you’re anything like me, your story feels like a part of you. You put time, effort, thought, and emotion into forming it. It is a child of your passion, your delightful madness that makes you take the time to set words to the page. When someone comes in and starts pointing out things that could be better or cleaner or clearer, its hard at first not to get upset by that. But you need not to. That person isn’t attacking you…they’re helping you. They’re not some butcher hacking up your poor story like a cheap cut of meat. They’re a surgeon, attempting to repair, rebuild, and restructure so that your story works better, faster, stronger. They’re doing you a huge favor with their own time and energy and critical eye to detail. And like I learned so many years ago, if they didn’t think it was worth it, they wouldn’t bother critiquing it.

4.) Accept that changes are going to have to be made. I know that the temptation is going to be there to defend every bit of your work. When the critique is telling you that something doesn’t work, you’re going to want to argue why it does. This kind of defeats the purpose of the critique though, doesn’t it? If you didn’t want it to be changed, why are you having someone read it with an editorial eye? The whole point of a critique is to find ways to make your story and work better, more readable, more involving. Your fellow writers, your friends, are trying to help you with that goal. Arguing every suggestion is just a waste of your time and theirs. If you like your story as is, then publish it. Submit it to a publishing house, or a magazine, or put it up on your blog or what have you. Which brings us to the last rule…

5.) You don’t have to follow every suggestion. In the end, the person giving your critique is human. They are bound to make mistakes in understanding and judgment. They are also most likely writers, who also have work that needs to be critiqued. So it is bound to happen that they are going to suggest something at some point that just doesn’t feel like it’s going to work to you. And it’s ok to say “thank you, I’ll take that into consideration” and then leave that part of your work as is. Now, I would definitely seriously consider every suggestion first. Maybe try it out, rework that portion of the story a bit, and see if maybe they didn’t have something there. But keep a copy of the original. You can always go back to it if you just aren’t feeling it.

And that’s that, my friends. Five simple rules to accepting a critique.

Comments and critiques are, of course, welcome. ;)

About Critiques, Part One

A few of my local writing friends and I have been discussing the idea of doing a story workshop. Creating a challenge, having every participant write a story to meet that challenge, then distributing the results to the group to have them critiqued and analyzed and hopefully, in the end, made better for it. In advance of that, I thought it’d be a good idea to write down some basics of critiquing. Some of my friends already know this stuff, as they’ve been through workshops and conventions and classes and submissions to publishers. Others are less experienced, and it’s for those friends that I am writing this up. I plan for this to be a post in two parts – the first will be how to critique another writer’s work, and the second will be how to respond to a critique.

There are those, no doubt, who will wonder why I feel it necessary. That reason is pretty simple. I remember the first time I was critiqued as a fresh, new writer. I thought my story was amazing, ground-breaking, innovative, and oh so cool. Guess what? It wasn’t. And the first person I gave it to for critique was…shall we say, less then gentle. Her words were harsh, critical, and cutting. She spared no feelings, gave no praise, and made my story bleed with crimson ink. At the end, she asked if I had ever even taken a writing class, because if I did, it didn’t show. Wow. I was devastated. Angry, at first, then shattered. I threw the story away. I stopped writing completely. It would be years before I attempted fiction again, but I daresay that some of my own hesitations as a writer today stem back to that critique.

Now, I will grant her this; she wasn’t wrong. Her critique was spot on in regards to the problems with that work. I can see that now, in hindsight. But she was a college-educated English major, and I was high school dropout with no experience in critiques whatsoever. She came at me as she might a peer that she was reviewing for a college thesis. She made no mention of the positives she saw because she figured I already knew those and only needed to know what needed fixing. Which was a lot, yes, but there were still some good things in that old story. I know this because I ran into her many years later, and she actually asked how my story turned out. I mentioned that I had thrown it out, that it clearly wasn’t good, and she was sincerely shocked. “If it wasn’t good,” she said, “I never would have critiqued it.”

The point is, approaching a critique with a mind towards balance can do a world more good than merely doing so with an eye for what is wrong. With that in mind, I’ve made a short list of “rules” for critiquing – one set for the one giving the critique, the other for the one receiving it. Here goes.

1.) We are all friends here. It may seem silly to make this the number one rule, but it’s an important one to remember. We *are* all friends here, and friends should be mindful of each other’s feelings. When you finish a critique, read through the notes you made, and ensure that they say what you mean them to say. Try to imagine them from every angle, and determine if they will come off harsher than you perhaps intended.

2.) You don’t have to like the story to critique it. You are not going to like every story you read. Some will be written in tenses or points of view that bother you. Some will be in genres you don’t enjoy. Some will be filled with things that irk you, drive you crazy. You can still critique them on their merits, even if you didn’t enjoy the read.

3.) For every two things wrong, find something right. This can be a tough one, especially if it’s something you didn’t like. That said, it isn’t *that* tough. Even in the worse story ever written, you will find a turn of phrase that reads well, a character’s action you agree with, a use of words that came across strongly and clearly defined the author’s intent. Compliment these successes as you critique. That said, if it’s really bad, don’t be afraid to say so…tactfully. An overly gushing review of a bad piece of fiction is just as harmful as an overly critical review of the same piece. Remember rule #1 –we’re all friends here, and the reason we’re here is to become better writers. Empty praise does not make a writer better. Just do your best to find the good with the bad, and comment on it.

4.) Be tactful with your commentary. When you have to point out something negative, be mindful how you frame it. Saying something like “your spelling sucks and your work is full of tired clichés” is not going to make someone see how to be a better writer. It’s going to make them give up, or worse, cause them to ignore valid critiques on later works. Try to give suggestions instead of criticisms, and include examples. Consider: “I noticed a lot of spelling errors in this piece. If this was not an intentional artifact of the narrator’s voice, you may want to spellcheck it more thoroughly before your next critique. I also found some of the story elements to be a little overly familiar; for example, the cop character who dies a day before retirement is something everyone expects in a story. What if you instead made him the rookie, who dies the day before the veteran retires? It could add a poignant moment for said retiree to reflect on as he ends his career, and will keep the reader on their toes.”

5.) Clarify the depth of critique that your writer is looking for. Some writers like to get an idea of how well their story is working before going in for “clean up.” They may be aware that there are spelling and grammatical errors that they plan to fix, but not until they know whether to scrap the entire story. If you find numerous repeated mistakes, mark the first couple, then make a note on the margin to remind the writer to look for those things through the entire work.

And that concludes part one. Five simple rules that will make your critiques a lot more effective, and give your writer a lot more tools to better hone their craft. Click here to read part II!