Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why Short Stories

One of the reasons I wanted us to talk about short stories this week is because I've been forced (by my own desire to improve) to make tough choices about my writing.

Over the past few years, I've focussed solely on writing novels. That's all I ever had time for, and I figured that if I was going to get a writing career going around a day job that gives me NO free time, I needed to MAKE my dedicated writing time all about a novel.

I learned a lot through that process, and I discovered something about myself: part time, if I stick with it, I can write a full novel in 13 months. And I mean write, edit, and polish. But now that I have a finished novel and another one in the works, what do I do when I'm struggling with inspiration?

Short stories. In a novel, the characters can mull over choices, take their time to come to conclusions, and meander through the world at a pace that fits the story. In a short, space is EXTREMELY limited. Choices have to be made in a hurry (maybe not on the writer's part, but certainly by the characters).

It's changing how I look at my writing, and I'm also having to relearn how to take critique. My novels have gotten fairly comfortable notes over the past year. Stuff that I agree with, and notes that point out problems I already know about. But my last short story got a lot of feedback that sent me back to the early days of getting critiqued. Notes that made me completely rethink what I wrote (for the better), but only after I squelched the knee-jerk "did you even READ the story?" and "how could you miss something SO obvious?" thoughts that jumped forward in my brain.

(Side note: this is why so many critique groups have a "don't speak while you're getting critiqued" rule. And I went into it knowing that I needed to keep my mouth shut. So I did.)

I don't like change, and focussing on short stories feels like a slow path to my intended goal. Or like a detour that I really didn't want to take. But I'm learning. I'm making progress. And overall, this will only be good for me.

And let's face it: short stories are so much fun!

Giles meanders through life sometimes. He's making odd choices with his blog, but you should still check it out for updates on his personal writing path and Charity of the Month recommendations.

Otherwise, tune in Tuesdays for his back-and-forth with the Princess and the Halfling, and check in on this blog on Wednesdays to see what he's thinking about this whole Beyond The Trope thing.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Death and Rebirth of a Novel

Long, long ago, in the far-away dystopic land called “High School”, I took a creative writing class and wrote a short story I titled “The Tower.” A princess, a knight, a rescue – it was the end of a fairy tale with a twisted ending. I loved it as only a geeking-out fangirl can love a thing. Which is a lot.

Three years later, I started to turn the short into a novella; the novella became a manuscript, and the manuscript became a monster. As many beginning writers do, I flailed and wrote blindly. I can honestly say I wrote arrogantly, as many young 20-somethings who think they are the shiz. Plot points and character arcs? Pshaw. I wrote what I thought was cool and fun. And then I hated it and threw it out.

When I met my critique group a few years ago, I was working on a middle grade novel. By the time I started sending the fairy tale pages to my group, I hadn’t touched it in two or three years.

My critique partners tore it to shreds and one very correctly pointed out that Chapter 7 needed to be Chapter 1. I rewrote the entire manuscript. Here at Beyond the Trope we fondly refer to this process as “ripping up your soul” or “killing your darlings.” It feels the way it sounds.

Last night I finished the rewrite and felt such a mix of emotions that for a while I couldn’t think. Then I realized that what I was feeling was a “Hello” and a “Goodbye” happening at the same time. The ending is a far cry from what I envisioned in the short story. In fact, from beginning to end, this manuscript has completely changed. It’s a totally different book. My “Goodbye” was to that first vision, the first dream. And the “Hello” was an excited greeting to this new thing and the adventure that comes with it.

Rewriting was terrible, but I’m so glad I did it. Now I can really get into the nitty-gritty (aka rip apart my soul even more). And after that, who knows? I’m looking forward to many more goodbyes and hellos.



How do you feel when you finish the final sentence of a manuscript or draft up a brand-new creative project?  



Michelle has recently discovered the power of coffee shops for instigating creative productivity. She puts pen to page – er, keyboard key to computer screen at Beyond the Trope's blog on Mondays. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Unforeseen Circumstances

Poor Emily got sick and couldn't get a post up, and the rest of our crew is crazy busy with their day jobs. Unfortunately, that means we don't have a lovely blog post for you this Friday. But feel free to leave a nice message for our cyborg halfling, and join us on Monday for Michelle's regularly scheduled writings.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

All Joking Aside

No, don't set aside the jokes. Figure out how to make them appropriate for you writing. I can't stress this enough: humor makes a good book great. There are a few exceptions, of course, but we'll ignore those for the sake of focussing on what's awesome. And by awesome, I mean books with humor in them.

So why should humor be in your book? Well, if you listened to Episode 9 of the Beyond the Trope podcast, you'll remember that I said humor draws audiences together. Take the audience at a hilarious movie. Or the audience at a great stand-up show. As a group, they're sharing in the experience. That laughter gives them an instant emotional connection to the performance and the people around them.

For the sake of great writing, jokes turn a solitary activity like reading into a community event. When readers form an emotional connection to a book, they're more likely to get excited in ways that make them want to share the experience with other people.

In many cases, humor creates such a powerful hook that entire fandoms grow up around the book universe. And I know I go on and on about Jim Butcher and Gail Carriger, but that's because they're both awesome. But if you have any other examples, I'd love to hear them!

Giles spends more time than he should watching comedies and reading funny books. Whenever he stops to think about writing, the words from that famous song in Singin' In The Rain pop into his head: Make 'Em Laugh!

Check out his other thoughts sporadically on High Aspirations. He'll get better at blogging over there when he's figured out how to balance life again.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Why Journalism?

Here at Beyond the Trope we’re all about moving beyond what’s holding you back. One of the best examples of this is how I decided to study Journalism instead of Creative Writing. I can’t tell you how many times people have squinted at me and said, “But you’re an introvert. Why would you study Journalism?”

In order to answer this question, I have to go back about a decade (ouch) to high school. The times I felt the coolest and the best almost always happened in English class, because that was where I felt I could actually compete. My writing was in no way the verse of Edmond Rostand, but it wasn’t bad, either. I often convinced my teachers to let me do something creative for final projects. I wrote plays instead of final essays and pretend journals of famous people instead of research papers.

I had a very un-cool high school experience. I call my high school self Awkward Michelle (or So Incredibly Awkward Michelle). I had no idea how to break out of my bubble and think like people who didn’t believe it was completely normal to make chainmail during lunch breaks.

I remember having a moment of panic as I realized that my books would never read true if they didn’t have some truth in them.  If I couldn't talk to people, how in the world was I supposed to write about them? If there’s one thing people love to read, it’s books they can relate to. Characters they want to be or be friends with. Stories might come from the imagination, but even the best lies are based on a small piece of truth.

I needed something that would push me so far out of my comfort zone that I would be forced to change. Journalism would teach me how to get to the heart of a story while also working on my writing abilities.

It helped me to write to a point, not just for fun. If news writing is anything, it’s quick and smooth. It taught me no person is too insignificant for a story. Everyone has something worthwhile and interesting in their life; you just have to find it.

I am so thankful that I pushed myself that hard, even though there were some days I seriously considered switching majors. But I had to grab my trope of Introverted High School Nerd and shake the shy out of it. There are still pieces of Awkward Michelle hanging around, but they’re a lot better at telling people stories about themselves.


How about you? Have you pushed yourself to do something slightly unpleasant so you could become better at something you love (or even hate)?




Yes, Michelle’s high school friends made chainmail during lunch. And during Calculus. She was also Treasurer of the French Club, an honorary member of Science Club, and judged the elementary school Art Fair most years. In short, she was a dork. Still is, really.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Beyond the Trope Announcement!

As you might have seen on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, we have a very exciting announcement to make. And I'm honored to be the one writing it up!

So, without further ado, let's cut to the chase:

Beyond the Trope is going to be at Denver Comic Con


We'll have a table at Podcast Peak, so stop by and see us, grab some of our goodies, and chat with us for a while. If you're lucky, you might even get featured on an episode after the con!

We are so excited to be attending Denver Comic Con. As you might have noticed, all three of us are great big nerds, and DCC is one of the best cons in Colorado right now (at least, in my opinion). In addition to great guests, wonderful vendors and artists, Comic Con has another special thing going for it: proceeds go to Comic Book Classroom, an amazing non-profit that encourages literacy through the use of comic books.

So, basically, if you haven't got a ticket to Denver Comic Con yet, you should grab one now! We'll be at Podcast Peak all weekend, unless we're in a panel, so you should be able to find us!

Now, excuse me while I go geek out in the corner.



While she's perhaps the biggest nerd in the trio, Emily will not be attending Denver Comic Con this year (look at her, sobbing over there). Just imagine a hyper cyborg hobbit in her place and follow her at emilykaysinger.com or on Twitter @emilyksinger.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Big Fans

At Beyond the Trope, we're all big fans of stuff. I know, that's not very specific, but it's the truth. We're not limited to one form of fandom. And why should we be? There are so many art forms to appreciate. Intellectual Properties pull at us for one reason or another. And it's that fandom that drew us together as a group. It's why we go on and on about art.

That's also one of the reasons we wanted to talk about fan art. So many people (and I used to be one of them) bash fan art. They say, "If you're going to create, make it original. Don't steal other peoples' ideas." And while that mindset makes sense to me, I prefer to appreciate art by talking about it and sharing my take on it.

Ultimately, that's what fan art is. It's a way to celebrate the IPs that make us excited. It's another opportunity to talk about and experience the worlds we love. And it draws the community of art-lovers together.

Do you write fan fiction? Do you draw your favorite characters? Do you dress up for conventions? Do you create music inspired by someone else's stories?

Giles rarely writes fan fiction, but he geeks out about The Dresden Files and The Parasol Protectorate ALL THE TIME (figuratively) at High Aspirations.

He also has some news he's dying to spill, but will refrain from sharing until more details are available. But stay tuned!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Those Darn Titles

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s being ridiculous. Most people look to connect Point A to Point B. I love to connect Point A to Point Magical Paperclip. Every writer has at least one strong point. Take my lovely co-podcasters: Emily has a knack for tying up loopholes before they even appear, and Giles is the boss of active verbs (they are totally the bomb at many other things, but I don’t want them to get big heads about themselves, you know?). Working with them has improved my writing abilities tenfold. Yet, for all their help and guidance, there is one thing I still, for the life of me, cannot do.

Titles. Freakin’ titles, man.

I just don’t get it. I feel like a Bob Ross imitator who can only paint angry trees. Here’s a great example: you know Those In Between, the short story I posted last Monday? Well, it took an hour of brainstorming with my sister to come up with something even resembling a title. Check out some of my glorious failures:

Walter and Kevin
Murder at a Stoplight
Midnight Murder
Mercenary’s Meeting
Walter
Bones That Crunch in the Night

OK, so that last one was a bit of a joke. But still, you get the point. I am terrible at titles. I’m not even sure I love the one I settled on. And now I’m trying to come up with a better title for my serial novel, which is proving to be nearly impossible. Right now it’s called Darkness, a name that is actually the title for the first section of the book, not the entire novel.

I did everything the way you’re supposed to. I wrote out a list of the themes and feelings I want the story to convey. I looked up synonyms and tried cool, interesting twists. I tried the three-word method, I tried the that’s-so-crazy-it-might-work method. Every title I come up with falls as flat as a popped balloon. Nothing feels right.

There has to be an easier way to do this. Seriously. Is there something I’m missing? How do you come up with titles for things you write?




This message was brought to you by Michelle, a bazooka-wielding damsel who recently rediscovered her love for Nilla Wafers. If she isn’t writing, she’s probably practicing her skeptic’s gaze or reading Cyrano de Bergerac.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Comedy of Dwarves: Short Story

This is the last of our trio in our Trope short story challenge. Make sure you check out Michelle's and Giles', if you haven't already! Otherwise, take a peek at my terrible excuse for comedy and let me know if you can catch which tropes I used.

A Comedy of Dwarves


The trio of dwarves stood at the bottom of the wall. Rain pounded down on them, clinking on Diz’s plate armor and splattering mud over Turh’s new boots.

Yia stroked her braided beard in thought. “I could climb it.”

“And leave the two of us down here without the Jewel of Grafthik, so we get killed instead of finishing our quest?” Turh asked, his voice low and dangerous. “I don’t think so. We shouldn’t have let the Rouge carry it, Diz.”

Diz, the unofficial leader of the trio, rolled her eyes. She adjusted her breastplate and sent a silent prayer up to her god. “What do you propose, Turh? You’re the one with 16 Intelligence and Wisdom.”

Turh harrumphed. “We have to all go over the wall together, obviously. If we stand on each other’s shoulders, we should be able to reach. Just don’t let Yia be on top. She’ll abandon us.”

The two females in the group shared a dry look.

Moments later, Turh grunted as Yia climbed on his shoulders. Her weight made him groan and curse in the most inventive ways a bard could. He shifted to try and ease the pain of her boots on his neck. Her feet slipped on his wet tunic, kicking him in the face.

“Don’t squirm so much,” Yia snapped. She braced herself against the rough stones of the wall with one hand and reached the other down to Diz. “You’re not afraid of heights, are you?”

Diz laughed as she took Yia’s hand. “I have Aura of Courage. I’m immune to all fear.”

Turh continued his bardic cursing as Diz and her heavy armor clamored up, digging sharp steel boot toes into his side.

Finally, Diz stood on Yia’s shoulders, and Yia stood on Turh’s shoulders. They swayed back and forth, unsteady.

The armored dwarf on top stretched up as far as she could and her gloved fingers scrambled on the top of the wall. She managed to hook her gauntlets into a hold in the stones and hauled herself up. Without giving herself time to look at the dismal view on the other side of the wall, she lay down and stretched back to grab Yia’s hand.

It took quite a bit of maneuvering to pull the thief onto the top of the wall, but they managed.

Both Diz and Yia lay on their bellies and frowned down at Turh at the base of the wall.

“I say we leave him,” Yia muttered, stroking her beard again.

Diz sighed. “As a Lawful Good, I can’t. We have to find a way to bring him up. Do you have any rope in that pack?”

“Of course I do.” Yia slung her small pack off her back and undid the ties. After a moment of digging around, she produced a coil of thick, heavy rope. Then she frowned at Diz. “Why didn’t Mr. Sixteen Intelligence think about using rope in the first place?”

“He must have failed some skill check,” Diz replied mildly. She tied the rope around her waist as an anchor and lowered it down to Turh.

Once the last of the trio had made the slick ascent, they turned their attention to getting back down on the other side.

“We could hold onto each other’s hands and lower one of us—” Turh began.
 
“No,” both Diz and Yia snapped at the same time. 



Friendly reminder that dwarves and halflings are not the same and Emily is most definitely one of the latter. Furry feet are much more fun than furry faces. You can find her elsewhere at emilykaysinger.com or on Twitter @EmilyKSinger.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bad Timing: A Short Story

In keeping with this week's theme, I wrote a very short story based off of two tropes from tvtropes.org. Guess 'em and get a gold star.

Bad Timing

My flesh rippled and crawled. “No, no! Stay back.” This couldn’t be happening. Not here. Not with him so close.

His eyebrows creased, and instead of listening to me, he took a step forward. “Are you okay?”

The bones in my throat shifted and closed around my vocal chords. Instead of an explanation, I squeaked. “Grawwar.”

Two more steps, and he stretched out his hands to touch me.

“Rawr.” I stepped away, my back hunched and both hands over my face. My vision went fuzzy, and blood rushed from my head.

The floor turned to water. I fell. He rushed forward and wrapped his arms around me. So gentle and kind.

He held me so tight, I couldn’t save him.


I don’t think he’d ever seen a giant hedgehog before, and when the light faded from his eyes, I knew he never would again.


Not quite what he expected, Giles nevertheless writes on an almost-daily basis. Whether it's flash fiction, full-length novels, or blog posts, you can find him on the internet, lurking in the corners where he tries to figure out a way to engage with people. Not shy, just trying to learn the secrets of his rocket boots.

Check out his other thoughts on High Aspirations or Twitter.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Those In Between: A Short Story

This week at Beyond the Trope is all about tropes, and when you listen to tomorrow's episode (do it! do it!) you'll hear us challenge one another to do a short story using two random tropes from the grand TV Tropes website. Here's my answer to the challenge. Can you guess what my tropes are?


Those In Between


Another body hits the edge of the pavement, and Kevin winces. It’s not so alive that it notices, but not so dead that it doesn’t whomp quite wetly as bones crack on the cement.

For a moment Kevin thinks he’s going to have to go down there and tip the body into the river, but the weight of the legs pulls it slowly off the edge and down into the black waters. He flips the next body over the railing.

When he’s done, Kevin bags his things, wipes his hands on the sides of his pants, and crosses himself. “In the name of the dead, the dying, and those in between.” He mumbles the words and then picks up his bag and leaves the bridge, whistling minor keys into the night air.

The silent streets swallow up his footsteps as he goes from light post to light post. It takes four long strides to wade through the pool of yellow light at the bottom of each light post. He likes the way his shadows split into four different people when he stands in the middle of the light. It’s like standing at a crossroads of himself, though he never turns back or to the side. Just headed home, always whistling.

He veers to the other side of the road and kicks a pebble into the gutter. It ricochets off of the curb of the sidewalk and skitters back into the middle of the street. Ahead of him, a street signal blinks red. In his head it says, “Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.” He walks under it and waves at the lights as he passes.
Then Kevin slows, stops, and takes three steps backward. Someone is there. A shadow that is not his shadow reaches out from the street and waves. He sees five fingers wiggle on the end of an shadow arm that’s elongated by the angle of the light behind it. 

His phone rings, and Kevin pulls it out of his pocket without taking his eyes off of the new person. This person isn’t supposed to be here. There is never anyone here at this time. His palms begin to sweat, and he struggles to swallow.

Kevin swipes his thumb across the screen and leaves a bloody trail that transfers to his sideburn and cheek when he lifts the phone to his ear. “Busy,” he says.

The person in the street walks toward him. He can hear the click of heels, the soft breeze of breath moving in and out of a body.

“I know you’re busy.” The woman’s voice comes from the phone and the person in front of him in a strange echo. A moment later, the extra sound from the woman’s phone abruptly disappears – she hung up. Four more clicks of heels and the woman stands in front of him like a specter. Black leggings, black boots, black jacket.

Kevin feels the blood drying on his cheek but doesn’t try to wipe it away. He is covered in it, so it doesn’t matter. Now he will have to make yet another trip back to the river. He sighs. It is more exercise than he was expecting for the night’s work, but it has to be done. He unzips his bag and grabs Walter, 360 degrees of poisoned spikes with a handle the length of Kevin’s arm.

The woman steps into the light. She smiles and drops a hood Kevin hadn’t even seen she was wearing. Her bangs are long and bleached white, and her hair is as red as the dried blood on his hands. She nods at the bag. “Your friends?”

Kevin holds the bag defensively against his chest with his free hand. “They don’t like snoops.”

“I know what you were doing out at the river, Kevin.” She makes a tutting noise with her tongue on her teeth, which are white and startling against all the black.

“I have to take walks to clear my head,” he says automatically. And to clear the basement, he adds silently.

“That little boy never did anything to you,” she says. “And the woman. They were innocent.”

Kevin considers her. “My friends didn’t like them, so I sent them away.”

The woman shakes her head slowly while shrugging off her jacket. It pools at her feet like oil, and she steps out of it and even closer to Kevin. Click, click. Her arms are covered with plates of metal, her fingers guarded with silver knuckles.

“I’m required to give you a chance to change,” she says as she tugs on the black gloves attached to the metal knuckles. “But I don’t think you will, will you?”

Instead of answering, Kevin lifts Walter with both hands and throws it at her face.

She ducks and catches Walter by the handle as it flies over her head. In one fluid motion she whips the mace back at him. The poisoned spikes hit him in the sternum right below his collar bone, and he hears the bone snap more than he feels it.

The woman brushes her hands off as though wiping away a layer of dust. She picks up her jacket and folds it over her arm, then crosses herself with her other hand. “In the name of the innocent, the helpless, and those without hope.” Her heels click away, growing fainter in the otherwise silent night.
Kevin lays with Walter on the cold cement sidewalk. Some of his nerves tell his brain that something is wrong, and he opens his mouth to cry out for help.

But Walter shushes him.  Shhh, it’s all right. It’s all right, Kevin.

He smiles and closes his eyes, and wraps his arms tighter around the mace as it whispers to him from the middle of his chest, drinking the blood pumping from his heart onto the empty night's pavement.



Did you guess the tropes? Shoot me a comment and let me know what you think they were!



Michelle promises that she's a perfectly normal and functioning sociopath. She personally would never hide the bodies in a river, but that's a story for another time.





Friday, April 4, 2014

The Challenge

Aaron, our guest on the podcast this week, has been talking with me about this challenge that he found somewhere on the internet. It has to do with collecting "nos." Basically, that's the game. The person with the most rejections is the winner since getting a single "yes" is quite hard, but sticking it out through rejection after rejection is, in many ways, much harder. At least, that's how I'm reading the challenge.

At first, I didn't know how I felt about the challenge. And as someone who's gotten a surprisingly high amount of rejections lately, I didn't exactly know how to approach querying in a way that would lead to a "yes."

But I've accepted his challenge. And here's how I'm rewarding myself: I'm going to brew a barley wine and age it.

I've never attempted a touchy beer that has to stand up to time. And I'm still in the middle of "finding representation" in my writing career. So rather than dwelling on rejection letters, I'm going to give myself a reason to collect them. A reward for continually striving for that one "yes." I'm sitting somewhere over 200 rejections on three books and several short stories combined, so I'm going to brew this beer, age it until I reach 500 rejections, or until the release day of my first novel. Whichever comes first.

That's how I plan to move forward with Aaron's challenge, and while I'm doing all of this querying, I'm also going to continue pursuing education opportunities to improve my writing abilities.

So what do you think? Do you agree with the challenge? Do you have something to reward yourself with when you reach a certain amount of rejections? What about successes?

The wizard is low on fuel and must create some in his kitchen. Wait, that came out wrong. He is fueled by reading, not by beer. Either way, a science project is in order, and books must be consumed.

For more on his thoughts, check out High Aspirations on most Mondays and Fridays.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Beyond the Trope

It's Wednesday, so you're probably expecting a post from our local snarky wizard. Ha! Fooled you! Today, you get a special Cyborg-Emily Wednesday post. Because reasons. (Giles will return for the Friday post.)

Anyway, this week's episode was an awesome interview with our good friend Aaron Michael Ritchey, who happens to have a book coming out tomorrow. I could spend this entire post talking about this book, Long Live the Suicide King, and how excited I am to actually read it. But I won't.

Instead, I'm going to talk a little bit about what happens when we sit down to record an episode of Beyond the Trope, especially with a guest. Ready? Let's do this.

1) Massive pre-planning via email and texting because (believe it or not) all three of your hosts have a perfectionist streak. This planning also includes pre-interview questions with guests, if we have one.

2) Emily and Michelle arrive at Giles' house with lunch, because we get grumpy if we don't eat. Playing with the cat and set-up ensue.

3) The guest(s) arrive! Well, except for our very first guest, who also happens to be our producer and Giles' wife. She's a special case. Review of the pre-interview generally happens right after said guest gets settled.

4) Recording (first three episodes)! This often involves lots of laughter, terrible jokes, teasing, forgetting what we meant to say, tangents, and all the other good things you hear in the podcast episodes. We try to either not edit at all or keep it to a bare minimum, which is why you'll often hear me laughing so hard I can't actually speak. Oops.

5) Dinner. Once again, food is good and we don't want to get snappy with each other. *Bows to the awesome cooking skills of Giles and the Other Emily*

6) Record one last episode for the night.

7) Wind-down time! Aka watch awesome movies and have dessert time! Because what good is doing something like podcasting with friends if you can't just hangout afterward, right?

8) Go home before we fall asleep. Seriously. These recording days are super long. Awesome and fun, but really long and exhausting, too.

So, there you have it! A quick step-by-step as to what happens on recording days.

Now, everyone go out and pre-order your copy of Long Live the Suicide King, and come to the release party tomorrow night. We'll see you there!



This behind-the-scenes sneak peek written by the half-pint super cyborg, Emily. She enjoys stirring the pot and being totally ridiculous. Find her at emilykaysinger.com and on Twitter @emilyksinger.