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Chapter One

He didn’t remember waking up.

It came as an awareness that his eyes were open, that he was sitting on something soft that jolted slightly underneath him, and that a woman in a red dess sat across from him, face obscured by a wispy black veil. They were the only occupants of the cramped, wooden compartment that swayed back and forth as if rocked by a gentle, enormous hand. On his left, a single gas lamp mounted to the wall cast rorange, shadow-plagued light through the narrow confines. The figure opposite him sat stiff against the swaying, gloved hands folded in her lap.

As if his senses were coming alive one by one, he noticed for the first time the muffled rumble that filled the compartment. Some kind of engine, perhaps.

And then came the realization, sharp and sudden, that he was riding in the 5th Sanctioned Patrol Lorry of St. Marth’s Cathedral, and that he didn’t know who he was.

Panic pounded in his chest. He tried to rise, but something restrained him. He looked down. His arms were there, gray sleeves meeting black gloves. Tight cords wrapped around his forearms, tying them to the armrests of his seat. He flexed his fingers, straining against the bonds. On his right, he could feel the tautness of leather against skin, but he felt nothing in his left hand, nothing to indicate the movement of the fingers was really his own. Had the hand gone numb?

He fought to keep his breathing under control, long breaths, out and in. He reached back in his mind for a name, a rememberance of something that had happened to him before this lorry, but the groping fingers of his memory only met a dark, impassable wall. There was nothing.

“Don’t be afraid.” A woman’s voice, low and flat-toned.

He looked up at the red-dressed figure. She sat motionless, giving no indication of having spoken.

“I’d appreciate a reason not to be,” he said.

She leaned forward slightly, resting her elbows on her knees. The veil quivered, as if she was breathing hard. “Your name is Gil Grey. You are a thirty-one year old male. You are a Confessor of the New Church of Europania. Did you know any of this?”

Gil Grey. He turned the name over in his mind. Nothing about it was familiar. He shifted in his seat, and it creaked. “I was fairly sure of the part about being male.”

“Yes.” She hesitated, then lifted a slender arm and drew back her veil. Her skin was pale, her eyes dark and luminous. “Do you know my name?”

He studied her—the slender, dark eyebrows, the pointed chin, the strange half-smile that seemed to pulse, like a nervous tic, in the corner of her mouth. The name slowly formed on his tongue. “Del—Delanor.”

Her mouth spread in a slow smile. “Hello, Gil.”

Somehow, he knew this woman’s name. Her name, but not his own. A cold bead of sweat trickled down the back of his neck. “How do I know you?”

“You’ve known me for a long time. We were… are friends.” The hint of a wince passed over her face. “I can’t tell you about that yet.”

“What am I doing here?” His voice was hoarse. “Who tied me?”

Her voice quavered. “You were executed, Gil.”

“What?” He couldn’t have heard right.

“On March first, the Four-hundredth year of our New Birth, you were sentenced to death by Father Horatius for heinous crimes against the Church.” She spoke quickly, as if she was reading the words from a page. “You were executed on March third.”

Had she said executed? Was this a joke?

A strangled chuckle broke from between his teeth. “Wish I’d been informed sooner. I would have attended.”

She continued, as if she hadn’t heard him. “On June third, the Four-hundred-and-second year of our New Birth, you were resurrected.”

Silence crashed into the space between them. Gil stared. Executed. Resurrected. This woman was insane. It was impossible. Wasn’t it? He couldn’t remember. But every corner of his brain screamed that she was insane, she had to be—

But then, he was tied to a chair with no memories of who he was.

He swallowed, trying to squeeze moisture back into his throat. “Resurrected. What do you mean?”

“You’ve been given a second chance.”

“At what?”

“Serving the Church.” The swaying of the lorry stopped, and the humming of the motor raised in pitch, idling. “Gil, I can’t stay any longer. Please do everything he tells you.”

“Hold on.” He didn’t know anything about this woman besides her name, but being alone in this lorry was not an attractive idea just now. “Who are you talking about?”

She stood up, stooping under the low ceiling. The side of the compartment swung open, spilling in grey light that made his eyes ache. An arm reached into the lorry from outside, palm up. Gathering her skirt in a fist, Delanor laid her fingers on the proffered hand and stepped out of the lorry.

Gil strained at the cords tying him. The beginnings of numbness began tingling through his right arm. His left arm still felt nothing. What was wrong with it?

A few low words were exchanged outside the lorry. Then a man stepped into the lorry, swinging the door shut behind him and settling into the seat Delanor had vacated.

He was thin, draped in a loose knee-length jacket unbuttoned at the top, showing several inches of dark brown chest. Grey hair was pulled into a tight ponytail behind his head, and he wore small, rectangular glasses that glinted yellow next to the lamp.

The man slid his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “Do you know who I am?”

The same question Delanor had asked. Once again, the words came almost unbidden to his tongue. “Father Horatius.”

The man inclined his head slightly, and a smile touched his lips.

They stayed motionless for several moments, looking at each other. Then Gil cleared his throat. “I hear I’ve been resurrected.”

“That’s correct.”

“The woman, the one just in here—she was a little unclear as to what exactly that means. Resurrected.”

The eyebrows of the older man raised slightly. “It means you were dead, and now you’re not.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Not quite.” Father Horatius nodded toward him. “Do you know what you are?”

“She told me I was a Confessor.”

Father Horatius smiled again. “Yes, but you knew that already, didn’t you?”

The eyes of the man bored into his own, ice-gray and relentless, and then he knew he had known. It had been somewhere in the back of his mind all along, ever since he’d woken. He tried to swallow, but the muscles of his throat were already tight as a coiled spring.

“Do you know what your duties are, Confessor?”

“To serve and protect the Church. To punish sin and save sinners.” The words came slow and halting at first, and then faster, like a flow of water being released.

“Yes. That’s good. And how are they saved?”

“By the Church’s Absolvement of their sin.”

“Very good.” Father Horatius nodded. “You realize what you’ve been given?”

“A second chance, she told me.” Gil pulled his shoulders back, trying to relieve some of the tension in his neck. “I don’t remember—”

“That’s as it should be. You wouldn’t want to.” Lamplight shifted on the man’s glasses. “Just understand that you were found guilty of the worst kind of sin, and that you were punished accordingly.”

“I don’t understand. What’s the worst sin?” His voice cracked. “What did I do?”

Father Horatius didn’t seem to hear him. “You’re about to be given a test. A mission.”

“What kind of mission?”

“An Absolvement.” Father Horatius leaned forward and reached one hand toward him. Gil thought for a moment that he was going to undo his bonds, but instead the Father grabbed two of the fingers on his left hand and worked his glove off. It fell to the floor.

Instead of flesh and skin, there was dull black metal. A metal hand.

“A prosthetic arm,” Father Horatius said. “It starts at your left elbow. You’ve noticed that all the memories pertaining to you in your former life have been erased—you have become a new person, and you will have to begin getting to know yourself. A new start for a new man.”

Gil stared at the metal hand, palm-down on the armrest. He lifted the forefinger, than the middle finger. The geared joints rotated as the fingers responded, but there was no sensation of movement. It was like watching an insect crawl. He flexed the hand, making a fist and then straightening the fingers. Something caught inside the mechanism, a dull click that he could feel in the flesh and muscle of his upper arm. The feeling was comforting, somehow reassuring him that this mechanical thing was a part of him after all.

He wondered how he had lost his original arm—had it been an injury? A fight? Had it been his fault?

The Father’s hand came down on his shoulder. He looked up. The man’s face remained impassive, but something like affection crinkled the corners of his eyes. “It’s good to have you back with us, son.”

Gil nodded, slowly. Father Horatius withdrew his hand and pulled something from his jacket. “You’ll need this.” He held out a black pocket watch, unadorned except for a silver design worked into the lid. Two perpindicular bars, crossing each other.

The insignia was familiar, somehow—even more than Delanor or Father Horatius. A Crucifer. The symbol of the New Church. A chill skittered up his spine.

Father Horatius popped the lid open with his thumb. The watch’s face was blank, except for a single hand that pointed straight up. “We’ve set your watch for seven hours—you’ll need to have finished your assignment before the hand makes one full turn.” He snapped the lid shut and tucked the watch into Gil’s jacket, into a chest pocket. Gil could feel the ticking through his jacket, almost in rhythm with his heartbeat.

“What about my assignment?” he asked.

The Father leaned back and crossed his legs. “We’re sending you to meet a man on a train. A long time ago, he committed crimes against the Church and crossed the ocean to the United Territories, where he hid for many years. Apparently the weight of his sin became too much for him, and he is returning to have them Absolved.” He smiled, a little sadly. “It’s a bittersweet thing, a lamb coming back to the fold.”

Gil’s left leg was beginning to fall asleep. He flexed his foot. “And my assignment is his… Absolvement?” The word felt strange in his mouth, strange but familiar.

“You’ll need to board the 2:30 train to Wilcox. That’s where the Sinner will board. After he is Absolved, we’ll have a lorry waiting for your return back to St. Marth’s Cathedral.”

Again the lorry stopped. Almost instantly, the cords around Gil’s arms went slack. He raised his arms, shaking his right hand against the tingles that rampaged through the awakening muscle. He started to wonder why his left hand remained numb, and then remembered. It was metal. He flexed the hand several times, each time feeling the click, like a catching joint. He wondered what caused it—a loose cog or something, perhaps.

The door opened once more. Father Horatius reached out and brushed the sign of the Crucifer over Gil’s face—forehead to chin, cheekbone to cheekbone. “Serve the Church, honor God.”

Gil nodded. “Am I free to go?”

“You’ll find the train station just north of here.” Father Horatius paused. “Please don’t fail us again, Gil. Think about what you’ve been given.”

The man’s tone was a strange mixture of threat and plea. Gil stared back at him, unsure what to say. How had he failed? What exactly had he been given? A second chance, apparently. But a second chance at what?

He rose a little unsteadily, sliding his hand across the wall for balance. Then he stepped out into the harsh, gray light.

Firewalls! And a Free Ebook

Posted by on Oct 3, 2016 in Announcements and Shameless Plugs | 6 comments

Firewalls! And a Free Ebook

  Well, it’s been a while. In fact, it’s getting closer to being a year since I announced the launch of my serialized novel, Firewalls, and left this blog to gather virtual dust. In that time I’ve written a 76,000 word novel, posted it online, grown my hair long, and cut it short again. I’ve learned some things that I will probably not actually ever use again (like how to give myself a ponytail) and some things that I definitely will. (Drinking coffee right before a twenty-minute power nap prevents me from waking up as a cranky zombie sloth.) Now, I’m going full steam ahead into the second season of the Firewall Saga, and plan to begin posting it in November. The story’s taking a little more of a cyberpunky turn in this season, which I’m excited for. Also, I’ll be experimenting with some dual timelines, to explore Decker’s backstory a little more. If you’ve been following the story up to this point, you have my gratitude and deepest appreciation. It makes me super happy that people are willing to come back week after week to read what is basically a rough draft written by some guy in Oklahoma who is freaking out because he just wrote past his outline and has to have a chapter out TOMORROW. If you started the story, and didn’t finish it because life got busy, or you don’t like reading stories online (I’m with you in that camp, actually, which is awful coming from a guy who writes serial webfiction), and you would like to have Firewalls on your Kindle or e-reader where you can take it in at your leisure, I have just the thing for ya.       I polished the first season a tad, fixed one major plot hole, threw a cover together, and compiled it into an ebook, which I am offering free to all subscribers of The Firewall Saga. And if you’ve already read the entire thing online, the ebook does include one exclusive bonus scene, from a POV I had not previously written from. If you’re already a subscriber (clarification: not of this blog, but to the webfiction) then just check your inbox for an email that will provide you with a link to your free download. If you’re not a subscriber yet, and you’d like that ebook, just follow this link to a page where you can get all signed up and get that thing sent to you. Plus, you’ll be all set to receive new chapters of Season 2 when I start putting it out. Hopefully that’s a win-win situation for you, and if it’s not, you can just unsubscribe as soon as you have your ebook. Although I did recently read a statistic that said people who do that kind of thing have a much higher likelihood of being a crabby and obnoxious individual whom no one likes, and then being infected by a cyberzombie brain virus. Just what I’ve heard, do with that information what you will. Keep in mind that the book, while not necessarily a first draft, is pretty close. As you read you will encounter the occasional plot hole, pacing issue, unrealistic piece of dialogue, or heaven forbid, the badly-worded phrase that accidentally turns an innocent piece of writing into an...

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On Failure and Batman – a guest post by Katherine Rebekah

Posted by on Mar 16, 2016 in The Writing Life | 16 comments

On Failure and Batman – a guest post by Katherine Rebekah

  As an uber nerd, there’s no real life event that I can’t relate to fiction in some way. While I want to give you tips on dealing with and learning from failure, I didn’t want to go it alone. So I’ve included advice from the most reliable (fictional) source I could find: Batman. (Bonus points if you read this entire post in a raspy Batman voice.) In “Batman Begins,” a young Bruce falls down a well, and his father, Thomas, comes to his rescue. While carrying Bruce back into the house, Thomas utters one of my favorite lines in the movie: “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” I love this not only because it’s influential throughout the film, but also because it reveals a truth about failure that we don’t often hear. We’re told that every successful person fails, that greatness is the byproduct of failure. It’s true. However, success doesn’t result from a failure but from how we react to that failure and what we learn from it. This is especially true for writers because failure is something we face regularly. With that in mind, here are tips for, as Thomas said, learning to pick yourself up. Allow yourself that pity party, but keep it short.   Warning. Despite what you may have been told, masking emotions doesn’t make you strong. It does turn you into a melodramatic ball of angst and depression, which is one way in which we don’t want to mimic Batman.   So vent your frustrations to your cat, scream into your pillow, do some serious sobbing, stuff your face with chocolate. Just don’t do that for long. Let your emotions out, and let them go.   Be positive about yourself and other people.   The best way I’ve found to counter negative emotions, which seem to play on “repeat” after a failure, is to say positive things out loud.   For example: “The only reason my friends were harsh is because they want me to become better. I have wonderful, honest friends. I’m proud of myself for sharing my work. My writing will be better because of this.”   Cheesy? Maybe. But it lifts me out of a slump. If you say something out out loud long enough, you’ll start to believe it, and positive emotions will follow.   Evaluate why you failed.   Although it may feel like reopening a freshly healed wound, this step is vital to any sort of personal development. Review your work, be objective about your weaknesses, and take criticism seriously. Practice.   Understanding what went wrong is not enough. You must practice by stepping back and making it right. Apply what you’ve learned from evaluating your work. Repeat the process.   You’re going to mess up again. You may even humiliate yourself (I know I have), but the beauty is that you improve each time. Follow these steps, and you’ll be cleaning up the streets of Gotham. . . er, writing like a pro in no time.   All of this is fine advice, but I’ve saved my best for last.   If you learn nothing else from me today, memorize that quote from “Batman Begins.” The next time you fail, recite it to yourself, pretend you are...

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Check Out My New Short Film! And an Interview Thing

Posted by on Feb 26, 2016 in Announcements and Shameless Plugs | 10 comments

Check Out My New Short Film! And an Interview Thing

  Remember that behind-the-scenes look at the short film I was working on a while back? With all those horrific manikins and stuff? Well, I’m pleased to say that of last week, the video is finally up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. If you haven’t watched it yet, you can check it out here:      I have to say, after hours and hours spent editing these eight minutes of video, it’s pretty hard for me to watch. We are always our own worst critic, and everything I could have done just a little better (or a whole whole lot better) whacks me in the face like a wiffle-ball bat every time I go through this film. But I guess that’s how we learn. If you make five big mistakes on a project, that’s five big mistakes that you hopefully will not make on the next one. And really, I’m pretty darn happy with how this video turned out, especially for my first serious film project. Some kind of amazing things happened to make everything come together just the way it did. I got to work with some fantastic people. I’m really looking forward to the next one. One of the people on the Stolen Voices production team was a guy named Daniel Thompson, whom you might know from a podcast called The Very Serious Writing Show. And recently, I was privileged to be featured on his show, where Daniel and I talked about online serial fiction and my new webseries The Firewall Saga. We also talk a little about the Stolen Voices shoot, the covered-up death of Google, and also the little-known weakness that Amish people have for online podcasts. It was a very serious discussion, where we talked about serious things like grownups, in a very mature, normal, serious fashion. If you would like to hear the seriousness, I’ve embedded it below:     And while you’re at it, drop by Daniel’s Soundcloud page and give the Very Serious Writing Show a listen. Daniel has interviewed a ton of fantastic people, like Kerry Nietz (of Amish Vampires in Space fame), actor and comedian Torry Martin, and Bill Myers (creator of the Wally McDoogle series). And it is all so, so...

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The Firewall Saga is Launched! (A somewhat belated announcement)

Posted by on Feb 1, 2016 in Announcements and Shameless Plugs | 7 comments

The Firewall Saga is Launched! (A somewhat belated announcement)

February has arrived, and I count it an honor and a privilege to be (quite probably) the last person to wish you Happy New Year. Right around January 1st, my blog was unusually silent. I didn’t post any writing resolutions, hold celebratory giveaways, or do anything at all to add my blog’s voice to the ringing-in of 2016. In fact, I haven’t written anything on this blog since the 1st. But I do have reasons. Reason Number 1: On January 8th, I launched my web serial, The Firewall Saga. That’s really the only reason I have. Unfortunately, that brings me to another unpleasant topic, the question of why I launched my serial, the story I have been talking about on here and teasing you guys with for several months, and then proceeded not to inform any of you, my loyal readers, for a month. I don’t really have a good reason for that, other than the fact that when I have begun a story, for a good stretch of time afterward I have a very hard time thinking about anything else. Heh heh. So I hope all you wonderful folks will accept my apology, click this link right here, read the four episodes I have posted so far, put your email in the little subscription pop-up thingy, name your firstborn child Braden, and send me lots of money and/or mushroom pizza. Not sure how those last couple of things got in there. They are entirely optional and up to your own discretion, of course. This story has been a blast to write so far. I have about 25,000 words written, 7,000 posted, and a vague idea of what the ending will be like (that will probably change five or six times before I actually write it.) I hope some of you guys will join me on this adventure. I’d love to have your thoughts and feedback along the way. And stick around here as well, because I’ll probably still pop in every once in a while to talk about behind-the-scenes Firewall stuff, or just random writerly stuff. Cheers,...

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A Peek at My Upcoming Web Serial

Posted by on Dec 18, 2015 in Announcements and Shameless Plugs | 28 comments

A Peek at My Upcoming Web Serial

  My first novel, The Nephilim Project, is still kinda my baby. I wrote it when I was sixteen, mostly in longhand, back when my writing routine involved getting up at 5:30 AM and listening to Enya playlists on my iPod classic. (Yes I wrote a dystopian thriller to Enya. It’s weird to me now, too.)  Those were also the days when I could get up at 5:30 AM and initiate a thought process that was lucid and intelligent and largely free of DUUUURRR. It was the first time I ever completed a manuscript. It was the first time I ever developed a crush on one of my own characters (please tell me other people do this). I learned so much from this book. I’ve always wanted to dust it off and resurrect it into something more publishable, but the amount of work it would take has always daunted me a little. However I recently found a way to make this resurrection happen, and I’ve been really excited to tell you guys about it. Some of you know about my upcoming web serial, The Firewall Saga. What you probably don’t know is that parts of it are The Nephilim Project reincarnated. I’m using several of the same characters, and adapting some of the scenarios. Instead of genetically modified human-animal chimeras, I have killer cyborgs infected by a sentient hive-mind computer virus named Weedly. I’ll be launching this thing in early January, and I’m pretty stoked. Also a little nervous, because this is a pretty huge undertaking. I’m hoping this will really stretch me as a writer and storytelling, and be a lot of fun in the process. Stay tuned! This will be a rather dark story, so here’s a little content advisory regarding what you will and won’t find in The Firewall Saga:   What There WON’T Be: Sexual content or nudity. These have no place in my stories. Not to say there won’t be references to themes that are more mature in nature (again, there are some very bad people in my stories who tend to do bad things) but I will try to handle it tastefully, without giving explicit details. Gratuitous language. Some characters might occasionally use minor expletives in certain situations, but you won’t see major profanity. I don’t necessarily have a problem with stories that utilize language with good reason, but it’s just something I don’t really care to write into my own stories.   What There WILL Be: Violence. Quite a bit of it. People will get shot, stabbed, bitten, exploded, whacked in the face with heavy things, and stuff like that. You guys know that I’m really serious about making death and violence matter in my stories, so it won’t be gratuitous violence for the sake of violence. But this story world is a pretty nasty place to live, and some pretty bad things happen to people. If you’re squeamish about violence, read with caution. Hope, humor, and joy. There will always be a spoonful of good stuff to balance out the bad stuff, a reminder that the bad can’t last forever.   Another thing: Things are probably going to slow down on this blog for a while, since my main focus will be getting out regular installments of Firewall and finishing the...

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More Dangers of Homeschooling

Posted by on Dec 3, 2015 in Filmmaking | 12 comments

More Dangers of Homeschooling

  As many of you know, I was homeschooled all the way through graduation. It was a truly wonderful experience, and if I could go back I wouldn’t do it any differently. Several years ago, I made a video that was a sort of tongue-in-cheek look at homeschooling and the supposed hazards thereof. It was called Dangers of Homeschooling. It wasn’t my best video, and I’m a little embarrassed about it now, so in 2013 I resolved to make a sequel that would be much better. It was about the time I started this blog, actually.  With the intention of killing two birds with one stone, I made a vlog announcing my blog launch, and also the fact that I was making this new video about homeschooling.     In the above video, (which, I remind you, was made in 2013,) I encouraged my largely-homeschooled subscriber base to help out by sending me fresh ideas to put in the new Dangers of Homeschooling video. And they did–I got emails from tons of people who wanted to help out. A lot of good ideas. Now, having received these good ideas, you’d think that the next course of action on my part would be to follow through and, you know, make the darn video that I told people I was going to make. And it was, sort of. After a span of about eight months, I wrote half of a script. In my own pitiful defense, it was a really hard script to write. I didn’t want it to be just like the last video–I wanted it to have a completely different format. I had a pretty major case of writer’s block. Maybe I should have read my own article on the subject.   At some point, I was so fed up that I wanted to abandon the project. A tip for you: A great way to make sure you don’t abandon a project is to post your face on the internet beforehand saying “HEY GUYS I AM GONNA DO THIS PROJECT.” And then the only way out is either finishing the stinkin’ project, or dying an honorable death by falling on your sword or something. So I wrote half a script, and several months later, I deleted it and started over. When I did finally finish, it was another few months before we filmed the main scene. To give you an idea of the timeframe of this project, after my brother and I finished shooting the scene, we went and saw Battle of Five Armies with our actress and her brother. When I’ve just begun a film project, I like to kick it off by watching a monumental masterpiece of film to inspire me. Nope. Couldn’t say that with a straight face. I’ll spare you the painful details of the next year, but yes, it did take us a year to shoot the rest of the scenes. We had to reshoot two scenes, due to lost footage. We had to reschedule shoots. We had camera failure. I was not a happy snickerdoodle. But you know what, guys, we finished it. We did. And to prove it, here’s the video.     The moral of this story? Maybe “Don’t Announce to the World That You’re Doing a Thing if You Haven’t Planned the Heck Out Of It First.” Or “Don’t Fall On Your Sword Just Yet, Things Could Still Turn Out...

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When To Leave Loose Ends Loose

Posted by on Nov 19, 2015 in Plot | 7 comments

When To Leave Loose Ends Loose

  ..and Clovis the Cow trotted out of the barnyard and in the general direction of New York City, despite Farmer Bob’s heart-rending pleas for him to come back. The End. Boy, what an ending. Satisfying. Fulfilling my soul. Or not. It might just be me, but I see a lot of loose ends lying around. Will Clovis ever return to the farm? How will Farmer Bob manage without him? And how will Clovis react when he stumbles across the inevitable realization that cows are actually female?  And guess what, there is no sequel, so you will never know. These loose ends are loose for all of eternity. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A story doesn’t always need to wrap up into a cute little bundle of resolved plotlines with a bow on top. In fact, a loose end or two can really add impact to that heart-wrenching, bittersweet ending I talked about last week. Or even a happy happy Hallmark ending. But how do you know which story arcs should resolve, and which, if any, should be left dangling?   1. When It’s Not Really That Loose   Think of the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. As the camera fades on a smiling George and Mary Bailey, there are a few tiny loose ends. How will the conflict between Potter and the Bailey’s proceed? Will George tell Mary about Clarence and his experience with not being born? We don’t really need this information, though. Based on everything that’s happened so far, our imaginations can pretty much tie these loose ends up. The writer has given us the information we need to finish the story on our own, and for most people, this adds an extra dash of charm to the experience.   2. To Show Scope of Character   When we’ve followed a character around for a two-hour movie or fifty-thousand word novel, we usually like to have an idea of what he or she is planning to do with their life when the story is over. Jane Austen is very obliging when it comes to this sort of thing. No one ever finishes Pride and Prejudice and says, “Gosh, do you think Darcy and Elisabeth’s marriage will succeed?” But in some stories, a character rides into the sunset and we have no clue where they’re going or what they’re planning on doing. This can be anticlimactic and irritating. Or, done correctly, it can give this character an extra layer of depth and vibrancy. Like Jason Bourne swimming away at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum. Where is he going? What will he do now? Only Jason Bourne knows. We get the sense, though, that his adventures will continue long after the credits roll.   3. To Show Scope of Story   The same thing can be done with an entire cast of characters, to give a sense of scope and real-ness to a story world. Like a war story that ends with the main characters still in the trenches. Maybe all their individual character arcs have resolved, but we don’t know for sure if they will make it out of all this alive, or what they have yet to lose. This gives us the feeling that these people are stuck in the middle of something much bigger than them,...

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Why I Don’t Write Happy Endings

Posted by on Nov 12, 2015 in Theme | 42 comments

Why I Don’t Write Happy Endings

  I don’t think I’ve ever written a one-hundred percent happy ending in one of my stories. Except for my first story, a soaring epic titled How Jery Rat Kild Thu Monstr, my endings usually deal out a heavy dose of sad along with the happy, and sometimes just a little more sad. And not because I just really enjoy depressing myself and other people. For me, a ending that’s not all happy makes for a more thought-provoking and fulfilling story.    The Contrast of Sad and Happy Is More Relatable   I think there’s a place for an occasional Hallmark happy ending where no one dies, every broken relationship becomes good as new, and all the single people are getting married to each other. Sometimes you just need one of these. They’re therapeutic. But the truth is, life isn’t like this. It’s one huge tangle of the happy and the sad. I guess you could say life is one big bittersweet ending. And endings that are bittersweet often resonate with us more, because we relate to them. We understand that joy comes along with loss, and vice versa. These are the stories that seem real. And aren’t they, really? A Little Sad Makes the Happy Matter   I’ve never liked the Disney-esque ending “twist” where a main character sacrifices his life for his friends or the story goal, only for us to find out five minutes later (in a flurry of dramatic music and extravagant slow-motion shots) that guess what, he didn’t actually fall off that cliff. Or explode. Or get crushed by the falling heavy thing. Or whatever. I’m looking at you, AnnaDiegoHiccupTony Stark and Batman. This bugs me even if I really like the character. If they die, I want them to stay dead. That sounded a little cold. I am not a sociopath. Let me explain. When a character sacrifices his own life, it’s usually a sock-in-the-gut culmination of his character arc, a manifestation of the lessons he’s learned so far. It brings meaning to the story. But when, oh guess what, the character isn’t actually dead—his sacrifice is cheapened. Now I feel like his death was a Feels Gimmick instead of a meaningful story event. True loss and true sacrifices bring meaning. They make the happy parts matter, because we know what has been given to achieve them. (And by the way, I’m secretly happy that Hiccup didn’t die at the end of HTTYD. Just so you know I’m not totally heartless.)   A Bittersweet Ending Shows Hope More Clearly   Feel free to argue with me on this one, but I don’t think there are very many stories that give a more inspiring picture of Hope than Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Most specifically, Return of the King.  Talk about a bittersweet ending. Good has won, things are as they should be, but man–we’ve had to pay a heavy price to get here. We’ve waded through pain and darkness with Frodo. We’ve watched many beloved friends die. We’ve despaired. And then, at the end, Tolkien surprises us with a picture of Hope that is so vivid, so bright and tangible that it takes our breath away and brings tears to our eyes. (Yes, my eyes. Yes, men can cry when they read Lord of the Rings. It’s allowed.) Our hearts may be warmed by those Hallmark...

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A Free Tool Called Pacemaker, and How I’m Using it to Encourage Myself to Write

Posted by on Nov 5, 2015 in Creativity & Productivity | 13 comments

A Free Tool Called Pacemaker, and How I’m Using it to Encourage Myself to Write

  I love tools. Cool, new, shiny tools. Sometimes, I get so excited by the coolness of a tool that I forget what I’m supposed to be using it for. Instead of pounding in nails with that perfectly-balanced framing hammer, I’m swinging it around my head and alternating guttaral war cries with humming the soundtrack of The Last Samurai.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across a free online tool called Pacemaker, that seemed like the perfect way to help me plan my next big writing project. What it actually did was provide me a fantastic procrastination opportunity for the next half hour as I rang the bells and blew all the whistles. But in the process, I discovered a very helpful tool. I also received a bit of unexpected encouragement that I would like to share with you all. First, a quick look at the app.       As you can see, you fill in things like the name of your project, type of project, estimated word count, start and end date, and it generates a graph to break down your word count and build a schedule to help you finish on time. Another thing I love—automatically-generated graphs. I’m weird like this. But the one in the above example is kind of boring. That flat line is the result of telling the program you want to write the same number of words every day. Let’s take a look at what happens if you play around with some of the other options.     Now that is a tasty graph, right there. I set the word count plotting tool to Random, which has the program giving you random word count goals every day. One day you’re writing 500 words, the next you’re writing 1,200. Not for the faint of heart. My personal favorite is the Biting the Bullet option, which starts you out with large daily word count goals that get smaller and smaller as your project progresses. Scrolling down, we have even more options.     We see another graph, which will chart your progress as you begin your project, and compare it to your original plan as you log your word count. There are more options for customizing your workload–you can make it heavier or lighter on weekdays, and reserve extra days for the end of your project, just in case you fall behind. These advanced options are what really impress me about this program. It’s so dang well thought out. If you switch the display to the calendar option, you get a really cool and tangible breakdown of your project.     And this is where the inspiration part comes in. In my initial procrastination-laced session with Pacemaker, I switched it to calendar view, and then it hit me what a very small amount of words it takes a day to actually write a novel in, say, a month. Seriously, look at that. I know, this is nothing revolutionary, nothing you haven’t heard before. It’s the age-old “how do you eat an elephant” metaphor. (Answer: One bite at a time.) (More realistic answer: One bite at a time, until an important internal organ ruptures and you die, because an elephant is way bigger than your tummy and trying to eat it was really stupid.) Your novel is your elephant. And the...

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Why I am not writing a blog post this week.

Posted by on Oct 30, 2015 in Life, family, and everything else | 3 comments

Why I am not writing a blog post this week.

  I was going to write a blog post for all you guys this week. It was going to be all inspirational and stuff. In fact, I had it half-written. But then, some things happened.    Normal life things. Like my day job, which I enjoy very much.   This picture was taken by the man who owns the art gallery where I teach music. I had just had a last-minute student cancellation, which was wonderful because it gave me a whole thirty minutes in which to be productive and finish the aforementioned inspirational blog post. That was the plan, at least. Something that may or may not be evident in this picture is that I was, at the time, very very tired. After considering that I should probably write a blog post, I proceeded to set a timer on my phone and take a power nap. The flesh is weak, my friends.   Another thing I did this week was to help in the building of this house right here:   But the main thing that has been taking up my creative energy this week is my current short film. A deadline is looming, and I am editing like a madman every time I get a chance. The video is really coming together, and I’m pretty excited. So excited that I am going to dump some screenshots right here: As you can see, the people in this movie spend a lot of time exercising shocked and/or angsty expressions. So all of this is why today, I have nothing educational or inspirational to say. We will hope for better, next time.   Keep calm and story on, y’all. ~Braden...

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