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Hello readers! Sorry I’ve been MIA lately. Life has thrown a lot my way, and I’m working to adjust accordingly. Hopefully in a month or so, I’ll be posting regularly again. I’ve got ideas, just need to get them down on the paper. 🙂

This month, I decided to participate in the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash. It’s a challenge where you receive either a sentence or picture prompt and write a story from it that’s 1000 words or less. I had a lot of fun working on this, and thought I’d share it with you all since it has to do with relationships. (And because I haven’t posted in a while… oops.) Picture prompt and story below. Please read and enjoy!

 

The Decision - picture prompt - Penprints Flash Fiction Dash

 

The Decision

Silver rails and wood ties, as far as the eye could see. She looked to the east, then the west. Would the train come? Where would it take her?

Snow lay deep, interrupted only by bare trees and dead brush.

Long, dark hair fell over her shoulder and tickled her cheek, rustled by the winter breeze. The abandoned bridge lay above her, supported on stacked, rough-hewn blocks of stone. Frozen rivulets of water shone in the sky’s dim white light. Guard rails perched atop the black road kept phantom cars from plunging onto the tracks below.

Snow fingers crawled toward her boots over the gravel under the bridge. The silver rail she stood on could have frozen to her feet through thin boot soles.

She looked east. So many choices, so many destinations.

She must choose.

The wind whispered in her ear.

Tell me which way to go.

A single word resounded in her mind, as if the wind held her answer.

Alone.

Faux fur tickled bare thighs and calves. She bunched the sleeves of her hoodie in her fists, hiding fingerless gloves.

No one had come here with her. Few would wish to. This place held nothing for them.

And everything for her. So many thoughts and decisions she’d made here.

On her own.

The wind died. The snow’s stretching fingers rested among rocks strewn between railroad ties and hair settled on her shoulders. She licked dry lips.

Moisture froze.

How would she decide?

The world’s answer wouldn’t match the wind’s. Whom did she trust with this?

Only herself.

No one else would dare to understand. They’d only push her closer to the world’s answer.

She’d only ever had herself, really. Would that continue the rest of her life?

And if it did? She’d lived almost thirty years of life on her own. A few close friends had scattered to the winds, still there but harder to reach out to in times of need.

So she must turn to herself. As she’d always done before those friends stole into her life and heart.

She closed her eyes, breathing in winter’s sharp, bitter air.

Thank goodness she hadn’t become bitter.

Much lay in her past, all that she’d come to terms with. She’d accepted every piece of it. Even her own guilt.

Yet here she stood, indecisive. Which path to take?

The wind whispered again. To her.

Alone.

Perhaps the wind knew best.

She’d done many things wrong. Broken friendships lay scattered behind her like rocks, fragments of those few she’d hurt and alienated.

If she avoided going deeper than friendship, what would that make of her life?

It would give her everything she’d ever wanted, hoped for.

She’d only ever wanted a friend. Close friends, both guys and girls.

And now?

The world pushed toward dating, engagement, marriage. She grew older every day, and the world reminded her at each turn.

But she had remained careful, selective. If she chose not to follow the world, she could gain everything she’d ever wanted.

Would others understand?

No.

As the world saw it, one couldn’t be happy without a marriage, a family.

And yet she was. She’d been happy for years on her own, focusing on friendships. Friendships she still held on to, the kind that lasted.

And when she’d delved deeper than that? Disaster. And lost another friend.

Not again.

Only once had it been the right decision to step past friendship into something deeper. In the end, she’d lost a friend, a good and close one. But that had made sense, it had been right. She’d learned from it, more than if it had never happened.

This last foray into dating? Her own foolishness. And her fault they no longer spoke.

Perhaps they’d never speak again.

She must learn to rely on herself first, her own voice of reason. Not her emotions, so easily influenced by those around her.

Alone.

Yes, that’s the train she must take. She must defy the world’s views. Remain on her own, forming close, lasting friendships.

That’s all she’d ever wanted.

Now, she must live up to that decision.

She turned west and stepped from rail tie to rail tie, standing straighter than she had in days. The wind flowed around her, as if commending her choice.

Alone: how she was meant to live.

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It doesn’t matter where you go, what you watch, or what you read. Inevitably, there is some sort of relationship involved. That relationship could be with another person, with yourself, or with God, but there is always at least one relationship involved in life and stories.

Every writer needs to know the relationships between the characters in the story, and many times aspects of those relationships are taken from the author’s life, whether consciously or unconsciously.

In my last post, I reviewed Kelley Armstrong’s Sea of Shadows, from her Age of Legends trilogy. In an email interview, she answered a few questions regarding the relationships within this trilogy, specifically the first book.

http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/images/Kelley_Armstrong_5-lrg.jpg

Photo credit: Kathryn Hollinrake. kelleyarmstrong.com

“Relationships are a huge part of any novel for me,” she wrote. “They might actually be the part that interests me most because it impacts so many other aspects of the plot.”

I’ve always been intrigued by the characters of stories, and I’ve loved the relationships that are formed, whether I root for them or not. It’s something I’ve always looked at in stories, and I’ve always found them to be the most intriguing aspect of a story.

In Sea of Shadows, the plot focuses on twin sisters Moria and Ashyn as they travel to the Imperial City of the empire. They are forced to leave their home on the edge of the Forest of the Dead. They each travel with other companions, but are separated. (For a lengthier summary see my last post here or Goodreads here.)

How much should relationships impact the overall story? “I had the primary relationship of the twin sisters,” Armstrong said, “and I wanted to explore how that changes as they near adulthood. It’s such a close bond, and yet one that will change, as they prepare to lead independent lives, away from the family home. The plot of the book let me accelerate that process.”

Armstrong, like many writers, incorporated some of her own life into the relationships in Sea of Shadows. “I would take my own relationship with pets or my experiences seeing twins and then add the fictional ‘what if.’” Two of the “what if’s” she asked were: “What if your dog/cat was supernaturally bonded to you?” and “What if, as a twin, you grew up in a world where you’d never been apart?”

Writers often take their own experiences and find ways to express them, and for fantasy writers sometimes that means taking life experiences and incorporating them through fantasy elements. By doing this, authors can better connect their readers to the fantasy world, as there are familiar aspects involved. By incorporating small aspects of life, authors let readers bring their own ideas and experiences to the story.

The next hurdle for authors is in how to show the relationships within the confines of the story’s plot. Both dialogue and action are important. Armstrong says, “Dialogue is the easy way—show how they interact in conversation.” However, she thinks showing a relationship through action is stronger. “It’s the old adage about actions speaking louder than words.” She likes to take it a bit farther. “It’s also very telling if a character says one thing but does something very different, and I often play with that. Trust the actions, not the words!”

The story doesn’t end after Sea of Shadows; it continues on with Empire of Night, the second installment of the trilogy, and then with Forest of Ruin, to be released in 2016. Even as a writer myself, I haven’t yet had a story that’s warranted more than one book. It’s fascinated me how well characters’ relationships can both change and stay the same over a multi-novel story.

Armstrong wrote that it can be difficult to maintain relationships throughout a multi-novel story. “I think the hardest part is maintaining the right balance of focus on each relationship, as new relationships form and the old remain (and remain important).”

Not only does Armstrong maintain human relationships with five main characters throughout the trilogy, but she also adds Moria and Ashyn’s “bond beasts,” which she characterizes as “a pet relationship in overdrive.” She includes the sisters’ relationship as it grows and changes, the friendships they make, potential romances between characters, and each characters’ relationship with the bond beasts, as the sisters’ bond beasts are with them the majority of the time.

How does one keep track of so many relationships throughout all of the plot that has to carry through three or more novels? “I actually tracked all of those in charts,” Armstrong said, “to be sure that I wasn’t focusing too much on one relationship at the expense of others.”

That sounds a lot like real life to me, aspects of which, as I said above, many authors want to include in their stories. Not only does the author need to maintain a balance in those relationships, but the characters themselves may have to balance relationships throughout the story. Which is yet another thing for the author to keep track of while in the process of writing.

As is fairly usual for an aspiring writer interviewing an established author, my last question for Armstrong was if she had any tips for portraying character relationships. “Deep relationships should be complex,” she said. “They are in real life. We might have simplistic relationships with acquaintances, but it’s very different with deep or long-term relationships. When drafting relationships, look for points where two characters are in sync but also for where they conflict.”

That’s some good advice. As far as I’ve found, no relationship is all sunshine and roses. Nor is a relationship all fighting and contention. There has to be a balance of both, as there usually is in real life. People’s interests conflict and cause tension in a relationship, and characters should be the same. “It’s those points of conflict that will really add to your interactions, but you need the “in-sync” points too—endless bickering between characters is as boring as no conflict at all.”

 

What do you think? As a reader, how do you prefer to see relationships portrayed? What are some of your favorites?

Writers, how do you prefer to portray relationships, and why? Do you use a model of some kind? Leave your comments and ideas below!

 

Find out more about Kelley Armstrong on her website or blog. The Age of Legends trilogy can be found on Amazon.

 

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When I’ve heard other writers give advice about attending writers’ conferences, there are two pieces of advice I always hear: “Connect with people you don’t know. Network.” and “Go to everything offered.”

For first-time conferees, these two phrases can put a lot of pressure on both the conferee and the conference. There are many expectations for the experience. However, while I think that both pieces of advice are good to hear, I also think we need to take them with a grain of salt.

“Connect with people you don’t know. Network.”

Networking is good, and so is connecting with writers, agents, editors, etc. that you don’t know. However, this can put a lot of pressure on conferees, especially introverts. While at the conference, they’re worried about talking to enough people, and the use much of their energy trying to work up the courage to talk to strangers all day. As an introvert myself, I’ve found this to be extremely exhausting. And as I use up my energy trying to talk with people the whole time, per the advice I’ve received, I find it harder at times to focus on the workshops and have energy for the things I am excited about.

Another thing that I thought when I heard this piece of advice was that I had to connect with a lot of people. I took it in the sense of “meet someone, have a short, meaningful conversation, and move on to meet someone new.” But I think sometimes you just need to connect with those old friends you haven’t seen in a while, or even those acquaintances you don’t know that well. Here’s one of my own experiences.

This past weekend I attended the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference in Anderson, Indiana. I was there with a group of fellow classmates, and a lot of the time I talked with them. Instead of branching out at lunch and sitting with a group of strangers, I chose to sit with a few of my classmates, most of whom I hardly ever talked to. And we had a wonderful conversation. For that day, it was my favorite part of the conference, and I feel I gained much more out of having lunch and interacting with my classmates than I would have if I’d networked and sat with a group of people I didn’t know.

“Go to everything offered.”

Look, I get the point of this statement, but it’s just not possible sometimes. I know the value in experiencing everything the conference has to offer, but sometimes you just can’t do it.  From what I thought when I heard this, and what friends have thought as well, this is often taken as “Go to everything offered no matter your energy level.” Which I think is just ridiculous. If you’re going to a conference, you’re going because you want to learn new things and meet new people. You can’t do that if you’re too exhausted to approach others or pay attention in workshops and critique groups.

I attended the Write to Publish conference at the beginning of this summer, and this was one of the pieces of advice I took to heart. I was determined to go to everything they offered that I could. I was ready to take in all of the information from the four day conference. I was excited.

By the time I made it to the middle/end of the third day, I was exhausted, but still excited. I was having a great time and learning a lot. Then at dinner I started talking with an alumnus from my college who was also attending the conference. When the time came to go to the evening activities, such as a speaker and critique groups, we decided that we both needed a break–and we didn’t want to end our conversation. So we went back to the dorms we were staying in (we were on the Wheaton Campus in Wheaton, Illinois) and talked for another hour or two. Honestly, it was the best thing I could have done. Not only was I able to rest from taking in information, but I was able to really connect, and it was with someone who helped me more than anything I could have learned from the conference activities.

So, what I’m trying to say with these examples is to not go too far. Know what your limits are, and when you reach them, don’t push past. You’ll only exhaust yourself further, which could lead to missed opportunities or lessons. If you get the chance, slow down and really connect with someone–whether that’s someone you already know or someone you just met. Don’t be rushing around trying to get everything in, because chances are, you won’t. And that’s okay. It’s why most conferences are an annual thing.

Go ahead and take everything you can out of the experience, but don’t go too far. Slow down and listen for what God’s calling you to do, even if that’s getting away from the conference for an hour or two to rest. Because if you don’t, you might just miss something important.

 

What do you think about these pieces of advice? Others? Voice your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject. (After all, I’m only one of the many perspectives out there.)

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