A week or so ago I talked about how a short story of mine was published through a company called Ether Books. Well, today it’s available for download!
How do you download it? If you have an iPhone, it’s a simple as searching for Ether Books and downloading their app for free. If you don’t have an iPhone you can go here to download the app via iTunes for your computer. Once you have the app installed, just search for “H.T. Sundance” or “Company Girl” and download the story for only $0.99!
Not convinced? Well here’s a little teaser.
He’ll kill you, Johnny.
The asphalt felt like jagged teeth against the balls of my feet. Clawing, digging, biting at my bare calloused flesh with each hurried footfall. The chill breeze nipped at my skin, goosebumps pouring down my spine. How long do I have? I couldn’t see the moon in the sky. Clouds veiled the luminary like shadowy fingers—as if someone jumped me from behind; a bag thrown over my head as they pulled me into the darkness. I could hardly see my own hands in front of my face. How did I get myself into this mess?
The rustling obsidian walls at either side exhaled a devilish howl, the icy wind clinging to my bones …
It’s only $0.99 to read the rest, so what are you waiting for?
A movie review? Yes, I don’t know. This isn’t a movie review blog, but I warned you that I can be random. This is one of those times.
The other day, I caught the movie Tekken on TV. It was never in theaters (at least not in the US), and it’s adapted from the classic fighting video game, so I really didn’t expect much. Movies based on video games almost never work. Still, I had nothing better to do, so I sat down with my dad and watched it.
Simply put, I didn’t hate it. I was a child who played Street Fighter, Fighter’s Destiny, and Marvel Vs. Capcom. I never once played Tekken, and I while I immediately recognize the old dude with his white hair spiked up on both sides, I’m not familiar with the game or the story. As is typical with most movies adapted from existing stories, Tekken was not original to the game’s storyline. I’m sure it generally was, but when it comes to details, it only took a two minute search to find people complaining “That’s wrong!” Personally, I don’t care about that. That’s how movie adaptions are. If you judge them based on how different they are, you can never give a fair rating.
Still, the movie wasn’t amazing. The story is very cliche: Evil totalitarian militaristic “factions” take over a post-apocalyptic Earth, slummy terrible environments ensue. A massive fighting competition is endorsed by Tekken (a prominent faction) because… that’s what you do when everything goes to pot I guess. The main character lives in the slums, and was taught by his mother the ways of karate and whatnot. Violence ensues, the bad guy kills his mother, and he enters the Iron Fist (the fighting competition) to kill the bad guy ruler and avenge his mother’s death.
I won’t spoil anything. Even though the movie was full of weak dialogue, corny flashbacks, and a plot-hole here and there, I’d still recommend it to anyone who just wants to sit down to a heavy helping of good old fashioned badassery. The fight scenes might be corny sometimes, but the stunts aren’t bad. It’s all very entertaining if you come at it from the right perspective. You’re not going to find a gripping, well written, emotional movie that will leave you thinking. You are going to get a lot of sweaty bleeding dudes, revenge, and a couple scantily clad young ladies thrown in for good measure.
It’s a guy movie. It accomplishes that role, but not much else. I give it 3 bloody fists, because bloody fists are cool.
I’ve been writing for a pretty long time; I’ve brought that up before. A problem I always faced as a young writer was lack of focus and commitment. One day I want to write about something—and I’ve got the ideas all up top—but the next day, I’m bored. Maybe not bored with the idea, but bored with writing it. Something else would steal my interest, and I’d move onto that.
It was hard for me to focus on a single project, basically. I start something; I don’t finish it. I did that a lot, if not always. A lot of people have that problem. I know I have that problem, but I thought that I grew out of it a bit.
Seems I haven’t quite ditched the habit. It’s difficult, because while I am able to embark on a project and focus on it, I have so many ideas! I’m working on two novels and one serial. Those are all time-consuming projects. Amidst those things, I need to update this blog more often. I need to sit down and write articles for my job. When I do take the time to work on a personal writing project, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know which project to work on. Then the thought comes to mind that I should start writing something entirely new. A short story, or flash fiction. Something I can submit to places and possibly get published and paid for.
As much as I talk on this blog, and try my best to help people (mostly with their virus problems, as it seems from my 100+ hits a day on my “System-Check” Virus post), I have problems myself. I know I have the skill and ability to do useful things, but more often than not I just don’t know where to direct my figurative blows.
Old habits die hard, and I’ll still have to grapple with them for control. In the meantime, it’s good to take a step back and remember that everyone is always learning. As a writer, you never stop growing, and I’ve only just begun my journey.
In this installment I’m going talk about something a little more… epic. Like personification and metaphors, this tool will go a long way towards giving something bland and boring new life. What’s different about it, though? It’s far more difficult to pull off, unlike the relatively simple practice of using personification and metaphors. What is it?
I think this concept makes a lot of newer writers nervous—like they want to use it effectively, but are afraid that they won’t be able to execute it correctly. Those concerns aren’t unwarranted. There are certainly simple uses of symbolism that you may have already used without thinking, but creating lasting, powerful symbols that carry through your writing is another story.
Because symbols are so… symbolic, it’s easy to turn them into clichés. Clichés are something you want to avoid as a writer. Some people like them, and I’m one of the few that believes they can add to a story with careful thought, but that’s another topic entirely. The point is, symbols can easily become clichés. Why should we avoid that? We’ll get to that a little later. For now, let’s look at some examples of simple symbols.
A man wearing pastel colors with a wide smile on his face.
The permeating smell of death inside a dreary old mansion.
A crusty pile of bones deep in the woods.
These are all pretty simple, and that’s the point. You probably wouldn’t think twice about any of these things as you read them within a story, but they are indeed symbols. The first would immediately tell you the pleasant, sunny demeanor of the man (unless you use it as an oxymoron, and he’s really an axe murderer). The second paints an immediate picture and mood behind a very scary venue. If a mansion smells like death, it’s not a very nice place. The third example is the most obvious use of symbolism. If your protagonist finds a pile of bones in the woods, it immediately tells him that he’s in a dangerous place. It creates suspense.
Did you notice? Each of these symbols have very different effects! The first might tell the reader about someone’s character (or create suspense if the symbol is an oxymoron), the second paints a better picture of the mood and setting, and the third primarily creates suspense, as well as telling you the mood of those woods. That’s the thing about symbols; they can achieve a variety of effects in comparison to the other writing practices I’ve highlighted in this series. While a metaphor might just make your reading a little more interesting, and might help set the mood a little but, even the smallest, subtlest symbols can paint a picture of your story in very graphic ways. That’s why it’s easier to mess up on them!
But how about bigger symbols? Ones that stretch far across your tale? Those are the most difficult to use to perfection, because they usually go a very long way to conveying two very important qualities to your entire story.
The first is mood and setting. Usually mood and setting only apply to one scene. The type of words you choose within a scene go a long way to telling the mood. If you employ verbs like “sweeping, drifted, ebbed, murmured” the mood of the scene is quite clearly slow, dreary, measured. It’s probably building suspense and leading up towards actions. If you use verbs like “snapped, bolted, snatched, barked” the mood of the scene is frantic, urgent, intense. As you can see, your word usage tells the mood of one particular scene.
Setting is a bit different, and not so straightforward. It’s up to you and your skill as a writer to paint the picture of your setting correctly. Setting directly relates to mood, and vice versa. If you write about a dark, scary tunnel full of ghostly whispers, the setting is going to make the mood scary. You can tell why setting is important now, can’t you? If you create a lackluster image of the setting, the reader probably won’t be able to interpret the correct mood, or a mood at all! If the reader doesn’t feel the mood of the scene, it’s very hard for the words on the page to draw them into your writing.
How can powerful symbols carry both setting and mood across your story, though? Well, that usually goes hand in hand with the theme of the story. Theme generally is a wide-stretching mood cast upon your entire story, but it also directly relates to the conflict and goal, beginning and end. It also makes up the entire message of the story. It tells the reader why the story is what the story is, as well as the purpose of the story. Before I create a few examples, look at a powerful use of symbolism in a famous piece of fiction.
In A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, a butterfly is stepped on far in the past by a time traveler from the future. That small death changes history in a drastic way. Where’s the symbol there? Well, it’s the butterfly. That seemingly small symbol highlights a powerful theme of change. That tiny, insignificant insect changed everything, and placed a fierce level of guilt upon the person who stepped on it, and that guilt goes a long way to setting a very dramatic mood. Pretty epic stuff, right? Doesn’t it make you want to think up a powerful symbol for your own story?
Let’s look at some examples now. Open your mind and let your creativity flow! I hope these can stir up your imagination. Focus on the structure of these—how they work—and then sit down to think up some powerful symbols of your own!
Deep in the blistering Sahara, a spelunking hero battles murderous smugglers within looming desert caves. A sandstorm howls a violent tune as the combat ensues. The protagonist fights valiantly, and bests the thieves as he blows the entrance to the cave shut with a bundle of dynamite, entombing them with their ill-gotten treasure. As he steps back onto the blistering desert sands, the storm dies down and rain begins to fall.
A withered old man sits on the porch during a nice big family reunion… except it’s not nice at all. His children and grandchildren bicker like kindergarteners. He tries his best to keep the peace, but his words fall on deaf ears as grudges and rivalries lock in the negative mood. Sat upon his old wicker chair on the porch, he watches the tranquil, trickling creek in front of the house. Since his childhood, he’s played along the bank of the gentle stream, but now the feed of clear crystal water is stopped up and dirty. Taking a long deep breath, he thinks on a kind and happy past before passing on.
As you can see, these examples aren’t short little sentences. They aren’t simple visuals that portray a mood or help paint a better picture of a setting. These larger, stronger symbols can be literal or figurative—usually both. They can be embodied in a concrete object or something more ethereal; maybe an emotion, or a state of affairs, or even a spoken phrase. Something that almost always makes up that symbolic connection is a visual (or perceivable) symbol directly connecting to a figurative message. Let’s pick each of the examples above apart and see how they utilize symbolism.
In the first one, we have something like you’d see in an Indiana Jones flick. You might think that in a story involving so much action, there isn’t a whole lot of room for symbolism. Well, that’s not exactly true. When you’ve got lots of action, there might not be a great deal of room for deep, thoughtful symbols. They don’t always fit into a fast paced, action-packed tale. That doesn’t mean these kind of stories need to be devoid of strong symbols though. In the example above, I used weather as a symbol.
I think we can all think of a movie we saw where rain poured down as the protagonist cried or dealt with some saddening emotional situation. That’s a very cliché symbol to use. Like I said above, we should generally avoid clichés. They’re predictable and they can very easily make your story boring. That’s why I personally dislike the vast majority of romantic comedies. The symbolism and structure is usually very “cookie-cutter”, and that’s basically just another word for cliché. When a romantic comedy like 500 Days of Summer comes along, I’m pleasantly surprised. That one broke down certain walls and did a great job at finding originality within a genre that’s been beaten to death, but I’m straying from the point.
In my action story example, while the protagonist battles the bad guys, a violent sandstorm rages outside. The wild weather mirrors the action the hero is involved in within the caves, and once he comes out victorious and back into the desert, the storm dissipates and turns to rain. I took the old rain cliché and gave it a twist. Instead of the rain symbolizing pain and sorrow, it’s an emotional release. A washing, peaceful symbol contrasting the frantic, stressful scene that made up the rest of the story. It’s a happy ending, and it allows the reader to set the story down feeling good. Cliché? A little bit, but it works. Never underestimate the power of a soothing happy ending. I might enjoy and write stories with a darker, emotional undertone, but that doesn’t mean happy endings are all bad. You just have to figure out what fits your story best.
In the second example, we have a very different use of symbolism. It’s a very reflective story, and the theme underlying is that of change. The protagonist, the old man, is surrounded by stress, bad feelings. He’s thinking back on his childhood; on happy times when that stress wasn’t there. The symbol here is the creek he played around as a child. While times were once tranquil—just like the stream—now they are stressful and dirtied up. As a reflection of that, the creek is now stopped up and tainted. The theme entails change of situation and a change of times, and the symbol of the creek plays a powerful symbol between those things.
So, now that you’ve seen some examples of symbolism, do you think you can put them into your story? It takes a bit of effort creating those powerful links and ideas, and even more effort putting emotional strength and visuals behind your symbols, but if you understand your story on a deep level, the symbols will almost create themselves.
Unlike the last two chapters of this series, there’s no exercise to test out your skills this time. Instead, post a comment telling about a symbol you’ve used in your writing before, or one that you’d like to use now!
Be sure to check out the first two installments of the Breathe Life Into Your Writing! series in the links below if you haven’t read them yet! Stay tuned for the next part, where I’ll talk about… dialogue!
I must say that I’m a bit of a gamer. It kinda comes with the territory when you’re a sci-fi geek, so I doubt it comes as a shock. While books and movies can serve as a strong source of inspiration, I believe games do as well, more so as the years go by. What used to be silly games now have become fully interactive epics (play some of the Assassin’s Creed games if you don’t believe me). In any case, I’d just like to throw out this little update I found concerning a personal favorite of mine.
Even if it wasn’t the first major production involving the whole post-apocalyptic thing, Fallout has cornered the market when it comes to the genre. Sure, games like Borderlands and Rage tried riding on Fallout’s coattails, but they’re no Fallout. Fallout has withstood the test of time, and the PC version continues to encourage and support user mods. It’s an amazing series with a lot of variation to it. It’s also one of the most amazing single-player games out there when it comes to re-playability and expansive, massive environments with tons of things to do. Simply put, you can waste a lot of time if you get addicted.
I’ve always been a huge fan of anything post-apocalyptic. Why? Well I’m already a nerd when it comes to future stuff, sci-fi, space travel, all that. The post-apocalyptic is a future sci-fi scenario closer to reality. While a battleship jumping light-years through the galaxy is cool and all, it’s fantasy. It isn’t real (not for a long time, at least). With apocalyptic scenarios, they could come about any day, whether via chemical or nuclear warfare, or a slew of other nasty things. Not that I want it to happen, but it’s a thought-provoking topic to write about.
Another guilty pleasure of mine is the western genre. Maybe every guy in the world thinks gunslingers and dynamite are bad-ass, but either way, it’s another big point of inspiration to me. What’s cooler than westerns though? Future westerns. Lasers instead of bullets, spaceships instead of horses, whatever. Fusions of new and old are; let’s face it; always pretty damn awesome. That’s why when Fallout: New Vegas hit shelves, I was smitten. Regardless of how great the game would be or not, the subject matter alone got me drooling. .44 mags, war-torn landscapes, plasma grenades, and a cowboy hat or two. What else does a man need? I splurged and got the collector’s edition, complete with poker chips from the game, a deck of weathered and mismatched playing cards, and a graphic novel. Oh right, gambling too. How much better can it get?
Anyways, in February the Ultimate Edition comes out. It may not come with the cool little knick-knacks, but it does include all the DLC. That means you get way more than what you get in a similarly priced title. You’re getting heaps of extra content, making a game that’s already massive (taking hundreds of hours to complete… completely) even bigger. Let’s just say, it’s worth the money. You’re going to be saving at least 50 bucks on what the DLC would originally be priced if you bought it separately.
How does this all apply to the blog though? Well, let’s just say Fallout is a good piece of inspiration when it comes to the post-apocalyptic genre. If you don’t like something, you shouldn’t write about it. Fallout certainly bolstered my love for the genre, and I hope it comes across in my writing. Didn’t you know? Children of Solus (my in-work novel, click the like for more info) is a post-apocalyptic novel. You should read it.
Well, I’ve droned on for long enough, so I’ll just put down the link for more info.
Post a shout-out if you’re a Fallout fan too!