Scattered: #writephoto

Thanks to Sue Vincent for a beautiful photo prompt. I went a little off-world on this one. Hope you enjoy.

*

“I’ll take the risk.” Captain Galles scratched the stubble graying his jaw. “If something happens to me, Corso’s in charge, not that you’ll have any decisions left.”

No one argued. What was the point? Forty chrons without food and water, we ran shy of options. We’d searched the black bowels of the alien freighter, a salvage operation by the looks of it, and found nothing but twisted and charred metal, every scrap incinerated clean. Our damaged shuttle lay on its side amidst the sea of relics.

The exception to the vast darkness was a panel of fractured light, a patterning of sublime beauty suspended over a polished dais. Our mechanical captors had wedged the unit against the compartment’s grated wall shortly after we found ourselves prisoners. Primitive cyborgs, the aliens lacked facial articulation and translation capabilities, the robotic language in all forms indecipherable. All our words and gestures proved futile, and our captain’s demands for basic sustenance went unheeded. They’d installed the contraption and left, its function a mystery.

The eight of us stood at the fringe of light as Galles stepped onto the dais. The array of lights above him hummed in a slow spin and increased in speed until they appeared to hurl backward. His mouth gaped in a silent wail, eyes pooled with terror. He struggled to escape the machine, hammered fists against an invisible barrier he couldn’t break. The lights blurred into a white star and he froze like a holograph set on pause.

His body began to disintegrate, clothing and skin breaking apart and floating like mist, then deeper, his whole shape loosening and scattering. He dissolved into swirling vapor, a haze of bright particles. A burst of blue current blinded me, and when I opened my eyes, he was gone.

I gasped and licked my parched lips, stifling an urge to vomit. Someone to my right heaved a dry sob. We sank to the floor where we’d stood, doomed. A day or two, we’d all be dead.

***

Amak studied the monitor. An unexpected reaction. It appears they are unfamiliar with teleportation. The fear response was extreme.

They are primitive. Rohla absorbed a wave of compassion emanating from the companion. They lack translation capabilities and do not understand the most basic of trinary languages. Their arithmetics are rudimentary. We have no means of communicating with them.

They choose death over the unknown. Amak shared the bafflement, their logic incomprehensible. Are we certain of the teleportation coordinates?

Without question. They were retrieved from their ship’s logs prior to processing.

Thoughts?

Rohla’s aura went silent, and Amak ceded to the desire for contemplation. Once completed, Rohla opened a channel and set the dilemma forth. Either we honor their choice as sentient beings and let them die, or we defy them, apply force, and save their lives.

Creating Rich Characters – Prompts

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While my days are spent grinding out my WIP, I thought I’d share an old post about writing character bios, specifically about using prompts to expedite the process.

The prompt-list below looks more complicated than it is (a result of explanations and examples). For some prompts, a word or two is sufficient, while others require some contemplation. Unsurprisingly, I force my main characters to endure the entire process; incidental players get a pass with a mere smattering of details, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

Ultimately, I believe that this pre-work pays off, not only in rich characters. To me, the process of writing flows with greater ease. My characters are immensely cooperative in telling their own stories when they know who they are.

The External Character

woman-1801830_640Physical Description: Appearance goes without saying, but add at least one remarkable feature: glass eye, cleft chin, crooked teeth, chewed nails, scars, moles, beady eyes, or rumbling voice. Remember, even beautiful people are imperfect.

Gestures, Mannerisms:  A distinguishing physical habit not only defines a character but makes him memorable. A character may habitually pick his teeth, clear his throat, rub his jaw, trace an old scar, purse his lips, fidget with a button, wink, spit, raise one eyebrow, stroke a beard, belch…

Quirk: A distinctive behavior that goes beyond a gesture: Won’t eat anything green, corrects improper speech, loves bad puns, doesn’t like to be touched, is afraid of heights, always misses the bus. There are numerous lists of quirks on the web.

Attribute, Trait: People have a blend of traits. Pick one or two for your character that stand out. Maybe she’s stubborn, lucky, picky, impatient, naïve, or flippant. Lists of attributes are also readily available on the web.

Skills, Abilities, and Interests: No real person is great at everything, and neither is your well-rounded character. Does your character have an education or special training? In what skills does he excel? Where is he lacking? What does your character do for a living? What does he do during down time?

Mix it Up: People are multi-dimensional. Villains can have redeemable qualities. They may rescue animals, love old movies, grow roses, or play chess in the park. Likewise, heroes have their flaws. They drink too much, have hot tempers, always run late, get easily flustered, or are slobs.

Don’t Overdo It: Creating a one-eyed, belly-scratching, kind-hearted, hypochondriac swordsmen with a penchant for chocolate is fun, but most characters will require much more subtlety.

The Internal Character

woman-1596954_960_720Backstory: Each character has a formative life that shaped him. What was the character’s childhood like? How strong were/are his family ties? Where are his parents and/or siblings? What significant event of the past shaped who the character is today? What was the character doing before the first page opened?

Secrets: A secret impacts a character’s attitudes and behaviors. It adds interest to the story because it can create tension or mystery in interpersonal dynamics. What is the character’s secret that no one else knows?

Goals: What does your character desperately desire? A protagonist’s overarching goal will often drive the story, and conflicting goals between characters may be a major source of tension. Consider that the main characters will have goals related not only to the main plot but to subplots.

Obstacles: What is the main obstacle that stands in the way of the character reaching her goal. This may be a nemesis, a personal flaw, or a condition of the culture or world. Remember that villains aren’t the only ones that can stand in a character’s way. Obstacles can be large and small and there are usually lots of them in the protagonist’s path.

Active Pursuit of Goals: At some point in the story, the character moves into an active role in overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. What triggers the change for the character? How does the character take or attempt to take active control?

posing-1022162_640The Big Fear: This is the one that terrifies – betrayal, loss of control, inability to protect loved ones, failure, death, aloneness, disgrace, insignificance, poverty, aging. It may drive the character’s goal or be an obstacle he must overcome. Fears have a basis in experience – where did this fear come from?

The Mask: A character’s mask is directly related to his fear. The mask describes how a character compensates for the Big Fear, or hides it from the world. For example, a character fearful of betrayal, may act overly independent or refuse to get close to others. Often the mask comes undone during the course of a story and the character is forced to face and perhaps overcome her fear.

Cross-Character Relationships: Another way to add interest and tension is by creating similarities between conflicting characters, and differences between companionable characters. What might the protagonist and villain have in common? Perhaps they both love horses, appreciate fine wines, or fear water. Along the same lines, how might the protagonist and his cohorts clash? One curses constantly and the other finds it offensive; one might play an instrument poorly while his companions cover their ears.

There you have it – my prompts. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if there’s something I missed!

 

**Images from Pixabay**

The Power of Fear

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“Fear,” the man said. “Fear has long, fine fingers.”

Grigor Phelan found fear intriguing, full of subtleties, an art form one contemplated because nothing of its shape or color or texture was what it appeared. Fear spanned a spectrum from the subtle edge of respect to unbounded terror, and he was most attracted to what lay in between, in the murky hues of human sentiment. He was charmed by the guises of fear, how it hid itself from its host, how it crouched on the rim of consciousness. Like a child’s kaleidoscope, fear proved changeable, multi-faceted, and often lovely as it turned. It might wear the face of generosity or compassion, decency or loyalty, adoration or threat. It could be manipulated by the most benign of words or actions, or pace like a wolf at the edge of a nightfire, seeking a way in.  (Myths of the Mirror)

***

Few will deny that fear is a powerful force. I wrote the above words as the puppeteers geared up for the invasion of Iraq. Fear was the weapon of choice to convince otherwise rational adults to ignore facts and engage in some shock and awe. The Oxford Research Group estimates that 6,700 civilian men, women, and children died during those 3 weeks of “awe.”

Fear is empowering. We all know that invoking the “other” unites us, fires our collective will, and rallies our troops. How thrilling to identify a monster, threaten to lay it low, and scream our slogans. If you want to unite a people behind you, find a common enemy – a racial or ethnic group, a religion or gender, lifestyle or point of view. All other problems, all other responsibilities, every other option falls away.

Few are impervious to fear’s influence, though some are bolder, braver, and willing to see beyond the lurid illusions. No matter how one felt about Barrack Obama’s policies, it’s hard to deny the remarkable fortitude, dignity, and grace he exhibited while facing eight years of fear-based racism, bigotry, smears, and lies. The baseness of the attacks brought a whole nation to a standstill. They accomplished nothing and served no one, least of all the fearful.

Peace, unity, and progress require hard work. Fear is easy. It does away with the pesky time-consuming need for listening, dialog, collaboration, and compromise. It requires no research, no curiosity, no empathy, no diligence, no ethics, no time, no compassion, no truth. It’s so much easier to lay blame, to hide behind righteousness, to repeat the lies, to say what others want to hear, to feed and fan the flames until it becomes the norm for political discourse and cements walls of cynicism and suspicion in place.

Fear is ravenous. It claims those who wield it and makes them slaves to their own words and actions. Few who have unleashed the monster will risk the backlash should they try stuff it back in its cage. Once the beast is fed, it’s safer to keep feeding. Who would have thought kindness requires such courage.

Today, the US votes. I hope that we as a nation aren’t ensnared in fear’s talons. I hope we can stuff it back behind the bars and elect leaders who will knuckle under and start the tremendously hard work of finding solutions to the massive problems riddling our country and the world. This is serious business with lives at risk, real lives that depend on our leaders to stand up against fear and proceed with, at the very least, mutual respect.

What wonders we could achieve if we believed in the power of love.

My one political post for the year. Thanks for listening ❤

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