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Monday, August 18, 2014

Can You See Them? Your Characters, That Is.

There was a thread on a writing forum I frequent that asked others if they can picture their characters, and the OP stated that they have a hard time doing so. Many replied that they do not see their characters, or can only envision a few aspects of their characters, such as the color of their hair, or physique of the character's body, or their sex, and what not. I answered that I could indeed picture my characters and that I have drawn them from memory many times, although the drawings don't always come out like I want them to.

The majority of the respondents said that it didn't matter if they could see their characters, what was important was what the characters said or did in the story. The reader in their mind's eye will picture them as they saw them anyway, so a few modest details was all that was needed. I believe this to be true. I do it all the time. I like to be given a few details of a character and be allowed to see them how I see them. Some writers even said they don't describe their characters at all, unless the detail is important to the story. But when it comes to historical or fantasy characters, I like to be given more detailed descriptions, including their clothing and hair or scars and what not. Or if the character is non-human, it's nice to be given a detailed description of what these beings look like, but of course, I don't want the info dumped on me all at once.

However, there were those that said they can't envision their characters or those in books they read, even when details are given. For me, I find that strange because I can always see a character in my head as I'm reading. My reasoning is that I am first and foremost a visual artist. My interest in drawing had come way before my interest in writing, so maybe that's where my ability to see characters comes from. Give me a few choice details and I can draw you (or, at least back when I did draw) a picture of how I see a character. I've even posted a couple of drawings on this blog of my characters. Drawing characters was more effortless for me than to use words to describe them. Although, nowadays the opposite seems to be true.

So how about you? Can you see your characters clearly, or not at all, or somewhere in between?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Flash Fiction of the Month: April

I had been working on a different story for the month of April but struggled to get it down. It was giving me fits and I was worrying that I would not be able to finish it by the end of the month (you'd think a story under 1000 words wouldn't be so much trouble). Then along came the idea for this story which almost wrote itself. I may have to start over on the other one and hopefully have it figured out in time for May.

This story is a bit different than from what I usually write, in both style and voice, and overall theme. It's still within the realm of fantasy, but instead of having a darker theme, this one has a bit of whimsy to it and a bit of a middle grade voice. At 940 words, here's my FF story for April (and a song called Two Trees by Einaudi you can listen to while you read):



 Two Trees
a story of the ent
By K.E. Skedgell



   There lived in the forest two trees. That's what they would have you believe, anyway, for they were ents, and for all purposes behaved like trees until they did not. One had known 400 years and lived as an ancient white oak. Unable to bend his branches like he used to in his younger days, the ent put down his roots to live the rest of his life as a true tree. The other lived as a frisky sassafras sapling and had seen only a few winters. The sassafras was not bound to the ground like the oak and could move at will as he may, but preferred the oak's sheltering branches. The oak protected the little sassafras from terrible storms, the hot summer sun, or a late spring frost; in return the sassafras kept the old tree entertained with his antics with the woodland animals.
   One spring day a man wandered near the two trees. Here and there he sprayed orange marks on other large trees around them. When he approached the oak, the man said, “Oh boy, this one's nice,” and he sprayed an “X” on the bark of the old ent's face. “This'll fetch me a good chunk of change.”
   After the man was long gone, the sassafras said, “What do those marks mean, Oak?”
   The oak sighed. “It means these trees are meant to be cut down.”
   “He can't do that. They will die. You will die.”
   “There is nothing I can do. I am old and unable to remove my roots from the earth.”
   “I'm young and bendy. I'll stop this man from cutting you and our tree friends down.”
   “What can you do? You are but an entling.”
   “I don't know yet. But I'll do something. You'll see.”
   Spring and Summer came and went, and the autumn air turned crisp. The oak's dried, brown leaves clung to his branches and the little sassafras was stark naked. They had not seen the man since that day, and the two trees worried he would return while they took their winter sleep. Perhaps he had forgotten about them.
   Brr. Brr. Brrrr. Brrrrrrrr . . .
   In the distance a strange buzz-like sound echoed through the woods. “What is that, Oak?” said the sassafras. “Is that the man to come cut down the trees?”
   “Yes, it is he. What you hear is a chain saw. In the old days, man would come to the forest with silent saws. They took longer to cut and the trees would writhe in pain much longer. The chain saws are more merciful, but their sound sends terror throughout the forest.”
   “Why would man do this? Doesn't he know he causes the trees pain?”
   “He does not know because the trees cannot speak. He uses their wood to burn to heat his home, which, too, is made of wood.”
   “That's terrible.” The entling yawned. “This cold air makes me tired. I hope he doesn't come while we sleep.”
   “Me too, Sassafras. Don't you worry. When you wake in the spring, I'll be here beside you.”
   Winter turned to Spring, and the forest floor woke with trilliums and scurrying chipmunks. Sassafras stretched his budding branches. Oak remained beside him as promised, but all that was left of the marked trees were stumps.
   “Oak, Oak, wake up! Our friends are gone.”
   “That they are. Such a shame. At least they were taken in their sleep so they would know no pain.”
   Footsteps disturbed the quiet forest floor. Man.
   “But I see that my time has come.”
   The man set his chain saw on the ground and gazed at the oak's sprawling branches. “This will take me some time.”
   While the man tended to his saw, Sassafras scurried up behind him and leaned over his shoulder to watch. Man jolted and turned, and Sassafras straightened up and pretended to sway with the non-existent breeze. “Jeez, where did that tree come from?” He shuddered and turned back to his saw.
   The entling knocked the man's hat from his head. He scrambled to catch it and twirled at once, but Sassafras scurried around behind him. “Who's out here?” man said. “Where'd that tree go?” He turned back to his saw and his face paled. “Weren't you? No, trees can't move. I must be imagining things.”
   The man pushed on the entling and the entling shook and laughed. That tickled.
   “Dear God,” the man jumped back, “the thing can move!” He grabbed his saw and pulled on the cord. “I'll make short order out of you.”
   The saw buzzed alive and the man tromped after Sassafras. Sassafras tried to run, but his roots sunk into a groundhog hole and he fell. The man stood over top of the entling, the saw buzzing loudly through the woods.
   With all of his will and might, Oak twisted his trunk, creaking and cracking, and swept his branches  at the man, knocking him down and hurling the saw across the woods. The man flipped to his back. The old ent, leaning over him, revealed his scowling marked face and said in a deep, hollow voice, “Leave.”
   The man's pants turned brown. “Good God, I'm sorry I ever cut down these trees!” He leaped to his feet and ran. Sassafras ran after and gave him a swift kick goodbye.
   “I didn't think you could move, Oak?” Sassafras wrapped his branches around the old ent.
   “Neither did I. I thought I was too stiff to bend. But bend I did. I have broken some branches and cracked my trunk, but when someone I love is in danger, I will to do anything to protect them.”

Monday, March 31, 2014

Flash Fiction of the Month: March

The month of March has come to its close, which means another piece of short fiction from yours truly. This flash fiction piece was inspired by the Scottish/Irish/Faroese myth of the selkie. The selkie is considered a sea fairy that for most of its existence lives in the open water in its seal form. Occasionally they come to shore and remove their seal skins, revealing their inner form of that of a beautiful woman or a handsome man. Depending on the area, stories of the selkie can differ, but they are generally romantic tragedies. At 963 words, I present you my flash fiction piece for March:


Ethan
A story of the selkie
by K.E. Skedgell

   The ice cold sea thundered upon the shore. The selkie's shoulder throbbed, the sand beneath him soaked in his blood. Weak from the orca bite, he lay unable to remove his seal skin wrapped around his legs.
  A human voice. High in tone. A female. He opened his sand-caked eyes to a blurred vision of a hand touching his wound. Her words meant little to him, having learned precious few from their men-folk who fished the open sea. “Help”, “safe”, and “home” he understood. Warm hands lifted him and arms wrapped around his chest. The seal skin pulled away as his legs dragged across the sand. He tilted back his head. Her lips bowed upon skin that glowed beneath the pale moon, and he fell into unconsciousness.

   Ethan set the kettle on the stove to boil. A cool breeze wafted through the sunny kitchen window, carrying a hint of brine from the sea and rain from an approaching storm. Sara's laugh rang from the garden and that of her companion's. Her friend must have arrived while he took his afternoon rest. Tea and biscuits would be a good way to introduce himself.
   As the water heated, Ethan arranged a tray with cups, biscuits, and teabags. Sara's voice carried through the open window. “What a treat it's been havin' you here, Danielle. It's been a long time.”
   “Aye, too long. We have much catching up to do. I need to come back to Birsay more often. So, tell me more about Ethan. You've barely scratched the surface. How d'ya meet?”
   “It was a couple of years ago on the beach . . .”
   Ah, she was about to tell her “heroic” tale of how she saved his life, a story he could recite word for word for all the times she'd told it.
   “It was the anniversary of m' late husband's death. I'd been drinking to drown the memory of the day his fishing boat wrecked at sea. The entire crew perished.”
   “My condolences.”
   “Thank you. The evenin' had grown late and I was 'bout to head home when I stumbled upon Ethan. He was laying unconscious 'tween the rocks of the shore. I wasn't sure if he were alive or dead.”
   Sara paused.
   “Y' know, we've been close since our childhood until these last few years when you moved to Edinburgh with yer husband. We've told each other many secrets.”
   “We have.”
   “May I burden you with another?”
   “Of course. Tell me anything. Nothin' you say will leave this garden.”
   Ethan stood to the side of the window to get a better listen. Sara and Danielle sat at the little bistro on the patio as grey clouds blotted out the sun. Was she going to tell the truth?
   “Remember the stories my father told us as wee lasses of the selkies he claimed to have encountered while fishing out to sea?”
   “Aye, he firmly believed they existed. But why . . . oh!” Danielle cupped her hands over her mouth. “Don't tell me?”
   Sara nodded. “He was bitten by a shark or whale, which I don't know. His legs were wrapped in his seal skin. He might have swam to shore to seek help, but was too weak by the time he washed up on the beach to go further.”
   “And selkies can't speak so he couldn't tell you what happened.”
   “Aye. But he understands what I say. Not at first, but he learned. Thankfully for him he washed up at the house of a nurse. I dragged him here and cared for him m'self. A hospital was no place for a selkie. He's been under my wing e'er since.”
   Under her wing. More a prisoner. 'Course, without her help he would have died. Ethan quietly slid the window shut. The kettle whistled and he took it off the heat. Every day he dreamt of returning home to his family and searched the house for his skin when Sara was away. Without it he couldn't return to the sea, and she knew it. He set the kettle upon the tray and carried it to the door.
   “So yer hidin' his skin somewhere?” Danielle said as he carefully opened the door.
   “Hidin' it? He thinks it's 'round here. Selkies make fantastic lovers and do whate'er you ask of 'em. Ethan is here to stay. No, I'm not hidin' it. I rid m'self of that horrid thing.”
   The tray fell from Ethan's hands and crashed upon the patio.
   The women jumped in their seats. “Ethan, what are you doing out here?” Sara started.
   Ethan raised a hand and ran. His instincts had been right. The woman had never kept his skin. He was a prisoner. Humans couldn't be trusted, a common knowledge amongst his kind he regretfully ignored. And now his only option laid out before him across the beach, the waves beating the boulders beneath a blackening sky, for his other choice was no option at all.
   “Ethan, stop!” Sara shouted after. Ethan raced across the sand while relieving himself of the dry, false skins humans called clothing. He splashed through the frigid water and gasped. “Stop, Ethan! You'll drown. Come back to me and I'll take you home.”
   The waves crashed against his body, pulling him further into their icy grasp. “Ethan was your husband's name. Not mine.” He turned to her standing at the shoreline, her hands stretched out to him. Lightning seared the sky. “The sea was where I was born, and where I will die.”
   “You can speak? When could you speak?”
   Pairs of black eyes bobbed above the surface. His selkie family clicked and whistled, telling him they were here to take him home. Teeth clenched his wrists and ankles.
   “I always could, but you never would have listened.”

Friday, February 28, 2014

Flash Fiction of the Month: February

Echo....echo......echo........

Yeah, the blog has been pretty dead, but I'm hoping to liven it up a bit. Last month I came up with an idea to publish a flash fiction piece at the end of every month. I decided to start with February since the story I wrote wasn't quite ready by the time the end of January came around. You would think a flash fiction story wouldn't take long to write, but I am slow and a perfectionist. Two strikes against me. I've made this a challenge for myself to get the creative wheels moving in my noggin. I figured, I can write a 1000 word or less story for the challenge once a month, can't I? I better, but knowing me...

I'll probably need a swift kick in the hiney to keep up with it. Darn depression anyway.

At 735 words, here's FF story of the month number one:

The Thirteenth Year
a story of the strige
by K.E. Skedgell

“You are brave, Ariadne.” Momma pushed the last pin into the knot in Ariadne's hair. “My brave, beautiful daughter.”

Ariadne rose from her chair, her white dress billowing in the breeze. Papa took her hand. “Are you ready?”
 
“As best as I can be.”
Papa guided Ariadne to the village well. The priest followed, praying to the goddesses Artemis and Athena to spare their village of its curse, and to the Virgin Mary to save Ariadne's soul. The villagers gathered around, woe now replaced the cheer they once wore during Ariadne's thirteenth birth year celebration. The village elders carried the shackles and hooked them to the well. They turned to Ariadne.
 
“Words cannot express our sorrow,” spoke the eldest.
 
“I've always known this day would come.”
 
“Our hearts ache for you, child. Know this.”
 
They clasped the shackles onto her wrists and each gave a kiss upon her forehead. “If only there was another way to appease the angry goddesses to stop this centuries old plague upon our village,” an elder said. “May your next life be free from this terror.”
 
Momma and Papa kissed Ariadne on her cheek, and cried as they carried each other home. The villagers locked themselves in their houses and shuttered their windows.
 
Alone, Ariadne stood restrained to the well as the mountains turned into shadow and the sky purple. Dust blew upon the breeze and her heart pounded her ribs. Otis, chained outside the house, barked and wagged his tail inviting her to play. Tears filled her eyes, her bravery faltering. “No play tonight.”
 
A scream pierced the quiet darkness within the olive orchard. An owl. Must be. It was only one scream. Then came another, farther away from the first. The first responded to the second, and the two creatures carried on back and forth.
 
Then a third joined them.
 
And a forth.
 
A fifth.
 
Soon, a chorus of screams and screeches immersed the orchard surrounding the village. No, not owls. Striges.
 
Ariadne pulled on her chains. “I don't want to do this. Momma, Papa, please, unchain me!”
 
Her cries fell upon deaf ears. “Please, don't make me do this. Somebody help me!”
 
Dozens of red orbs lit up the trees as the screaming grew louder and closer. Wings flapped overhead and one of the creatures landed on the ground. Its hot coal eyes scrutinized her. The owl-like creature spread its wings, revealing a body like that of a feathered old woman, and belted an ear-piercing scream. The strige hopped toward her and pecked at her feet. Ariadne kicked it, sending the bag of feathers rolling across the gravel. It lay flat on its belly, its wings spread over the ground, and gave a tortured scream. The other "birds of ill omen" responded in kind.
 
Ariadne covered her ears and her skin goose-pimpled. Her nightmares had come alive. Since she was a little girl, she woke to nightmares of this night facing these horrid creatures. What had she done in her past life to deserve this?
The trees came alive and the sky a torrent of shadowed wings and fire-red eyes. Ariadne pulled on the chains, willing herself to break free from the well. A force like bricks and knives hit her back, arms, legs, cutting into her flesh and ripping out her hair. “Mother Mary,” she shouted as her body was picked and torn apart. She glanced to Otis, who cowered and whimpered. Tears of pain and fear clouded her vision. Her knees buckled and her will to live withered like an autumn leaf. Ariadne slumped to the ground and succumbed to the darkness, to silence.

* * *

A click of a door. Then another, and another. The villagers emerged from their homes and gathered with quiet trepidation around the well. A torn, bloodied dress and the chains that had bound her were all that remained of Ariadne. Her parents held each other tightly, but it was the shrill cry of a newborn that broke the silence in the village. The priest stepped out from a home, holding high a swaddled baby and carried the child to the well.
 
“She is reborn,” the priest said. “This night, Ariadne's body fed the beasts that plague our village, and in this new body her soul has been saved. Let us pray the goddesses are satisfied and in thirteen years Ariadne will be spared from the striges. Alleluia.”
 
Alleluia.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Didn't Win

Nope, not a chance. I'm not popular enough to have gotten enough votes to win, but at least writing the story for the Gaelsong contest was good practice. So now I will share my entry with you all:

Betty
by K.E. Skedgell

   
Every Halloween, Betty took delight in watching the neighborhood children dressed in costumes go door to door for treats. And every year she hoped at least one child would stop at hers. From her parlor window, she watched a young bee begin to waddle up her sidewalk, but the bee's mother grabbed hold of their arm and said, “No, not here. This is the home of that old witch.”
Betty sighed and her heart sank as all the children passed by her lighted porch. Another year without handing out candied apples to even one child. Every year she said, “Why do I bother?”
She looked about her home to her favorite things: her collection of owl statues, the crystal balls she used to read fortunes from, now gathering dust, her books of Shakespeare and Poe, a skull engraved with Celtic knots that used to bring her luck. Red votive candles glowed warmly as she petted her cat Mr. Black, but none of those things could heal her cold, lonely heart.
A young couple with a plum fairy princess stopped. “They will pass on by like the rest.”
They didn't.
The mother urged the little fairy up the sidewalk to the porch. Betty's heart sang. “A child! Oh blessed be!”
She rushed to the door as quick as her old bones allowed and grabbed the tray of candied apples from the table beside it. The door bell rang and Betty opened it, smiling.
Trick-or-Treat!” the little fairy said.
Here's a candied apple for you.” Betty placed the treat into her bag. She glanced to the joyful parents. “Here, have a few more, for your parents.” She placed two more in the fairy's bag.
Thank you, lady. These are my favorite.”
My name is Betty, little princess.”
I'm Rachel.”
Up and down the street other parents gave looks of distress and disgust. None would come to her door, she knew, and this family must be new to the neighborhood and not yet heard of their hurtful rumors. She emptied the tray into Rachel's bag and said, “Take them all. You and your family, enjoy!”
Thank you!” the fairy said, and bounced back to her parents to show them her bounty.
Every Halloween after, Rachel remained the only child to stop at Betty's. Even as a teenager, when she felt too mature to trick-or-treat, she'd always stop at Betty's for her candied apples. Rachel departed for college, married, and had a daughter of her own. One year she returned to town to take her daughter trick-or-treating and to meet her namesake when she heard of Betty's passing. Rachel, with little Betty dressed as a plum fairy princess, stopped at old Betty's house, the gardens over-grown, the house rotting from neglect, and set at the front door a candied apple, a small owl statue, and a card that read:
Thank you for the candied apples, and for the wonderful Halloween memories.”

Happy Halloween!