Saturday, March 23, 2019

Weekend Writing Prompt 4

While fighting off a horde of zombies/vampires/werewolves/whatever, your hero discovers a way of killing/defeating them that no one else knows.

If you come up with a good response, please consider sharing it. Complete THIS FORM with your story and some basic info no later than Friday, March 29. I’ll pick my favorite response and share it on the blog on Friday, April 5.

C. Wombat

Friday, March 22, 2019

Writing Prompt 2 Winner

I was completely blown away by this snippet from Terry G., age 15, of Norfolk, VA. He took last week's prompt and went way above and beyond anything I was expecting.

The prompt was: Describe your house (or somewhere else) using only the senses of hearing, feeling, smell, and taste (no sight!).

Terry went with "somewhere else" and definitely knocked it out of the park. Enjoy.

The sharp clatter of hooves on cobblestones vanished at least an hour ago, replaced by rhythmic pounding on a hard-packed dirt road. As we make a sudden turn to the right, their gait slows to a walk, and deep grass muffles their progress.

No more dust at least, I think. I try once again to clear my throat, to cough up the cloying dirt, but the gag makes it impossible. The weak spasms bounce my body against the back of the man who guides our horse, scraping my cheek against his coarse shirt.

Murmuring voices drift from ahead, but they are too indistinct to make out over the jangle of harnesses, the rustle of slender legs through tall grass, the blowing of the nearly exhausted horses.

A swirling gust dries the dusty sweat on my face, carrying with it the scent of orchids and cowberries. The meadow we’re crossing must boast a respectable display of flowers, but the men were quite thorough with my blindfold and I can’t see a petal. I wouldn’t even be sure the sun was still up were it not warming my hair.

A moment later, the world grows suddenly colder as the sunlight vanishes and the thump of hooves on grass is replaced by rustling leaves and snapping twigs. A patch of woods, perhaps a forest. The trees could not have been too thickly clustered, as we ride another fifteen minutes before finally pulling to a stop.

The man before me dismounts and unties the cord that bind my legs to the horse. I am dragged from my seat and unceremoniously dumped on the ground. Before I can stand up, or even work some circulation into my dead legs, my ankles are pushed together and wrapped with rope.

“Comfortable, your Lordship?” a cruel voice asks, before breaking into a raucous laugh. Coarse hands drag me across the ground and prop me against a tree. Another rope is looped under my arms and wrapped around the tree, tugging against my chest as it is tied on the far side.

Over the next hour, they unsaddle the horses, build a fire, cook their dinner. My stomach rumbles at the smell of a savory stew, venison as near as I can tell. Despite my hunger, I don’t think I could keep anything down. Not that it matters. No one offers me even a single bite. I taste nothing but the dust of the road that still clings to my gag.

The men are careful. Far more careful than I would have credited. Talk is minimal. There are no threats, no boasting, no banter. Not a single name gets used, nor any hint of where they are taking me, or why. Though why seems obvious. It must be for money. My family has no influence at court that might be manipulated, but they do have plenty of money.

Tree frogs and crickets begin their nighttime song. The breeze has died, but the cold seeps in from every side. I am too far from the fire to enjoy any of its warmth. No one offers me a cloak or a blanket. It will be a long, uncomfortable night.

I lean my head back against the tree. Coarse bark grinds against my skin. When I tip my head forward again to try another angle, strands of my hair cling to the tree. Great. Just what I needed. Pine sap in my hair, on top of everything else. There is nothing for it. I settle my head back again, hoping to find a more comfortable position.

I know I must have dozed off somehow. The frogs have quieted enough to tell me a couple of hours have passed. Now their mating cries vie against the snoring of my captors. I am just about to try sleeping again when I realize someone is right next to me. I can feel the radiant warmth of their body on my cheek.

“Don’t make a sound.”

The whisper borders on the inaudible, the speaker’s lips so close to my ear that they tickle it. The words bring a smile to my face and hope to my heart for the first time since I was seized.

Irina. I should have known she’d find me.

Cold steel rubs against my wrist as a wickedly sharp knife slices through my bonds. In a moment my hands are free. I work to silently rub some feeling back into them as the knife moves to my feet, to my gag, and at last to my blindfold. The knife vanishes, to be replaced by strong, slender hands. Irina helps me to my feet. She doesn’t make a sound. I do. But not so much that anyone could hear it over the reverberating snores.

“Don’t move unless you have to,” Irina breaths. “If you must, head left. My horse is near the road. I’ll be right back.”

The night is dark, the fire down to the last faint embers, the leaves blocking the starlight. I can barely make out the tree next to me, can’t see the sleeping shapes on the ground at all. That’s okay. I don’t want to.

I close my eyes and listen to Irina work. I hear nothing of her movements, but I can track her nonetheless as she moves through the camp. One by one, the snores go silent. I almost feel sorry for them.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Writers of the Future Contest

Funded by the estate of writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Writers of the Future contest is open any non-professional author (no or very limited previous publications).

They are looking for science fiction, fantasy, and dark fantasy stories of up to 17,000 words in length. This contest does not accept poetry or stories intended for children.

The contest runs four times a year, and prizes are $1000, $750, and $500 each quarter. Quarterly winners are also eligible for the annual prize of $5000.

The current contest ends March 31, with the next round running from April 1 to June 30.

There is no entry fee.

For more details and to enter the contest, see the Writers of the Future website.

C. Wombat

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Review: The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Lu may be the oldest of the Emperor’s children, both girls, but that in no way ensures that she will become Emperor after him. There has never been a female Emperor, and most of the land’s nobles want to keep it that way. Even though her entire life has been spent training to rule—in combat, in court etiquette, in history, in tactics—there is the very real chance that she will never get the opportunity to put them into practice.

Lu suddenly finds herself betrayed by everyone around her: tutors, generals, the man who would be her husband, and even her own parents. She must go on the run to find new supporters in her bid for the throne, with only the help of Nokhai, one of the shape-shifters whose family her own father destroyed. Meanwhile, her sister Minyi is trapped in the world that Lu leaves behind, and must struggle to discover her own identity now that she is no longer overshadowed by her older sister.

Mimi Yu presents a vivid, well-constructed fantasy world inspired by the empires of Asia. The imperial palace and courtly life are intricately detailed and portrayed—you can feel the weight of history surrounding Lu and vainly attempting to mold her into a role she does not want to accept. Yu effectively contrasts the disparity between the nobility and the common man without being blunt or overbearing.

The plot is as twisted as a nest of vipers, which leaves the pace of the book feeling a little slow at first as all of the strands are introduced. But there is nothing slow about most of the novel, and the ending is over almost too quickly, leaving you begging for more.

Released in January 2019, The Girl King is Mimi Yu’s first novel, but it is clear it won’t be her last. If you are a lover of high fantasy, imperfect characters, and shadowy intrigue that leaves you constantly guessing, The Girl King is the book for you.

C. Wombat

Monday, March 18, 2019

Are Adverbs Evil?

Writers use adverbs. From great writers to horrible writers, best sellers to those who will never be published, every writer uses adverbs.

So why do so many writers hate adverbs? Why do you so often see the advice to avoid them?

What Are Adverbs?

Hopefully you already know this one. Much like an adjective modifies a noun, an adverb is “a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc.” A lot of folks think adverbs only modify verbs, but note that they can modify other things too, including adjectives.

For example: The dog ran quickly down the road.

Here’s, it’s obvious that quickly is an adverb. It tells us how the dog ran.

Example 2: The cat had unusually shiny fur.

Here, shiny is an adjective (it modifies the noun, fur), while unusually is an adverb that modifies the adjective (it modifies shiny, telling us more about the shininess of the fur).

Many adverbs are easy to spot because they end in -ly, but not all of them do.

Why Are They Bad?

So, if adverbs exist (and they certainly do), and every writer uses them, why do they tell you not to use them?

The answer isn’t that adverbs are evil. They are overused. In particular, they are used to shore up weak verbs or adjectives, rather than finding a stronger word to begin with.

Back to our first example. The dog ran quickly down the road.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the sentence. By itself, it’s a perfectly understandable sentence. But as authors, we’re not going just for understandable. We want to craft lyrical, amazing sentences that capture the reader’s attention and make them say, “Wow, this is an incredible story!”

So how do we do that? Use stronger, more descriptive nouns and adjectives.

The dog dashed down the road. The dog scampered down the road. The dog raced down the road.

Every one of these sentences conveys a sense of running quickly, but because speed is already built into the verbs, no adverb is needed. We don’t need to write that the dog raced quickly down the road, because it’s difficult to imagine that it raced slowly down the road.

Overused Adverbs

Here’s a short list of frequently overused (and misused) adverbs:

kind of

There are many others that you might overuse yourself, but these tend to be common to many writers. And in many cases, they can be eliminated.

Adverbs Aren’t Evil

There is nothing wrong with adverbs. They exist for a reason. But if you overuse them, your writing will look sloppy and amateur. Cut as many as you can, so that the adverbs you do choose to keep enhance your writing, rather than detract from it.

One rule of thumb is no more than one adverb per 300 words of text. For a standard letter-sized page, doubled spaced, 1” margins, and 12-point font, that means about one adverb per page.

If you use a few more, you may be safe. If you use a lot more, be prepared for criticism.

But don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t use any adverbs at all. They’re part of the language, and they aren’t evil.

C. Wombat

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Weekend Writing Prompt 3

Write a poem about Spring which does not include any of these words: warm, rain, flower, sun, grass.

Bonus challenge: also avoid using the word “the” or any word ending in -ly

Be as creative as you can. Length is no object--in fact, the longer, the better. Come on, you can do better than a haiku.

If you come up with a good response, please consider sharing it. Complete THIS FORM with your poem and some basic info no later than Friday, March 22. I’ll pick my favorite response and share it on the blog on the following Friday, March 29.

C. Wombat