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Can You Believe This?!

There are a number of different ways an author can choose to tell a story—a wide variety of point of views to pick from. But that is a post for another day.

One thing that remains nearly constant across all different points of view, for the reader, is that the reader starts out taking everything the narrator says at face value. For most stories, this will cause no problems. The narrator, in their own peculiar way, will tell you exactly what is going on when it is, when you need to know it is, or when they know it is.

But this rule does not stand all encompassing. Sometimes, the narrator’s words need to be taken with a grain of salt and a touch of disbelief. Sometimes the narrator tells you what is going on with a bit of embellishment. Sometimes the narrator straight up lies.

An unreliable narrator is great fun in writing and in reading. But you have to be careful to pull it off. Done incorrectly, you’ll frustrate and alienate the reader, appear inconsistent, or just seem like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Unreliable narrators are the more rare in the narrator stock, but they still exist more commonly than people would think.

The example foremost on my mind is the tailor from Enbizaka, from the song “The Tailor Shop on Enbizaka.” This song is written by Mothy P and performed by one of the Vocaloids. Vocaloid is a computer program that can create full songs including vocals and music. The Vocaloids are a large range of products. Each packaged voice has a different character associated with it. Luka, the program used to “sing” this song, is just one of many.

The song tells about this tailor who is renowned for her skill, but she’s unhappy because her significant other never comes home. She comforts herself with continuing her work. One day, she sees her lover with another woman with a red kimono. She goes back to her work, trying not to let her tears ruin the kimono she is working on. The next day, she notices the neighbors talking about the rising murder rate, but she’s distracted by seeing her lover with yet another girl. It continues on from there. You can check out the song below.


A more common example of an unreliable narrator would be Huckleberry Finn.


Due to his naivety and generous nature, he gives people far more credit than then deserve. The audience quickly figures out that he’s not completely accurate because they themselves were children at one point and can easily remember that time of embellishing and misinterpreting.

The narrator from Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” is another example of an unreliable narrator. He assures the reader that he can tell the story calmly and clearly, then goes on to prove how insane he is. Unlike some of the other unreliable narrators I’ve pointed out, the reader is in no danger of believing his words.


On a television scale, the Doctor from Doctor Who can be viewed as an unreliable narrator. He avoids at all possible chances telling the truth about himself. Every time he gives his age, it is incongruous to the last time. He’s actually been called out on it before. He avoids telling about his past exploits unless someone else specifically calls it out. And yet he’s the titular character and so the one we follow through the story. How much of what he tells us of how the universe works and of himself can we actually believe?

My favorite division of unreliable narrators are as follows:

  • The Picaro: A narrator who is characterized by exaggeration and bragging
  • The Madman: A narrator who has a severe mental illness that limits their ability to tell an accurate story
  • The Clown: A narrator who does not take narrations seriously and consciously plays with conventions, truth, and the reader’s expectations
  • The Naif: A narrator whose perception is immature or limited

There are a number of reasons for choosing an unreliable narrator to tell your story and a number of ways to do so. An unreliable narrator is not the worst choice; it does have its uses. If you couldn’t tell by Ethan’s blog post two days ago *double checks the cage lock*, Ethan is not the most reliable of narrators. He errs on the side of being a Picaro. Due to his insufferable ego, not everything he says is correct, though he is more honest with the audience than he is with those he speaks with. But you still need to be a bit wary when you read his tale; I cannot be held responsible for the validity of it.

Hijacked Post

Hey, all. Sam’s ridiculously stressed out over some stupid papers—dunno why she bothers. Writing about me is way more fun. But she can’t be pulled away.

So of course, I’m looking on the bright side: No Sam to block me out from you lot like she usually does.

In case you haven’t been able to tell, this is not your normal post. I’m taking it over for the day. My name is Ethan. I know she’s mentioned me a few times, when she tells you about Stealing the Crown (if only I could get her to get rid of that ridiculous title).

Really, she should talk about me more. She’s been completely ignoring me lately. Every time I try to get her to write more, she mutters something about “dead week.” Not enough murder present for me.


….
……

Look, while I’ve got you all here, can I ask you something? You can’t tell Sam. You definitely can’t tell Mira. If you breathe a word of it, I will hunt you down and gut you. Got it?

…Right, anyway… I… I don’t know how to deal with Mira. It would be a hell of a lot easier to get her back where she belongs if she’d just go along with me. The faster I get rid of her, the faster I can get on with my life.

But she’s just so damned stubborn. She won’t listen to a thing I say. She has to ask why on everything. She acts like she’s so bloody entitled.

OK, so she’s a princess—by law, entitled—but that’s not the point!

What am I supposed to do with her? Sometimes I feel like I’d be better off if I just ditched her. Forget the money, you know?

You know what she did the other day? This still gets me. She woke me up in the middle of the night, said I was screaming. Me, screaming! Like that would ever happen. Alright, so I happened to be having another one of those damned nightmares that don’t let me get proper rest, but she just kept looking at me, wouldn’t leave me alone. Said she was worried about me. Someone, worried about me. Can you believe that? Not even Sam cares what happens to me.

… I’ll never admit it to her, and if you ever breathe a word of it, you will die a very slow and painful death! But, ever since Mira’s been sleeping next to me, the nightmares haven’t been there. I’m actually succeeding at pushing them into the back of my mind, where I don’t think about them as much.

You know what, forget this post ever happened. I don’t need your advice. Life’s about getting out there. Oh shit, I think I hear Sam coming. Bye, all!

NCUR 2012 and the End of Writing March Madness

If you look back at most of my posts at the beginning of the month, I was talking nonstop about a beastly technical writing project I had. I was writing the program book for the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. It got sent to the printers the second week of March.

But I still wasn’t done with NCUR. I pretty much sold my soul to them for the weekend. I was running the information table, directing countless volunteers, and being overall helpful. I worked the information table from 7 AM to 5:30 PM on Thursday, followed by class, 7 AM to 7:30 PM on Friday, and 7 AM to 4 PM on Saturday. I also made a few attendees’ days better by giving them rides back to their hotels.

It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun at the same time. I’ve worked longer shifts at previous jobs, but there was usually a point I could shut off my brain and just go through the motions. My volunteers could answer the basic majority questions, but I was the one that had to answer the hard questions. I had to think the whole time. So when I eventually got home, I was a little brain fried.

Unfortunately, this killed my writing buzz. I was participating in Writing March Madness,  if you recall. My goal was 500 words a day. Up until the day before the conference began, I had only missed three days out of the whole month. That was met over the conference. I didn’t write a single word creatively those days. So my final March Madness achievement ended up being 25 days of writing, 6 days of slacking.

The good news is, I definitely did hit over 15,500 words (which is what I would have had if I had written only 500 words a day every single day). When I began, my word count was just over 10k. Now I have just under 24k towards Stealing the Crown, 7k towards fanfictions (don’t judge me), and 5k towards smaller miscellaneous projects.

I will keep chugging along in writing Stealing the Crown because I’d like to have the initial draft finished by October so that I can start on the sequel for NaNoWriMo in November (assuming I figure out a plot for a sequel, not just the opening scene). I will also keep you posted on StC updates as they come in.

Where are you at with your goals?  Writing or otherwise. Don’t you just hate it when life gets in the way? But if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have anything to write about.

Getting Ideas

I read a lot of interviews about my favorite authors. One question that everyone seems to love to ask is “where do you get your ideas?” The most common answers are “Oh, one night I had this awesome dream…” or “Well my main characters are a lot like my friends…”

Perhaps I work in strange ways, but I never get ideas like that. To be honest, I never get ideas through a set way.

The very first book I managed to finish (don’t look for it; I never bothered trying to market it. It has a loooong way to go before it’s ready to see the light of day) I started when I was in my ninth grade English class. We were listening to songs from some of Shakespeare’s plays. I ended up with a song from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wrote this beautiful scene about a fairy ball and a young queen presiding over all. It turned into a play, which later developed into a novel.

The next one I worked on, A Captive Mind, sprung partly from that. It was intended to be the sequel to that first book, but it took on a mind of its own. To be honest, the initial drafts were pretty much a rip off of Maria Snyder’s Poison Study and some other books I was reading at the time. But hey, immature poets imitate, mature poets steal. I may not have been a poet, but I was definitely immature at the time. And really, that’s how all writers learn to write well. Even Stephen King admits to his early works being blatant ripoffs of dime show movies.

I started a book that was following the daughter of Zee and Vedo from A Captive Mind, but their daughter is an unbearable brat. I didn’t get very far with it. And it’s story line was pretty close to that movie Enchanted. Luckily by that point, though, I was pretty past the point of imitating other story lines. So it got tossed before I finished chapter four.

My newest project, Stealing the Crown, probably has the most interesting beginnings. I follow this web comic called Roommates. It has Jareth the Goblin King (Labyrinth), Erik (Phantom of the Opera), James Norrington (Pirates of the Carribean), and Javert (Les Miserables) living in the same apartment building. Jareth and Erik live together, and Norrington and Javert live across the hall. There’s also a host of other crossover characters popping in and out and living in the building, including Sweeney Todd, Legolas, Harry Dresden, Tallahassee, Aziraphael and Crowley, Eponine…

Anyways, it’s a pretty awesome comic. Highly entertaining, and a super intense arc going on right now. At the beginning of the last really long arc, we found out that Jamie’s (James Norrington) mom was coming to visit. She doesn’t know about the events in the second Pirate’s movie. She thinks he’s still Commador, still engaged to Elizabeth, and still successful. She doesn’t know that he’s actually pretty full of fail. I’d made a comment to the artist that it’ll be interesting to see what happens when his mum finds out he’s dating a thief, Eponine (it’s a crossover comic; the connections made will surprise you). Actually, I stated it as “Oh boy. Wait until his mom finds out he’s dating a… What does ‘Pony do, anyway?” The response I received was “…Economic redistribution? That’s the nicest way I can think to say it.”

I fell in love with the phrase and begged to use it. The artist gave me the go ahead, and I jotted it down in my little pocket notebook for future use.

After working longer on A Captive Mind and beginning to get bored with it, I started thinking about other ideas I could run with for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I recalled that phrase, and a thief character I was currently working with in a roleplay site. What better idea! A plotline started forming in my head of a thief that has to rescue a princess. Economic redistribution is what he tells her he deals in.

After my failed attempt at NaNo, I put away the idea for a while, focusing on A Captive Mind for a little longer. I’d been working on it forever, and I needed to get stuff done. But after talking with different publishing professionals and realizing how stale Zee’s book was getting, I came back to Ethan’s. And it’s been a ride.

The point of this rambling post is that ideas can come from anywhere. You don’t have to have a fantastic story for how you even came up with your story. It should be good enough to speak for itself. A good writer knows how to keep their ears and mind open, and draw experiences from the world around them. Good writing comes from real experiences. That is how an audience connects to a fictional character. You just need to learn how to be receptive and how to translate those events into entertaining prose.

Panic, Plans, and Parrying (Verbal Style)

A few updates for you lot:

1. I apologize for the mopey post Monday, but I felt like I wasn’t the only one suffering from those kind of doubts. The internet is really all about community, eh?

2. I found out yesterday that my portfolio for graduation is due next week. AHHHHHH!!!! I see a weekend of major revisions and research in my near future (this weekend). But it WILL get done, because I WILL graduate in April.

3. I’ve branched out in what I’m looking for job-wise, so hopefully I’ll find someone willing to take this poor little soul. I’m applying for jobs in technical writing and editing, social media coordinating, and other various jobs people could need a technical writer of my skill level for.

4. I got two different sets of feedback from critique partners on Stealing the Crown. Other than a few issues, the first five chapters are strong. A reason to celebrate!

I keep hinting that the character has a really strong voice, but I don’t think I’ve taken the opportunity to show you. So below is a special treat for my new loyal readers. This is actually where the story starts. I truly hope you enjoy.

***

“You just had to get cocky, didn’t you, kid?”

“Only four cylinders on the lock? Bo, they were asking me to take it.” My shoulders were starting to hurt, digging into the stone wall behind me. Better than the spears pointed at my neck, but I still didn’t like this situation. There were only four guards on duty every time we had checked the manor. So where had this mini squadron come from?

The captain jabbed his spear forward. A white line of fire crossed my neck. “Silence. I won’t have you two conspiring in front of me.”

“Whoa there, Bizzie.” I knocked the spear away from my throat as casually as I could, holding my hand up in mock surrender. “We would never conspire against you. Bo, would we ever conspire against these nice gentlemen here?”

“Enough.” The guard to my right jabbed me in the ribs with his spear. Well, at least he earned a nice hiss from me for his troubles. “Give me the bag. Keep your hands where we can see them.”

I flipped the rough edges of the sack between my fingers. I knew the drill from here. If I handed over the bag, I’d be tied up, thrown in some dark and filthy dungeon, escape, then move on to the next job. There was no way the loot was worth that much effort. I looked sideways at Bo. He was Not Amused.

I jerked my hand up. A sickening thud echoed through the hall as the bag connected with the guard’s temple. He dropped to the ground before anyone moved. The guards looked from me to the still form of their partner in shock.

“Oops.”

I ducked. Just at the right time as the spears clanged against the wall where my chest had been. I shoved off the back wall, rolling out between their feet. As soon as I got in the clear, a heavy hand clawed the back of my neck and hauled me to my feet. Shit shit shit. I twisted to escape until Bo’s other hand clapped me on the back of the head. “Move it, kid.”

I jumped over the guards Bo’d left on the ground. The bag slowed me down, but my long legs carried me farther ahead than Bo. I heard him grunt and I spun around, my hand at my hip.

The guards had recovered quickly. Captain Bizzie and his first lieutenant grabbed Bo by the shoulders, trying to wrestle him to the ground. My dagger caught the Captain in the thigh, dropping him to the ground. The sack clanked from my hand as I pulled a dagger from my left hip. Bo had the other guy on the ground, unconscious by the way he fell. Bo didn’t even stop to thank me as he barreled past. I tossed the blade to my right hand, snatched the bag up again, and took off after him.

The hall filled with shouts and pounding of feet as the squadron charged after us. Only options were down the stairs or through the stained glass window in front of us. A quick glance down the steps showcased the two guards we had slipped past earlier. I never liked pretty windows anyways. It’s like they were asking, in all their multi-colored glory, to be smashed.

The window didn’t make that little tinkling I always thought it would. It was more of a crack. The splintering glass cut my face and hands even more than the spears had. My heart tried to escape through my throat as we fell through the air, but the shouts of the guards as they stopped at the window forced it back. We hit the lawn below the window with a heavy thud and crackling glass, tumbling a few steps before getting back to our feet and running out away from the shouts of the guards. I couldn’t help the triumphant laugh that escaped as arrows whistled over our heads.

***

For future reference and my own pride, I sincerely need to know: Would you guys like to see more of this in the future, or only have me include snippets when it is pertinent to the post? Would you like to hear more of these tales of epic college struggle, or would you like me to stick to the writing advice?

Today’s post is dedicated to the readers who are sticking with me and slowly finding me along the way. Your encouragement is much appreciated, and it warms my heart to see each and every view, comment, and like that I receive. You are awesome. Grab yourself your favorite sugary treat and bask in your awesomeness.

The Writing Process

Everyone has their own process for writing. Some will sit for a certain amount of time. Others won’t get up until they’ve written a certain amount of words, no matter how long it takes to get those words. Others write when they feel like it. Still others write when they can. Some don’t compose until they have it perfect in their heads. Others indulge in throwing word vomit onto the page and then sorting it out later in editing.

I’ll admit it: In the past, I was the “write when I feel like” kind of person. This worked for me in high school, as I never wanted to pay attention in class or do my homework, so I always felt like writing. But now that I’m in college and struggling between finding a job and getting my homework done, I’m just too busy to feel like writing.

Things have been changing for the better lately. With the advent of Writing March Madness by a casual status from one of my professors and the excitement of a friend, I’ve actually set a reasonable goal for myself that I only failed to accomplish once this month. My goal is to write 500 words a day. Currently, my progress has taken me to a point I’m not doing so well structure-wise.

My cry for help for people to tell me their favorite ambush scenes went unanswered. Grinding out a painful ambush that works for now but definitely needs to be improved upon, everything’s just gone downhill from there. I know once I get the princess and Ethan out of the mages’ house and on the road, where they can actually interact, the story will be more interesting and read better. It’s just getting past this section that is both painful and terribly important.

So how do you write? Do you force yourself to hit a certain goal? Do you write as the muse comes to you? Do you make sure you’ve got it worked out in your head, or do you let it work itself out on paper?

Send encouragement, cookies, and positive vibes for me, please. Once Mireada and Ethan can actually interact beyond “Who are you?” and “Move it before they catch us!” I know it will be better. Usually escape scenes are more fun. This one? Not so much.

Chocolate Cake, Hot Waiters, and Spring Break

Today I’m off to Seattle for Spring Break. I get to spend the week relaxing in the rainy state, hanging out with my friend, and looking for jobs and apartments (I’m moving up here once I graduate). Today has been a good day as a prelude for a hopefully good week.

This morning, Weber State University’s literary journal, Metaphor, hosted the High School Editors Conference. We had sixty junior high students come. They were a good bunch of kids, though. I taught sessions on Intro to Publishing, Dialogue, and Conquering Writer’s Block. Of course, being a group of junior high students rather than the high school students we had originally planned for, I got a lot of blank stares and disinterest from the six students that came to Intro to Publishing.

Things rapidly improved as I went to my maxed-out class for dialogue. Passing on a few tricks of the trade I’ve picked up over the years (the key tip I gave them: SHUT UP AND LISTEN—then go home and imitate what you hear), I set them to writing a short scene where one person wanted something from the other but didn’t come right out and ask for it. We shared some favorite lines of dialogue from movies, TV shows, and books. Most came from Doctor Who, of course. I shared with them the bit of Stealing the Crown where the advisor is talking Ethan into searching out the princess. I’ll share that at the end with you as well. At the end of the session, with ten minutes left, I asked them if there were any questions, or what else they wanted to talk about. I got a request to read more of my book. Warm fuzzies for me.

After dialogue, I moved on to teach conquering writer’s block. The cool junior high teacher even attended that one. Though the main point I stressed to them was not to let writer’s block win, that if they keep writing and plow through it soon they’ll be past it, everyone’s favorite part of the session were the writing dares. Writing dares are things unique to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November, where you write 50,000 words in one month) in order to encourage each other and to give ideas to continue on. Most of them are nonsense and will probably be edited out after the initial draft, but they’re fun and keep you moving. If you’re interested in seeing some of these yourself, go to writingdares.blogspot.com. They’re amusing writing prompts, I promise. With titles like “Ugly Pineapple,” “He’s dead. Or gay,” and “Here, let me help you kill me,” how can you not want to check them out?

Once we were finished with the High School Editor’s Conference, I took off to run some errands. My favorite errand of the day was picking up my graduation announcements. Though they’re a bit different than what I was picturing, they’re gorgeous and I can’t wait until those I sent them to receive them. Hopefully some family will send money in return!

Announcement mailing was followed by a few rounds of Country Rockband with my roommate, completion of my Writing March Madness goal for the day, two reruns of Bones, and dinner at Applebees. We had chocolate lava cake for desert, and a hot waiter taking care of us through the meal. In the words of my roommate, good dinner and a better show! I didn’t have too bad of a wait at the airport, and the flight I was on was pretty darn comfortable.

All in all, today was a stellar day. I can’t wait to see how the rest of spring break turns out! I didn’t bring any homework. It’s just going to be me, my novel that needs working on, a murder mystery, and the occasional stint on the town with my friend. Wish me luck and fantastic rainy weather, readers, and I hope your spring break/vacation/week-that-is-fantastic-as-you-want-to-make-it goes as well as mine.

P.S. I mentioned earlier that I would give you a bit of dialogue from Stealing the Crown between Ethan and the king’s advisor. Enjoy.

 

To say I was a little miffed about having the table reversed and being told what to do would be an understatement. I stood staunchly by the door, checking the walls for escape routes.

He looked at me before sitting down. “Suit yourself. But that wound cannot make it comfortable to stand.”

“It’s not comfortable in any position. Courtesy of your guards.”

“I think you got off easy compared to them.” Our eyes locked for a moment before he turned back to his papers. “I could summon the medic for you.”

“And have the medic alert the guards on his way out? That isn’t going to happen.”

He scoffed, picking up a glass of whatever he had been drinking before my escapades interrupted him. “If we wished to capture you, they would have already been called.”

“I’m supposed to believe you’re just going to let me walk out of here?”

He pursed his lips. “You did threaten our king. And there is the small matter of murdering six guards.”

“Fodder to the twelve people you killed yesterday.”

“Whatever this notion you have in your head, you must desist. Accusing the king of dispatching his personal force to eliminate such a trivial threat as your guild will not help you. We have proof of your hand in the deaths of those guards. There is no battle to fight.”

My hands tightened into fists as he brushed off the lives of my family. “If you have proof, what do you need me for?”

He leaned back in his chair, keeping his eyes on me. “This is not the first time we’ve heard your name, Ethan.” How the hell did he know who I was just by sitting there?

I shuddered as I became aware of the stone nestled beneath my tunic. It felt hot against my chest. I rubbed at it, looking up in just enough time to catch his frown. “You’ve built up quite a reputation for your age. You can get information on things others cannot. You can steal practically anything.”

I watched him warily. The only way to know what he’d want out of me was for him to tell me. I wasn’t going to volunteer anything.

“We are offering a reward on any information that leads to the reclamation of the princess. Should you assist the investigation, you will be rewarded one thousand hearts.”

I know he didn’t miss my look of surprise. “Don’t you have your own spies and whatnot?”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “They have a network of information. The culprit seems to be beyond that. None of them have anything useful. We need someone who works in the criminal back-alleys, someone that would hear rumors of a prisoner being kept. And wouldn’t you like to clear the name of your group from the implication of kidnap?”

I moved forward until I could lean over the arm of the chair, lowering my face close to his. “Clearing their names would do no good. They’re dead, and nothing you or I do can bring them back. What do they care what they’re implicated in? They’re dead.” I stifled the tiny bit of satisfaction that came from the surprise on his face. I leaned away again and downed the rest of his drink that had been sitting on the table. “But the money you’re offering could come in handy. You’ll get a lot of false information once others find out, hoping to claim the reward.”