Saturday, December 29, 2012

Welcome to 2013

As we are nearing the end of yet another year (yep, there is the whooshing sound it makes as it flies by) it is time to reflect upon the wonderful adventures we had the last 365 days and to think/daydream about the new even amazing-er adventures we’ll experience the next 365 days. Who knows, it might be the year that toy stores will start selling jet packs. Or the year we can clone our pets. Or maybe women will start ruling the world (we kind of do already). I’m just saying, just because it has the number 13 in it, doesn’t mean it has to be a bad year. Even though we can’t know what will happen during 2013 we can at least see it as more time to get closer to our dreams, or enjoy more time living them if that’s the case.

For me the year 2012 was one of my most exciting adventures, where I got to go to England and got my MA in Creative Writing. I made wonderful friends, learned a lot, went on a date with a not-so-much English gentleman, kicked ass in pool and most importantly learned where to put my knife and fork after I had finished eating to indicate I’d indeed finished eating. Okay, that wasn’t that important, but knowing it made me feel British.

The year 2013 will be even more exciting, though. Before this I always had a plan of what I was going to study and where, but this is the first time I’m no longer a student and an official adult. If you hear a loud scream, then yes, that is me. And finding a job isn’t easy, I probably have more of a chance to discover the remains of a mummy in my own basement. Right now I’m finishing two novels so hopefully this will be the year that I get to publish my books and make some money. My Master’s diploma on my desk tells me I can do it. No pressure.
So now you know that my 2013 will be the year of dreams, what will it be for you? 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shadow of a Doubt

In one swift motion Yumi Yoshida turned around. There was nothing to see, the car park was empty except for her Yamaha motorcycle and one dark Mercedes. She heard the sound of a howling dog again. It sounded like it came from the adjoining park. Well, technically it wasn’t a park, it was just trees and grass stretched out as far as the eye could see. Nothing but total darkness surrounded the car park and the pub she was heading towards.
            Yumi turned back and kept her eyes on the pub. She had been here before to check out the place, but she hadn’t yet been inside. The ice cold wind caused her to shiver and she quickened her pace. She could hear the rapid tapping sound of her high heels on the pavement that was still wet from the rain earlier that evening. She brushed her hair out of her face and checked her watch. It was exactly midnight. A few lampposts poorly lit up the car park. From a distance it would seem like the pub and car park were floating in darkness, like a miniscule planet floating in space.
            Walking in an empty car park towards a pub that was situated on a hill in the middle of nowhere at midnight may have sparked fear in any woman in her late twenties but not in Yumi Yoshida. She was the kind of woman who could handle herself. She had moved to London from Kyoto when she was ten and ever since she turned eighteen she had been moving around the country doing what she did best.
            She reached the back of the establishment and stepped into a red telephone box that was placed at the left corner. There was an old, wet newspaper on the floor with a distorted picture of some child, and the phone was hanging off the hook. It smelled like urine and coffee. Yumi picked the phone up by the cord and took out a handkerchief to clean the phone before putting it to her ear.
            A brief moment later she stepped out of the telephone box and walked to the front of the building. She stopped to look inside. It was a small pub with bad lighting. The radio was playing popmusic in the background. Behind the bar stood a middle aged bartender cleaning a couple of beerglasses, she couldn’t see his face. In the reflection of the window, she saw her long, dark hair frame her face. Her long fringe covered her eyebrows and beneath the dark strands she could see her lightblue contacts. She only ever put them in when she had to work.
She stepped inside and smelled fish, chips and grease. She walked straight on to the only other person sitting in the pub. His back was turned towards her. “Is this seat taken?” she asked and sat down without awaiting a reply.
“Go ahead,” said the man and pushed his glasses back. It was a man in his thirties with short, sandy hair and hazelnut eyes. He wore a gray suit with a deep-purple shirt and violet tie. “You must be…”
“I am, Mr. Stone,” Yumi interrupted.
“So, what should I call you?”
“Call me Yami.”
“Is that your real name?” he asked.
“Almost, but the meaning is more accurate.”
“What does it mean?”
“I’ll tell you later. First things first.”
The man nodded and touched his glasses again. “Well, I’m married.”
“They always are. I assumed that’s why you contacted me.”
He looked down at his coffee and moved in his chair. He then loosened his tie before he spoke again, somewhat softer than before. “Her name is Heather and here’s her picture.” From his breast pocket he took a picture and slid it to her side of the table. Yumi picked it up and saw it was a picture of them together, holding each other and smiling, happy and unaware. They seemed so at ease, so at home with each other no matter where they would be. How could it have come to this? There is no such thing as true, unconditional love, except maybe with babies and dogs. She couldn’t help but wonder if it meant that the smarter you are, the less you become capable of loving.
Yumi snorted. The man looked up. “I got it,” she said and wanted to slide the picture back but the man said: “No, keep it. I don’t need it anymore.” He then finished his coffee and they sat in silence for a moment. Yumi was observing him and couldn’t help but think he didn’t seem like the type of man who was capable of doing any harm. Usually she could tell for sure, and if she couldn’t she had time to shadow someone, but in this case everything had gone so fast. It seemed understandable considering the case.
“Do you have many…clients?” he suddenly asked, breaking the silence and interrupting her in her thoughts.
“I have enough,” was her reply.
“Don’t you ever find it difficult? I mean, because you’re a woman…well, I mean…”
“No, I don’t. I’m good at what I do, which means people are willing to pay for something I can give them. It’s that simple.”
“Is it really that easy?”
She couldn’t believe his nerve and just tapped her fingers on the table. It didn’t make a sound though, because she was still wearing her gloves. 
She could see him thinking. He had a frown on his face and was unconsiously tapping his indexfinger on his watch. “Life really is all about money, isn’t it?” His voice sounded gentle. Yumi remained silent. He got up to go to the lavatory and excused himself.
Yumi leaned back and let out a sigh. She still had the picture in her hand and looked at it again. She was actually thankful for the life she had, at least she had the chance to do something meaningful.
After a couple of minutes she saw Mr. Stone coming out of the lavatory and got up. She gestured towards the exit and dropped a twenty pound note at the bar. Then she walked towards the door with Mr. Stone on her heels.
Together they walked past the building back to the car park. Yumi closed her eyes when the cold wind struck against her face. She had kept on her leather jacket and gloves inside, which made the drop in temperature very welcome. “You said both was fine, but I brought cash with me. I figured that would be harder to trace,” Mr. Stone suddenly explained.
“It is,” Yumi said coldly.
He unlocked the car with his key fob as they nearly reached it. Yumi looked around and noticed it was still as deserted as when she had arrived. The car was right beneath a lamppost and when Mr. Stone opened a briefcase in the trunk she could clearly see all the money in it. “Half up front and after, right?”
“Yes, Mr. Stone. That’s correct.”
“Considering what you’re about to do, you can call me…”
“No,” Yumi interrupted. “I don’t want to know any first names. It’s easier that way.” 
“But then…you know my wife’s name.” The light of the lamppost reflected in his glasses.
“That’s not a problem in this case,” Yumi answered and walked slowly to his other side.
“You know, you still haven’t told me what your name means.”
He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again. 
 “Why do you want to do this to your wife?”
He grimaced. Not in an evil way, but more like he was disguising his discomfort. He put his hand in his jacket and Yumi automatically reached for her gun. He took out a picture and handed it to her. It was the picture of a little boy. He had brown hair and freckles and his broad smile showed he was missing two front teeth.
“That’s my son. He was from my first marriage.”
“Yes, he died a few months ago. My wife has always treated him very poorly, without me knowing. I was always at work and even though I noticed he was mostly quiet, I thought it was because he missed his mother. But then I found his diary and even though his death was technically an accident, I can’t help but feel she’s responsible. I can’t even look at her anymore and I don’t remember the last time I said more than a sentence to her.”
“So you never abused her daughter?”
“What? What are you talking about? We don’t even have children together.”
“I see. Well, that’s what she told me.”
He looked down and fumbled his watch.
            “I’m saying she found out what you were going to do and she wanted to beat you to it.”
            Even though it was cold outside, little drops of sweat began to form on his forehead. He was mumbling incoherently.
            Yumi closed the trunk. “Don’t worry, I don’t take money from a dead man.”
            She saw him tremble. “If you’re going to kill me, just do…”
            Everything happened fast from that moment on. She’d taken her knife and cut the palm of his hand. Following her instructions he had held his hand over the front seat of his car. He had put his tie around his hand to stop the blood from spilling on the ground. He left his car keys in the ignition and only took the briefcase. It didn’t matter if his wife thought she’d taken the money. Now, he had a chance to start over.
            Yumi walked back to the telephone box and dialed the number she had dialed before. “It is done,” Yumi coldly stated.
“I’m transferring the other half now,” the woman said.
“Alright, Mrs. Stone, goodbye.”
Yumi took a deep breath before stepping out in the cold wind. Her black hair moved fiercely in front of her face, almost dancing. She ripped up the picture of the happy couple and the wind blew away the pieces into the darkness.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Plotting & Post-its

The plot bunny can be a treacherous little creature and very hard to catch. It helps to lure him with carrots, but in case you don’t have spare carrots lying around, (I know I don’t, it’s too healthy), this blog post might help you to develop your plot.

I am a very visual person (it's a gift and a curse) and have always wanted to work on my plots by using post-its, but enjoyed winging it too much and didn’t really know where to begin until a writer friend of mine gave me a good tip. I start with the main plot, summed up in one line, which I put on paper and if necessary, scribble any additional notes. I prefer writing the purpose of the scene with relation to the main plot or sub plot, which also helps me determine if I really need the scene. This is just the set up to get my head in the game.

Though I’m good at plotting the evil things that will befall my unsuspecting characters (In a cartoon I'd be the villain stroking a white cat) I don’t immediately know all the scenes that will be in my story, so I start with writing down the initial situation; the stasis and what the main plot will entail. Then below it come the scenes and then on another page I write what the situation will be like at the end of the story; the goal. And then below that I write the situation that would lead me there and work my way from the beginning and end to the middle.
This is what it eventually should look like:

This way you at least now which scenes you need it, even if it will change. You can just put a post-it over it with the new scene.

You can also completely make it out of post-its, but it will be a lot of them and you would need a big poster or your wall to put it on.
For my main plot events I always use post-its and I put them under the correct act. I aways use the three act structure. Like this:

Try it and see if it works for you. In my case my walls are always covered in paper. 

But that’s the way I like it. Crazy writer-lady will one day be my nickname. Then again, maybe it is already? J

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: Headhunters

Headhunters is Charlie Cole’s first novel that is available on Kindle. 
It is a story about Simon Parks who is a spy and wants to leave that life behind when he loses his wife. He moves with his (adorable) kids, thinking he gets to start over with a new job but his past comes back to bite him in the ass. You’re thinking; guns, spies, violence = manly stuff, but that is not necessarily true. 
The characters are realistic and complex, the story interesting, with many twists, and there is even some romance.
If you like an action packed story with an air of mystery that is thrilling and fast-paced, read Headhunters.

Follow Charlie Cole on Twitter: @CharlieCole

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Let's talk plot...

Alright, let’s dive straight in for a little bit of plot-talk.
In my class we were talking about plot, I even had to give a little presentation. I survived it, thank you very much. And I didn’t even have to include fire-spitting men and dancing mice.
The main thing we had discussed, and which I think is most interesting to share, is the Eight-Point Arc, which comes from Aristotle. Usually this is used for film, but it will be handy, trust me... I’m Dutch.

1. Stasis
2. Trigger/Inciting incident
3. The quest
4. Surprise
5. Critical choice
6. Climax
7. Reversal
8. Resolution

Stasis: Is where the story is set in an ‘everyday life’ situation, so before everything is shot to hell.

Trigger/Inciting incident: Is the trigger that sparks off the rest of the story. Usually it is something that goes wrong (usually something beyond control of hero(ine))

The quest: is what comes after the trigger, this would be a new desire, usually where the hero(ine) has to return the world to the state it was in when everything was peachy.

Surprise: involves several elements and takes up most of the middle part of the story. There are obstacles, complications, conflict and trouble. So no happy campers at this point.

Critical choice: is the part where the hero(ine) needs to make an important decision. Usually this reveals the character of the protagonist, so what stuff (s)he’s made out of.

Climax: is the result of the critical choice. It is the part of the story with the highest tension.

Reversal: should be the result of the choice and the climax and often changes the status of the hero(ine). So they are celebrated and/or have found their true love.

Resolution: is a return to the new stasis; the characters are changed, usually better and wiser, and the story has now reached its ending. The world is restored.

The shorter (and more literary) version of this little set up is this:

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling action
  5. Resolution
This is narrative structure divided into five parts, similar to the acts of a play. This is something Gustav Freytag has come up with, since I’m throwing around names anyway.

The exposition: introduces all the characters, their relationships, goals, etc. It is basically the set-up for the story.

Rising action: is where the trouble begins. This is the introduction of all the conflict.

Climax: is where the main character makes a big decision (sound familiar?) which determines the ending and defines their character. It is where the tension is highest. This happens in the middle of the story.

Falling action: is where the loose ends are being tied up.

Resolution: is the (happy) ending of a story.

That was fun, wasn’t it? Now, lastly, some plot devices (means of advancing plot):

Deus ex machina: is where an extremely difficult problem is suddenly solved with the unexpected introduction of a character, object, event or ability. 

MacGuffin: is something that all important characters want and would do anything for to get. It can be anything; money, glory, acceptance, etc. Sometimes it is even undefined or unexplained.

Red Herring: is where a clue or interpretation is supposed to lead you off the right track. (usually in crime novels)

Subplot: is a secondary plot that is a side story. They usually connect to main plots and usually include minor characters. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Generating inspiration

Some writers have trouble finding an idea for a story.
I have nine ideas for novels and I plan to write them all, so I’m safe for now. But even though that's the case, it is still fun to come up with new ideas and to exercise those creative muscles. So this is something handy (and fun) I've learned in one of my classes:

First I wrote down a question that interests me, like; what would drive someone to murder someone?
It can be a lighter question than this, but you get the idea.
Then I wrote down what I thought is funny like; when someone is distracted and walks into a wall.
This is because humour is important in any story, especially in stories that have a serious or dark theme.
Next I wrote down any special skills I have. I guess this is to give your character something extra and to write about something you know. I didn’t really think of anything that special except for touching my nose with my tongue. Who knows, it might become super important in a story. And yes, that was sarcasm.
Then I wrote down the first title of a novel that came to mind; Veiled in Darkness. It can seriously be anything you think of and it doesn’t have to be the title for the story you’ll work on. Like I said, it’s just to get the creative juices flowing.
Lastly you write down where the story will be set. I chose Chicago, US. 

I made up four names for characters and then for each of them I wrote down:
Something I (the writer) am or have been (can be anything)
Something I have felt recently
An exciting or interesting event
A boring event
An animal, plant or object that I like or find interesting

And there you go; by answering all of these things you already have an idea for a story. The only thing left to do is to put it together. The challenge is to use every element at some point, and you can decide how. It can be funny, weird or just extremely normal. It’s your story.
The thing about this exercise is that you also learn to write about what you know, which is always a good start with any story. You can even add other things for your characters, like; locations you know well, problems you’ve faced, worries you have, etc. The paper is your playground, have fun!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A New Year

Happy New Year!
I’m excited about this year, because it will be the most exciting one yet. I always have a plan of where to go to and what to do, but after I get my MA this year (fingers crossed) it’s out into the grown world. And even though I would love to write full time, I also need a job and I have no idea what it will be. I have faith it will all come together in time. I’m not someone who doesn’t have a plan or back-up plan when it comes to the important things, but still, it’s kind of exciting and scary.
For now I can just focus on my writing skills and I’ve enjoyed a long holiday, while working on my 16,000 words that I’ll have to hand in at the end of the week. It’s 8,000 words per module, but I can work on the same story for both modules. I’ve had good feedback but it will still be interesting to see what grade I’ll get. They’ll be my first grades. J
At the beginning of the course I wrote fantasy and I was told by my teacher that it was an easy genre and that she knew I could do better, so I was dragged out of my comfort zone and had to write literary fiction. I was flattered by the compliment but I didn’t like being thrown into the deep end. How was I supposed to write something that I couldn’t put my heart in? At least, that’s how I saw it.
Then one night when I was almost falling asleep, I was thinking about some ideas that I’d previously had about a detective story and another ‘normal’ story and these words just came to me. I wrote them down and those became the beginning of my story. “Never change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” Saul Bellow.
This story revolved more about the characters and I threw in a lot of humour, at least, it was humour to me, I wasn’t sure how my fellow students and teachers would feel about that. Since I was very passionate about this story I was willing to put it to the test and volunteered to read it out at one of my classes, something which most students had to do and I was relieved when they liked it and even laughed at my jokes.
So far this story and the voice had come quite natural to me, so I’d like to think that’s a good sign. Since I had a long holiday I had some trouble with not getting distracted, but I managed to reach the deadline by a week earlier so that means there’s plenty of time to revise.
I’m glad I listened to my teacher, because I can always write fantasy if I want to, but this study is about learning everything I can and see how far I can go. This has taught me that I can get out of my comfort zone and write literary fiction and make it my own. Who knows, this might be a story that will one day adorn bookshelves in bookstores. J