Saturday, April 28, 2012

Taking a Creative Writing Class...

As part of my college studies, I took a class on Creative Writing this semester.  I've had some really good exercises to work on during the course, some of which I'll share with you all in time.  But what I wrote today just surprised even me and I thought I'd share it with you all and hopefully give you a  little laugh. 

It's a very short story mind you and was done quickly so please excuse any grammatical or lack of serious detail.  I was following the guidelines of keeping it short.  Now the exercise was to write a short scene where a person has an audition/interview to go to.  And several things have to happen: someone unexpected shows up, a routine is disrupted, irrational behavior or thoughts occur, there are negative and positive actions, and finally a terrible thing to happen occurs.  So now I give you my effort at this exercise:

            Jane couldn’t believe it, the call had come.  They had wanted to see her the next day.  She had spent the previous evening going through her clothing for just the right look.  Glancing over at the corner of her bedroom, she could still see the pile of rejects she’d tossed aside dismissively during her quest.  They seemed to glare at her with resentment for being treated so.  She promised to give them all a good washing and would put them away nicely when she got back.  But now she had to get ready.
            Quickly she moved over to the sink in the bathroom to fix her make-up.  Everything had to be just right or she’d be sunk.  Everything was lined up just as she had left it the night before.  Lipstick, eye-liner, blush… all of it was just waiting there for her.  Then she looked up and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and cried out in horror.  Clutching her chest she backed up into the wall, eyes wide, mouth gaping… BED-HAIR!  But not just ordinary bed-hair, no this was possibly the worst case of it on record. 
            “Why, why today of all days?” she wailed and sank to the floor.  The interview was in an hour, what was she going to do.  Pulling herself together she grabbed a brush and went at the tangled mass with a vengeance. 
            No good.  Instead of taming the wild look it was only making things frizzier.  Dropping the brush she made a dash back to the bedroom in search of a hat.  That might at least help calm the tangled mess down.  She searched high and low but only found a baseball cap.  That wouldn’t do… or would it?  No, with her luck, the interviewer was probably a fan of a rival team.  No she’d have to think of something else. 
            Maybe she could shave her head and say she’d been going through treatments?  No that would be disrespectful of people like her sister-in-law back in the south.  Not that she ever cared for the woman, but still.  What was she going to do? 
            She could see it all now, trying to go to the interview like this would be a disaster.  As soon as she walked in the receptionist might take one look and hide behind the desk.  Another person might walk by and ask how did she manage to get her finger out of the electric socket?  Did she see a doctor?  Did she need an ambulance? 
            Or even worse, they might take one look and call in security to remove the homeless bag-lady that had wandered in.
            Oh what was she going to do?
            Just then there was a knock at the front door.  Groaning she started heading towards it while the pit of despair grew larger and larger in her mind.  Then suddenly she stopped.  What if it was someone who could help her?  One of her friends?  A fairy-godmother come to render aid in her hour of need.  Hour… she looked up at the clock, only 45 minutes until the interview.
            Panicking she raced to the door and found a man in postal uniform standing on her stoop.  He had a pleasant face and was holding a package, along with a clipboard and pen.  “Unnnghhh….” was all she managed to say as he greeted her warmly. 
            “Oooo… that’s some hairstyle you have there miss,” he chuckled.  “I haven’t seen a case of bed-hair that bad since my days in cosmetology school.”
            Jane perked up. “You did hair?”
            “Well yeah but…”
            She didn’t let him finish.  Grabbing him by the hand Jane hauled him inside and closed the door and locked it.  Leading him to the bathroom she babbled and incoherenet explanation and handed him the scissors and comb and told him to get to work.  If he was fast enough, she’d still have time to make the appointment.
            The man tried talking but she told him they could talk after he was done.  There was an edge to her voice that she hoped would block any further protests.  It worked. 
            With a resigned shrug, the postman went to work.  10 minutes later he stepped back and let her take a good in the mirror.  Jane screamed.  The sides were uneven, her bangs were lopsided, it was worse than before.  She hadn’t thought such a thing was possible.  “I thought you said you went to Cosmotology School!” she cried.
            “I did,” the man explained backing up.  “But I sucked at it, that’s why I wound up getting a job with the post office.”
            The wail of frustration Jane uttered took them both by surprise.  She never knew she could hit such a high note with her voice. 
            As the for the failed-hairdresser, the sound startled him so much he stumbled backwards and tripped over the discarded clothing. 
            Jane watched in horror as the world slowed down and the postal carrier fell backwards and cracked the back of his head against the corner of the nightstand and hit the floor.  He did not get back up.  Nor did he move.
            Eyes wide Jane started to let out an unholy, “OH MY GO…”
            “THAT’S GOOD, WE’VE SEEN ENOUGH!” a voice from out of nowhere cut in.
            Turning outward to the front of the stage, Jane stared out at the darkness where the director, the producer and the playwright were sitting.  “Could I do that last part again?” she asked, “I don’t think I really captured the mood when Tony went down.”
            The director waved a reassuring hand, “Don’t worry.  You were great.   In fact you’re exactly the person we’re looking for.  You’ve got the part.  Why don’t you gather your things and we’ll see you back here tomorrow at 2 o’clock.”
             Delighted with this turn of events, Jane squealed with glee and rushed off the stage. 
         Once she was gone the trio slowly made their way onto the stage and glanced down at the still unmoving figure in the postal carrier outfit.  “It worked,” said the producer.
            “I can’t believe it,” said the director.
            Only the playwright smiled, “Well, you won’t have to worry about your little blackmailer anymore.  Accidental death is what it will be declared.  I told you.  I know how to write killer scenes.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

New Post On My Other Blog...

Just posted another snippet from my Horror/Mystery novel "THE SHIP".  This is my 2nd novel and is still underway.  I hope to have a completed 1st draft by the end of next month at the latest.  If you'd like to check it out here's the link...

New post from my 2nd novel "The Ship" on my Wordpress blog

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Setting and Plot Device...

     Today I want to discuss a setting and also a plot device I'm using.  Above you see the remains of a concrete ship.  Yes, you read correctly a ship partly made from concrete.  This vessel is the S. S. Palo Alto, built to serve in WWI when steel and metal supplies were becoming scarce.  She was part of a fleet of 12 experimental vessels.  Unfortunately, she was completed in 1919 after the war was over and made her only self-powered voyage to the San Francisco Bay Area.  There she sat for 10 years and was eventually purchased by an entertainment company and towed to Seacliff near Santa Cruz.  Once she came here, she was refitted and turned into an entertainment showcase.  An arcade, fine dining, a bar, even a pool was built inside of her to the pleasures of her many visitors.  The middle photo above is a model replica of her in those glory days when she was known as "The Amusement Ship".  Unfortunately, two years later the company fell apart in the stock market crash and the Palo Alto was left exactly where she sat at the mercy of the elements.    She was stripped of her metal for scrap during WWII.  
     Eventually she was purchased by the California State Park Commission for $1 and was left exactly where she was as a tourist attraction.  In 1963 a large crack appeared in the hull.  In 1978 another serious storm increased the crack and literally broke her in two.  The rear third of the ship was officially closed off to visitors.  But the closer section was left open for visitors and fishermen who cast their lines over her sides up until 2000 when she was deemed too dangerous for people to be allowed on anymore.
     Now, some of you may be thinking, well gee thanks for the history lesson what's this got to do with setting and plot devices?  My answer is EVERYTHING!
     In my 2nd novel "THE SHIP", which is more than halfway finished, I use this vessel in it's current state of deterioration and give it the chance to see combat that it was denied.  It becomes the launching pad for an attack against a ghostly vessel that is now hunting off the shores of Seacliff.  
     History can be a treasure trove of ideas for a writer.  I could've used this ship for a story back when it was an entertainment ship.  For a mystery, what murder or thefts could've occurred among the visitors?  For a thriller, what intrigues and pursuits could have taken place on board during it's construction or when the wealthy came to enjoy themselves on it?  Or I could go the Clive Cussler route and suggest something special (a mineral, or some secret document that needed to be reclaimed) was hidden away and sealed in a compartment inside the cement and needed to be retrieved.  
     You can find a good setting for a story almost anywhere and come up with story ideas.  In the woods, in the city, in the suburbs, the jungle you name it.  Just look around and start seeing what ideas come to you.  In that old movie theater across the street that has never been updated to hold more than 2 screens, why has it remained that way?  A whim by the proprietor?  Or is there something more going on there?  Describe the the outside and the interior.  You have a setting.  But it can also be a powerful and intriguing plot device to move your story along to it's climactic finale.
     One final note.  The other 12 concrete ships either sunk or were grounded and became man-made reefs for marine life.  The only one still in use is the S. S. San Pascqual that ran aground off Cuba.  Today she still stands there, completely refurbished and is now a 10 room hotel for tourists.  
     Keep writing everyone.  More next week.     

Monday, April 9, 2012

Riding The Waves To Inspiration...

     Shortly after coming to live here in Santa Cruz I began frequenting the cliff area overlooking the bay.  It seemed everywhere I went along these cliffs I would see surfers riding the waves.  As I watched I began taking notice of how they would paddle out and sit and wait for a wave to come.  As one approached I noted they turned their boards around.  Then as the wave raised the back end of the board, the rider would press down in the front and once momentum was established they'd lean back and stand up.
     I found this hypothesis fascinating and consulted one or two of the veteran surfers nearby to confirm my suspicions.  And they were more than happy to congratulate me on my observations.  I was indeed right and would I be interested in joining a class and taking lessons.  

     Unfortunately, I wasn't ready at  that time, nor am I now.  But it is something I'd like to try when I can afford it.   And as I've said in earlier posts, I like to write from life experiences.  Whether they be my own or from someone close to me who doesn't mind my using their experience for a novel.  

     In this case, just watching the surfers helped to stimulate my imagination.  Watching one occasionally 'wipe-out' being flung up in the air and landing back in the water gave me an idea.  What if that happened to someone who didn't lose control, but had their board hit from underneath?  But by what?  A shark?  No, done too many times already.  Same thing for an Orca or other typical marine creature.   None of them would do.  But what about a new creature, something sinister and unreal.  This prompted me to think back to some of the classic writers like H. P. Lovecraft (one of my heroes and all-time favorite authors).  He created wondrous beings from out of time and space, some of whom lived beneath the waves.  But I didn't want to borrow his creations, I wanted my own.  Eventually I came up with creatures and where they came from.  
     I would use a surfer getting knocked off their board and having a near miss with the strange being and getting the briefest glimpse of the creature.  Of course no one would believe them.  The accident would be attributed to a near-miss with a shark, though as she would point out "Did any of you see a fin in the water?"  To which everyone would shake their heads but stick to the normal and most likely explanation.   Eventually local marine life would be found dead along the shore, killed in strange and unusual manners.  Only my surfer would know that there was something 'unnatural' behind it.  And to make matters worse, it was now aware of her.

    So just because of a morning stroll along the water I had come up with an entire story-line.  It has become the basis for my second novel "THE SHIP" which is more than halfway finished.  I hope to have a completed 1st draft by the end of this month.  

      Now some of you may be wondering, why did he choose to make an entry like this?  Simple, I wanted to demonstrate again how we can find ideas and inspirations for story-lines when we least expect it.  How just a daily stroll can start the mind working and turning out ideas.   Go places, do things, see what suddenly catches your imagination and starts a train of ideas.  You may surprise yourself.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bringing Characters To Life...

Recently I've been doing a lot of things at college, especially dancing.  I'm currently taking 4 different dance classes: Jazz Dance, Ballet, Latin and Improvisation.  Each of these dance-styles are unique unto themselves but also share aspects such as "Core-Building", fluid movements, music, etc.  I enjoy trying all these different styles and how my body reacts to them.  Also, I find how they make me feel emotionally and mentally quite stimulating and refreshing.

Now what does all this have to do with bringing characters to life?  Simple.  To me, a person's life is the sum total of their experiences both good and bad.  How we react, what choices we make, all of these things shape who we are and who we may yet become.  So if a life is shaped by experiences and how they made you feel, how can your characters be any less human than you or me?  But a character is just that.  A made up person with no real past or experiences, EXCEPT for the ones we as writers give them.  In my case, I give some of my own personal life experiences to my various characters.  For instance I've studied Ballroom Dance and gave this talent to two of my characters.  I gave them different levels of experience, one was a beginner the other was extremely advanced and taught others.  Now, I was in no way an expert in Ballroom, BUT I knew people who were and was able to get some insights from them.  I transferred SOME of these insights and experiences to the characters.  You'll note I said SOME of these insights and experiences.  Because unless the main story revolves around Ballroom, why should I bore the reader with pages and pages about that kind of dance?  I give the audience snippets of those insights and the joy and feeling of dance.  Enough let them get more information about this character and what makes them happy and why.

Sad times, losing someone close to me I've also given to some of my characters.  The pain, the feeling of being lost and confused by the experience of someone no longer being a part of your life.  People can relate to all of this and can feel sorry for or commiserate with the character in these situations.  It makes the reader feel more like the person they're reading about is more human, like someone they know.

Hobbies or jobs are another way of making your creations seem more like real people.  They're pet peeves at the job.  Annoying co-workers, friends, what they do off the job together.  All of these help make a character seem more like a real person.  Draw from your own life, give bits of your feelings or experiences to your people to make them more than 2-dimensional caricatures from a comic strip.  Remember, your characters are your children, shape them give them life and the audience will appreciate and love them as you do.