Welcome to 
WritingWordByWord

Beth Hautala is author of Waiting For Unicorns, and The Ostrich And Other Lost Things. She lives with her husband and four children in northern Minnesota where she strives to write stories that tie heart and imagination together. 

 

 

Saturday
Jan152011

BIG NEWS!

So I'll be doing a follow-up blog post later this week, but until then, here is a taste of good things happening with Waiting For Unicorns!

*runs around waving muppet arms wildly*

*dies of excitement*

*gets up and waves some more*

Friday
Dec312010

Holding Back the Hounds

So, in lieu of re-posting a revised and ready-to-be-completed version of Letters from the Found, which is still a little rough—(read: hasn't been touched because I got TOTALLY sidetracked on an AWESOME new book project). I thought I'd post an excerpt from said AWESOME new book project to hold back the hounds. (Hounds, you know who you are and I adore you.)

Please note, this by no means indicates loss of interest in, or the death of, Letters. I may just end up writing two books simultaneously. *considers* Not sure if that's actually possible, but we'll see.

So, without further ado, an excerpt. If you want to read more, I might be persuaded.

YA DYSTOPIA.

TITLE: undetermined but considering: Imperfect


I lay quietly in the semi-darkness of the room I shared with my sister. My breathing was finally beginning to slow. The nightmare still clung to the edges of my consciousness and I bit  down on my lip, hard, forcing myself to focus on a more immediate, present pain—one outside my mind. My throat felt raw from the sounds I’d been making, but Eryl was used to my wordless screams. I pulled myself up on one elbow and looked at her carefully. She hadn’t stirred and her arm was thrown carelessly over her head, her hand half-open as if she were holding something invisible in her palm.

Pulling myself up to a sitting position, I gathered the blankets around me. It was no use trying to go back to sleep. I would only dream it all over again—their clasped hands, fingers entwined, and their blood. There was always so much blood.

The light of the moon fell through the window and I examined the rectangle patch of light that fell across the floor, tracing its shape with my mind. Each edge was perfect—straight, clean, well-defined. I itched to throw my hand into the light, casting a five-fingered shadow and screwing up that perfect pool of moonlight. 

I hated perfect things. 

No. 

I hated the illusion of perfect things. Because really, there is no such thing as perfect, though I would never say as much aloud. A person could be shot for that, or worse, released.

I rubbed my hands up and down my arms, trying to remove the feel of the nightmare against my skin, willing the reality of it to fall away. Maybe it never would. It was a very real possibility. I’d been dreaming, or rather re-living, this particular horror almost every night for the past eleven years. I was thankful Eryl was blind—then and still. She had not been able to see the events of that day, and she would never to see it happen over and over again in her dreams. 

Yaara called us her matched set.

“A perfect pair,” my grandmother would say, pressing an aging hand against each of our faces. Part of me wanted to clutch her hand there, covering it, protecting it with my lack of years—my lack of Evaluation. Another part of me wanted to push her away. 

“There is no such thing as perfect,” I wanted to say. But of course I couldn’t. 

We were not perfect.

My sleeping sister sighed and the fingers of her open-palmed hand flexed gently. I examined her face, feeling that same odd twist in my stomach, disorienting me. I wanted to reach up and touch my face, just to see if the girl asleep beside me did the same thing. A matched set. We were so much the same that my sister felt like my reflection—myself mirrored. Same long dark hair, same brown eyes, same high cheekbones, same tiny wrists. 

What would it take, I wondered, to convince the Counsel to let her live? What drastic, wild thing could I possibly do to make them change their verdict? Was it possible to make the Evaluators glance over her sightless eyes—to make them miss this imperfection altogether? But Eryl had been born sightless, and I, wordless. Or imperfections went deeper than the Evaluators could ignore.

I sighed, leaning back against the wall, pulling the blankets more closely around me. 

This would be the last night I slept in this bed. 

The last night I shared it with my sister. 

The last night either of us felt anything remotely resembling safety.

And more likely than not, the last night either of us would be alive. 

It wasn’t a shocking thought. Sobering, certainly. But Eryl and I had known about this day from the moment we understood the depth of our imperfections. It had haunted us like trained hounds, and now on the eve of our eighteenth birthday, the dogs were about give voice. And yet, If I was truly honest with myself, I felt almost relieved. Waiting for the inevitable is an exhausting way to live your life and I was beyond tired.

But I was not resigned. 

I would never bow my head and simply accept the verdict. Not tomorrow. Not ever. They would have to drag me from the presence of the Evaluators tomorrow kicking and screaming. And I would do everything in my power to change the final verdict issued by the Counsel. 

Even so, I knew that no matter what I did—no matter what stupid, foolish thing I tried in some sort of last-ditch effort, it wouldn’t be enough. Not for my sister and not for me. The Evaluators had spent the last one hundred and seventy years culling imperfections like Eryl and I from Elysium, and they certainly weren’t going to take one look at us and have a sudden change in heart. 

I knew I wasn’t the first girl to both hate and long for perfection. And I wouldn’t be the last.

Monday
Dec272010

Making Up Nouns (People, Places, and Things)

One of my favorite parts of writing, is the development of my nouns—my People, Places, and Things. These are the bones of a story. Every single story ever written or told contains these elements. Without them, it falls apart.

Humpty Dumpty? —An Egg-Man, A Wall, The King's men, and a whole bunch of Broken Pieces.

Cinderella? —A Mis-Treated Daughter, a Kingdom, three Wicked Step-Sisters, and a Shoe.

The Bible? —A King in disguise, Destitute Humanity, and the most amazing and unexpected Rescue ever.

See? Nouns. In every story.

I almost alway begin plotting a story with my People. —"Characters" officially, but to me they are actually people. They have to be, because if they are not real to me, then how can they possibly be real to a reader?

• Characters must be believable, which includes likable and unlikeable traits. —Perfections and imperfections. —Failings and successes. —Brilliance and stupidity. —Depravation and redemption. 

• Good characters will be in conflict with themselves, with each other, and with the world around them.

Tonight I'm working on World Building and character development for a new book project. This is the fun part wherein I am allowed to creatively vomit every possible idea onto paper and, like a board full of Scrabble pieces, begin to sort them out into legible concepts—readable words. 

• To create a world, you have to start with a place that can be imagined or experienced with all five senses—maybe more. But anything less than five leaves the reader wandering around in the dark. He or she is left abandoned, unable to see what the writer has seen, know what the writer has known, and in a sense, make the place home—at least for the duration of the story.

Lastly, comes all the Things. The space fillers—secondary characters, ideas, buildings that play a part in the story, food the characters eat. . . The knife that slays the dragon. The chalice that revives the princess. The carriage that is actually a pumpkin.

I love things. They are always the most surprising parts of a story because they have a way of appearing—almost magically—exactly when and where you need them.

Sometimes they tie a story together. —A song sung and alluded to throughout the story.

Sometimes they are a place to begin and a place to end. —A coffin.

Sometimes they are simply a handful of shining ideas that weave a story into something more than the writer imagined it would be, lending mystery, beauty, color, and depth. —A yellow hat, Tuesday, an old bookshop, a chipped pink cup, and a lost letter. 

Things are wonderful. They always manage to catch me off guard, as do, in fact, all of my Nouns, almost all of the time, whenever I am writing fiction.