Sunday, June 30, 2013

Troll Hunter (Part 4)

This ends my Troll Hunter "sort-of-serial".  Links to the first two parts can be found on Part 3, here.

     Blood streamed down Lady Edlewine’s arm from her blade.  The troll towering over her teetered and fell, the back of each leg destabilized.  Edlewine smiled, the brief curl of her pale lips just reaching her equally pale blue eyes.  Baron Raymond cheered.
     “Prince Luther, would you like the honors?” Edlewine asked.  The Prince set his horse to a trot, spinning an elaborate rapier at his side.  He plunged it deep into the troll’s ribcage.
     A few of the other trolls stopped to look at their new opponents.  Drool dripped down from their chins.  One tossed his hunk of stone in Edlewine’s direction.  She nudged her horse to shift out of the way right on time.  Now that we’ve lost the element of surprise…It gets interesting, she thought.
     “New plan,” said Edlewine.  “If we can get them to throw their rocks at us, it shall give Gretmot’s archers a chance to drop more of them.”
     Prince Luther’s eyes widened.  “So we’re playing bait?”  He swallowed.
     Edlewine steered her horse away from the fortress, facing uphill.  The mare increased speed without a need for her mistress’ urging.  A thud several paces behind her signaled another close call.  Aramel, don’t fail me now.
     Another troll perished near to the fortress, the fletching of dozens of arrows visible from hundreds of meters.  A battle cry rang out from its killers.
     Edlewine’s party avoided a full volley of stones.  Prince Henry cried out, “the beasts nearly hit me that time.”  Edlewine hid a grin.
     “Prince, keep your men up here taunting the trolls.  I’m taking the Baron with me to slay their ogre friend,” she said.
     The Baron shivered.  “Why are you taking me with you?”
     “I don’t trust you out of my sight.”  Edlewine kicked her mare to a gallop.
     “Coming, milady,” the Baron murmured.  He groaned.
     “Ogres are tougher to kill than trolls.  We’ll need to completely cut off its mobility before we can lay the final blow.  Achilles, hamstrings, ankles, all need sliced up if we are to get him on the ground.”
     The Baron folded his hands, shutting his eyes for a moment.  “Ready, so much as I shall ever be.”
     Edlewine jerked her mare in a zigzag, avoiding more and more rocks as they approached their target.  She told the Baron to do the same.  He took the advice.
     The ogre looked over at the pair of them no more than a dozen strides from its gnarled feet.  It kicked at them, but failed to achieve even a glancing blow.  Edlewine whipped up her sword, slashing its heel, then digging into its ankle.  It withdrew the limb, settling for a piece of the hillside jutting out from the turf to deal with them.
     “Now is our chance,” Edlewine shouted.  She rode behind one of the ogre’s legs as it bent down.  With the Baron on the opposite side, each set to tearing as many tendons as possible.  The ogre grunted with every wound.  Nothing kept it from tumbling backward.
     “We’ve slayed an ogre,” said the Baron, his eyes bulging.
     Edlewine huffed.  She sheathed her sword.  “Not just yet.  Its heart still beats.”
     The Baron nodded.  He glanced toward the heavens, bid thanks to God, and rushed to end it all.
     Prince Luther’s knights descended on the surviving trolls, scattered them.  The Prince raised his banner and beamed.  “An ogre hunter too, it seems, Lady Edlewine.”
     Edlewine laughed.  “Today.”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Seven Reasons For Character Existence

Each character in any work of prose should adhere to at least one of these:

1.   They represent a concept, heavily rooted in theme
2.   They support a concept, heavily rooted in theme
3.   They represent a person, place, or group known to the author, rooted in the "real world"
4.   They help further the plot, expand upon setting, and/or develop other characters
5.   They are interesting enough to carry the story on their shoulders
6.   They create/deepen conflict
7.   Comic relief

Did I miss anything?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I Am Not A Serial Killer

I read I Am Not A Serial Killer in roughly forty-eight hours.  That ought to say a lot if you've read any of my crits in which I note how long it took me to read the books.

Fifteen pages per chapter was a surprising average going in.  The pacing was fast, but not thriller speed.  Luckily, I don't mind.  The pacing was just the right velocity and the language just simple enough to allow me to cruise at Mach 2.  Fewer words played a part, yet a rate of about fifty pages per hour is really good for me.  The other aspects of plot went over well with me too.  There was a logical progression of events that may have left me bored if they weren't as well-written.  Although, I must say that Dan Wells' prose aren't as sharp as Robert Jordan's.  Since Dan writes YA, he can get away with it.

John Cleaver is an odd character.  He's dark and mysterious.  He's violent and twisted.  He has sociopathic tendencies.  Alright.  While readers probably can't relate to John a ton, (or at least, I hope not...) I happen to be a fifteen-year-old male, so I could "get him" as much as possible.  The strangeness of his emotions caused the perfect amount of near-cringes.  I can't really even describe the sensations.  My favorite part was when he watched Brooke crying and he couldn't fully pick up on her emotional cues.  The rest of the characters were passable or a little higher.  I liked Margret, even though she played a small role.

The setting satisfied the novel's needs, no more, no less.  I didn't get quite as much of a "lived in" feel as I should have gotten.  However, it never bothered me while I was reading.

I Am Not A Serial Killer received five stars from me on goodreads, with a true score of 93% (give or take).  Anyone who enjoys YA paranormal, or even crime fiction (it read sort of like crime), will like the first book in the John Cleaver series.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Troll Hunter (Part 3)

Parts 1 and 2 of this four-part (probably) series can be found here and here respectively.

     The grey walls of Gretmot poked out of the treetops.  Blurs up on the battlements focused into bowmen as Lady Edlewine hit the tree line.  Fewer than a dozen trees thick, the forest buffeted little but visibility.  As it was, Edlewine managed only snatches of the trolls’ burly forms.  A southern troll in plainer view hefted a rock from the unkempt plain toward the fortress.  The cracking of stone mixed with snarling from the trolls and shouts from the men.
     “There sounds to be quite a few of them,” said Baron Raymond.
     Edlewine adjusted her skirts.  “Sixteen trolls and an ogre.”  More than even I have fought with far more retainers.  Aramel may be needed after all, she thought.
     Prince Luther cleared his throat.  “At the time of Lady Edlewine’s departure, she means.  Surely Gretmot’s defenders lessened their number.”
     The party galloped out into the field of battle.  Edlewine spotted three massive corpses strewn across the grass, each with no less than a score of arrows embedded in their torsos.  One troll staggered, its hands clutching at a tight grouping of bodkins plunged into its heart.  It dropped to its knees, and then collapsed in a heap.
     “Worry not, my fellows,” came Sir Henry’s whine.  “We have a troll hunter among us.”  Edlewine turned to frown at him.  He smirked back.
     “Do not charge them head-on,” said Edlewine, returning to her usual facing.  “The Baron and I will swing to the back of their formation.  Prince Luther, take your knights just behind their center.  Harry the back line while we slit their hamstrings.”
     “As you say, milady,” said the Prince.  He motioned for his men to follow.
     Edlewine caught a glance of the lone ogre, its biceps rippling as it lifted up a stray boulder.  A wolf-shaped burn adorned its near shoulder.  Likely the Wolf King, she thought.
     “God be praised,” shouted an archer from the crenels.  “Reinforcements.”
     Edlewine looked toward the wall, smiling weakly.  She drew her longsword from its enamel scabbard and kneed her horse toward the rearmost hill troll.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Red Herrings

Every year we learn a little about propaganda.  We go over testimonials, "the ol' bait-an'-switch", transfer, etc.  One technique that tends to get glossed over is the red herring.

A red herring is (according to Merriam-Webster) "something that distracts attention from the real issue".  They find their place in mystery novels, movies, and commercials, although not incredibly often.  However, they are used enough for me to mention them.

One of the strongest uses of a red herring that I can think of was a character on the show "A Pup Named Scooby Doo".  His name was a quite literal display of the term: Red Herring.  Freddy would always blame Red for the mysteries his crew investigated, even though it was never/almost never his fault.  Comedy was a part of it, but this display mostly just detracted from what was going on at the time, a classic red herring.

I've only wrote one red herring that I can think of.  It was included in the satire that I posted in two segments a few weeks ago, "Never Impressed".  In that case, I used a literal red herring in a fish tank to confuse readers, get a laugh, and depressurize tension that I built up, only to ramp it up a tiny bit in the next sentence.

Because I haven't used them too often, I don't really know a whole lot about proper use of red herrings.  Nevertheless, they are a legitimate tool in your writing toolbox that you can (and possibly should) experiment with.

Have you included red herrings in your fiction?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Dragon Reborn (Final Analysis)

(Warning: Contains minor spoilers---Read at your own risk)

If you haven't learned it already, I love the Wheel of Time series.  The third book, The Dragon Reborn, is just as favored in my eyes as the first two in the epic overarching tale.

Slow pacing caused a long reading duration, but no decrease in satisfaction.  Robert Jordan's writing is good enough to make any scene flow like a waterfall.  The plot of this novel came mostly from three viewpoints (at times four), each telling interlinked tales.  Cross-references between plot-lines were very cool.  Some concepts, such as inns and dreams, came across a little heavy-handed, yet not to a degree that was damaging.  The events in every POV kept my attention and filled me with the necessary wonder for the genre.

Only one character fell flat for me.  She came in late and had too much mystery surrounding her for her to be properly built.  Granted, her late entry in the book and early entry in the series contribute to the minor problem.  All other characters felt right to me.  Existing characters gained new flesh and grew in a well-done manner.  A big thing that linked the individual plot/character pairs together was the climactic setting.

Few secondary worlds can compete with the sheer substance and realism of the WoT setting.  Each country has a fresh culture with compelling inhabitants and unique attributes.  Several cities were explored in this book to great effect.  The Stone of Tear, a heavily mentioned location, proved as critical as the story promised.  This book acted as somewhat of a travelogue.  The characters learned on their own that something important was happening or going to happen there, then the plot moved accordingly.  Each new setting provided a flavor form the story during the treks to the Stone.

I gave The Dragon Reborn five stars on goodreads.  The true rating is about a 94/100.  I recommend the whole series to anyone enthralled by fantasy, especially epic fantasy.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Much Worse Than Surstromming

     Yeti urine smells worse than surstromming, thought Sven.  He tightened the hood of his parka against his face.  His fingers held little feeling despite thick dragon-hide gloves.  The chill seeped into his boots.  He shuffled forward a few steps.
     “Just a thousand more meters,” said Ulrich, shouting over the wind. 
     Sven twisted to look at him.  Ulrich’s three-meter frame supported swathes of fabric from multiple civilizations.  The iris of his single eye glowed through the snow.  It flickered, seeming gold or green in turn.
     Sven’s foot struck something that felt like stone.  He crouched down to feel the contours of the object.  It felt round at one end.  The other dipped in several places.  Sven jerked it from the snow bank.  “Ulrich, I found a skull.  It must be from that Russian centaur who went missing up here.  The idiot tried to climb Mt. Everest with hooves.”
     Ulrich chuckled, a low rumble.  “The yeti must have gotten him.”
     The permanent storm escalated to a blizzard.  It howled, forcing Sven’s hands to his ears.  He stumbled forward.
     A patch of snow beside him was colored dark red.  Two horseshoes stuck out of the mound.
     Out of the corner of his eye, Sven saw Ulrich’s jaw drop.  “Did you hear that grunting?” Ulrich asked.
     Sven cocked his ear toward his companion.  “No.”
     A thud resonated as Ulrich fell to a patch of ice.  Sven jerked his head around, squinting all around him.  “Clumsy me,” Ulrich said.  His teeth chattered.
     Sven let out a deep sigh.  He forced his eyes to stay on the pathway dictated by the mountain ridge.  Everything looked the same, a blanket of white, save the grey stone crags.
     A rise in the snow coverage uphill evaporated with a gust.  The cold bit Sven’s skin despite his parka.  He forced in a gulp of air.  The next breath was thin and haggard.
     Ulrich paused to set up his oxygen tank beside him.  “You should put yours on,” he said.
     Sven shook his head.  “I’ll live.  I want to reach the top unaided.  I’ll use it on the descent.”  His lungs gave a tiny dissatisfied spasm.
     The summit came into view.  It looked very much like the snapshots Sven studied for hours down at the base camps.  A figure crouched in the corner of his mental photograph.  “That wasn’t in the pictures,” he muttered.
     A roar tore through the screeching gale.  Sven glanced over at Ulrich.  His face was even paler than last he’d seen.  The sound could not possibly have come from behind his clenched jaw.
     Ulrich slid down the slope backward.  A primate, covered in dense white fur, fell with him.  Red dyed the back of his hands.
     “Ulrich,” Sven shouted.  His head bobbed, first to the summit, then to his comrade.  It settled on the latter.
     The yeti swung its paws across Ulrich’s throat.  Blood splattered, mixing with the snowflakes.  Ulrich moved his feet as if to stand, but it threw itself into him, keeping him down.
     Sven pulled a climber’s pick from his belt and held it aloft.  The yeti twisted to look at him.  His eyes held only black.
     Letting go a heavy breath, Sven charged forward.  He plunged his pick into the yeti’s shoulder.  It lurched back and cut into his stomach.  He grabbed at his wound with one hand, lashing out with the other.  The yeti tripped to the edge of the cliff.
     Time slowed.  The yeti clawed to stay on the mountain.  Its feet slipped.  Sven gasped in relief.  The rest of its body squirmed down.  It disappeared, leaving behind a strangled growl.
     Sven took a step toward the summit.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Things I've Noticed About My Fiction

I've written my fair share of flash fiction pieces.  Some have been good, many have been passable, and a few have been near terrible.  A while ago I started an Excel document listed things I've written along with (in its current form): genre, word count, personal rating/percentage, and I Write Like result.  I've noticed a few things from looking at a list of forty-nine pieces.

  1. Much of my work resembles that of Dan Brown or Chuck Palahniuk (according to I Write Like), despite the fact that I've never read either person's work.
  2. I've only written one story between 578 and 854 words.  I'm not finished cataloguing, but I expect a similar situation to remain.  The reason for such eludes me.  Perhaps I should try writing some 700-word stories to test those waters.
  3. The quality of my prose drops off drastically below 270 words.  I am not surprised by that.  Anything shorter than 270 words has to be extremely simple to work, even with my brevity.
What have you noticed about your fiction?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Personal Assessment: Fight or Flight

Today I've decided to criticize myself for my Tuesday Literary Criticism.  Hopefully next week I'll have The Dragon Reborn finished for my Full Analysis...

After a few minutes of deliberation, I have decided to use "Fight or Flight" as my subject.

I give this story a 68% as a horror flash fiction piece.

There are only two characters in "Fight or Flight": the narrator (it's first-person) and the monster.  Very little is learned about the narrator, even less about the monster.  In fact, the monster only comes in in the penultimate paragraph (what an alliteration).  The narrator has a tiny arc, getting progressively more afraid throughout the 232-word piece, but that isn't really enough.  This story needed a good 100-word increase to get the characters built up to a level reasonable for flash fiction in my style.

Half of the story is basic description of the setting.  That isn't a good percentage, especially not for me.  It fleshes it out enough for a slightly longer piece to be passable.  My description is awkward in this story, partially due to the present-tense.

The plot definitely needed work.  I tried to build tension at the beginning, which I did to some extent, yet not enough.  For this piece to work, I needed more sympathy and more tension.  The purpose was to get your heart beating a little faster than usual.  I didn't do too well in that effort.

I got two positive comments on this story when I posted it back in April.  Later I got a rejection from Microhorror, a mass-publisher (around 1/3 accepted nowadays from what I gather).  So, comme ci, comme ca.  Feel free to look back and decide for yourself.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

From A Bard's Tale

Note: I started writing this piece about a year ago for my little brother.  I just finished it yesterday to give to him as an eighth birthday present.  Also, I'm not used to first-person present-tense.  Keep that in mind.

     I draw my cloak in closer.  It’s cold here.  And lonely.  I almost cannot believe that I let fairytales draw me here like a fly to honey.  The bards’ tales told of riches in a dragon’s den north of Bren.  I’ve lived here for many years and have yet to see a single coin, never mind a dragon.
     Trees, that’s all there are here.  Little twisted things that scare the birds away.  I haven’t had a good meal in ages.  How I’ve managed to live off of bark and snow-crickets, I’m not sure.  I know only one thing for certain: I’m done sitting around at my camp moping.  Today I shall go adventuring.
#   #   #
     I bring my cloak tighter around me as I wander through a path of pines.  My boots sink into frost-coated needles that cover the forest floor.  Far off to the north-west I see mountains on the horizon.  That’s my heading.
     As I begin moving uphill, the ground gets slicker and slicker.  Where there isn’t snow or ice there is smooth, grey granite.  Before too long, all is white, sweeping wind bringing a cover for the bare patches.  Hours pass, leaving me numb to the storm.  My eyes are almost too glazed to see the wonder before me.
     A four-legged creature stands at the top of the mountain.  Its massive form is covered with glistening bronze scales.  It opens its mouth to breathe out and steam pours past sharp teeth.  A long tail snakes out to its side.
     “You’re dragon,” I say, far louder than I meant to.  My heart skips a beat.
     The dragon looks down at me.  Its emerald eyes stare straight into mine.  “You are a man.  A rare sighting, I suppose, for both of us.”
     “Y-you,” I stammer.  “You can speak!”
     “I can do many things,” says the dragon.
     I rub my eyes to make sure what I am seeing is true.  The dragon’s image does not fade.  “I have longed many years to find one of your kind.”
     The dragon smiles.  He looks odd doing so.  “I long for no one, least of all a man.”
     My throat goes dry.  “Why do you long for men least of all?”
     “They’re always trying to steal my treasure.”
     I let out a huff, disappointed.  My feet are poised to turn as an idea strikes me.  “What if a man simply asked for some treasure?”
     The dragon glances hard at me for a moment, then lets out a laugh.  “You are a clever man, I see.  Take a little silver.  I have little use for it.”  It adds, as an afterthought, “Just don’t drag your friends here.  I’m not so friendly when my stomach isn’t full.”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mystery's Torchbearers: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson

You can learn a lot from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  He kicked off a whole genre with his (at the time) unique style and masterful protagonist.  Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Watson were the true torchbearers of mystery.

Sherlock is witty, rugged, and calculating.  His skill at crime-solving and deduction is nearly unparalleled.  Drop Holmes in any situation and he will find something amiss, then solve the problem before you can refill your pipe.

With such a brilliant character, why did Watson even need to be written?  There are a few reasons.  An entire archetype is named after Dr. Watson because of his use as an unknowing conversationalist.  When Watson gets answers to his questions, readers learn important information that probably couldn't have been conveyed any better.  Watson acts as a foil, or character pair, with Sherlock.  He is the apprentice character in an apprentice/mentor pairing.  Watson also serves as an everyman.  Most people can't relate a whole lot to Sherlock Holmes, but they can relate to Watson.  On a simpler note, Watson is the one telling the story, so without him the voice of the prose would be very different.

Foreshadowing is a huge part of the mystery genre.  Often times little hints are dropped throughout the story that most people won't notice until the end, when everything becomes clear.   Holmes has a sneaky method of glancing at someone's shirt in passing (seemingly) without revealing that a smudge of red dirt on the hem proves the prime suspect is innocent.  The trick to mystery is to give the reader all the pieces, yet bend the corners so they can't put the puzzle together unless they get out a mallet and start meticulously flattening everything out.  Smoke and mirrors make sure Watson doesn't give you enough to solve the crime yourself in most cases.  The foreshadowing does still need to be there, however, at least partially.  You don't want a pseudo-deus ex machina situation where Holmes simply realizes who the killer is at the end inexplicably.

While Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are the torchbearers of mystery, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the one who truly lit the torch.  How would we fare without him?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

For Love's Sake

"For Love's Sake", written by O'Neil de Noux, was published in the latest issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  I'm not sure on the word count, but I believe it is a novelette.  I really enjoyed this story.  There was a huge sale on subscriptions to AHMM, so I subscribed for a year, even though my expectations were low.  After reading only two stories is the first issue that I recieved, I found that I was wrong.  AHMM is a high-quality magazine; and "For Love's Sake" is a high-quality story.

The situation in "For Love's Sake" is fairly simple for a mystery: one man was supposedly killed by a strike to the jaw in a fisticuffs duel.  There are about a half-dozen important characters to discover over the course of the story.  Assuming anything about them is unwise.  The writer knew most people would assume things anyway (which to my knowledge is a pretty basic trope of the genre).  None of the characters are dry.  A few are fairly static, although they didn't really need to be incredibly dynamic.  The protagonist was a cool guy that most readers would probably want to "hang out" with, a suitable way to establish a protagonist-reader bond.

I'm not going to mention the plot very much.  Too many spoilers would ooze out and nobody wants that.  It was a good plot, I'll leave it at that.

The setting in "For Love's Sake" is shown very early on and done with the fewest words needed.  That's my preference in realistic fiction.  If it isn't a sprawling epic fantasy city I don't need the details on clothing and what flavor ice cream they're selling out of at the apothecary (if they sold ice cream in apothecaries).

This story gets a solid 94%.  It could have been more exciting, sure, but it read well and kept me more-or-less enthralled.  You can get the issue on a Magster app for $3.99.  Check it out.

(Edit: this story is now available on its own on Amazon here.)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Occam's Razor Went Dull (Friday Flash Fiction 1.1)

     Inspector Robertson pulled out his magnifying glass and knelt beside a puddle.  A small glint had caught his eye as he walked through the park on a cold November evening.  On the surface floated a tooth.
     The poor child lost his tooth before he could put it under his pillow, he thought at first, but Occam’s razor went dull.  It was undoubtedly a “wisdom tooth”, surrounded by a puddle of blood.  In fact, the Inspector soon realized it wasn’t a mud puddle at all.  No tooth could have caused such trauma in and of itself.
     The Inspector scanned around the puddle with his magnifying glass.  A few drops of blood led to a small shrub off the gravel path of the park.  Beyond, a solid stream ran from bush to bush, darting across the park in a zigzag.
     A gust of wind cried out, sending a shiver down the Inspector’s back.  Occam is wrong again, he thought, breaking into a run.  That is the whimper of a young lady, surely the owner of that tooth.
     Sure enough, a girl, seventeen by the Inspector’s estimate, lay on the ground holding her jaw.  A large man stood over her, a sneer plain on his face.  He stopped his boot an inch from her chin when he noticed the Inspector.
     “What is the meaning of this?” said Inspector Robertson.  He stifled a laugh at his own cliché.
     The man went pale.  A trickle of blood dripped down from the corner of his lip.  “She punched me in the face when I pumped into her.  Knocked out a molar.”
     The Inspector helped the girl to her feet.  She smiled up at him, dripping sarcasm.  All of her teeth were there.  That Occam fellow struck out today, it seems.