One of the first things we learn about stories is that they have a beginning, middle, and end. What makes a great story is the journey we experience when hitting those milestones. But sometimes as storytellers and writers, it can get murky as to when certain plot points should come to fruition, or how “quick” or “slow” the pacing should be. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way when it comes to setting the pace of stories and mapping out the plot.
BEGIN WITH A BANG
Not only do I enjoy writing stories, I enjoy reading them as well. What immediately captures my attention, as a reader, is an opening sentence or paragraph that either (1) commences with action, or (2) intrigues me and makes me want to find out more.
Beginning with a “bang,” doesn’t always have to include an explosion or fight scene (although those are fun). It also means provoking the reader’s interest, or perhaps leaving them with a question that they hope will be answered. Some people call this your “hook,” but whatever it is, make sure that it draws the reader in. In a recent survey of my 6,000 newsletter subscribers, I asked my readers what they loved most about a book. The top answer was a book that drew them in, one that immersed them in the story. It beat “interesting concept or setting,” and even character and plot (though those came in close second and third). If you can grab hold of your readers and bring them into your world so that they’re celebrating with your protagonist, laughing at their jokes, crying over their tragedies, and wishing they were BFF’s with the hero, then you’ve done your job. This also sets the stage for the direction of the plot, as well as the pacing of your story. Which leads us to…
WHO IS THIS? AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?
If I don’t get a clear sense of who the protagonist is and what her deepest desire or goal is, then I’m not going to care about her. The underlying guide to your entire plot will be the protagonist’s goal and the conflict and obstacles experienced in trying to obtain that goal. It fuels both the story’s progression and reader interest. In my recent paranormal fantasy, SIN EATER, the very first sentence states that the protagonist (Aria Knight) would die tonight. So that’s the banging beginning. But then, before the end of the first chapter, you get a sense of who Aria Knight is, what she yearns for in her heart of hearts, and a hint of trouble that’s coming her way. Remember that the reader chose your book because it promised something to them (adventure, romance, magic, mystery, etc.). Part of delivering on this promise is presenting them the protagonist and the stakes involved. Each plot point will show just how important or dangerous things are for our hero, and it still gives you room for creativity and inspiration.
HOW TO QUICKEN PACE
I have found that the younger the reading audience, the more fast-paced a story is. This doesn’t mean that adult readers won’t like a story that moves quickly, but you can stagger the progression of your story by having moments of quickness and then slowing them down. So, how do you speed up your story’s pace (if needed)?
HOW TO SLOW DOWN PACE
SET-UP AND PAY OFF
Finally, in mapping out your plot, entertain and delight the reader with "paying off" events, relationships, and characters that you’ve set up. These enrich the plot, and they also show that there’s a purposeful, strong structure underlying the story. A set-up, for example, could be a character in your story who’s hotheaded and rash, always rushing into things. The payoff could be his hotheaded nature leading him into major trouble, or even causing more problems and conflict. In another example from SIN EATER, I set up the character of Harry Storm as having been cursed with a spell that allows spirits to overtake his mind and body. In fact, when you first meet him, he’s rushing into an apothecary to obtain the only potion that can help stave off the effects of the curse. What would you think the payoff would be for Harry and his peculiar curse? Why, Harry loses access to his potion and the spirits come out to play. Often, set-ups and payoffs are expected, but sometimes they can be used as part of plot twists in order to surprise readers (in a good way).
Don’t forget to leave room for inspiration, and remember to close loops and hit those emotional “YES!” moments that’ll resonate with readers. One of the best things about writing is that you have a creative way to communicate with others, and more than anything, readers want to be entertained and carried away. If you start with a sound foundation, then everything else will fall into place.
About Alesha Escobar
I’m a caffeine addict and chocoholic who enjoys reading and writing engaging stories, loveable (and not-so loveable) characters, and expressing my creativity daily. I write fantasy with intriguing characters, action-packed scenes, and always throw in a good dash of humor and romance.
Science Fiction and Fantasy are my favorite genres, but I also adore the classics (Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri, etc.) and I have a soft spot in my heart for Victorian poetry.
How dare you not drip
with existential despair
over the thought
of never having me near.
I demand you
shed a tear
over whispered nights
we'll never spend.
I'm a rare diamond.
(Sharp and cutting?)
I'm a rare diamond!
(Enslaver of men?)
I'M A RARE DIAMOND!
(Expensive but useless?)
I'm a rare diamond.
(Beautiful and shallow?)
How dare you.
How dare you
How dare you..
You pillow yourself in solitude,
a cushy rejection cocoon.
Your china pride so fragile
it cracks under a fingertip brush.
Done with the light strokes;
done toddlering the full grown.
You’re the you I’ve always known,
and I’ve moved beyond.
I wasn't going to tune out humanity, look away instead of meeting eager "helping" eyes that wanted my smile. But I did. I wasn't going to ignore your text, let the numbness turn to apathy, fling away your attempt to reach me. But I did. I wasn't going to stare out my window and picture the abyss, the end of all and worry, worry, worry through the lining of my stomach about the fates I cannot change. But I did.
I wasn't going to pick at the skin until my fingers bled, stay up just to zone out so that my mind was fried and unprepared for the days ahead. But I did. And I do. I fail me continually and sometimes I fail you. I wasn't going to say all this, write it publicly for the world to feel me bleed. But I did.
Because when my head wakes up, when the darkness passes from behind my eyes, you might need a reminder that I once felt as you do. I feel it now: too tired to get up and move around, too weak to keep from stuffing my mouth, the cycle of falling and failing too much for my thin skin, shuts me down until I can deal again.
You might need to remember that I pushed the chocolate away, picked my child up, prayed, walked and talked and laughed even when all I wanted to do was hide. My head told me I couldn't, but it lied. I did the things to pretend to live, and it eventually became real. It is a battle I'd rather not fight, an insane I wish would heal. It won't. I'll tell myself I should never have lived, feeling this way. But I did. And I do.
I do it for me, for them, for you.
I think I should write something about depression and death, but nothing I say has not been said before, and I'm feeling overwhelmed. Instead, I'll talk about my grandmother, Cornell and death. Huffington Post featured a really insightful article on the treatment of Chris Cornell's sickness and his ultimate death. This article made some really important points about why suicide scares and upsets us more than other deaths.
My grandmother passed away this week, so Cornell's early departure didn't effect me as intensely as her passing did, for good reason--I knew my grandmother. I knew her highs and lows. An acquaintance said to me, "Does it make you mad that someone as young as Cornell killed himself when your grandmother probably would have gratefully lived a longer life?"
I didn't know what to say to that question because it's flawed in so many ways, but the person was just trying to understand death, suicide and my own mourning, so I said only, "My grandmother was ready to leave this world. I am only sad because it is always sad when death takes someone you love."
But what was going in in my head was a lot more complicated. My grandmother, like Cornell, suffered from depression. My grandmother, like me, suffered from bi-polar disorder. We both understood what it meant to stare despair in the face, to lie in bed and never want to move again, to fight to stay alive because people were counting on us to win that battle.
I first heard Cornell's beautiful voice as a pre-teen. When the lyrics, "I woke the same as any other day, except a voice was in my head. It said seize the day, pull the trigger, drop the blade, and watch the rolling heads[...]One more time around. Might do it ("The Day I Tried to Live"). That song understood me; it understood the deep ache of having to try to live over and over again, every day, when you just want to stay in bed. I listened to the Superunknown album and I felt known.
"Just when everyday seemed to greet me with a smile, sunspots have faded and now I'm doing time. Cause I fell on black days" ("Black Days"). I've had so many black days, days in which sunspots faded and my head felt like a prison. I picked up grunge during a transitional time in my life and Cornell's voice, Soundgarden's lyrics, his solo career, helped me feel less alone in my head, my sick head.
But my grandma made me feel that way, too. I remember when we were young we were instructed not to let grandma buy sweets. "She won't share them," grandpa cautioned us. "She'll eat them all then feel badly." I understand. I cannot buy cookies, chocolates or candy for my family. If I am depressed, I will eat a bag of cookies in minutes.
Sometimes grandma would shut herself away in her room or in the bathroom and I could hear her cry. Once my mother told me, "Grandma sometimes just cries. She's okay. You just have to give her time."
As a kid, I didn't understand, but as a pre-teen my depression increased and I remembered those solitary bathroom/bedroom outings of grandma's. And I understood. Darkness would cloud my head. I could not remember the good in things, sunshine felt stale upon my skin, I'd cry and people would want a reason. I'd hide in books and music and people would try to lure me out, but outside was pain. I wanted to live, but my head wanted rest. I've been fighting manic rage and deep depression since age 13 and it doesn't get easier as an adult. The more responsibilities, the more people I fail when I'm not "normal" (which is a rare thing for me to be), the more depression is my companion. My head is sick and sometimes death makes sense to it. If you do not know this fight, you cannot talk about suicide with any conviction.
My grandmother fought for 88 years in this imperfect existence, falling low and rising manic high, singing and sleeping, praying and laughing, medicated and melting. I believe she did her best. I believe she often failed to be normal and that failure ate at her. Every person wants to be healthy, but she was not. And when people cannot see your sickness, they are skeptical of it.
But grandma, the person apart from her sickness, was a beautiful person. She had a smile that lit up a room, a voice sweet and prayerful, artistic talent by the bucketful and a sense of wonder that never left her. Her memory, for me, is not tainted by her strange highs and deep lows. Because I know them. Because I live them. I do not let her sickness define who she was to me because I don't want that for myself.
I live depression. I am sad that Cornell's illness took him in the end, but I hope people stop letting his end define him. His sickness did not define him any more than any of our sicknesses define us. Do they contribute to who we are? Yes. But we are all so much more than those things, too.
I encourage you to think of mental illness as you think of physical illness--if you are sick enough, you might die from it. If your treatment doesn't work well, you might die from it.
I ache over the loss of my grandmother. I was already in mourning on the day that she passed, the day Cornell, too, passed. When I heard about Cornell, not long after I heard about my grandmother, my mourning weighed more heavily upon my shoulders.
But I did not see one of their deaths as more tragic than the other. My grandmother died in her sleep, her body was failing her in her old age. But she could have died younger, from the illness that so often put her to bed. I'm glad we got all 88 years from her. I'm glad she had people who helped her fight. I'm glad I fight through the darkness when it threatens to overcome me, endanger my life. I am sad that the darkness took Cornell. I am sad his sickness took him too young.
Death is difficult no matter what. When we lose influential people or loved ones, we understandably mourn. But I wish we could all just accept that mental illness, depression, is a cause of death as much as diabetes or cancer is.
Most of all, I hope we can all come together and remember the beauty of the life that was lived, regardless of the length and the manner of departure. My grandmother was a beautiful soul with a fun energy, a once talented painter, a crochet washrag maker, a sweet and soulful singer. She fought bravely and loved us sweetly. I am happy she has her rest. I am sad the rest of my years won't have her presence in the background. I will mourn her until my last breath. Her longevity inspires me. I know myself. I know I will maintain. I will press on. I will most likely bug my family for much longer than I should be allowed to so do. And they will mourn me, broken brain and all, when I am gone.
H.M. Jones is the author of the NIEA finalist book Monochrome, a fantasy novel about one mother's postpartum depression. She is currently working on the prequel, Fade to Blue, in which major depressive disorder plays a key role. She knows mental illness is difficult to understand and hopes her fiction can bridge the gap.
I am getting stress pimples at 32. It's super appealing. They fit right in with the bags under my eyes. Because I'm not sleeping well. Restless energy pulls at me: do, do, do, do, don't stop. I know I'm manic. The rage tells me I am, or is it anger? Valid anger? I don't know, and I don't want to ask other people; they might give me an answer that will make me more angry.
Maybe I'm not manic, just angry and over-worked. Maybe it's not my crazy this time.
But I might be, and I hate pity, so I won't ask. I'll just sit and stew over the things that boil under my skin and I won't say them but they'll come out in pimples and cold shoulders.
And maybe you'll work to make it right, or maybe you'll blow it off as my crazy, and you may be right, I may be crazy.
Or you may need to work on building us up, too. So that I'm not one-sided doing everything when I'm manic, then falling far down into a wallowing hatred and worthlessness so deep you won't be able to pull me up too late.
I don't know. So I sit and stew. Because I'm not confident in knowing my crazy from my sane. It's a fine line. And the answer is not mine. I can't know my own brain. I can't know my own sane. You can't either. So we hit and miss daily. And I don't know if I should be sorry.
Don't get me wrong, I want people to buy my books. I want people to read my work, I really do. I write because I love creating worlds, characters, settings, dialogue, emotions. And I'm good at it. I've won a few awards, got some great reviews without too much effort, and worked with some wonderful authors and publishers, all who enjoy taking me on because I care about the quality of my work.
But I'm not easy to work with when the end goal is "bestseller." I hate advertisements. When they come on the radio, I switch the station, when they roll across my screen, I close the window I had open. No recipe, article or story is so important to me that I'll deal with an intrusive add that covers half the article I'm trying to scroll through. I don't have a tv; commercials actually make me physically angry. When I'm at my parent's house and my children run the chorus of "I want that," an anthem that goes hand in hand with the deluge of adds that pop up during children's shows, I grit my teeth.
There's not a time when we, as a society, are online, on our phone, on the tv, listening to the radio, at the store, driving, that we aren't being sold to. It makes me sad to be a part of that flood.
Every friend I have on Facebook and Twitter is a salesperson, now. I know that everyone is just doing the best they can to provide for their family, and I don't blame them. I just don't want to be a friend making friends in order to sell them something. It's hard for me to make and keep friends as it is. I'm skeptical of people, not mentally steady and can be standoffish. The constant sales pitches have made this worse.
My novels take years to write, in between my mood swings, mothering, full-time job, house cleaning, pet care and being a partner. I use hard-earned money to make my work shine, get the books edited, formatted, and looking nice. I put hours of labor, daily, into what I do. I believe my work is worth buying and I have a small group of fans who agree, and who buy them because they love my words. And that is a precious feeling. I appreciate that so much.
I understand that some people may never read my work if I don't take part in advertising it. I know that's why many of my friends put forth equal if not more effort into advertising their work. But it takes time away from what I want to do, one of the things that brings me true peace: writing. And it replaces it with another fucking chore, something that makes me crazier than I already am (fuck it; I can call my bi-polar mind crazy if I want because it's my crazy): advertising.
Call it marketing; that's fine. I don't care what you call it. And I don't care to hear this or that reason why I ought to just get over it and do it. I can make a choice, a choice others might not be willing to make: I can write books, enjoy writing them, and not inundate my feed with hints of them in this or that post about "depression." I know how to subtly create me as an author people with mood disorders, fantasy fanatics, and women might pick out of a pile. But I don't feel right about it.
I can't explain why I don't. It is just another thing that brings me down. So, lately, I've made the choice not to work up the bestseller ranks, possibly let my work fall to anonymity. And I'm okay with that choice. Sixty percent of my joy comes in creation of the work, ten more in editing it and making it shine, thirty percent is knowing that someone will appreciate it. I hope at least a few people do, but that other 70 percent still brings me a lot of joy.
Booksellers aren't okay with this. Publishers are cringing right now. I understand that. It's their job to make money on books. Even a lot of my author friends aren't alright with my decision to be silent. I get why. They want people to experience their work, and they work hard to make sure they're marketing the smart way.
For many of them it's a job. And they enjoy their job. Some people are good at writing quickly, marketing their strengths, getting their circle of friends/readers/relatives to give them a boost. And I'm happy for anyone who is happy so doing.
But I'm not. It makes me miserable. I don't like my writing to be another job.
For me, it's an obsession, a passion, a piece of my soul. It's only a job if I make it one. I already have too many jobs. I don't want to take my "me" activity and make it "work."
Writing's what I'm good at, sure, but I'm good at a lot of things. I'm a good teacher; I'm a fast learning; I'm a multi-tasker; I'm good at delegating, planning, thinking on my feet. I could even be good at advertising, but I don't want to be. So I doubt I ever will be. I apologize to my publishers on that front. You don't have to take me on. I'll do it on my own because I can. Like I said, I'm good at a lot of things.
You may ask, "If you don't care about making money, why not give your books away for free?" First, I didn't say I don't want to make money, just that it's not likely I will without participating in the advertising I loathe.
Mostly, I don't give my books away for free because I don't think it's right to berate the labor I put into my work, nor the work of others who work their asses off to make money writing (even if I'm not one of them).
How about you spend hours on a labor of love and I tell you: If you don't want to advertise this, you might as well just give it to me for free. That's a dick move. Just because an artist doesn't want to promote herself doesn't mean that her work isn't worth anything.
I understand that I live in a capitalist country in a larger global society that is increasingly capitalist. I realize that my country is run like a business. But not all aspects of my life have to be. I am sorry if this upsets others, those who are working with the system and doing what they can to make it a profitable enterprise. I'm not passing judgement; I'm just not interested in doing it.
Buy my work or don't. I'll still write it, and I might even write if faster if I'm not worried about advertising it.
I have the extreme honor of hosting one of my new favorite authors, K.M. Alexander. His Bell Forging Cycle books are an obsession for me. Why? Because he's a phenomenal crafter. Please read below to learn more about his craft, his world and do yourself a favor, stop by his website: www.kmalexander.com.
Guest Post by K.M. Alexander, Bell Forging Cycle books
It wasn’t until college that I discovered H.P. Lovecraft, but I had been reading authors influenced by his work for years, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. The dark, weird, and mysterious always enchanted me. I was drawn to the shadows; something there tapped into my core emotions and excited me. Lovecraft and I are very different. He speaks of the “fear of the unknown,” which inspired him; for me, it was not fear but a fascination. I’m not scared of “things beyond.” When I started writing, I found myself attracted to those concepts. I’m three books into my Bell Forging Cycle, a Lovecraftian urban fantasy series. It’s a place where humanity finds itself living among alien species as equals, a world struggling with its history and dealing with injustice on a regular basis. Also, it’s a place under threat from ancient monstrosities, creatures from the unknown who cloak themselves in the shadows. When H. M. Jones asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I reflected on what I had learned along the way.
It's All About People
There’s a lot within speculative fiction to draw us to it, and as fans, we often get obsessed with the intricacies of a world. We argue at length about political structures and discuss the viability of talking dragons. We debate the power inherent in different magic systems and feud about the superiority of one wizarding house over others. (I'm a Gryffindor, by the way, which is the correct answer.) However, the core of every good story is well-written characters, people whose lives we care about and who in turn make us fall in love with a place. Without those characters, the minutiae are meaningless.
I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately, and I’ve noticed I can tell fairly quickly whether I’m going to enjoy a book. It's not about the trappings; it has to do with the character. So often, writers tend to revert to tropes and stereotypes as opposed to tapping into our empathy as readers. People are complicated; we’re not black or white, we’re not good or evil. George R. R. Martin is fond of saying, “We're all the heroes of our own stories.” However, I think the reverse is also true. We’re also the villain in someone else's. A good character is a mix. I prefer my characters gray, and I know readers do as well. It’ll connect us to them, and we’ll see ourselves in their reasoning, if not their behavior. That’s real. That’s human. Give them motivations, likes and dislikes, weird nervous ticks, desires, and flaws. Please, above all else, make them flawed. That makes them real. If you can hook us on your characters, then you will make us fear for them. We’ll care more about the plot, the magic systems, the talking dragons, and the political maneuvering if we care about the people first.
Fear Lies in Anticipation
Long ago, on a whim, I sat down to watch the 2001 horror movie, Jeepers Creepers. In the opening act, two siblings (played by Gina Philips and Justin Long) are driving down a country road. Along the road, they spy a strangely dressed man dropping what appears to be bodies down a shaft. It’s shot from a distance. Features aren't revealed. Details are muddy. He’s unknown. The man notices and proceeds to chase them in an old beat-up pickup truck, running them off the road. It's an intense sequence. The movie falls apart after that, but those first ten minutes resonated with me for years. Jeepers Creepers built anticipation perfectly. It was a disappointment when that dread fell apart moments later when the monster was revealed.
Creepers is the classic example of showing the monster too early. When exposed to light, the actual monster is never as frightening as the picture in our minds. Readers scare themselves; we guide them to their conclusions. It’s not the monster that brings fear, it’s the anticipation. Throughout cosmic horror, you see this play out: the real dread comes from the unknown, the abyss that stares back. Look at the way Stephen King prolongs the anticipation in It, or how Ridley Scott lets the suspense build in 1979’s Alien. The fear of the unknown is often more terrifying than any monster we can conjure.
This lesson goes far beyond monsters. Often, the mystery being revealed in the next room, around the next bend, or in the next conversation can be just as powerful. Protagonists might fret over the revelation of a doctor's diagnosis. They could stress about the looming threat of war. There could be the strain of personalities clashing. Anticipation is the pressure that builds on the bulwark, and it makes those revelations all the more compelling when that bulwark finally crashes down.
Mystery is Key
Readers want answers, and it’s our job to provide them... eventually. This extends well beyond the monster and into the world and characters we create. Walk down any street in any city or town, and you'll experience a thousand stories. There is history all around us; it's built not only into the walls and sidewalks but in the people we meet. Extend your world into itself; make readers experience a place and its population. Give them questions, and hold back on all the answers. Reveal too much too early, and the sense of wonder will drain away. Hold back and share too little too late, and reading can become tedious. As a reader, I often find myself disappointed when writers wrap everything up in neat little packages and when they expound at length. In each instance, the mystery gets stripped away, and nothing is left for the reader to contemplate. Keep them wondering long after they finish.
Action Creates Reaction
My friend and fellow scrivener Setsu Uzumé said something profound the other day, and it's still resonating with me:
"A war story without trauma is propaganda."
Trauma is the key there, and it goes far beyond war stories. Trauma is what shapes us as people. Trauma IS the story, especially in the world of dark fantasy. One of my largest pet peeves with many series is their static nature. Characters never seem to evolve; they never face their defeats, there are no consequences for their action. Between books, many protagonists remain unchanged despite the trauma they might have endured.
When we study the real world, we quickly see how even the smallest events can have profound impacts on our lives. Take me for example; I am a much different person today than I was ten years ago. My experiences, both positive and negative, have shaped me and made me the writer I am today.
Apply those same lessons to what you write. Our characters' experiences should undergo the same change. Readers should see your characters evolve, become damaged, fight through their doubts. Let them experience the character’s journey alongside the character. If readers watch a character change, then they’ll care about the character more.
Interview with K.M. Alexander
H.M: Lovat is AMAZING. The idea of a tiered city in which the higher one rises the wealthier and more influential the citizens is an inspired setting, one that really comes alive as we read. Can you tell us a little about how you went about creating Lovat?
Kowloon Walled City, the “City of Darkness,” was easily my biggest influence, it was once a crowded space in Hong Kong built inside the walls of an abandoned Chinese fort. At its height, 33,000 inhabitants were crammed into six acres and about thirteen stories. During the 60s developers even constructed new structures atop the older ones. The result was amazingly complex. I had read about it before, and it fascinated me, I knew I’d eventually want to explore something similar but on a larger level.
The idea of the stacked city is more common than many people know. Even here in Seattle, we have an underground tour where tourists can explore old streets and buildings that are still existing below the modern metropolis. I liked the idea of history being below our feet, out of sight but always present. It was only natural that as I started to explore Lovat on my own that the wealthy lived higher. They had the money for the best views, the fresher air, and the newer buildings. Waste and water would trickle down, which helps serve as a not-so-subtle metaphor for how the poor live among the casts off from the rich.
H.M: Who are the authors who inspire you, and do they inform your writing?
China Miéville is my biggest influence and my favorite author. He writes strange non-traditional fantasy that has always hooked me. He showed me fantasy worlds didn’t have to be inhabited by elves, dwarves, orcs, and hobbits and that they could be weird and wondrous places.
Ursula K. LeGuin is another hero of mine. She writes humanity at a level few authors have been able to achieve. I started as a kid with Earthsea and came to her Hainish Cycle later. Both are amazing.
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series was a huge influence on me growing up. It was also a mix of genres, and it always felt so epic. Few authors have captured a road story on such a grand scale.
There are so much more, though; it’s hard to know where to stop: Mark Twain, Cormac McCarthy, M.R. Carey, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, the list never ends, and it is wildly varied. Reading is so fundamental to writing. Each time I finish a new book I take a piece from that author. Something of their work sticks with me, and I believe it makes my work better.
H.M: Your books are heavily dark fantasy (my favorite genre to read and write), but they are also a mash-up of thriller, mystery and dystopia. Were you going for such a range or did it just happen?
K.M: It just sort of happened. When I read I tend to get bored with the straight genre work, and I’m always leaning toward books that step outside traditional boundaries. That preference showed in my writing. If I were honest, I’d pitch it as a “dark cyberpunk post-post-apocalyptic dystopian weird western cosmic horror urban fantasy noir adventure.” But that is a mouthful and a little confusing so I tend to shorten it. The key was to keep the things I liked, but make sure to allow them to serve the story and enhance the world. I didn’t want them just to be an unusual motif glued onto the face of a narrative.
H.M: Do you have a favorite character to write? I know I have a couple I love to read, but which is the most fun to compose?
K.M: Some of what I like to write now has changed. I enjoy the blue-collar, no-nonsense nature of Waldo, and he’s always fun to write. However, these days I’m interested in writing in the gray. Characters that are neither hero nor villain but some mixture in between. I like that complexity. I think it’s challenging for me as a writer, and it challenges readers. It pushes empathy and forces us to understand viewpoints we might not have considered.
A little video I made on remembering your life as a whole and defining it as a bigger picture, a look past moments of hardship.
Think of a time when you felt the need to be violent, or acted in a violent way. Can’t picture that? Think of a time when you yelled or felt like screaming. Good, I think most of us can picture that place. What happened? Were you verbally or physically attacked? Were you frightened? What would have happened if you’d reacted in a calm manner, hadn’t fought, hadn’t yelled?
I can think of a couple times when I yelled that I probably could have just taken a deep breath and calmed down, let it go. For instance, when some person yelled at me for stopping to pick up my umbrella from the roadway because she had to slam on her brakes—in a parking lot, full of people. I could have not yelled back and things would have been fine. But I yelled back, told her to drive like she was in a parking lot, not in fucking NASCAR, and back off.
She did. People don’t like when you confront them, even if they first confronted you. Do I feel badly for yelling back? Not really. Not super grown up of me, but I felt my position was defendable, so I didn’t back down. It’s in my personality not to back down when confronted. I could have. No one would have been worse or better off, right? Why not just let it go? Well, because that’s not necessarily true.
I thought of that woman as irrational, even bullying, in the very least, unreasonable. I decided it was right for me to speak up, so that she’d understand that not every stranger is willing to be yelled at for nothing. It could change the way she carried herself in the future.
As a bi-polar woman, it’s easy for me to locate times that I wish I’d reacted more calmly to a given situation, not raised my voice or not approached a subject. But I’ve been wracking my brain for a time where I acted in a violent manner as an adult or young adult and regretted it (apart from fighting with my siblings/family, which I always regretted).
Some pacifists might cringe to hear me say that I have often been readily violent and do not regret so doing.
I remember throwing a book at one of my sister’s ex-boyfriend because I knew he hit her. I do not regret throwing a massive book at his head. I regret that it didn’t connect.
I remember soundly slapping a man who touched me inappropriately in the bowling alley. I cannot seem to regret the way his eyes went from entitled to frightened.
I remember punching an ex in the face as a pre-teen because he raised a hand to me. I remember how he cried. I remember telling him, “Don’t ever touch me again.” I remember the way he looked at me—like he never would, never could forget my rage. I do not regret this choice.
I remember wrestling a young man two years older than me because his little brother smacked my little sister with a stick. I told the kid he'd better run or I'd smack him back, and the kid ran to get his brother. His brother attacked me. A high school student attacked a younger girl. I remember rolling him off me, sitting on top of him and punching him a few times before getting up, and watching them slump away, defeated, from two little girls. I remember being told I should apologize. But I was not sorry.
I remember screaming, “Stop following me!” and throwing coffee towards the face of a stranger who’d been trailing me on my way home from school. I took dark paths, fear in every step, and he knew it. He matched his pace to mine, started closing the gap, and the pit of my stomach told me he would soon attack. I remember the way people ran to my aid and the guilt in his face that told me I was right--he had something in mind for me that he would not see through because I’d yelled and threw a fit.
I remember waking, as if from a daze, from rape and crying. My body wanted to riot, but I was too shocked to do so. I remember how he didn’t think it was rape, tried to convince me he had my say. I regret not finding my anger right away. I regret not beating him senseless. I often play a better scenario in my head, one where I'd fought. I do not feel guilty for the imagined battering.
I remember beating up the soap dispenser in the hospital where my father died. His staff was sub-par, the care they offered (when offered) was cold and often even caused him harm, but he could not go outside of his healthcare network, was lucky to be covered with a “pre-existing” condition. I remember thinking that if he’d been rich, he might have lived longer. I walked calmly to the bathroom after his spirit left his body, after it passed me in peace. I went to the bathroom, tried to wash my hands of hospital germs. I remember the soap dispenser was broken, like so many things were broken in that stupid fucking place, so I hammered into it with fists balled in rage. And I screamed at it. I kicked it when it was down. I do not regret this decision. It made me feel a tiny little bit better.
People call violence unnecessary, infantile. But that statement—like most blanket statements—is wrong. Being violent is often (though not always) a reaction to violence. What kind of tangible or intangible violence pushes a rioter towards reaction?
Maybe it’s because I’m a storyteller, but I put a lot of import on the process, the entire spectrum of what happens before violence is carried out. The STORY is extremely important to me.
People were rioting today, inauguration day, in the streets. And I couldn’t help but think--yeah, I thought that might happen, and it makes sense. I might not be one of the rioters, but I did not dismiss them as infantile as so many did, do and will. Droves of people feel that their very way of life is in danger because, through policy and lack of accountability, many people's lives are in danger.
There are people in this world whose stories are made of moments I cannot even imagine, prejudices and hate are played upon people in a way I cannot even fathom. The majority might like to remember the peaceful protesters more fondly, but I actually feel Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s more inflammatory statement that a “riot is the language of the unheard” is extremely important.
Some people are not heard equally. Some people are outright ignored. If you don’t understand the type of rage that rioters display, you are not one of the unheard. Violence may not always or often be right, but that doesn’t mean it has not been necessary in the lives of many.
You can dismiss political riots as ignorant violence, but I think there is something a little heavier going on when people feel so dismissed, so ignored, so desperate that they lash out.
You can rail against property damage, but it falls flat when you have not railed against human right's violations. Anyway, I think we can all readily agree that businesses are one of the things that Trump cares about, so the broken windows will probably be covered, even if, in the future, a broken person won't be.
I cannot help but see political rioters as cornered victims of an unjust society. They are not heard through traditional means, so they make their voice known in ways that makes more privileged people uncomfortable.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood why some people turned towards violence when they felt they were not being heard. He didn’t, himself, invest in those actions, but he got it. We don’t.
The Civil Rights Era is not far behind us, and we still don’t understand, as a society, why there are political riots (not to be confused with sports riots, so don't equate them, please). Many people didn’t understand the riots in Ferguson. The majority culture people called for peace, while an entire community mourned and screamed and, yes, rioted after one of their own was dismissed as not worthy of justice.
A young one's life and death were not treated with the respect of all lives and all deaths and that already present injustice(s) feel even greater. It was enough to show the people of that community that they were not heard nor supported by their local government.
This election is enough to show many fragmented peoples--minorities, women, victims of assault, the poor--that their concerns are not valid to those in charge, not heard. Their government has settled (yes, settled because the majority of the population did not vote him in) upon a man who does not care about them, who is hiring a slew of people who also will not care for them, who has already started to dismantle what little protections they have fought for in the last few decades.
When you take away people's right to fair treatment, health, and basic human rights, you are acting in a violent manner. You are an indirect attacker. Don't be surprised by a violent reaction.
We dismiss violence and anger, those of us with a bigger following, a greater say, more sway. Comfort is complacence. Many of us will call for peace, even those of us who want drastic change. I always hope things can be handled logically, peacefully, even if I am skeptical that they will be.
But if some people lash out, get angry, I will not dismiss them as animals, as ignorant. I will ask, instead, what kind of fodder feeds this rage and am I part of the problem?
How can we ask for peace if not all people experience equality?