Fiction Fragment Fridays: Erased (Chapter 1 – Part 2)

Since I left the last installment off on a bit of a “huh?” note, I thought for my second FFFriday I’d post the second half of Chapter 1 of Erased. If this is your first time here, you can click here to go back to the first half of the chapter.

Wearing only a pair of thin, white pajamas, the person in the mirror was no more or less than a complete stranger. It was an incredibly disturbing situation. She found herself leaning back and forth and side to side to prove that the young woman in the mirror was in fact herself.

Her skin was a bit pallid, her hair limp, but otherwise she thought she was fairly pretty. She was short, maybe a little over five feet, and neither fat nor thin. Her hair was long, reaching nearly the middle of her back, and was a light brown hue. But the thing that really caught her attention were her eyes. They were a vivid, bold blue, lined in thick black eyelashes. They were bright eyes, kind eyes, but also, they were eyes that had seen a lot. A lot of what, she wasn’t sure, but she could tell that these eyes had witnessed things that most hadn’t, and wouldn’t want to.

She stared at her reflection for a long time, willing herself to recognize those eyes, trying to understand what could have happened to her that would erase her own face from her mind.

An eternity after she’d first found herself staring resolutely at the pristine white ceiling, she finally walked over – on legs that still weren’t quite steady – to the single door in the small room. She held her breath as she twisted the knob, but mercifully the door swung open. Unsure what to expect, she leaned slowly and peaked out through the opening. A hallway…stretching mindbogglingly far in each direction, as pristine white as the room she’d started out in. Doors were interspersed at thirty foot intervals. She strained her ears, but still there was no sound other than that steady hum. The lights, she thought.

With bare feet sticking to the spotless floor, she stepped out into the hallway and noticed a note board hanging on the wall next to her door. Interested, she pulled the board down and saw with a little shock that the first page had her picture on it. The girl in the picture looked prettier than the girl in the mirror. She was standing straight and proud, smiling slightly, with her hair up in a tight bun high atop her head. Next to the photo, in large black letters was a name: Toreshi.

“Tor..e..shi..” she said slowly, in a voice that was crackly from disuse.

The name felt weird and unfamiliar in her mouth. She wasn’t even sure she was pronouncing it properly. Was it Torr-Ee-She, or Tore-She? Tor-Ae-She maybe? Or maybe she was mistaking the placement of the word and it wasn’t even a name at all. Maybe it was some kind of weird designation? More confused then ever, she began flipping through the rest of the pile of papers, but everything else seemed to be written in some strange language that was part letters, part numbers, part indecipherable symbols. Disappointed, Toreshi (she figured she may as well assume it was a name), folded the papers under her arm and began a slow walk down the hallway.

The first door she came to had another note board, but it had been ripped to pieces and was littered all over the hallway floor. Toreshi sorted through the discarded papers for a few moments, but it was similar to hers, written in some strange language that made no sense to her. She couldn’t find the full front page, which she assumed would have a picture, but she found one scrap of the name. It was ripped across, but the first four letters were Chao.

Quietly and carefully, Toreshi pushed the door open a few inches and peered inside. She furrowed her brow and pushed the door open further. The room was identical to the one from which she would come, except for the minor fact that it had been utterly demolished. The table had been upended into a corner, the IV machine was in pieces on the floor, and the mirror had been shattered by what looked distinctly like a punch of rage. Her suspicions were further confirmed by a small pool of blood on the floor directly beneath the center of the crack.

There was no one in the room, and as the blood was fresh, Toreshi assumed it’s former occupant had vacated quite recently.

Toreshi stepped back out into the hall and began gathering up the papers in the hallway. She didn’t know why she felt the need to take them with her, but something inside told her they might be important, so she tucked them in the back of her note board and continued on.

She’d only gone another ten feet down the hallway when she was assaulted by an earsplitting scream.

Going Beyond Your Depths

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

90. Adding depth to your writing

Oh man, this post could go in so many different directions depending on how we think about the word “depth”. My brain is beginning to hurt just thinking about it. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never so much as submitted a manuscript to an editor, agent, or publisher, and I find myself wondering if I’m really one to talk. But as with several of the other posts I’ve written in response to the 101 Blog Post Ideas, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts and opinions, and you can take them for what they are. For additional info, I suggest wandering over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She’s written advice on almost every aspect of writing and she’s about as close to an expert as I’ve ever come across.

So…depth. There’s no doubt about it, you want your writing to have depth, but that’s a fairly broad term. Are we talking about emotional depth, depth in the plot line, or depth within our characters? Are there other forms of depth we could be considering? Probably, but these three are the ones that come to mind right now, so let’s talk about those.

First of all, emotional depth and character depth, which actually go hand-in-hand. Maybe this isn’t an important aspect to all readers, but for me it’s an absolute necessity. If I, at some point during the reading of the story, do not feel emotionally attached to a character (not necessarily the main character) then I feel like the author has not done his or her job. If the book in question is part of a series, failing to make me feel emotionally invested in a character will result in my failing to continue on to the second book in the series. That’s not to say that every character has to have an elaborate back story that endears me to them, but someone in the story has to make me care about them. Otherwise why do I care what happens to them? This sort of depth is best achieved, in my opinion, by finding reasons for your readers to bond with your characters. Harry Potter gains our empathy because he’s an orphan and we feel sorry for him for having to grow up with his awful relatives. Eddard Stark gains our approval because he’s an honorable man who cares deeply for his family and finds himself in a difficult situation that pulls him from them. Frodo Baggins has us rooting for him because he’s clearly the underdog with no discernible skills or abilities. Your characters have to have both upsides and downsides, merits and faults. The main reason that so many people hate the character Bella Swan is because she’s too goddamn perfect. Even her “faults” are played off as things that make her more adorable and endearing to the other characters. It pulls the reader away because you find yourself wanting to see her fail just to prove that she’s capable of failure, and that’s not a great way to think about the character who is meant to be your hero. Your characters have to be human (even when they technically aren’t) or else your readers can’t get inside their heads and feel for them, become them, and find themselves desperate to see them succeed.

As for depth of the plot, this is something that will vary from book to book, genre to genre, but the basic element remains the same. You do not want your story to be predictable. Now obviously a psychological thriller is going to have a lot more plot depth than a supernatural romance, but the point is that you have to occasionally give your reader something surprising or upsetting. If your reader is constantly thinking “this is what’s going to happen next” or “this is totally the big reveal” and it turns out that they’re right, that’s not a good thing. Sure, some level of predictability is to be expected, and there are always going to be those readers who somehow always seem to know what the author was thinking while writing the story, but most readers crave some kind of mystery to their books. You don’t want to be able to figure out exactly what is going to happen because otherwise you could just write the story yourself. One of the reasons the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so interesting is because it constantly has you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is a good guy or a bad guy, or what might happen next, or what just happened ten pages ago for that matter. You don’t have to create a labyrinth of mystery, confusion, and intrigue, but you have to give your readers something worth looking forward to. Reveal a good guy to actually be a bad guy or vice versa. Throw in something magical or otherwise supernatural just because it would be surprising and interesting. Kill off a character that the reader would have thought was important or had become attached to (this one doubles for emotional depth). Keep your readers guessing, basically, because that’s what keeps them moving on to the next page, and the next, and the next. Why do you think so many television shows end on a cliffhanger every single freakin’ episode?

In general, when writing your book, think about what it was you liked about the books you’ve read. Think about the types of things that made you like the characters, what events made you gasp or cringe or cry, what about the story made it impossible for you to put the book down. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that all the different types of books have already been written, and any truly good author will tell you that part of being a writer is stealing from other writers. Use those concepts to figure out what is good about other books, and to imbue your own stories with those successful elements. Build depth by learning to recognize it in the writing of others. And when in doubt, remember what I always try to remember: if my writing doesn’t affect me, emotionally and mentally, then how can I possibly expect it to affect others?

First Things First

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

71. Writing a great first line

First impressions are an important thing. Though not necessarily the final say on how a person will come to perceive you, the first impression can decide whether or not someone even gives you a second chance to impress them. You’re not likely, for example, to have a second date with a guy who shows up to the first an hour late and covered in mud. Even if there’s a good story behind it (and there better be), chances are your impression of him will have been ruined, and that makes it a hundred times harder for him to prove himself to you.

The first line of a novel is the same way. The wrong line can immediately make the reader think, “You know what? Never mind,” and toss the book back on the shelf. The right line can hook a reader, give them a good first impression, and make them want to keep reading.

Just exactly how to accomplish this is something that has been spoken and written about at length, and while there are some common grounds, there’s a lot of disagreement as well. For instance, some people steadfastly insist that your first line should never be dialogue, but plenty of wonderful authors have used dialogue for that first sentence and it worked out beautifully. Other people have said that the first line shouldn’t be too action-oriented (“The car exploded!”) because it’s cliche and puts too much pressure on the remainder of the scene to be exciting. Again, many successful authors have ignored this concept, used action-sentences as their firsts, and did a great job at it.

A theory I have heard a few times, which I happen to agree with, is that your first line should simply be the beginning of the story. It sounds obvious, but think about it this way: instead of obsessing over writing the perfect first sentence, just start the story. The theory is that the best first line is whatever line starts telling your story. If that’s a piece of dialogue, an action moment, a piece of inner dialogue, a straight-up fact, or any other piece of information, that’s fine as long as it begins the telling of your story. This idea can be, has been, and will be contested, of course, by the kinds of people who think that there’s only one right way to write a novel, but anyone who believes that there’s only one right way to do something deserves to be ignored anyway. So just tell your story. The right line will pop up, I promise.

Epic Fail

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

37. What to do if you’ve failed at the goals you set

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You’ve just gotta get back on the horse”? If you have, you should understand what I’m about to talk about. If you haven’t, what rock have you been living under for the past hundred years?

Everyone fails at goals. Maybe not all the time, maybe some more often than others, but everyone at some point in time fails at a goal they’ve set for themselves. It’s the nature of the situation that even if we have all the best of intentions, things will go wrong, other issues will intrude, and any number of problems will arise to keep us from reaching the end of the line. Maybe it’s something we can’t control, like the fact that our new job requires us to work 70-hour weeks and we can’t work on our goal if we want to be able to eat and sleep as well. Maybe it’s something absolutely controllable, like being just plain lazy. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is. It doesn’t make you a better or worse failure. Failure is failure.

But failure is also just a chance to start over again. Failure shows us what we’ve done wrong, which issues we failed to take into consideration, and what we have to change to do better next time. If you’re a really optimistic type, failure might even be motivation to try harder. If you’re the pessimistic type, things might be a little more difficult, but the same points still apply.

And excellent example of failure and moving on from it is rejection in writing. An author can put their heart and soul – and a ridiculous number of work-hours – into a manuscript, only to have it rejected by the publisher…and then rejected by another…and another…and another. Regardless of how good a manuscript may be, it is almost certain that the author will receive multiple rejections before (hopefully) receiving a publication offer. This situation really defines the whole “get back on the horse” thing because if these authors were to just give up, where would we be? Were you aware that J.K. Rowling received 12 rejections for the first Harry Potter book before finally getting published? We all know now that the Harry Potter books are well-written, well-loved, and have ultimately sold bucketloads. So why did she receive so many rejection letters? There are any number of reasons, but the point is that she had a goal set (to publish that damn book!) and she didn’t let failure upon failure stop her from continuing to try and try, getting back on the horse again and again.

It’s definitely hard sometimes…humans are naturally depressive and easily-discouraged creatures…but if the goal you’ve set for yourself is something that’s important to you, something that you know you’re not going to be happy just giving up on, then you have to press on. If you’ve done something wrong, figure out what it is. If outside issues are holding you back, figure out a way around them. And if the problem is just timing, situation, or reliance on others to react the way you need them to, you just have to keep trying, trying, trying, until all the puzzle pieces fall into place. In the end you’ll be better off for having to have worked for it, and the end of the line will be that much more beautiful when you reach it.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself, and I hope you’re able to hold on to that hope as well. 🙂

“Aim for the top-right corner!”

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

36. Goal setting

That’s a little hockey joke up in the title of the post, in case you missed it. 😛

If there’s something I think we can all agree on, it’s that goals are important. Without goals we cannot advance, we cannot attain. It could be something as simple as wanting to pay off a loan sooner. Without actively making the decision to set that goal for yourself, your loan will stay exactly where it is. By setting the goal, by choosing to want something better, you’re taking the first step in setting yourself up for attainable advancement.

The problem with goals is that most people don’t understand how to make a proper one. Most people set themselves up for failure by creating goals that aren’t well thought out. Common issues are creating a goal that is too broad, or too ambitious, or that neglect to take important personal factors into account. For example, take the common goal of weight loss:

Too Broad
“I want to lose weight.”
This goal is about as broad as you can get. Think about it for a moment…how are you going to lose weight? Are you going to eat less? Different kinds of foods? More vegetables? Less fats? Are you going to exercise? What kind of exercise? Running? Spinning class? P90X? And what about the fine details? How much weight do you want to lose? How fast? Neglecting to narrow down your goal leaves you open to far too many possible points of sabotage. You might exercise your ass off, but neglect to monitor your eating habits and thus fail to accomplish anything. You might lose weight, but not as fast as you had hoped and find yourself discouraged enough to give up. If you figure out all the details ahead of time, and stick to them, you’re much more likely to progress.

Too Ambitious
“I want to lose 15 lbs in a month!”
It should come as no surprise that setting goals that are too ambitious (in other words: damn near impossible) will also set you up for failure and disappointment. In this example you would have to do something very extreme, and probably very unhealthy, to reach your goal, since a healthy and plausible rate of weight loss is about 1 lb a week. If you set yourself a goal that is so ambitious that there’s no way it’s actually going to happen, you’re just going to end up frustrated that you can’t achieve it.

Neglect to Attend Important Factors
“I’m going to lose x-lbs by cutting out all sweets and soda.”
This is actually a half-decent plan at first glance. Most people take far too much sugar into their bodies, so cutting that out would almost definitely result in some form of weight loss. But in this example the goal neglects to consider the repercussions of the intended actions. Presumably the person who set the goal consumes a large amount of sugar, if they believe cutting it out will help them lose weight. What’s going to happen when that sugar stops being consumed? Many people don’t realize that sugar is no different that many drugs. It’s addictive, it gives you an artificial “high” in the form of short-term energy, and cutting it completely from your diet can cause withdrawal symptoms. No, I’m not kidding. Aside from all that, do you actually have the willpower to cut out all sugar? Is this plan going to succeed only in making you miserable? Because misery is absolutely not conducive to a successful goal. When determining the details of your goal you have to take into account the consequences that may occur and your own personal ability (really, really take a good look at yourself here) to deal with the limitations you’ve set for yourself.

These three factors can be applied to a goal of any type. If we’re looking at a writing goal, they definitely apply. You can’t be too broad (“I want to be a writer even though I have absolutely no plan and don’t know what I want to write!”), you can’t be too ambitious (“I just got an idea for a novel and I’m totally going to have it written and published within two months!”), and you can’t forget to consider possible consequences and personal ability (“I’m going to get up an hour early every morning to write, even though I already only get about four hours of sleep a night!”). Ignoring these factors will set you on the path to failure, and failure will set you on the path to disappointment, depression, and a little thing I like to call “I Give UP!” syndrome.

Set goals for yourself…just remember that not all goals are equal and very few are easy to attain.

I Don’t Even Have Time to Manage!

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

32. Time management systems for writers

I know I’ve said this before about other topics, but if there is one thing that I should not be commenting on, it’s ‘time management’. The very existence of a thing known as ‘time management’ eludes and confuses me. At my very best I’ve been known to accomplish one or two things a day that I had actually set out to do. Most of the time I accomplish only the herculean task of clothing and feeding myself, and rolling around on the living room floor with the baby.

That said, I know that time management is (should be?) very important for writers. We have to be able to find the time to pluck out x-number of words a day, plus keep up to snuff on our social media, plus deal with all the other aspects of everyday life, which for many of us means a day job. It’s just not something I’ve ever gotten a hold on. I write when I can, and when I can I write a lot. That’s about the best I’ve been able to manage.

I’m aware that there are many apps out there for both Apple and Android products, as well as many websites such as LifeHacker that were created for just this sort of thing, but somehow I don’t even manage to find the time to look into these things. How sad is that? I can’t find the time to look into time management. And despite my own failure to initiate change, I do suggest that anyone looking at working on their time management skills do a little research on Google…trust me, there are tons of aids out there if you can muster up a little initiative.

Call This Help?

It appears that the only problem with pre-scheduling my posts for during the work rotation is that when I get home for my off-days I forget that I have to, you know…manually post some entries. I’d like to try and fix myself of this issue if at all possible. One of the big reasons (I suspect) that I’ve been unsuccessful with blogs and the like in the past is because I have no concept of “regular updates”, which as it turns out is a bit important.

In my defense, I had a friend visit from away for four nights, and during three of those nights we devoured a large, large amount of alcohol. A large amount. I may be recovering for another three or four nights.

But I digress. This is an overdue post that I should have made about a week ago when it was originally relevant.

About a week and a half ago there was an article in the local newspapers, detailing a rather frustrating issue with our province’s apprenticeship board. Without going into a great amount of detail, some lawyer (of course) apparently discovered that the apprenticeship board does not actually have the authority to accept work hours that were obtained in other provinces. As an overwhelming number of Nova Scotia apprentices work outside Nova Scotia (i.e. where the jobs are), this is a bit of an issue. It was a topic of much contention out on the work site. But it’s not the main point of the article that bothered me so much…what really bothered me was a quote by an apprenticeship board spokesman that stated how they were trying to help apprentices through this issue and that they were “all about” helping apprentices through to completion of their apprenticeship.

In response to this quote I wrote an emphatic FaceBook status about just how “helpful” I’ve found the apprenticeship board to be over the years. My husband then pointed out that the spokesman I was addressing was unlikely to read my FaceBook page and suggested I submit my status to the newspaper. I did so, expecting nothing to come of it, and was contacted by a family friend a few days later to let me know that he’d just read my letter.

Not the most enormous deal in the world, but pretty exciting to me since it’s technically my first real publication. 🙂 Confidence!

If anyone is interested in reading the letter that I wrote, I submit to you the link to the online version. My letter is third one down, entitled “Call this help?” and signed (obviously) Tracey Tobin.

http://thechronicleherald.ca/letters/130162-voice-of-the-people-august-27-2012