So, I was talking with an American friend recently and teasing her about spiders. Here in Australia, the spiders are numerous, dangerous, or just plain big and scary. My friend visited Oz and I had to chase a huntsman spider out of my house when she was there. It was easily as big as my hand and galloping all over the walls and floor.
I sent my friend a package, and the teasing happened while the package was in transit. So, of course, I told her that I may have sent her some live cargo, completely accidentally, because you just never know where those sneaky little buggers might be. And, thanks to the wonders of international postal transit, they’ll probably have time to have a couple of generations before it finally arrives (it didn’t take that long to get there, luckily!). Poor little box-spiders, travelling to the promised land.
It inspired me to write her a little story. It’s the first thing I’ve written in months! She gave me permission to share it with you all, so here it is, in all its silly, spiderly glory.
The Huntsman and the Crippled Goddess
It was another dark day, and the Huntsman and his family were making the best of it. The nest was doing well: much silk had been spun and it was almost ready for the next batch of eggs. The Huntsman’s grandchildren would be laid soon, and hatched a little after that. He wasn’t sure if he would be there to see the new ones crawl out; it was hard to mark the passage of time in this dark journey of theirs, but he suspected that his season was coming to its end.
“Wife, have the children had their learning today?” he asked, settling himself down, legs curled close.
“Oh, eat your head, husband,” his mate replied. She was busy with the hole in the corner of their small parcel of the world. It was a tiny hole, too small to crawl out of, but with a little coaxing, prey would sometimes make its way inside.
“That’s your job.”
“Only if you’re very lucky.”
The Huntsman shook his head and cleaned his face patiently.
The children returned from their forays for prey, most with empty silk-sacks. It was slim times inside their parcel; the Huntsman wasn’t sure how long they could survive. It had always been this way for them, though, since the angel visited and told them about their destiny. There had been much light, and many bright words, and then the enfolding dark. Storms raged outside the walls of their home, shook them sometimes, but never broke inside. He was safe here with his family. Protected. The angel had done as she had promised. But pickings were slim.
The Huntsman closed his eyes. It was quiet today, the storms outside barely a rumble. The temperature was dropping, but there was plenty of insulation and softness to keep him and his family warm inside their little boxed home. He listened to the voices of his children, reciting their learnings.
They were on a journey to a goddess in a golden place, the tale went. There, prey would run to greet them, foolishly sacrificing themselves. They wouldn’t have to live in a small parcel of world: they would have huge boxes to run around in, all bright and interconnected, with delicious shadows and comfortable nooks to settle in, low planes to gallop over, tall surfaces to scale and skitter across. Prey would be so plentiful that they would have only to reach out and grab it, so they would only run to enjoy themselves, to feel the different textures under their many feet, and perhaps to chase down a wayward mate.
The goddess would be grateful for them, for the Huntsman’s prey have caused her much distress. He and his family will come and deal with the vermin, and she will be grateful, and they will live happily together.
“And how will we greet the goddess, when the time comes?” the Huntsman’s wife asked.
The Huntsman cracked an eye open to watch.
The children raised their front legs in polite salute, then dropped down and rushed towards their mother, up and over her, around and back and forth, giggling with delight. They stamped as they went, their little feet tapping out their love all over their target.
“Very good! Though do try not to trip over each other, hm?”
Two of the children untangled themselves from the heap they had landed in and crouched apologetically.
“And be sure not to appreciate her with your feet for too long. There will be hunting to be done, and she’ll be pleased if we get right to it.”
“Why does the goddess need us to hunt for her?” another child asked.
“Because she has only four legs,” the Huntman’s wife said wisely.
The children murmured with surprise and dismay.
“She is so great and so old, that she has lost many of her legs. And grown so large that she cannot hunt such tiny vermin. That is why we have been summoned.”
“But father still has all of his legs,” another child protested.
“I am not so very old,” the Huntsman growled back before his wife could answer, surprising all of them. He peeled open a few eyelids to look at them. “The angel and the goddess existed long before I was born, and will be around long after all of us are gone. They are eternal. They create the houses we live in, the doorways we crawl through, the surfaces under our feet. You must not compare us to them.”
“The goddess is proof that, even if you are crippled, you can still be great,” his wife put in, her soothing tones settling the children, who were all staring at their father. “Why, my brother lost a leg and he was a mighty hunter for a whole ‘nother season after that. Grew to a ripe old age, he did.”
“But he wasn’t chosen to come along? Because of his missing leg?”
“No, child. He was already curled around his last bit of sky when the angel came to tell us of our destiny.”
“It’s the highest part we can see. It’s the part that connects us to the goddess when we can’t hunt any more. We curl our legs around it, and she finds us and takes us to the next place.”
“Like little brother, on his back?”
“Like little brother.”
The children looked at each other, shuffling their feet as they digested that, as if it was prey they hadn’t quite killed properly. Wriggling all the way down.
“When will the goddess take him away?” one of the littler ones asked finally.
“Not much sky in here,” the wife said, looking upwards. The ceiling was very low and the space was stuffed with fabrics of differing types. Hardly any open air at all. “It might take her some time to find him.”
“Perhaps she’s leaving him here to keep us company on our journey?”
“So we don’t forget where we’ve been.”
“Or about little brother.”
“Will she leave father with us too, when he’s ready to hug the sky?”
“Maybe he’s hunted so much that she’ll find him quicker. He’ll curl around more sky than little brother.”
“But it’d be nice if he could finish the journey with us. Even if he is curled around the sky.”
“I’m not curling yet,” the Huntsman said finally, cutting off the conversation. He scowled at the children, then turned around to listen to the wall beside him. Tiny scratches would mean that prey was near, but the wall was still and quiet. He hungered.
The children continued to chatter about the goddess and her angel. Wondering how long their journey through the dark would be, how many storms and shakings they would have to go through. How many tests they would have to endure. When their sisters would get fat with eggs and if their children would be born in the dark, or under the goddess’s light. What it would be like to be able to run, free of the confines of their parcel of the world.
“Husband,” his wife said eventually, pulling his attention away from the silent wall and the susurrus of the children’s musings. “There’s prey to eat.”
The Huntsman lowered his head, then shook it slowly. “I do not hunger.”
His wife hesitated, then turned to the children. “Eat up, now.” She didn’t hunger either, it seemed. Their season was almost done, but the children, they were healthy. The nest was almost ready for them.
One way or another, the Huntsman would see the goddess soon, and curl himself around her blessed sky. His children or grandchildren would hunt for her and keep her happy, and they would live in plenty and splendour, galloping in the golden place. He was content with that.
I’ve been quiet for a little while now. Here, on the Starwalker website, pretty much all over my writing spaces online.
Last year, I took a hiatus from Starwalker. I wanted to have a break, a little holiday from the writing, and to catch up on some of the other stuff on my plate. I wanted to come back refreshed and rejuvenated, and dive back into my textual adventures.
That was the plan. It hasn’t quite worked out the way I thought it would.
As much as I hate to admit it (and as much as I dislike going on about it), my health is mostly to blame. The exhaustion is worse than usual, and worse than ever before. I’m lining things up to investigate medical treatments/investigations (and the money to pay for it, hopefully). Getting back on my feet – literally and figuratively – is a work in progress.
That aside, I think I was also burnt out on writing. I was mentally and creatively exhausted. I very much needed a break to address that, to clear out the clutter and stress, and clear the mental decks a bit.
I didn’t realise just how much I needed the hiatus until I was trying to get back into writing. Then I was looking at the blank page and it all seemed so hard. I was lacking my usual creative spark, the inspiration that makes words itch on my fingertips until I let them out. It wasn’t just Starwalker: writing anything (creative) was hard work.
I know better than to try to force it. That leads to bad writing and frustration, and I know myself well enough to know that what I needed was a longer, more thorough break. Not just a short recharge with writing on the horizon: a chance to breathe without a deadline coming at me.
I’m not complaining about the deadlines of serial writing in any way. Usually, that kind of pressure works for me: it’s one of the reasons I like writing web serials, because it pushes me in ways that are good for my writing. Usually. There are times that it doesn’t work, though. Like now.
It took me a while to come around to the realisation that I was burnt out. I don’t like to give up easily, but I realised that that’s what I needed to do. Give myself a break. Be okay with taking more time than I’d said.
At the same time, I’m apologetic towards my readers. I hate to break promises and shift expectations, and I’m sorry for doing that. I’m immensely grateful for my readers’ understanding: their messages have been nothing but supportive, and I can’t thank them enough for that.
Please know that I haven’t forgotten you. I haven’t been distracted by something shiny, or grown bored with the story. I guess five years was longer than I realised to be doing something as involved as writing the same story, week to week (with some breaks between books). It was more intensive than I truly recognised, until I lifted my head to catch my breath.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been burnt out with my writing. The other time was after my uni degree: three years doing nothing but reading and writing left me drained of almost all creativity and desire to write. (My degree was English Literature with Creative Writing.) I learned a lot of useful stuff – much of which I still use to this day, both in my day job and in my creative writing pursuits – but I needed a break from the intensity and pressure of it afterwards. I wound up not writing anything original or independent for several years.
It was during this period that I did a lot of freeform, text-based roleplaying, which scratched the creative itch without the weight of being truly my own writing. I had a ball with the RP and don’t regret it in the least. I learned a great deal about characterisation, development, and storytelling in those years, and picked up many tools that have helped me write my own work in the years that came after. I met many wonderful people, was exposed to many different writing styles, and I cherish the things I learned and gained in those circles.
At that point in my life, it was what I needed. Not just a break from original writing, but also a chance to explore and develop myself (on reflection, I came out of uni without a good idea of what my voice really was, in terms of writing; I didn’t find it until some time later).
Now, my needs are different, though a break is ultimately what I need. It has stretched out far longer than I had intended, and I am determined not to let it drag on any longer than necessary. It certainly won’t be the roughly 7 years’ break that I took before – nothing like that.
Some of you may be aware that I’ve been turning my creative energies to another outlet lately: namely, crocheting blankets and hats and little stuffed toys. I want to state clearly here: this is not a distraction from my writing. It’s scratching the creative itch for me right now (and I’m developing a good range of items in my Etsy store, just for the hell of it), but it isn’t taking up time when I could be writing. The truth is, if I tried to write right now, it wouldn’t work.
The crocheting fills in other gaps for me. I do it largely during times I wouldn’t normally write anyway: for example, when I’m resting on the couch in front of the TV. It’s mostly a reaction to feeling unproductive and useless: with as sick as I’ve been lately, I’ve been forced to spend more time resting, and I’ve been less able to do useful things like cleaning and cooking. I despise feeling useless. And while resting might seem like a good time to sit and type, writing is beyond what my brain is capable of at that point. I simply don’t have the mental energy for it (this has, sadly, been a large part of the problem when trying to get back to writing), and trying can be really counterproductive when I’m trying to get some energy back.
So, something I can quietly work away at while I’m sitting down, something that doesn’t require a huge amount of brain involvement (though deciphering some of the patterns can be a trick, and occasionally maths is hard), is roughly perfect.
The fact that I’m making geeky things, and making geeky gifts for friends, is a bonus. Selling them is even better! (It isn’t a free hobby, sadly.)
Also, shh, don’t tell anyone, but I might be working my way towards creating a certain toy soon. I’ll have to make up the pattern myself, and I’ve got a few materials to work out, but I’m slowly making my way towards a starting point.
What does it all mean? When will I be writing again? Those are hard questions. It’s a work in progress and I’m pushing it forward. I think I’ve turned a corner, because I’m feeling more able to consider getting back to writing now; it feels less like an energy drain that I can’t handle. I’m not ready to jump into writing just yet but I am feeling like I can get on the road to get there.
Right now, I’m clawing back to a point where I can get back into the rhythm of writing (anything) again. The stories still itch, quieter than usual, but they’re there. There are characters I want to put through the wringer so I can see them come out the other side; there are tales I want to share.
And there are posts that I want to get up on this blog. This one is the first thing I’ve written on the train for a while. My daily commute is my usual writing time, and it’s nice to have the mental energy and focus after a day at work to write something up, even if it’s a blog post.
So, I’m going to spend a bit of time getting back into the rhythm of writing every day. Start small, and with non-fiction (for example, with these posts), as that’s usually less taxing than something creative. I need to get my discipline back in order. I need to get back into the habit of expressing myself, here on this blog and out in the world.
Watch this space. I’m still here. I’m on my way back.
I miss you, too.
There’s a lot of advice around about how strong characters are better and should be in your story. There’s a lot of advice available about how to make your characters strong. But what does that mean? What is a ‘strong’ character and why are they good?
The truth is that there are many different answers to those questions, and it depends a lot on what you’re writing and what you’re trying to achieve.
The Creative Writing Group took on this topic and explored the different aspects of how and why we might use ‘strong’ characters, and what the push for ‘strong female characters’ means.
Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.
In March, the Creative Writing Group talked about making our characters talk!
Sadly, the recording hit a slight technical issue and we lost the first part of the discussion. This was mostly the discussion of the more technical aspects of presenting dialogue: punctuation, paragraphing, conventions, etc.
I’ll be writing up my notes soon (links will be forthcoming). In the meantime, here’s the rest of the discussion. Enjoy!
Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.
I’m so far behind! This is me, catching up on posting these fun and frolicsome discussions.
This one is from back in February, when we were discussing what makes a good action scene, how text differs to screen, and how to make the most of the tools at our disposal.
Note: discussion includes adult material, themes, and language.
You’ve made it through the trials of war and a harrowing battle sequence. There was tension and doubt, lives on the line, loss and gain. At the end of it all, there was a victor, and a price for all to pay.
I hope you have found today’s challenges interesting and intriguing, and maybe even a little fun. We have barely scratched the surface of this story, have had only glimpses of these characters, but you’ve made them live and breathe.
Their story is done; their fate has been decided. You may go on to tell more of their stories, maybe even adjust their destinies if you wish. This world and this war is yours and yours alone. These battlefields are all in your mind.
Thank you for taking part in these challenges. I hope you go forward and continue to create new and interesting worlds, and the events that shape them.
The doors are open, a fresh breeze is coming in. The Asylum releases you. Good luck, and happy writing!
Let’s move ahead. That first shot rang out ten years ago. Long or short, that final battle is all done now. The war is over. Let’s let the blood dry, the dust settle, and the fallout spread through the warring parties.
The smoke has cleared now. Think about what the battlefield looks like now, a decade later. How changed is it? What markers of the battle remain, if any?
Think about how that battle ended. Not everyone in the whole world was killed: let’s allow at least some to survive. A battle is for nought if there are none to remember it, and perhaps someone might learn something from this one to make better choices in the future.
Who stood victorious, when all was said and done? What was the cost, to both sides? What happened to the defeated side? How far did the ripples reach?
We know that the victors write history. Theirs is the story told loudest and most often. How was this battle framed by that story? How do the official reports say it went down?
The tenth anniversary of the battle is a chance for a commemorative event. Perhaps it’s official, or perhaps some veterans simply take it on themselves to do something. Which side were they on? Are they commemorating a great victory or a crushing defeat? Remembering those who fell?
How do they remember the last battle? How different is their view of it compared to the pubic memory? Do they recognise the battlefield as it is now? What do they do at this event? Are there speeches, or silence? Are there flowers, or banners?
Go back to one of the characters you wrote about in a previous challenge and bring them along. Give us a familiar voice and let it speak their perspective on all of this.
Tell us how it all ended, and the beginnings that followed it.
Challenge #5: Retrospect
The wait is over when the first shot is fired. Whether it’s the first arrow that arcs over the battlefield, the first report of a gun, the first missile launched, or the first laser emitted, there’s always something that starts the deluge. That looses the dogs and starts the conflagration.
This is the action that kicks everything off. Is everyone ready to act? Are the forces in position? Has everyone woken from their rest and had their last bathroom break? Does everyone have their orders and understand what to do?
Focus on that first shot. Think about the person who fired it. Which side is he or she on? Were they reacting to a signal? An appointed time? Did they mean to fire it? Was it carefully calculated, perfectly aimed, and intended to precipitate this entire battle? Or was it the slip of a hand, careless sex on a control board, a badly-timed nap, or a malfunction that caused a misfire?
Was even the side the shot first came from ready for it? Did anyone try to stop it?
This time, focus on that shooter. Tell us how that first shot came to happen, and all of the things that it caused. Show us the impact on one of the front-line soldiers (assuming this particular battle has some). Feel free to pull in any and all of the previous characters you’ve written about, as you wish. The battle is starting, and you get to determine how it goes and for whom.
Challenge #4: Who Shot First
We’ve considered those in charge of our warring armies. Now let’s take a look at those lower on the food chain: those closer to the front line.
With two forces lining up and tense about what’s about to happen, timing is going to be crucial. Both are racing to get ready, both are jostling for their best strategic position. No-one wants to miss something happening and risk being caught with their pants down, or asleep, or looking the wrong way. One side might be counting on a feint in order to make their real move. This all makes intelligence about each other’s movements of vital importance.
Both sides are attempting to spy on the other. They might have scouts out in the field, trying to sneak close enough to find out what’s really happening. They might have someone trying to hack into enemy communications and decode essential transmissions. They might have a probe skirting enemy territory, sending back videos of the encampment. This is going to depend on the era you’re writing about, their available technologies, and the nature of the battlefield between them. Your scout might be an actual person on the ground, creeping through undergrowth and eavesdropping on perimeter guards, or they might be an intelligence analyst, processing captured data back at base. It might be something in between. It might even be a mole in the enemy camp, trying to get a vital update out to their true masters before it’s too late.
Decide who your scout is. Decide which side they’re scouting for, and who they’re spying on. What led them into this position? The entire battle could pivot on this person and their skills: if the enemy gets the drop on them in this final battle, it could all be over as soon as it starts. How are they handling the pressure: with practised ease, or are they starting to crack? Somewhere in between?
Think about the tools at their disposal and what they’ll need to do to get the information they’re after. Are normal methods going to cut it this time around, or are they going to have to try some extraordinary measures? Be creative; have your scout think outside the box. Now is the time to pull out all of the stops, to go that extra figurative mile.
Now consider what it is the scout finds in this last push. What is it they’re after, and why is it so important? What they come across may be a feint, it may be real, or it might be a mix of the two: that’s up to you.
Tell us the story of this scout and that extra mile. Tell us what they find, and if it’s what they were looking for. Tell us about their efforts to get the information back to the leader who desperately needs it.
Do they make it? Does the information get to where it needs to be? Does the scout make it out alive? Tell us the fate of this scout and their mission.
Challenge #3: Intelligence Test
Now we understand a little about one of the sides in this battle, let’s take a look at the other one.
The top dog has been doing well, particularly during this final stretch of the war. They may or may not be comfortable at this point, but things have definitely been going in their favour.
Think about how they’ve managed to get to this point. What was it that made the difference? The strength of individual men? Better arms or armaments? More resources or support? Was it pure luck that gave them some vital wins? A particularly skilled tactician in charge, or an unstoppable hero on the front line? Divine favour? A mixture of several of those?
Does everyone believe in the same reason for their success? What does the average soldier believe? Was this inevitable, because of the strength of their faith, or the number of their armies, or the weapons at their disposal, or the righteousness of their path?
What about their ‘camp’? Is it a similar setup to the underdog’s camp, or is it different? How is it different? Think about all the ways it differs or contrasts to the enemy’s camp. Is it about the equipment, the mood of the soldiers, the feeling in the air? Are the differences obvious? Or is it only the emblems on flags and equipment that mark the difference? Are they more alike than one might assume?
Somewhere in this camp, there is the person in charge. Think about this person’s attitude as they prepare for this final showdown. Are they complacent or nervous? Confident or grouchy that there’s so much fuss about what’s really just another battle? Do they have something to prove, or a perfect record to maintain?
A leader is nothing without a reliable and smart second-in-command. Someone to take their orders to where they need to be actioned, and to make sure it’s done. Someone to run interference and ensure everything is running smoothly. Someone to filter the distractions that are placed in front of the leader for consideration. They might even have more than one second, but for right now, let’s focus on one of them.
Consider what kind of person this second-in-command might be. What makes him or her a suitable second-in-command? Is it because they naturally complement their leader in some way, or because they’re able to fake it? Are they new at this position, or have they been in it for a while? Are they comfortable playing a support role, or are they, in fact, ill-suited to the position?
How does this person view their position? What kind of relationship does he or she have with the top dog leader? Is it an easy symbiosis, or a fractious duty? Is there trust and respect? Is this relationship still being built, or could it have been damaged at some point in the past? What is the second’s opinion of their leader and his or her tactics? What do they believe about their chances in the upcoming battle? What do they know about what’s going to happen? How busy are they as they await the battle?
Show us the top dog camp in the final few hours before the battle begins, through the eyes of the second-in-command. Again, don’t get to the end of the waiting period, not yet. This is all about the anticipation.
Challenge #2: Underdog’s Underbelly