The Fishbowl

One of the best ways to develop character is through object placement. What kind of stuff would you find in your character’s bedroom? You can tell a whole lot about people by the things they surround themselves with.

The Prompt- Write about a character who has a fish tank, but fills it with something unusual or frightening. How did they get it? What is inside of it? What happens if you stick your fingers in?

Sunday Writing Prompt

fishbowl

Melanie always felt a bit odd going to the Fishbowl to do her homework. In the dank, warm basement room filled with computers and surrounded by glass, she always felt like there were eyes on her. Watching her check her e-mail. Watching her write her essays. Watching her waste time playing solitaire. She was just imagining it, of course, but she couldn’t shake the feeling. It was like being the subject of a The Police song. Every breath you take, every space you make, I am watching you… Yet here she was, her spine a-tingle, because her laptop had crashed, and her Victorian English essay was due in ten hours. Procrastination, and even trips to Best Buy, were no longer allowed. It was time to work.

*     *     *     *     *

She was perfect. Even watching her open up a Word document, those graceful fingers deftly maneuvering over the keyboard, was a beauty to behold.

His green eyes devoured her every movement – subtle movements, since she was stationed in front of a computer screen, writing an essay. She typed furiously, leant her cheek upon her hand, flipped long brown hair over her shoulder, and typed some more. Referenced some books. Checked her e-mail.

Was there anything he wouldn’t enjoy watching her do?

He supposed there was only one way to know for certain.

*     *     *     *     *

When the grumbling of her stomach became too loud and painful to ignore, Melanie decided to take a break. Images of greasy concoctions, available within the span of a few blocks, danced through her mind. (Clement Clarke Moore would not approve.) She was beneath the naked, grasping branches of an oak tree when it happened. Pain of a different sort affected her stomach as strong fingers dug into the soft flesh of her waist, pulling her back roughly. A hand over her mouth, holding a wet, damp rag. Melanie reached for the moon peeking through the tree branches above her, a muffled sound escaping her as the world turned black.

*     *     *     *     *

She was cold, and her limbs were heavy. Reaching her hands out to search for the blanket she must have thrown off while sleeping, Melanie found she was… lying on concrete? Her eyes shot open.

What. The…

She sat up on a concrete floor to see… glass. Surrounding her. She was in a rectangular box of glass, like a still-living Snow White in a glass coffin made by dwarves who got the specifications wrong. She reached out towards the ghostly Melanie visible before her, leaving hand smudges on the cool glass.

Focusing outside of the glass box, she quickly spied a camera. Awesome.

“Hello?” she called out, her voice wavering, sounding small in the cavernous, empty basement. “Hello?! Is anyone there?”

Clumping footsteps sounded on the stairs. “You must be hungry,” a deep voice said. The clumping produced a bearded, middle-aged man, holding a pizza.

Melanie’s stomach grumbled. “No, I’m fine,” she said. “But I kind of need to leave. I have an English paper to finish!”

The man frowned. “I’m afraid I can’t allow that.”

Of course not. Well, she had had to try, right?

“What do you mean? I can’t fail English. My father’s an English professor; he’ll kill me! This paper is worth 40% of my grade.”

“Oh, I’ll let you finish your paper. I just can’t let you out.”

Melanie blinked a few times. Nope. Still didn’t make sense. “Pardon?”

“But first, you should really eat. You’re much too thin.” The man climbed a ladder, placing the pizza in a hitherto unnoticed pulley system, which he then proceeded to carefully lower down to her. She removed the food, briefly wondering if a hunger strike could lead to her release.

“You don’t get out if you stop eating. But I will get you a laptop in an hour so you can work on your paper.” The man sat down on a folding chair, looking at her intently.

“Who are you?” Melanie asked.

“Just an admirer,” he replied. His eyes stared at her, too-focused and unwavering, and she grabbed a slice of pizza to have something else on which to focus.

On Definitions & Decisions

I recently read a post pondering how to define a writer, which, to me, appears to actually be considering the definition of an author. A writer is a person who writes, whether those words create drivel or the most glorious sentences ever placed on paper or computer screen. To me, that is all a writer is, though, to be fair, there are certainly qualifying adjectives that can be used to differentiate those who write well from those who write…less well.

#diplomatic

#diplomatic

Yet the idea of exploring what it means to be an author intrigues me. With the e-book industry, with website platforms such as Amazon and iTunes, it seems that it is becoming ever easier to become published. Previously, I would have said that was all it took to become an author – become published. Yet traditionally, there has been a distinction between the traditionally published and the self-published.

divide

Is this still the case? I heard an NPR segment that discussed the lack of stigma and sometimes higher pay that comes with self-publishing, as opposed to traditional publishing, which is more difficult if you’re not a celebrity or already well-established author.

The face of a NYT bestseller.

The face of a NYT bestseller.

A well written piece of writing is a well written piece of writing. Yet sifting through the published and the self-published pieces to find these well written pieces can be a significant challenge.

You CAN find good writing, but it can be a lot of work.

You CAN find good writing, but it can be a lot of work.

If you really want to share your writing with the world, theoretically, it is more likely to be received well if you are able to go the traditional publishing route. Traditional publishing means that you have people who are already familiar with, and fans of, your work (agent, editor, publishing house, etc.). Traditional publishing also means that the publishing house will solicit feedback via issuing ARCs, alerting the reading community through Twitter and newsletters, etc.

For the elderly and the publishing peeps. Oh, and me.

For the elderly and the publishing peeps. Oh, and me.

Yet is this really still the case? If you are not a celebrity, or already an established author, how difficult is it to even get a traditional publishing contract? And with the ever-changing media climate, if you are able to get a traditional publishing contract, how likely is it that a traditional publishing house will use its resources for your book? I have heard rumors that the book tour, and likelihood that a publisher will push your book hard in terms of media, etc., are currently much less likely than in prior years.

book tour

So if you decide to eschew the traditional publishing route in favor self publishing, is this a better alternative? With self-publishing, you know all of the marketing is up to you. Yet you don’t have the contacts that someone established in the traditional publishing community will have, nor do you have the experience with regards to pricing, book covers, book titles, etc. Are you giving yourself more work, or saving yourself from over-reliance, and likely, a lot of rejection? Are you making your writing career more difficult, or taking it into your own hands, with the potential failure AND potential success entirely yours?

2013_Entrepreneur_Quote

I don’t know. I can see pros and cons in both instances, and don’t currently have anything I have written that is worth publishing, so I don’t have to make a decision. What are your thoughts?

Because the goo…

Because the good news is that we learn just as much about writing from awful books as we do from top-notch books. That’s why we’re encouraged to read everything. So with that spirit in mind, I’d like to look at some of the glaring mistakes of No Name Book that no author should make and no self-respecting author should allow to be published with their name on it.

First, my personal pet-peeve, copious backstory dump. For those unfamiliar with the term, backstory dump is when the author packs the first couple of pages—or first couple of chapters in this case—full of block paragraphs of exposition. Not just any exposition, the life-story of the main characters including all of the important bits of their pasts that will play a role in the current story. No! There are so many ways you can convey that sort of information without dumping it all out in explanatory paragraphs at the beginning! Let it unfold gradually, through dialog and action, and as part of the natural arc of the story!

This quote is from Merry Farmer’s blog, which deals a lot with reading and writing and is often pretty entertaining at the same time. Some of her blogs are romance-specific, and I’m not generally a romance fan, but I still highly recommend reading her blogs – especially since she writes much historical romance, and so a lot of her posts are about “what the hell were these people thinking when –“

But on to my perspective. First of all, reading her blog post, I completely agree with her opinion of the copious backstory dump. Exposition tends to be boring. BUT while reading this particular blog post, I began to wonder – does it have to be boring?

There has to be a way to make even large chunks of information highly entertaining.

One of my favorite novels, ever, is Northanger Abbey. NA begins with a lot of exposition, but all of that exposition is also a parody of gothic novel beginnings. The author (Jane Austen) covers a great deal of time (birth to marriageable age) in a few pages, and writes clever, pithy lines that always make me giggle.

Is that the trick, then? Humor? If you make me laugh while reading, I don’t tend to notice the format of the reading – I just let the ab workout take over and gleefully turn the pages.

What are your thoughts? I feel like this topic is pretty relevant since many people are beginning novels today (NaNo for the win! I’m not doing it this year, but I will cheer for you).