After I Died: A Storytime Blog Hop Story

After I Died

bloghopI thought the casket a little over the top. Pictures of me growing up filled it and looking at them laid out together, I could see how unhappy I’d been, how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin. But I couldn’t find my favorite photo. I was 3, wearing high-heels, a horrible make-up job, and one of my mom’s dresses. My brother had taken it and everyone had been so proud of him. It’d even won first place at the state fair. Now, I couldn’t see it anywhere—it’s place of pride on the mantle was empty. My heart sank.

Attending your own funeral is weird. Nobody wanted me there. No one even looked at me. It was exactly how things had been my whole childhood, I realized. I felt no sense of tragedy, even though everyone around me did, “Such a shame to loose Butch that way, such a tragedy.” The only tragedy had been my coming out.

I’d sat my parents down. “I have a problem and I really need your support,” I said.

“You can tell us anything, Butch,” my mother said. “You know that.” My mom took my hand and squeezed it gently. “Just tell us. Whatever it is, we’ll figure a way through it together.”

“I’m transgender and transitioning to become a woman,” I said. “I’d like you to call me ‘Sally’ and use ‘she’ and ‘her’ pronouns.” My mom dropped my hand.

They did figure a way through it: this funeral. My dad declared me dead to them and I hadn’t realized how literally he’d meant it. I stayed until the end, crying through it like the girl I am, still looking for that photo. Everyone kept a space between them and me, so they wouldn’t accidentally touch me, like being transgender was contagious. I worked my way through the entire house. I was getting frantic, when I finally found it, still in its frame, in the kitchen trash.

I guess I should’ve felt sad, but I didn’t. I should’ve been angry, but I wasn’t. The tears I shed were ones of relief and happiness. I could move forward without guilt; nothing held me back. I fished a marker out of my purse and wrote on the picture’s glass “RIP Butch. Welcome Sally.” Then I turned it over and breathed a sigh of relief when I found the envelope still hidden there, between the picture’s back and the paper covering. I pulled the letter out and read it for the umpteenth time. “Dear Sally,” it said. “We are pleased to inform you that your application to the University of Oregon has been accepted.”

Links to the other stories

Karen Lynn: The Family Book

Angela Wooldridge: An Alternative to Frog

Thea van Diepen: Are You Sure It’s That Way?

Paula de Carvalho: Body Double

Kris Bowser: Tantrums

Virginia McClain: Rakko’s Storm

Grace Robinette: Georg Grembl

Elizabeth McCleary: The Door

Dale Cozort: Two Letters In A Fireproof Box

Katharina Gerlach: Canned Food

Rabia Gale: Spark

K. A. Petentler: The Twisted Tale of Isabel

Shana Blueming: Paper & Glue

Amy Keeley: To Be Prepared For Chocolate

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Yes, but…

conflict-as-you-wishThe How to Think Sideways course has been keeping me really busy. I’m still working on the post for my favorite top-ten writing sites; I haven’t had as much time to work on it as I’d like. Of course, there’s also been the small matter of bellydance performances, palgwe forms to learn and demonstrate so that I can receive my second degree black belt in taekwondo, a trip to the emergency room, then follow-up with multiple specialists to determine that my heart is healthy, and finally, oral surgery to relieve an abscessed tooth. And that was just April. All while still trying to keep up my writing .

We’re still in the prep-work stage of the HTTS course, so there’s not much to show here. But it’s been really great for me; I’ve gotten a much better handle on the story I’m trying to tell and on it’s characters. The story is a modern urban fantasy where a young transwoman (Sally), battered and beaten almost to death ends up on the doorstep of an immortal sorcerer (Rafe). The ideas started to go much better when I realized that Sally was the protagonist and that Rafe was not only not the protagonist, he was the antagonist. Which had been the problem of the story all along. There was no antagonist. This is a problem pretty much all of my fiction has had to this point, which is why I don’t have any fiction published.

This is definitely one of those “there is no bad guy” stories, where both the protagonist and antagonist are doing what they believe is best for everyone involved. They also don’t realize exactly who is opposing them until the very end. It’s a lot easier for me to write conflict now, now that there’s not someone who’s a terrible person. I don’t write bad people well; I tend to see the best in everyone. I tend to play the “Yes, but” game too much. Yes, the King of the Winter Court stole lands from the Summer Court, but they were his lands to start with. I tend to do this for every character in the story, in every story.

But now I’m learning finding it extremely helpful to turn the question around and apply it to every one. Yes, you saved the protagonist, but you’ve compounded her problem by adding medical bills she can’t pay. Yes, your mother has a key to a possible treasure, but that key has only been passed from mother to eldest daughter and she refuses to accept you as anything other than her son.

So this is my challenge to myself and to y’all: apply the “Yes, but” to every character in every scene. Use it to look for ways to bring more conflict into your story.  And, as always, tell us about it in the comments. Or tell us about other methods you use to increase conflict. I’m always eager to try out new ways of generating great scenes for my story.

[Image courtesy of JD Hancock via Flickr Creative Commons]


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Characters and Plot

My books always start with a character or character(s). I create or find a cool character and I want to know more about them. I want to share them with other people and hope they find my character(s) as cool as I do. So far, I have three writing projects, each of them started because I wanted to know more about a particular character:

Poison in the Mind started with a character I played in a game. I know, I know. Stories based on games are almost always bad, however I couldn’t get  the character, Galen Gerhardt, out of my head. Galen is a mindbender, someone who can control other people’s thoughts. He both hates and is addicted to the use of this power.  He’s an escaped slave…maybe. There’s a lot of evidence that his memories have been tampered with, so even he doesn’t know what is true and what is not. And now he has to face down an ancient Death God and with the help of some companions (each with stories of their own), who claims it’s Galen’s fate to serve him. And he may just be right. Here I’m letting the characters drive the plot, not the game they played in. Right now, all game events except two have been thrown out the window and one of them’s trying to scootch away from the frame. Plus, I’ve had requests from other players to write their character’s story. I might do it too, if I can finish my own.

Lucifer’s Godchild also started with a game character who grew from a PC into an NPC and now into a fiction character. With each iteration, Rafe Fraizer, has mutated and changed to fit the demands of the current story. Starting as a street punk mage just out of his apprenticeship, he’s grown into a thousand-year-old jaded wizard, exiled to the mortal world by his faery consort and desperate to regain her good graces and return to Faery. But the kicker for me was when I realized that Rafe couldn’t be the viewpoint character for his own story. Because it turned out, it wasn’t his story to tell, it was that of his unwanted assistant, a transwoman named Sally Neighbors. NaNoWriMo 2013 project.

His Very Jewel was an exception for me, as the character who inspired me was an actual, historical person. I began an obsessive research binge on anything Tudor, especially the wives of Henry VIII. Plus, I liked the idea about writing a book that my mother (who loves historical fiction) might like to read. And I have a tendency to take maligned characters and give them a human face. In this case, it was Henry’s reviled fifth wife, Katherine Howard, that took my fancy. I wanted to try a hand at historical fiction; I wanted to portray a female character; I wanted to write about someone who’s life is pretty well known so that I didn’t have to make up a lot of “filler” events. Since my primary historical interest is Anglo-Saxon, I’ve been continuing my Tudor research binge. NaNoWriMo 2014 project.

So I’ve got these great characters with interesting and rich histories, who seem to go absolutely nowhere, plot-wise. Why? Because in each case, I’ve realized I have no antagonists. It tend to define their antagonists in general terms. Actually, in two of them, I have an antagonist: Galen has the Ancient Death God (cue booming voice here) and Katherine’s life has a perfect man to villainize.  But my problem seems to be I don’t know how to make use of antagonists; I have a terrible time figuring out exactly they do to become the villains that they are. And what my protagonists do to counter them.

If I were GMing any of these stories as a game, I throw the situation out to my players and watch them run with it. As a GM, all I have to do is think of a great character, think of an impossible situation and throw my PCs into, then just react to what they do. But it doesn’t seem to work so well when I get to fiction. When I throw them into my situation, they just sit there on the page. I’ve got great books on writing character, on writing plot, scenes, dialogue…. But I’ve yet to see a book on creating great antagonists.

What about you? What comes first for you: character or plot? Or something else? How do you create antagonists and then how do you use them to create your story and then your plot?



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