On Writing

POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 2

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Hot on the heals of NaNoWriMo and determined to keep the energy flowing, a group of writers and I have decided to take up a 4-week writing challenge. After a month of spewing words out as fast as possible, we are taking a step back and focusing on craft, specifically looking at point of view through flash fiction. If you are interested in how the challenge works and want to follow along, check out the details here.


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© Katie Rene Johnson, 2016

Attempt #2

The Brooklyn Bridge steeped history into those that cared to look for it, a handful of the millions of feet that crossed its planks reveling in the grandness of it all. Its dual arches dwarfed the ambling procession below. Couples peeled off to the side where the walkway widened, snapping photos and posing for the city in the background. Evan Thomas stepped off to the side, eyes tracing along the spiderweb of cables and hangers that gave the bridge its strength.  

A woman’s laughter lilted over the wordless drone of the crowd, as her boyfriend dangled one-handed from a hanger cable, feet dangling inches from the ground. The boyfriend flashed her a grin and swung forward as he let go of the cable. A small velvet box pressed into his shin as he dropped, and he thought for a second it might tumble out of his sock and spoil the surprise. Only half convinced it would remain, the man swept his girlfriend up in twirl, her feet lifted off the walk, hair flipping around at the spinning breeze.

The woman’s laughter tingled against Evan’s heart, and he stepped further down the into the arch’s shadow, leaving the couple behind. A bronzed nameplate at the base of the bridge tower caught his eye, and he traced a finger along its edges, reading the inscription. The bridge spoke to him, sharing its knowledge and history with him in waves of goosebumps, and he closed his eyes.

A few yards away, Sarah Ray wedged her way through the crowd. She had wanted to be home an hour ago, but her boss kept her late again. If she had left on time, she wouldn’t have been caught in the pedestrian rush heading over the river, but things never seemed to go her way anymore. The tower congestion cut off her path and a the young man bumped into her as he put his girlfriend back on the ground.  Sara spun around to give him a piece of her mind, but the mob propelled her straight into Evan.

Evan’s eyes shot open as Sarah’s briefcase collided with him and fell out of her hand. It broke open on the slats of the walkway, spewing its contents in all directions. Directing her anger at Evan instead of the young couple, Sarah shrieked, “What is wrong with you!” and fell to her knees, fingers chasing papers and dodging footsteps. The swelled migration of feet split around the two of them as Evan dropped to his knees after her, sweeping up errant pages.

The two reached for a blueprint at the same time and their hands brushed. Sarah pulled away as heat rose up her cheeks, and Evan hesitated with eyes only for the plan laid bare on the wooden plank. He moved it carefully into the suitcase as Sarah watched with incredulity. If that piece had been ruined, she would have been ruined.

Evan looked up, eyes catching Sarah’s gaze and he cocked an apprehensive smile. He held out his hand and helped her to her feet. The crowd behind them cheered as the young man behind them dropped to a knee, velvet box in hand and Evan pulled Sarah out of the way as the group swelled beyond the pedestrian lane. He hadn’t let go of her hand, and she didn’t pull it away.

“Let me make it up to you?”


Attempt #1

133 years of foot-tracked history seeped into Evan’s veins the moment he stepped foot on the Brooklyn Bridge. Millions, maybe billions of footsteps had walked there before him. He wondered over each past step’s intention: commuting, touring, exercising, escaping. How many laborers had left a trail of sweat and blood over the monument’s worn wooden slats? Evan hummed to himself as the flow of traffic pushed him along the pathway. He had dreamed for nearly a decade of crossing the bridge, and he savored each step.

Beneath the first tower, its dual arches dwarfing the ambling procession, the pathway widened and couples peeled off to the side, taking in the view of the city from vacant pockets along the cement barrier. A young man stirred nervous laughter from his girlfriend as he hung one handed from a sweeping hanger cable, feet dangling mere inches from the ground. Behind them, a man with a speckled mustache tilted his camera to the side to better catch the performance.

Evan chuckled to himself as the young man dropped down and swept his girlfriend into a gallant, dipping kiss. A small crowd cheered as he spun her around like no one was watching. It was not unlike something Evan would have done, when he was younger.

The spiderweb of cables converged on chapel peaked arches framed in a perfectly lain stacks of towering brick and mortar. A bronzed nameplate had been set into the base of the tower, and he traced his finger along its edges as he walked by.  He would have given anything to be part of the team that designed the bridge in a time without modern technology – all numbers and angles from a hand-drawn dream. Goosebumps spread up his arm and he closed his eyes for a moment, letting the the resonance of the image overtake him.

A harried woman crashed into Evan from behind. Her briefcase caught on his hip and slipped out her hand, cracking open as it landed on the walk. Papers scattered under passing feet and a week’s worth of late nights and headaches crumpled and tore apart.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked, dropping to her knees and reaching frantically for the papers that evaded her at every turn.

“Oh! I am so sorry!” Evan dropped down beside her, turning the briefcase over and scrambling after papers himself. The woman scowled at him and dropped a tattered sheet into the open case. They reached at the same time for the next sheet, and her heat rose up her neck as her hand brushed across Evan’s.  He barely noticed the touch, eyes focused on the blueprint laid bare on the wood plank.

The woman pulled her hand away, and Evan picked up the plan, setting it carefully into the briefcase before finally looking up into cyanotype eyes. He held out a hand and helped her to her feet. “Let me make it up to you.”

Save

What’s in a Name?

The holidays sneaked up on me this year, and with them a seemingly never-ending list of to-do’s. Much to my dismay, writing of any kind took a backseat to life. While I still managed to sneak in a few sentences here and there on Better to Pretend and continue to struggle with my work on a new piece, Solidity, not much for progress was made. Save a minor epiphany.

In a very vague nutshell, Solidity is a story about a ghost named Owen and a human named Jera and the relationship they build with one another. You can read the whole blurb here if you want. The idea for this story came from a single verse in a song I have heard a thousand times that has nothing to do with this story what-so-ever. For some reason, as I pulled up to a stop light while that song was playing, I tuned in just long enough and Solidity was born. Stories are funny that way. They are also funny in the way that sometimes they just won’t leave you alone. Not for two seconds.

I wrote the blurb for Solidity shortly after the idea came to me and while I scrambled to prepare a proposal for a flash-residency opportunity. I originally intended the story to be written from the Owen’s perspective. It is very much his story and I wanted it to be his story alone – for many reasons, primarily of which was the idea of writing from a ghost’s perspective. I thought that was a pretty awesome idea… until I tried to write it. I have fought and fought with this piece and have written the start of probably six drafts that have all ended up in the trash. That is discouraging, to say the least. But still, the story persisted in my mind.

Eventually, I started thinking about Solidity from Jera’s perspective. She needed a back story and she needed a reason to come to the manor that Owen haunts. At one point, I considered writing from both Jera’s perspective and Owen’s… and shied away from it over and over again because I have read very few stories where I enjoyed two or more perspectives. And I was not confident in my ability to do it (little secret: I’m still not…). Then, one morning amidst the holiday season chaos when I finally had a few minutes to spend some time writing, I tried it.

And magic happened. Jera’s voice came to life.

I knew as soon as I had written the first two pages that Jera’s voice was going to be important to this story. I didn’t realize just how very important until I had an experience with another writer.While the exchange didn’t turn out as I had hoped, in the end I experienced and important revelation about Solidity and Jera’s character. The simple admission of doubt by the other writer about my choice of the name Jera confirmed that this is a story I have to write.

Firstly, you have to understand that I have a thing about names. Once I find a character’s name, it is pretty well set in stone. And it is one of the first things that I define in my stories. If at any point I do feel that the name is lacking, I change it, but that very rarely happens. I also have a name collection: pages and pages of names that have struck a chord with me over the years. While I used to spend hours looking through name books, now I just turn to my day job. I do a LOT of shipping. And it is very hands on, so I see a LOT of names. Jera came about from one of the labels either right before or right after Solidity began forming in my mind. I had no doubt that Jera would be my female lead.

After the comment about that choice and a reference to how it might be strange to pronounce for readers (I had never even considered this to be an issue… Even if it wasn’t pronounced just right in my reader’s head, it is still only a four-letter word and you would probably be close. It’s not like some of the names you see in fantasy novels that have three parts broken up with apostrophes and dashes and letters next to each other that don’t really make any sense…. just try and pronounce some of those! But, I suppose if you are wondering and just to clear up any confusion, Jera is pronounced Jair-ah – in my mind at least). Anyway, I Googled the name, just to see what came up.

Save two random results at the top of the page, the rest directed me to websites about viking runes. Turns out that Jera (pronounced in old Norse as Yehr-ah… so basically a ‘Y’ sound instead of a ‘J’ sound) was not only the rune for the letter J, but is most commonly believed to symbolize “harvest” or “year.” According to a Wiki article, it is a type of butterfly, which weirdly enough is also relevant.

https://i2.wp.com/runesecrets.com/img/jera-100x100.gifThe Elder Furthark rune Jera.

So, Jera’s name is a runic symbol. Not a big deal, right?  Except, I already knew that and had entirely forgotten. As research for another story I spent a good deal of time studying viking runes, particularly the set that contained the above symbol for Jera. The thing that struck me, however, as I read about this rune, was how entirely fitting it was for this story. Like, scary relevant. As in, it could not be more perfect.

There is no way to describe this other than serendipity.

Some phrases and notes that have been attributed to the rune Jera:

  • The only constant is change.
  • This too shall pass.
  • When you are at your lowest, you can only go up.
  • Time waits for no one.
  • Being at the same time permanence and transience.
  • An unstoppable energy – gradual but unrelenting, unhurried but persistent, indifferent to human influence… (This point translated to the idea of fate in my mind.)

Solidity is a piece about time and change. About two characters who are brought together by fate and who bring out the best in each other as well as the desire to change and evolve. Owen is trapped by time – stuck as a ghost for 99 years and unwilling to evolve. Jera is at a low point in her life and on the cusp of taking her future into her own hands. Both characters have decisions to make and are up against time.

The rune Jera symbolizes the harvest. When I first think of a harvest, I think of farms. But what is a harvest? You plant a seed. You water it. You watch it grow. And then, when the time is right, you collect the product. A harvest is a cycle. It begins in one place, grows, completes and starts anew. Isn’t life itself a harvest? It may be a long term one, but how often have your heard the phrase: the cycle of life. That is the grander picture, but what about the smaller moments. Childhood. Teenage years. Young adult years. Each is a cycle of its own within the greater harvest of life.

I could go on and on about the interpretations of the Jera rune, but that is really besides the point. And this post is already long. The biggest thing for me, was as I looked further and further into this coincidence, the more I knew that it was right. It is right for my characters, for this story, and even for myself.

I titled this post, “What’s in a name?” You may recognize this from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juilet.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

It is true, that Jera’s name could be changed. She could be Julie, Jennifer, Amanda or Ruth. But sometimes there is so much to a name, that its relevence can not be denied. Jera and the idea behind it as a symbol and what that symbol can mean has become a profound image in my mind, not only in the sense of Solidity and Jera and Owen’s characters, but in its relevance to my own life.

I will leave you with the my final interpretation of Jera.

Keep moving toward a goal, no matter what. Don’t give up and accept the hardships as part of the journey. Continue to dream and evolve. When you are at your lowest, you can only go up.

On Writing: Musical Inspiration (Part I)

Two of the main characters in my story Better to Pretend, Jenna and Cory, bond initially over their interest in music. I knew early on that Jenna would be into music – in the opening scenes she clings to her iPod in an effort to tune out her mom and aunt. The thing that surprised me was how her relationship with Cory would evolve based on that interest. It was an unexpected but fitting revelation.

I make up the song and band names in my writing, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t based on bands I am familiar with in the real world. Jenna’s favorite band is Love and Lace, and she swoons over the voice of lead singer Crystal James. She would describe them as an 80’s metal crossover band. They rock hard but also have occasional full orchestrations somewhere along the line of a rock opera. Many of their songs are also completely ridiculous. They have good beats and melodies, but the lyrics are bonkers. And she loves it.

Love and Lace is my interpretation of my own favorite two bands led by the same singer Tobias Sammet: Avantasia and Edguy. It is easy for me to relate these two bands to Jenna’s character because of my familiarity with them. Edguy was Sammet’s original band and they have a fairly 80’s sound. I find Sammet’s voice intoxicating and he has moments that give me chills. There is about a two second moment in the song Superheroes that I anticipate each and every time I listen to the song. Sometimes, I even rewind to listen to that one instant again. I am drawn to the passion with which he sings that one note, and it consumes me.

Image © Nuclear Blast Records (Edguy: Superheroes Music Video)

© Nuclear Blast Records (Edguy: Superheroes Music Video)

This moment became reflected directly into Jenna’s story.  While Crystal James doesn’t look anything like Tobias Sammet, nor does the song even mimic the theme of Superheroes, the visceral, all encompassing effect of the music is part of who Jenna is.

As the chorus intensified, I braced myself in anticipation of the scream to beat all screams. That moment when Crystal James exemplified perfection. That moment when nothing in the world would exist save his voice and the shiver I would feel all the way from my toes to my fingers.

Three. Deep breath. Two. Eyes closed. One—

My phone rang…

[Queue emotional conversation with her dad]

…I turned off my phone and crammed my headphones back into my ears. With a deep breath, I restarted Warrior Song and sank back against the tree, hugging Dames of London to my chest like it was the only thing keeping me on the ground.

Drums. Guitar. Chorus.

I held my breath. Three. Squeezed the book tighter. Two. Another tear. One. Crystal James took me away.

~Better to Pretend~

It always amazes me as these moments come to pass in my writing. While the Better to Pretend is still in it’s original draft and I imagine that scenes like this will be fine tuned and hopefully even more powerful, I understand as the writer the feeling from which those words grew. I didn’t know when I started writing Jenna’s story as a novel (originally it was a short story, very much plot based with little character development) how her character would progress. I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to describe how a song makes someone feel. It is definitely a mental workout.

Sammet’s other band, Avantasia, is described as his project band. While he still leads the group, it functions significantly on collaborations with other artists. Discovering Avantasia is actually what eventually lead me to Edguy. I came across a song on YouTube called Dying for an Angel by a band I had never heard of at the time featuring the lead singer of the Scorpions, Klaus Meine. I listened a random song by Avantasia because I think The Scorpions are awesome. That one click led me to a slight musical obsession.

© Nuclear Blast Records (Avantasia Feat. Klaus Meine, Dying for an Angel Music Video)

© Nuclear Blast Records (Avantasia Feat. Klaus Meine, Dying for an Angel Music Video)

But that is besides the point. While Avantasia still rocks pretty hard (at least in my sense of how music should rock) they have a decidedly more melodic quality to them. They have also released a legitimate rock opera, and a lot of their songs reflect that styling. In the sense of Jenna’s character, I felt that combining these two groups together would provide the type of outlet Jenna needed for different emotional situations in which she might turn to music. Which is how Love and Lace was formed in my mind. They rock hard – total jams that make you just want to tap your foot to the beat and maybe even smile because you know the band is having a good time. They can pick up the beat and fuel a rage or they can draw out a melody with full orchestration that can transport you into your own world. It seemed like a good fit for someone plagued with the typical teenage hormones.

There is obviously more to Jenna’s story than her obsession with music and the band Love and Lace. But discovering her love for music gave me a base to build her character from, to decide who she is as a person. Better to Pretend is an interesting exercise for me in that I feel like I am writing it backwards. The story was already completed once. I know exactly where it goes and who the key players are. Aside from Jenna’s angst about moving to a new town, character development never moved much beyond describing Mrs. Stokely and her love of books. There were a few glimpses here and there, but it was highly narrative driven. At the time it worked.
As I have been progressing through the novel adaptation, I have found an immense joy in getting to know these characters. I know them better than any other characters I have ever written. Which I think is pretty awesome.
Check back for Part II of this discussion in a few days to check out the music that drives Cory’s character.

In the mean time, here are a couple of my favorite songs by Edguy and Avantasia. Because I can’t resist sharing their awesomeness with anyone. Seriously, you should check them out. 🙂

 

Edguy – Superheroes: That moment that I talked about that I wait for every time I hear this song – It starts at 2:08… just in case you were wondering. Also, this music is completely bizarre and I have no idea what it has to do with the song. But I like it anyway.

 

Avantasia – Dying for an Angel

 

Avantasia – Scarecrow: This is a long one but it exemplifies that melodic quality of Avantasia. There is something about orchestration and using unconventional instruments in a rock band that makes me very happy.

Casting a Novel: Better to Pretend

Writing a story or novel doesn’t immediately suggest a visual process. The images we see in our minds are brought to life by the words on a page, hopefully enough so that a reader can create in their own imaginations who they see as they read the story.

When I write, the process is very visual. I see the story progressing in my mind almost as if it were a movie. Things move along quickly and I can imagine scenes like I am standing next to the characters in them. However, certain details often lack in definition: faces for example. In my work in progress, Better to Pretend, I have known since the beginning that Cory has shocking blue eyes, something the main character Jenna is very attracted to. He also has messy dark hair. but what about the rest of his face? What does he really look like? As the story has progressed, it also came out that he has a crooked smile. Bits and pieces have filled themselves in. Still, in my mind, that face lacks definition.

One of the first things I think about when I start working on a piece is what would this be like as a movie? Right away, some pieces are more suited to film than others (I’m not going to lie, one of my biggest dreams since I was a kid was to have one of my stories made into a movie). However, I still try to imagine them that way. One such piece is Solidity. I think it would be a great movie, but could it be pulled off in a way that doesn’t make the ghostly main character too gimicky? Not that I have to worry about that, as I haven’t written the story yet…. but back to the point.

Over the course of the last year, especially as I have started writing seriously again, I have also opened up to different forms of online media, particularly Pinterest. It takes the story boards that I would love to put up on my walls into a portable medium. If I see something I like or that draws me in, I can simply pin it and move on, able to return later for reference.

The idea of seeing more stories in movie form offers a fun strategy: If my novel was made into a movie tomorrow, who would star in it? I could just do simple searches for blue eyed boys with dark hair… but why not put someone in there who could literally bring that character to life? Better To Pretend is the first story I have ever done this with, and it provided the finer details to some of the faces. I you want to check out the Pinterest boards I have created for my current works in progress, go HERE.

So, if Better to Pretend were made into a movie tomorrow, these are the faces I could see cast as major characters. A girl can dream, right?

 

 

Cory Andersen (Nicholas Hoult)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenna Raynes (Saoirse Ronan)

Mrs. Stokely (Susan Sarandon)

 

Sandra Raynes (Rachel McAdams)

Evelynn Everett (Amy Adams)

 

Inspiration: Music

I wrote a short story in college titled, Better To Pretend. To this day, I am not sure where the idea came from, but up until that point, everything I had actively written had been mostly fantasy based in a medieval type world. Regardless of where the idea came from, the story has resonated with me for years, trapped as it was in short form. I knew that it was a story that I had to write, and eventually expand. Earlier this year, I picked the piece up again, having not looked at it for a couple or years, and after rereading it, I decided it was time to tackle the expansion that the story needed.

I started writing, and before I knew it, I had taken a piece that was a few pages long and expanded it into more than a hundred, with much of the story left to tell. Characters developed into real people who I could relate to and understand and became entirely immersed in.

When I write, I ALWAYS listen to music. It started out as whatever fit my mood at the time – often instrumental with a lot of piano. And then something happened: the characters in this story developed their own soundtracks. In fact, music became something that they bonded over. I found myself listening to specific tracks over and over again, imagining what the character would be thinking as they listened. Music became an integral part of the story. I was okay with this, because I myself love music. Playlists that I developed on Pandora to accompany my writing led me to specific songs that would stop my writing mid-sentence so I could search them up on YouTube and really analyze what they meant to the story. Now I have a playlist on my iPod of over 50 songs that are completely relevant to Better to Pretend.

When I write, I imagine every piece of work having a soundtrack, just like a movie would have. I know what song would play during the end credits, that one song that encompasses so much of what the story means to me. For Better to Pretend, that song is The Home We Made Pt. II, by Crywolf. I have probably listened to it a hundred times at this point, and it still gives me goosebumps.

Many of the things I have written over the years were inspired at least in part by some piece of music I heard. Music is a powerful tool, and for me one of the biggest sources of inspiration. I am always listening and waiting for something to spark an image in my imagination. It is a great adventure.

~Katie

 

Check out Crywolf’s The Home We Made Pt. II featuring Dylan Owen below.