Smarts versus Strength

The average kid is not a bodybuilder. They generally are not that tall yet, nor do they have the same strength of an adult. If they get into trouble with some kind of being that’s stronger than them, they cannot solve the problem through brawn. They have to use their brains instead. In my children’s stories, that is exactly what happens.
When I was younger, I was a pretty scrawny kid. I could not even turn a key in its lock (although, in all honesty, I still may fail at times). During that period, I really did not enjoy reading about people in my fantasy books who just managed to fight themselves past every obstacle. I wanted to be able to identify with the main character, which I could not in cases like these. Instead, I preferred the main characters to be clever and witty. They could be tiny, they could be weak, but they could not be dumb. I wanted them to be me, yet I wanted to admire them at the same time. How I admired those with smarts…
I still do, though. In my opinion, fight scenes are not all that interesting. Sure, they are great ways to create tension, but I cannot read them over and over again. People punch, people kick, people bite. I’ve never been interested in violence like that, especially since I couldn’t believe it. Nobody is going to convince me that the average eight-year-old can kick a powerful warlock’s ass with sheer strength. No thanks. I can imagine that there are more kids like me out there, and they are the ones I like to write for. Horror is my preferred genre, and I know that the evil doesn’t necessarily needs to be punched in order to be overcome. In fact, that sounds like a terrible idea. The supernatural cannot be hit – it should be outsmarted instead.
Horror is just as broad of a genre as all others. I like smart kids, so they will be in there. Still, though, I should be able to figure out a way to make them witty and smart and not want to murder them at the same time because I grossly overdo it. Smarts are fun in children’s fiction.

A.G.R. Rosewood – The Face Stealer

For my 50st blog, I decided I’d do something special. Here is the first chapter of the first book in my children’s series, called The Face Stealer. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Chapter 1: A Halloween Dream

“Can you see anything yet?” I asked my little brother Levi.
“No. Jamie, I don’t even know what I’m looking for! This is so boring.”
“I thought you wanted to see a real-live Halloween monster?”
To me, Halloween was the most special day of the year. After all, it was the day people would turn into monsters… And monsters would turn into people. I had been waiting all year for it. Me and my family had moved to this town called Borington – well, maybe that was not its real name – exactly eleven months ago, a month after the infamous Halloween night. The other kids at school loved to talk about it, but I hadn’t been there to see it. This year would be different. This year, I lived right next to the Poachers’ Forest, where everyone said all the fun always happened. If something sinister was going to appear, I would know it. However, since staring out of the window for hours was really boring, I had put Levi on the look-out. In the meantime, I slaughtered some virtual monsters on my computer.
Levi yawned loudly. I grumbled. Not yet… I thought to myself. Couldn’t he even stay awake for one night only?
“Jamie, I’m tired. This isn’t fun at all,” Levi complained.
I glanced at the alarm clock. 11:58pm, the red glowing numbers showed. Almost time. Almost midnight. Almost Halloween.
I put my controller aside and rapidly climbed on top of our bunk bed. Jamie was sitting crouched near the skylight. His breath had left marks on the glass, as a draught came through the window.
“Move it,” I commanded, pushing Levi aside. “I want to watch.”
Levi gave me a sluggish look. He nudged the sleep out of his eyes. I suspected he hadn’t been awake all evening, even though I had told him to do so. What if the monster had passed by while Levi had been drowsing of?
“So… Does that mean something is going to happen?” Levi asked me.
I nodded. “And I am the one with the first-rate seats.”
I could feel my heart throbbing as I looked at the alarm clock. 12 o’clock. Were the stories true or were my classmates just messing with me? I had to know.
Levi whacked me aside with his elbow. “This is my bed. I deserve the first-rate seat.”
We both pressed our noses up against the window, side by side. I could still feel the spot where Levi had hit me. He was surprisingly strong for a six-year old and angering him definitely wasn’t fun. I wanted to take revenge, but I knew that if he started yelling, mum and dad would be here in a second. Then the fun would be over forever…
BOOM!
A deafening bang echoed through the Poachers” Forest. Was it the sound of thunder or was it something less ordinary? I could think of a million things it could have been, but it was for sure that it was real. Levi had covered his ears with his hands to protect them from the noise. A group of winged creatures glided past, lit by nothing but the moon.
“Are those bats?” Levi asked.
I chuckled, even though my blood had run cold. “No, you moron, they were just birds. But something must have scared them…”
Levi frowned. “Are you deaf? They were freaked out because of that explosion!”
“Or because of something else…” I mumbled. “Look over there.”
A hunched figure was standing in the shade near the end of the street, close to the edge of the forest. His back was turned to us, but I could tell something was off. He was very tall and thin, with snow-white skin and a head as round as a bowling ball. A black mantle adorned his pointy shoulders and covered arms that almost reached his feet.
When the person turned around, I was sure about it: that creature was not human! He did not have eyes or ears. He lacked a nose and a mouth. His face was perfectly smooth, as if it was an egg instead of a head.
As soon as I realised what I saw, I crawled back and dragged Levi along. You shouldn’t let it see you, the little voice in the back of my head told me.
“What are you doing?” Levi asked, clearly annoyed.
“We have to hide,” I whispered.
“Why? It’s just a person in a costume…”
No matter what Levi thought it was, I was sure something was not right. I pressed his head down, into the mattress.
“Jamie!” he squeaked.
“Stay down!” I murmured, as I pressed my back against the wall.
Levi laughed quietly. “Do you really think it’s real? It doesn’t even have eyes. It’s not like it can see us.”
“Then be quiet!” I hissed.
Levi raised his head and made a face as if he thought I was stupid. “Does it have ears?”
“No, it doesn’t…” I sighed.
“Then stop freaking out. You’re not a bird, are you?”
I glanced through the window again, watching the figure walk slowly across the street. His head was tilted slightly, as if he were looking for something – if he could see anything at all.
Levi wrestled me until I loosened my grip on the back of his head. Immediately, he whizzed down the ladder. I quickly shut the curtains and followed him. There were two important questions left for me. Firstly, where was my moronic brother going? Secondly, what could a creature without face possibly be looking for?
Quietly, Levi opened the door to our bedroom and sneaked outside. He tiptoed across the hallway.
“Where are you going?” I asked softly. “Mum and dad cannot know we are still awake!”
Levi pointed at the stairs. “Downstairs,” he answered. “I want to see it.”
“It could just be someone who’s trying to scare us…” I said with trembling voice.
Levi did not listen. He crept down the stairs without thinking. I had to go after him. Sometimes, Levi was not just a moron. At those times, he was just an idiot. Like now. As I liked to think, Levi was the brave one when it came to the two of us. I was the one with the brains.
Downstairs, Levi opened all curtains and lit all lamps in the room. The situation was even worse than I thought… The faceless monster was standing in our own front yard! It was so close it could smash the windows with ease, especially with those monstrous arms.
I held my breath. Levi was standing face to face with something that came directly from my nightmares.
This had been my idea. Why had I been so stupid? Borington, no way. This was Creepsville.
“Stay away from that window,” I whispered. “We don’t know if this is a prank. What if it is dangerous?”
Levi shrugged and turned towards me. “Isn’t that part of the fun of monster hunting?”
The creature disappeared. Just now, it had been standing right in front of us. In the one second Levi turned around, it was gone. Where could it be hiding?
I ran across the room, looking out of every single window. Gone. It was gone. My stomach turned in my belly. Something bad was about to happen. This was not possible. No prankster was this good…
I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Levi and I both leapt in the air out of fright. This was worse than the monster…

It’s “Just” A Game

I do not claim to be a hard-core gamer, as that’d simply be untrue. However, I can appreciate a nice game now and for. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed Dragon Age and its sequels, just like I indulged in Guild Wars 2 (about 800 hours over the course of a year and a half is not that much, though). Many people love games, as they allow them to play out a story and feel like they actually can influence what happens – others use these games to vent, rage and unleash the stress of daily life. To be honest, I do not just play fantasy games. I also adored the The Sims series, strangely for reasons close to the ones I mentioned before. I like storytelling.
One could claim that a game is just that: a game. They think video games are about nothing but aggression and killing virtual opponents. Well, while some games are like that, just as many are not. Shooters are not the only genre in the virtual world. Some games tell actual in-depth stories in the same way a book would tell them. The only difference in that case is that the player is involved.
What I’d like to say is that I think that games have become a valuable means of storytelling. While they are different from books and movies, it doesn’t mean that they are worth any less. They are a new medium – one that may be more compelling to its audience than any other one. In games like Dragon Age, the player can actually influence the outcome of the story by making choices, which is something not often seen in books – most likely never in movies. I know that books like that are out there, but they seem to be for kids only. Don’t get me wrong, I am the kind of person who loves children’s books, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get it. Gaming has become a hype because it is so varied. There is something out there for everyone. The fact that some of these stories allow us to change their outcome often makes them more interesting, at least to me. Just like children, adults like this ability. They like feeling powerful. Not all of us want to read about a dumb hero wandering into a deserted building, only to find out it’s a trap and get killed. We want to fight back. We want to change his fate. That is the power of games.
As the world keeps advancing, new mediums of storytelling become available. I believe we should use them to their fullest instead of bashing them. “Just” games? I don’t think so.

Why Having a Writers’ Mind Improves Your Life

Having an active life outside of writing stories definitely stimulates the creative mind, but the opposite is true as well; having a creative mind improves the quality of daily life for sure. It may be because I am still a kid at heart – from the American point of view, I still am a (college) kid, so this may be a strange thing to say. When I started going to the gym for the first time in my life a few days ago, I had been dreading the moment for ages. However, when I arrived it turned out not to be bad at all. I decided to just go for a run on the treadmill, as the other devices seemed a little threatening for someone without training. As soon as I got up there and started running, my mind went wild. Why was I running? Was I fleeing from someone or something? Who or what was it? Ignoring the fact that I actually did not move from my spot at all, it was a great method for keeping my mind busy while my body started to ache. I had to keep going, no matter what, or the enemy was going to catch up with me. I hope I didn’t say anything strange or made any weird noises, which I sometimes do when in thought, but at least my imagination made this physical torture a lot more bearable. I’ll go back there as soon as possible.

It may be a little geeky, but I doubt I am much of an ordinary person. I know everyone likes to claim that about themselves, but seeing the other people’s faces around there allowed me to deduce that most of them were not having any fun at all. I guess that is the beauty of the writers’ mind; it allows us to turn an ordinary day into something amazing, even when nothing at all happens.

My Sources of Inspiration, Part VI: Night Terrors

Having a lively imagination is both a blessing and a curse, especially for those who aspire to use their creative mind. On one hand, it is an amazing ability to always be able to come up with new ideas. On the other hand, coming up with these ideas might not always be the best experience, even more so when they appear at night. I am prone to nightmares. It might be because horror is my preferred genre, but the mind is sadly stronger than most actual horror movies and books. Still, I cannot say I suffer from these dreams. I am pretty much used to them; they come to me daily, although “nightly” may be more fitting in this case.

I would like to advice those who, like me, love to write and experience the same as I do, to keep a dream diary. Having nightmares might not be a nice experience, but there is a good side to almost every bad thing. In this case, you could use these strange dreams to trigger the imagination even more to come up with the best idea ever. Alright, that may be an overstatement, but the point still stands. Keeping a dream diary – by writing in it right after you wake up or else the dream will be forgotten – is a great way to both train the mind to remember any form of inspiration and to have this notebook full of imagination-triggering adventures.

Personally, my nightmares probably are not that typical. They usually concern me being alone in a house that isn’t mine where I encounter ghosts, other strange beings or like last time, this horrible mannequin in an attick. Thing is, while it was one of the strangest dreams I had ever had, in the end only two aspects remained in my mind: a little girl ghost who loved to dance and play piano… and that horrible lifeless doll. As soon as I woke up, I loved it. I love having nightmares.

Change of Scene, Change of Mind

I have to admit that I fail as a blogger. I know that posting regurarly is one of the most important aspects when it comes to keeping readers interested, which is exactly what I haven’t been doing. The vacation of last week has taken its toll on both me and my writing skills. To me, keeping a steady pace is what makes me go on. However, as soon as that rhythm is broken, writers’ block sets in and I can’t bring myself to start writing again. The same goes with blogging.
Even though I may be complaining about the vacation, I also know that a change of scene is what every writer needs once in a while. While I don’t think it is an actual saying, I would like to say that a change of scene brings an actual change of mind. Sometimes, we need to keep our minds of our work and just do something completely else. In my case, my trip to Austria has been wonderful in that sense – although the backache that set in after only three days completely ruined our walking schedule. Just being in a completely different environment, surrounded by people with lives different than my own, was enough to spark so many ideas. I couldn’t write them down as my laptop apparently refused to save anything, but I certainly had enough time to let them stew in the back of my mind. What came out was unlike anything I had ever thought of, forced out by the nightmares I get when I’m sleeping in an unknown bedroom. I wanted to write a family drama concerning the spirit of a little girl, forgotten by her family as time went on. I don’t think I will ever actually finish it, or even start writing it, as it was meant to be a Young Adult novel, starring a teenager who finds out the secret of her greatgrandmother’s daughter. I do not really enjoy YA, nor overly complicated storylines. However, knowing that it was possible to come up with one was nice.
A story closer related to my actual trip was the one about a family running a hotel in the Alps, based on the little girls I met in the hotel where we were staying. They had to help their parents with tending to the guests and cleaning the rooms, so I wondered how many strange things they must have seen. Not much, probably, but it was fun to wonder about someone else’s life. I came up with the idea of them meeting a Yeti – or whatever similar creature is supposed to be living in the area.
While my ideas may not be of much quality, it was a great sensation to know that I still had it – the power of strange, childlike creativity. It may not be worth much to others, but this is the result of travelling. Every new experience triggers a new idea in the back of the writer’s mind. Try to experience as much as you can. It’s worth it.

Cover Drama

Covers are like a book’s trailer. Together with the back cover, they form the story’s trailer – that is, if there is no actual trailer available. Even if there is one, most, if not every, potential reader(s) will look at the layout of the printed book itself, as that is supposed to give away at least part of what is to be expected. A great cover gives away its genre and possibly part of its actual subject, created to fit the actual story inside.

However, not all covers fulfill their function. Sadly, my very first own cover was an example of this. If only I had known what it was going to turn out like, I would never have said “yes”. It all started when I decided to send my manuscript to a so-called publishing house, at the age of twelve or thirteen. I was incredibly proud of it – rightly, I’m guessing – and the publishing of my first book all went so fast. That was when I found out I hadn’t submitted it to an actual publishing house, though; it was merely printing-on-demand, and they demanded for me to send them a cover image. There was not much time left. My parents decided to go look for someone to do the job. They knew a lot of artists, mainly because we were not from a big town. Around here, everybody knew everybody. Soon enough, my parents found an artist willing to draw my cover for free. I was a kid without money. There was no way I could refuse that offer. My cover image was finished soon enough. The image itself was not bad… It clearly showed its genre, and the publishing company wrote the title on it in big, orange letters. It was beautiful… Except for what was actually depicted on the cover itself. There were characters on there, who were supposed to be my main characters – a man, a fourteen-year-old boy and a sandy coloured horse. On the cover, they had turned into a man with a young child and a black horse. It may not have been the worst thing in the history of publishing, but I was upset without doubt. It was as if my characters were gone, together with the story they belonged to. This image was going to be stuck to my own book for the upcoming five years. There was nothing I could do about it – the artist had volunteered to create this for me, so I couldn’t complain. I didn’t even know her! My manuscript was turned into a book, and yet, I never felt completely happy about it. Part of it may have had something to do with the story’s actual content, but that does not matter at this point.

All in all, I’ve definitely learned my lesson. Covers are important, both to the reader and probably also to the authors themselves. The images should depict the story in a fitting way – and in my case, I considered it a failure. That’s what you get when you try to get published in the printing-on-demand way. To be honest, I doubt I would ever pick one of those books from the shelves myself. I hate to admit it, but most of the time they just don’t seem right – or professionally made, for that matter.

The Publishers’ Nightmare

I am the publishers’ nightmare. As a shy non-native speaker of the English language who lives overseas, I probably couldn’t be a worse candidate for the English publishing houses. However, that does not mean I would forsake my dream without a fight.

Firstly, yes, I may be shy, but that is not everything I am. It does not shape me as a person, especially because I am shy when it comes down to talking about the weather and other seemingly unimportant subjects. As long as I am not interested, I am shy. Still, once I actively get involved with anything that lies close to my heart, I basically cannot stop talking about it. That’s still a quite annoying quality, but a lot easier than not knowing what to say. To the publishing house that claimed on its site that it refused to accept work from socially awkward writers: too bad, but I am not going to show you my work. I have enough self-esteem not to give it up for your socially inacceptable standards. Do not put guidelines like that up on your site.

Secondly, yes, I may be a non-native speaker of the English language, but that does not mean I am not allowed to try. To me, writing English children’s books is much more interesting than doing so in Dutch. The former is much more lively, in contrary to the stiff Dutch vocabulary. Besides, I am officially a student of the English language. I should be able to master it at a near-native level of speech and writing, and writing is not a problem for me. I consistently get great grades on my essays, so I doubt that would be a problem. However, mastering the literary language is a self-contained skill. I may have to practice some – or a lot – more, but in the end, I will reach my goals.

Thirdly, yes, I live overseas, which may be a huge problem for English publishing houses. Most of them prefer manuscripts from actual British writers, which I am not. However, the British Islands are not that far away from where I live. Nothing but a canal – and a sea, but that would make it sound like a bigger problem – divides Great Britain and the Netherlands. I know it is a presumptious idea to ever have to cross that sea, but I can still dream, right? Plane tickets are not that expensive. I could make it.

All in all, while I may be a true nightmare for British publishers, at least I would like to disprove the reasons why I could never reach my goal. It may still be far off, but publishers, beware. I will cross that ocean, one way or the other.

Meet the MCs

After finishing the series’ first book, I felt that is was time to devote a post to the ones carrying the stories: my main characters. I really do not have that much to say today, mainly because my exams are coming up shortly, so this might be the last post for now (my exams will be over in three weeks).

James “Jamie” Lightheart is my actual main character, as the stories are seen from his point of view. Jamie is ten years old, likes to think of himself as pretty smart, likes bossing around other people, is highly jealous and slightly paranoid – although it is generally warranted. On the other hand, he would save his family if their lives were on the line, although he hates admitting so. He is in Year 5 at the local school which he attends (which is both a primary and secondary school).

Levi Lightheart is Jamie’s younger brother, and is around most of the time. He is six years old – although he turns seven in the second book of the series -, is very impulsive, loves food and adventure an frequently gets into fights with Jamie as he does not like Jamie’s attitude. He is in Year 1.

Susan Lightheart is Jamie’s older sister. I haven’t had much time to write about her yet, as she spend almost all of the first book without a face. She could not talk and wandered around aimlessly. However, I do know something about her. She is eleven years old, a little shy but loves teasing her brothers, is obsessed with decorations and dreams of becoming a witch. She is in Year 6.

Alice Wright is Susan’s classmate and some sort of a friend of Jamie, although he upsets her more often than that he makes her laugh. Alice is the daughter of two paranormal investigators. At the moment, she lives with her uncle and aunt, as her parents have gone on a business trip in search of a mermaid. Alice is highly responsible, much more intelligent than Jamie, very serious and relatively quick to annoy. On the other hand, she is very dedicated to whomever she likes and she would give her life if it were necessary – but this is a children’s book; no one is actually going to die. Jamie has a slight crush on Alice, if only because she is everything he desires to be.

Other characters are the Lighthearts’ spy neighbours, Alice’s fortune-telling aunt and tonnes of paranormal creatures surrounding their little village called Coven’s End (that name is the actual thread of the series).

Let’s hope I can stick to these characters this time.

Writing Tips, Part III: Outlines and Structures

Now that I finished my first manuscript, I figured it would be better to just keep on writing. I cannot look at the text yet as if I’ve never seen it before; therefore, I cannot start the editing process. In fact, editing now would hinder my ability to keep up the pace. Once I’ve written enough, I’ll return to where I once started and polish it. However, that moment is not here yet. For now, I’m simply going to outline my second manuscript. For others struggling with the same – which I personally find rather hard – here are a few tips.

One: start out with brainstorming. This probably seems like a logical step, but you’ll need it. Write down whatever comes to mind. See which ideas you prefer. Some might work well together, while others don’t. Choose with a basic idea and stick with it. Once you’ve done so, do not go back to creating new ideas – no matter how tempting it is. If anything else seems interesting, write it down – then forget about it.

Two: now that you have a basic idea, come up with the ending. This might seem like a strange leap in thought, but knowing the ending definitely helps in the process of fleshing out the story. The more detailed it is, the clearer the path becomes that needs to be taken in order to get there.

Three: which characters, changes in attitude, attributes and scenes do you need to get to the ending? Let the story revolve around – that does not sound like the right word, though – obtaining those essential elements. That way, every step and every action will bring the story closer towards the ending and there will be no unnecessary elements to it.

Four: this is where the actually outlining begins. Write down everything you know so far and try to create a structure for the story in which every single elements fits. You could do this by writing a synopsis or by creating a chapter-by-chapter outline, whatever works better. Make sure not to include anything but short descriptions of the scenes.

Five: by now, you should know your story’s main points and main scenes. This is the time to start writing, to bring your world and its characters alive. Following the steps, it should not be hard to write down the entire story from the beginning to the ending. After all, you know what needs to happen. However, this is definitely the fun part. Outlining a story before writing it does not take the creativity out of the process, because there is more than enough left to be creative with. Make the characters speak. Make the characters act. Although you know what is going to happen, the way in which it is going to happen is not set. Play with that.

This might seem a boring technique, but many beginning writers get stuck because they do not want to create an outline; they just want to start writing. However, if you have no idea where your story line is going to take you, chances are you are lacking a plot. A manuscript without a plot can never be called a book – unless you are a famous, established writer, which I am not.