Posted in General

Twisted Tales

In cultures all over the world, there are timeless stories. Often these are oral stories we might hear from parents or grandparents. Most of them have a moral bend—instructing the listeners to be kind, to have compassion and to stay hopeful. A lot of these stories get lumped in under fairy tales.  

There’s a lot of reasons why fairy tales and children’s stories remain so popular. Their elements show up even in modern storytelling. This isn’t just aimed at children’s movies either—the entire romance genre and its respective subgenres hinge on having a happily ever after. Even Star Wars has a call to fairy tales in its opening crawl: A long time ago, in a galaxy far away.

Depending on the fairy tale, you may know how easy it is to twist them. Red Riding Hood is a classic example of this—in some cases Red is gobbled up by the wolf and only saved by a passing woodsman. In others, Red fights back and frees her grandmother from his stomach by using a woodcutter’s axe.

The same can be said in many other fairy tales. Cinderella either gets help from the mice she feeds, or from her mother’s spirit. Her awful stepsisters aren’t immune either. Rather than breaking the shoe by forcing it on their improperly sized feet, older versions have them cutting off parts of their feet to fool the prince.

This should tell you how easy it is to twist a fairy tale. What if rather than harming themselves to fit the shoe, the sisters had tried to create another glass shoe? What if Gretel hadn’t freed her brother?

And, in the modern age where we know things like computers and cars and many other wonders, what happens when you change the genre of the fairy tale?

Can you imagine a sci-fi retelling of the Goose Girl? How would a vampiric Cinderella work? Would Snow White be able to solve the murder of the seven dwarves?

Also, consider swapping the characters. Could Rapunzel find an escape from the Giant’s Beanstalk?  Would the sister of the six swans be able to outsmart the wolf of the three little pigs?

Fairy tales have been getting twisted and turned about since they were first told. How would you twist these classic stories?

Posted in editing, writing

Project Roadmap: Rosekeeper

I tend to switch my projects around fairly frequently, usually from month-to-month. It’s worked out well for me for years. Until recently however, I haven’t been doing much more than choosing a monthly project to work on and sort of diving in wherever felt best. The results of that have been mixed. Sometimes it works out great, and other times I end up staring at the same chapter for days on end. A couple of weeks ago, a friend suggested that I try mapping out what I aim to accomplish for each project each month.

Which, for me makes a lot of sense. I tend to work best when I have a goal I can aim towards. While I’m a discovery writer by nature, I also have a love for to-do lists and goals. Having a roadmap checks both those boxes by giving me a list of things I want done, and dates to accomplish them by. In theory, that should mean I can streamline my editing process like I’ve wanted to do for years.

I’m testing that theory with this month’s project: Rosekeeper. If you’ve read my short novella Crimson and Gold or my serial Seventh you’re already familiar with the world of Rosekeeper. With the rough draft clocking in at just over thirty-three thousand words, it should be another novella, albeit longer than Crimson and Gold.

Like its related stories, Rosekeeper takes inspiration from Western fairytales. In this case, the Beauty and the Beast. If you’ve read Under Her Own Power, you’ve actually met one of the main characters of Rosekeeper, Sola.

Because it’s so short, I’m aiming to have a second draft completed by the end of the month. With that, I’ve broken it down into four main tasks. The first of these is completing any necessary editing notes such as outlines and character arcs. The following three are each roughly ten- to eleven-thousand sections of the story itself to be edited. All four have their own deadlines, about one per week, the first of which is to have all my notes done by the fifth.

I’m excited to see how things go now that I’ve got a detailed editing plan in place. What about you? Do you have a roadmap? What does your plan look like? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted in Stories

Short Story: Under Her Own Power

Inhaling brought cool air to her lungs as she stood outside the parliament chamber. Exhaling dispelled some of the internal heat, but did nothing to calm her anger.

“Are you ready, Your Majesty?”

Sola lifted her face. She didn’t have a choice. Either she stood out here all day or she walked into the parliament knowing full well they would want their demands met. If it was merely a waiting game, she had no end of patience.

Her people did not.

“Open the doors. Please.” She added the please perhaps a little hastily, remembering what she’d been told just that morning. She was queen, and though she’d spent seven years locked away, manners were just as important to people as they were to spirits.

The gilt doors swung open and Sola strode forward, letting the lace cape hanging from her shoulders flutter in the wind created by her passage.

“Queen Sola Diem. Hail the Queen!”

“Hail the Queen.”

The hundred voices of the parliament annoyed her, more than having her presence announced in every bloody room she entered. Sola took another slow breath as she stepped up into the empty, central pedestal, looking at the gathered faces of parliament.

Silence for a moment, and then the head of Parliament cleared his throat and shuffled his papers.

“Your Majesty—”

“You will speak only when spoken to.”

Her voice cut him off. Shock and surprise coated the room and Sola drew in another breathe, taking the air deep.

Roses, she realized. She could smell roses. A hateful, sickly smell that told her there were greater forces at place than one queen and one kingdom.

Smartly, one of the smaller members of parliament raised his fan. “Yes, Councilor?” She didn’t bother looking at the nameplate in front of him, didn’t bother acknowledging him beyond that. These men had plenty of acknowledgement from the people. No need to give them more. They needed a reminder of what their job was.

“In regards to today’s meeting, we’ve asked Your Majesty why you’ve refused to reclaim some of the private lands currently left abandoned or otherwise unused.”

“No, you’ve not. You’ve demanded my presence to try and cow me into submission. My answer remains as it has been. No. Those lands do not belong to the Crown.”

Several annoyed grumbles and once more the Head of Parliament cleared his throat. “Those lands—”

“Have I spoken to you?” Sola turned her gaze on him directly and he sank back.

“Ah…permission to address you, My Queen?”

“If you must.” Her temper won over her patience.

“The lands did originally belong to the Crown. It’s merely a matter of reclaiming the titles, which you do have the power to do as you are Queen of the First Kingdom.”

“They belonged to the Crown until they were purchased by their current owners. As they have not been sold back to the Crown or deemed forfeit by any competent official—”

“Several officials have deemed them forfeit.”

“Excuse you.” Sola’s attention moved to the unexcused speaker. The stench of roses grew, permeating the chamber. “I was not finished speaking, do not interrupt me. No competent official has declared those lands forfeit. Several incompetent and heavily bribed officials have and I will be rescinding those declarations effective immediately.”

Outcries. Rage. Several parliament members stood up.

What little remaining control over her temper snapped, not unlike a thread.

Silence!

Roses erupted out of the wood of the podium. Several bloomed on the tables in front of the parliament. Petals exploded into the air and drifted to the floor, leaving a crimson carpet all around.

The effect was immediate. The gathered members of parliament froze, recoiling from the roses in horror and fear.  Sola inhaled again.

“Let me remind you of something. Your jobs are to serve the people of the First Kingdom. You have been given your positions because you were educated enough to qualify for them. That does not mean I cannot find a replacement for all of you. Continue to harm the people of the First Kingdom and I will do exactly that.”

“We are—”

“Did I give you permission to speak?” Already formed, the rose thorns grew bigger. Sola glowered down at the petty men still cowering back from the flowers. Anger trembled in every limb.

“You are all the same men who allowed a weakling king to lock his daughter away for seven years. You are all the same men who left a princess to the care of spirits. Unfortunately for all of you, princesses have a habit of becoming queens. I am that queen now and my time away has reminded me of who I serve. I owe no loyalty to any of you. Your attitudes towards both me and my subjects are only adding black marks to the pages of loyalty you owe me.

“The lands do not belong to the Crown and that is final. Remember that there are rules to dealing with a spirit and remind yourselves that you’ve allowed your Queen to be raised by those same rules.”

She turned, steps kicking rose petals up into the air again. One or two clung to her as she exited. The doors closed behind her and Sola had to inhale, closing her eyes. The weight of the traditional diadem pressed on her.

“Your Majesty?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Sola shook her head to chase the thoughts away and looked at one of the doormen. “Kindly ask the housekeepers to leave the roses be. I’ll take care of them once the parliament chambers have been cleared.”

“I can have the gardeners brought in, my lady.”

Sola smiled. “That’s very sweet of you, but it will have to be me. As I said. I’ve been raised by the same rules as a spirit.”

The doorman smiled and bowed. “If I may?”

“May what?”

“Thank you,” he said and smiled. “My father owns some of the lands they’ve been trying to get you to reclaim. He’s too old to farm it anymore so it’s supposed to be my sister’s dowry. Without it, we’d have lost an entire orchard. So thank you for standing up to them, but if it’s all the same to you, you’ve done a good favor to us and it’s a small price to get you some help cleaning up those roses.”

For the first time that morning Sola laughed. The sound surprised her and she brought a hand up. “My thanks,” she said. “But it’s not a concern about having help. Rather, those roses are from a fairy’s blessing.”

“Then if it’s all the same to you, may I request we leave them? Can’t be messing with fairy’s magic now and might serve as a good reminder to the parliament about not crossing spirits of any sort.”

Sola considered it and looked back at the doors. She couldn’t hear anything and smiled. Perhaps parliament needed a reminder of several things.

“You know, I think you’re right. Perhaps just have the gardeners do a little trimming to keep them healthy, if you don’t mind?”

“My pleasure.”

“My thanks.”

After all, there were rules to dealing with spirits and people alike.

_________

If you enjoyed this short story consider checking out my short stories page! For even more shorts including exclusive shorts, notes and early access, you can support me Patreon

Posted in writing

Story Bibles

If you’re a writer and you’re in the midst of editing, or even writing a series, you probably want a place to keep track of all the details of your story. It’s incredibly useful, especially if you want to write a series. Bonus points: if you do a lot of roleplaying and need or want to write your own campaign, having a story bible set up for your in-world conflicts, NPCs and lore makes it easier to keep your campaign more or less on track (sorry, but I can’t promise the same of your players).

A story bible is essentially a document or several documents that keeps the details of your story or stories together. This prevents things like character details changing unexpectedly halfway through the story. It also helps keep worldbuilding and relevant setting details in one place so you don’t have to go hunting for particular details.

There’s several ways you can keep a story bible. If you’d prefer a hardcopy, a binder or multi-subject notebook is a good option. This way you can section your bible off as necessary. Digital options include things like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, or even something like World Anvil or Notebook.ai to keep your bible sorted and on track. Depending on your preference and how you work best, you may find one option better than the other. I personally prefer to keep a digital copy of my notes in OneNote because of the search function.

Although your story bible should work for you, there’s a few sections you may find helpful to keep in it.

Character Notes. This is a good place to keep things like detailed descriptions, character sketches, backstories and family trees. I usually create a small section for each character so I can keep track of their character arc during edits.

Setting Notes. Depending on the genre you’re working in, this can easily become a massive portion of your story bible. Everything from notes on legal systems to lore can be placed in your setting notes. For speculative writers, this spreads to include bestiaries, cultural analysis, maps and even engineering schematics as necessary.

Story Notes. Editing and writing in general tends to create a multitude of different notes—outlines, and even thematic notations. Having a story-specific section makes it easier to keep all your editing tools in one place. A lot of my plotting notes end up here, but I also try to keep a list of any flash pieces relevant to the story, world or characters here.  This way if I need to reference something for a flashback or thematic reason, I can easily reference back to the original piece.

What are some of the things you keep in your story bibles? How do you prefer to keep them?

Posted in writing

Finding the Story Start

It’s no secret that the start of the story is one of the hardest to master. The opening scene is your best chance to catch your reader and to hook them into reading your story the rest of the way through. As the author, you already have a love and admiration for your characters. Your reader however, does not, and you may only have a few paragraphs to capture their attention long enough to get them to care.

The key part is to figure out where your story really starts.

Stories are all driven by conflict. Frequently your conflict will force the character to make a change into a new normal.  Although it might be tempting to start with a look at what their ‘old’ normal looks like, keep in mind that this is oftentimes largely unnecessary. You can usually rely on your audience to fill in some of the details—we all wake up in the morning and generally have a morning routine that involves getting dressed, eating breakfast and preparing for the day ahead.

Instead of starting with the old normal, ask yourself what moment is when the conflict first touches your character? At what point in their otherwise ordinary day does the conflict become personal?

Most people have goals. Characters should be no different. By looking at the point where their personal goals are threatened by the story’s conflict, you get closest to the start of the story. Not only do you give your character a reason to react to the conflict, you’re also giving your readers something to care about: The character’s goal is jeopardized. How will they still achieve their goals despite this threat?

It’s not uncommon to find stories that have started too far back. We’ve all heard the advice against starting with the character waking up and looking in the mirror and so on and so forth. There is a reason for this: It happens a lot. Often enough that it’s practically a trope. Although it’s more common in YA, there’s examples of it across all genres. Your story’s start should be strong enough to skip a boring introduction to your characters. Make us care first.

As an exercise: Take a look at your current manuscript and its opening scene. Typically you only have between 5-20 pages to catch a reader’s attention, so look at the first 10 pages (roughly the first 2000 words).  Read these and ask yourself where in those first ten pages the main conflict becomes personal? Where is your character threatened? If it’s not within the first 10 pages, remove them from your manuscript (I recommend putting those extra pages into another document or folder, in case you find a use for them later). Then look at the next 10 pages. Keep doing this until you find the point where the conflict affects your character.