Friday, April 28, 2017

3 Thought Provoking Questions For Crafting Unforgettable Antagonists

Your antagonist can breathe a little extra life into your story, or flatten it. Wholly. Just like we know our heroes as well as we know ourselves, we should get to know our antagonist as if they are the hero. Because it's no secret that every antagonist believes they're the hero of their own story.

1. Why do I love this character?

If you've ever read James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure (which I recommend you do!) you may have come across this question. Getting to know your antagonist--finding qualities that you not only adore but respect--can help you understand your antagonist more and see him as more than a villain with a villainous top hat. Your antagonist is a living, breathing, person that doesn't only exist to create barriers for the hero. He has massive stakes in your story that may have bigger consequences than your protagonists! 

2. What draws the line for this character?

Would you antagonist refuse to pursue the hero if he had to destroy a pet cemetery in the process? Perhaps your antagonist hates modern weapons with a passion and only uses spears (think No Country for Old Men). Maybe this character is extremely spiritual and only does battle using words and manipulation. Maybe he is well liked in his community, so he only uses goons to do his dirty work? There are millions of possibilities here. Finding out what your antagonist wouldn't do under any circumstances humanizes and empathizes him. It makes him seem that much more real and all the more dangerous.

3. Is there a way out (for your antagonist)?

Is there a way for your antagonist to avoid any dealings at all with the hero? Is there a way for him to avoid being the antagonist? Just like how your protagonist must be locked in this situation, the antagonist must be locked in too. Maybe he is forced to stand as a bulwark against the hero because of blackmail. Perhaps his daughter is in the hands of a higher power, a greater evil. Or, maybe he's just plain old obsessive. Whatever your reasoning, make sure your antagonist has one. Your antagonist shouldn't be able to just pack up and leave town--there should be stakes. Clear reasons as to why he's vehemently against your protagonist winning.

Those are the most important questions that help me unravel my antagonists! Have I missed anything? What questions do you use to flesh out your antagonists? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, April 21, 2017

3 Awesome Lessons I Learned While Worldbuilding This Week

Worldbuilding in a shellnut.
It's no secret that writers must write, and when one novel is finished you've got to move on to the next one to keep your mojo going.

Recently, I finished a duology of Japanese historicals and realized that I really--really--wanted to get back into fantasy writing and indie-authorship. So, the first thing I did was open up SFWA's 100+ question worldbuilding leviathan and get to work. But as the week progressed, I realized--well, I'm not writing at all! At least, not on a fiction project. Am I truly writing if I'm just world and character building? When is the right time to set down this sheet of questions and profiles and just get to writing the damned book?

Here's what I found out.

1. Set a deadline.

Seriously. Set a deadline. Over the hundreds of questions I've answered about this world's culture and mythical creatures and climate and...well, you know the rest...I began to realize I might never finish. Thousands of things go into creating a world (even if it's just a world within Earth). You've got to put thought into topographical features, mountain ranges, species of plant and animal life that live in your world. If you don't set a deadline and own up to it you might never get the novel down and finished. So, instead of worldbuilding generally, I decided to...

2. Major in the details.

Let me tell you how much that helped me. Paying close attention to things that would actually interweave with my plot (i.e., what fabric are clothes made out of? What mythical creatures live here? Where is their major source of water?) not only helped me plot more thoroughly, but it helped me think in big picture terms. The world I've built is a jungle island that is itself a living creature. Because of the abundance of water, I put a lot of time and thought into the creatures that could live in and around it. Could some creatures actually be made of water? Could there be a water dragon or two? Is it nonpotable? Can magic change that? 

And finally...

3. When you're ready, you're ready.

Don't second guess yourself. If your deadline has come and you've answered enough worldbuilding questions to make you question how well you know your real world, you're ready to emerge your audience in it. It's easy to get lost in "worldbuilder's haze" and simply keep stacking on more and more details about your world. What use is a freshly built fantasy world if there's no story there? Isn't that what the world was built for? For your awesome characters and their story? Remember, while the world you've built is a character it is also a stage. A stage for your characters to stand and fight and live and die on--all for your audience's entertainment. So, don't lose sight of the goal.

As for me, I've finished world building for the week and can't wait to start on my next series of novels. Here's the first graphic for my new novella "Wild Hope", made in celebration of finally getting out of the character and worldbuilding phase.

Winterskin's sequel, Blade and Soul, is also getting its blog tour this June. Pretty excited about that. You can get Winterskin here before Blade and Soul comes out. 

What do you do to get out of "worldbuilder's haze"? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Short Story: Death Cures a Fool

If I stand downstream, I can see their corpses. A waterlogged kitten floats down like a listless bag of flour. Next, comes a toad, its back legs missing. Finally, I see beetles. Huge throngs of black bug carcasses come rolling down the river and I watch them pass by with a sigh and shake of my head. If you have ever known a demon, you’d know that they often come in the form of children. And a foolish little girl squats on a hill some ways away. Her hands are wrapped around the neck of some poor, defenseless, animal and she’s smiling. Smiling before she dunks it into the water head first. Her eyes alight on bubbles, froth, and foam before there’s a sudden, gentle, silence that wafts up in the form of one monstrous bubble. Then she lets go and the river takes the corpse, wiping away her handiwork. Hiding her true nature from our parents and the world. But no matter what she does, she cannot hide it from me.
I wish you would go away, Hana.” She says as I crest the hill, invading her little hiding spot. “You always watch me. And it’s not like I can’t feel your look of disgust.”
A blue creature wreathes and contorts in the heart of her cupped hands. It is crying, coal black beak opened, as it tries to slap her hands away with its wings.
If you think what I do is wrong, why not tell someone? I’m sure Mama would believe you, but…” at her horrid joke, she cocks her head. “…how would you ever get the words out?”
I-I-I—” I swallow my tongue. I stammer. “I’ll t-t-t-t-tell her!”
Oh?” the little girl cocks her head to the opposite side. “What’s that, Hana? Why not just spit it out?” and the creature squawks as her hands strangle it. She squeezes and there’s a sprinkled crack that makes the poor creature cry more, cry more. Its wings hang uselessly now, as useless as my tongue, and it makes a dying protest as it feels the weight of its pain.
I point at the bird. I point at her. I fling my finger at the ground.
What? Can’t you speak? Oh? The pretty birdie? Oh, tweet, tweet, tweet.” She sings. Crawling closer to the river, she is but a few steps away before she stretches out her arms. “You want me to drop it, hm? Drop it where, now? Go on, tell me, big sister.”
T-t-t—the ground!” Stop it! I want to yell. Stop this, now! But when tempers rise, my throat and tongue are as useless as a bird without wings. My throat closes, my tongue becomes cotton in my mouth. Words twist and devolve in my throat and it is painful, painful to make a sentence. Painful to be heard like this—with broken words and halved sentences. Heat rushes to my cheeks and the moment I open my mouth, there’s just a gurgling sound. I am bereft. Inept.
And she drops the damned bird.
Oh, don’t worry.” She says. “It can fly.”
But it cannot swim.
When it splashes, I am frozen. When bubbles riot on the surface, my stomach goes lopsided and my mouth waters. When my sister giggles, her voice like a million shards of glass breaking, I want to cry. Heat pounds behind my eyes and I cannot think.
Then, the bubbles stop. Then, my sister leans over the edge of the bloated silver river, and she chuckles. “Well, aren’t you a fighter?” for the little blue bird has surfaced. It peeps and squalls and I believe it is calling out to me as it thrashes its head and tries to get away from her. Tries to use the river’s current to find a safe place from this horrid four-foot monster.
But nothing stops a demon. Nothing stops my sister.
Come closer you little shit.” She hisses and hurls her hands out. Grasping like a broken fishing pole, she splashes through the water with her hands but takes care not to fall in, not to get too close to the water’s edge. The bird scoots along and I pray the river’s current will take it and save it. But as she wanders closer, my heart sinks.
D-d-don’t,” I swallow, “don’t go t-t-to far!”
Shut up.” She snaps, reaching forward. Still reaching. Stretching out across the surface of the river as far as she can go. “I’ve almost got it.” And she snarls as she stretches and the creature scoots forward—just out of reach. Just out of her grasp.
But, “Come here!”
Ume!” I screech.
When an ocean recedes, backing away from land, sand is left in its wake. It sparkles and glistens, winks in the summer sun like stars thrown across the night sky. We are like so many specks of sand scattered across a beach, my sister and I. And as my sister plunged head first into the river—her chubby hands still reaching for the bird—I began to wonder, would one be missed? One gritty piece of black staining the sand with its color? Would this little speck be missed?
It was a moment of clarity that passed as quickly as I could blink.
Hana!” Ume screamed. “Hana—help!” for she could not swim.
I’d like to think that terror froze me, forced me to stay stuck in place with my hand to my throat and the other on my belly. I’d like to say that, yes, if I had been in my right mind—if that moment of clarity had been more than a mere moment, but a stretch of thoughts and actions and words—then I would have sprinted to the edge of the river and pulled her back to the shallow end. But, as the river current forced her away, I watched her hands peak through the surface with the bird still grasped between them. A dying song fought its way over the cry of my sister and the constant thrashing of the lake. A faded lullaby told me to watch and wait. Told me to let this speck of sand dribble and die in the water as the river pushed and pulled my sister away.

Downstream, her corpse snagged on a low hanging willow branch. Wide eyes told me that she fought the water, fought the current and the surge. But it was too much for her little body to handle. Floating there, her slimy body smacking the shallow edge of the water, the whites of her eyes gazed back at me; listless and eternal.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Short Story: Birdsong

They called him Nest because he carried a little bird on his back.
Moo-ma?” chirped the little bird, chubby little legs wiggling as she grew tired of her bamboo carrier. “Where Moo-ma?”
And he’d cringe as he lied to her: “Sick, little Momo. She’s gone to buy medicine.” Then continue his slow going trek through the thigh deep water of the burgundy rice paddy. Shoulders slumping, water bugs sucking at his ankles, flies buzzing at his face, the combined weight of the little bird attached to his back and the sorrow of lying to the chirpy little girl was never too much to bear. For, you see, my brother is invincible.
It’s amazing you don’t just keel over and die.” Called a man from the edge of the paddy, with more skin than bone waggling about on his two-toned face. “I’ve got a message from the capital for you, Nest. You’d think,” he mused as he passed my brother a wood lacquer box, “the gods would eventually tire of death.”
Misfortune,” my brother said, grasping the box in both hands, “They tire of misfortune. Never death.”
And the man with the two-toned face spat into the muck.
A bitter cold swept in that night. Too cold for autumn, just right for winter. Though no snow fell, the winds howled like a woman giving birth and shook our little forest shack. My brother knelt on the threadbare tatami matting separating us from the dirt floor beneath and opened the little lacquer box. I remember it being the most expensive thing we had ever owned. It winked in the dying light of a blackened incense stick as he opened it, the little chirpy girl making shadow puppets dance in the dying light of the stick as he gasped. She did not care for pretty things as grown-ups do. But she did care for touch. She did care for love.
Moo-ma?” she whispered as the box wheezed open, “From her?”
He lifted a crinkled roll of parchment from the box’s satiny insides. The little girl spied a moth-eaten satchel that could have easily fit into the palms of both her hands.
It’s from…” he had to lie again, if only to make the little chirpy girl hope, “…Moo-ma.” He finally said, hazy eyes scanning the parchment, rolling down hastily scribbled letters. “She wants us to meet her…somewhere.”
The little girl could not understand. “Home?”
He shook his head.
Then where? The chirpy girl wondered. Where could they go and where would Moo-ma be?
My brother took the satchel and spilled it. Silver coins flooded forth, washing upon the bottom of the box like a wash of silvery waves. Tears pricked the little girl’s eyes.
What is it?” he snapped, her sniffling striking a cord within his head. “What are you unhappy about?”
Moo-ma had told them to stay—to never leave. How will she find her way back home? For the little girl knew an inkling of the truth, though feared giving words to it. Truthfully, she could not give words to it—not knowing the correct word to describe what she could only call a “death-lie”. She decided to remain silent, though her bottom lip quivered and tears fell. She hated her older brother’s attitude. I still hate it. Even to this day.
You don’t understand, and that’s okay.” He told her, though it seemed he mainly spoke to hear himself. “Moo-ma wants us to leave here—as we should have months ago. Don’t you want to go? Aren’t you tired of the bugs and the cold?”
The little bird shook her head. “Home.” She said, pointing her finger at the threadbare tatami. “Home!”
Home is here.” He said, pointing to his chest where his heart would be if he had one. “Where ever your soul is—that’s where home is.”
Of course, my brother would not know. For, though he attempted to share his idea with me, even as a child I could tell when he was lying. His face was expressionless and stoic. Cold as a Noh mask. He had as much feeling in his chest as a frozen mantis feels in its mandibles. Nothing.
Though, of course, I do not believe he thought that.
The child shook her head, “Moo-ma.” Was all she needed to say while pointing her finger at the dirt.
She would have wanted us to leave.”
Wanted? A slip of the tongue means nothing to a child. But, nevertheless, his eyes widened and he immediately regretted the word—wanted.
Look,” he said, closing the lacquer box with a snap. “We will see her in the capital—Moo-ma. You will see, little Momo. We must listen to her words and go.”
But, even as a child, I knew his words to be false. “Stay!” I snapped. “Stay, stay—stay!”
We need to stay?” he repeated coldly, narrowing his eyes. “You want to stay?”
The little girl challenged him and he did not like it. His upper lip rose, his face became pinched. He quickly became a wolf in the child’s eyes and she puffed out her chest. Child or not, she had feelings too. She had hopes and dreams and thoughts—and she wanted to stay. No matter what some letter said—she wanted to stay.
But she wasn’t the one toiling from dawn till dusk in the swampy rice paddies circling their home. She did not have a permanent hump in her back from carrying a little bird all day. Her fingers were not stripped of skin, cuts dipping dangerously close to red and white bone. She did not deal with the splintering back pain that kept him up all night, nightmares affixing themselves to the walls as sleep passed him by night after night. Only to come back during the day.
She was just a little chirpy girl. A bird. Something as trivial as a blade of grass; as the wings of a fly. If my brother decided to cut his losses and leave her on some mountain to die of cold, bitter, exposure; then he would be free. He could do as he liked.
But he made a promise to our mother, and he was not one to go back on his word.
So, when the morning came and the night’s bitter cold wove its way upon the brightening horizon, he listened to the crying and sniffling and words of hate the little chirpy girl threw at him. He let her kick and squirm in her little bamboo carrier, her tiny feet prodding his back like thousands of dull little knives. Her words hurt most of all, curses spewing from the rosebud lips of a toddler: “I hate you!” she told him. “Moo-ma will be back!” she said, repeating herself. Spitting the words over and over.
She won’t.” He said matter-of-factly, as her curses grew worse and her tears died off. “You know, she was tired of us. So, she left.” He shrugged. “Walked off into the mist.”
Not this time.” He swore, looking over his shoulder at her sheepishly as he trudged through rolling yellow hills. “It’s just you and me now, Momo. It always has been.”
Balling her little hands into even tinier fists, the little chirpy girl on his back bit her lower lip in silence.
The toughest lessons we learn are always selfish truths. Things that only relate to ourselves.
They are hard to accept.
Thank you for reading! Check back next week for more.
Click here to read Winterskin--book one in the Kindred Souls Series.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Short Story: Lady of the House

Let us pretend the house is silent. Ignore the little squeaks beneath the floorboards. Please excuse the little mouse in the basement, for it loves to scream and cry. Please ignore the pounding sounds rising up from the tatami matting in the foyer. I promise you, it is nothing. And even if it is something and you’re forced to stop and stare, please remember—if you decide to return to my home—that these noises will not last forever. The little mouse in the basement, squeaking and squalling and calling for help that will not come; she will be gone when my husband disappears. So, in a year or so. Please, return next year.
Your hostess is Haruka Tomomi, but please feel free to call me “Tomo”. Please note that this is in exchange for my rudeness, you see. For, you will have to excuse me for a few moments while I leave the table and scurry down into the basement. No, you cannot follow. Please enjoy your stay here, my friend. I must disappear downstairs and do as my husband has ordered me. For, if the mouse dies or somehow injures herself then I will be injured as well. Why, no—not physically, you understand. So, please rid yourself of that shocked look. Maybe I’ll have a kimono taken away and burned. Maybe I’ll be sent away to the countryside, but he never harms me physically. Now, if you’ll excuse me please…
The little mouse downstairs loves to chew and bite—why, sometimes I wish my husband would simply stop bringing them around! There’s no telling where he gets them. Not from a shop or a respectable merchant, you understand, for you cannot simply buy a mouse as a pet. In fact—who would want one? Certainly not I! But if you’ll avert your eyes, my friend, my husband’s little mouse has injured herself and must be bathed. No, I cannot do it down there—I refuse to do it down there in that stink and musk. Why, mice simply shit all over the floor, did you know this? Many animals simply find a corner or some hole—but not this one! This one smears feces everywhere! My husband is not home—am I not the lady of the house while he is away? I will do it upstairs, but you will avert your eyes! Understand?
Thank you. Thank you, my dear friend. Cover your nose as well, we will have to pass through the kitchen—
Please—please let me see!”
Why, this mouse is talkative, is she not? “Shush, little mouse. You’ll be going back to your home soon.”
Let me see where I am—if you have a heart, woman, let me go!”
How easily mice believe we are manipulated. Please, excuse my little mouse. My husband has only recently brought her and she has a long year ahead of her before she is turned back to the wild again. “This way, little mouse. I am taking you to the bath.”
Why are you doing this to me?”
Why, I want to take care of you. We both know my husband won’t!”
Let me see!”
I am afraid that that would be impossible.” Can you believe it! The creature believes that I am daft! “The more you see…well, the easier it would be for you to escape.”
I’d go nowhere—please—”
Ignore her cries, they are only customary. I do what I must to make sure my dear husband is happy, now if you’ll excuse us my dear mouse desperately needs a bath…
How did my husband come across such a creature? Well, I suppose my rudeness must be rubbing off, hm? Truthfully, I haven’t a clue. In the past, he’d simply pick them off the streets near that pleasure quarter. Do you know it? Yoshiwara? There are all types of little mice there who gladly followed him home and happily lived in the basement in exchange for food and clean water. But this one—oh, she is spoiled! I have no idea where my husband found this one—what with the fire and half of Edo being rebuilt thanks to it. Yoshiwara no longer exists, yet he still finds little mice to keep and feed and f—oh, please excuse my tone. Why, my heart is beating so fast. “Come along, little mouse. If only you’d take better care of yourself.” Why, I’ve never met a creature without some sort of will. This one seems to be bent on taking her own life! And, of course, if this happened then my husband would simply turn to me and that would not be satisfactory! We have an agreement, you understand. He brings in mice and I keep my freedom as long as I take good care of them while he is away. It’s better than what most women get, believe me! We aren’t even considered people in many circles—yes! Astonishing!
I must take the little mouse back now, close your eyes, my friend.
I’m just going to escort her past and—oh!
You little bitch!”
Let me go!”
She spat on me! The little bitch spat on me!
If you kick a dog hard enough, it’ll cry and back down. I know, my husband keeps two of them and neither of them respects me. But they respect the heel of my foot. Mice are no different, though I do not have to use my feet. The heel of my hand works just as well, rammed into the place where her jaw meets her cheek. Hear how she squeals and falls to the floor in a fluster?
Will you do that again?”
What have I done to you?”
And if the dog bites back, sometimes you must use two heels. I tell you, some dogs are very strong. They have tough hides which allows them to feel no pain. Or, perhaps they feel it and are able to ignore it if they’re stuck in a blind rage. But no matter the dog, if I pick up a utensil—say a wooden pole or a knife—and slam it against the beast’s ribs, it will always back down. In some instances, it will even whimper and roll over to show me its pink belly. A mouse must be treated softly, yet sternly. But, in my ten years of caring for my husband’s mice, I’ve learned that even mice can take a good beating.
A fire iron works just as well. A hit here, to the forehead. A jab to the ribs there.
Will you do that again?”
Now, if an animal refuses to respond to you—
No, ma’am! Please—”
oftentimes, the threat of pain is a useful method to get a response.
Now, get up.”
Yes, ma’am.”
See how well she responds now? It is often quick and loud, getting an animal to respond and respect you. But, now that it is done you must close your eyes once more and allow the little mouse space as she moves back to the basement. Go on, close them! Why, I would not use the fire iron on you, my friend! Don’t give me that shocked and—well, do I detect a hint of malice? Please understand that I am simply doing my husband’s bidding! If this little mouse weren’t here taking the brunt of things for me, then I would be in her place! And it is not a place I envy, let me tell you! Are your eyes closed? Good!
Little mouse!”
Yes ma’am!”
Go home.” Which means “back to the basement”, you understand.
Please—please—I don’t want to go back down there—please!”
Listen, little mouse.” And I sigh now because I hate it when these things cry. “This will only go on for a year, understand? One year from now, my husband will leave and he will free you. You can go home then, okay?”
But—I cannot see, Miss. I’m blind—”

It won’t last forever.” I say with a blinding white smile, “Only a year.”
Please do not think me bitter and evil, but it brings me satisfaction to lie right to her pretty face. Disgusting creatures, these mice. 
Thank you for reading. As always, check out my other works. Currently, Winterskin is $0.99 on Amazon. Grab it while it's still on sale!
Check back here next week for more short stories. Happy reading!