2017 WC – 3rd Place: Brooklynn Coopers

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2017 WC – 2nd Place: Madison Edwards

“Be grateful for another day. Not everybody made it, so don’t take it for granted.” It was on a bright, humid day in the stunningly beautiful city of Naples, Florida, that I made my first kill. Looking back, I have only regret, shame, and the haunting memories that still stick with me.

The sun was blazing overhead, the sand was scorching, and the salty waves lightly lapped against the sand, a typical day at the beach in Naples, located on the Gulf of Mexico’s glittering waters. I lazily enjoyed the view from my perch on a beach chair. I could see my brothers and dad playing football, moving at a hurried pace to keep the sand from burning their feet, my mother floating in the pool half asleep, and my friend, Abby, sprawled out listening to music beside me as the sun bathed us both in its sultry rays. I was completely relaxed, having no premonition of what was to come.

I reveled in this beautiful day as the previous one had been threateningly gray, with strong winds and torrents of rain. Today no signs of the storms of days past remained. Or so I thought.

As the heat from the sizzling sun became almost unbearable, I gently shook Abby and asked if she would like to walk along the ocean shore, look for shells that sprinkled the sand, and wade in the ocean to cool off. She readily agreed. After a quick reapplication of sunscreen, we headed off.

As we reached the water with our small pail to collect shells, we saw one of the remnants of yesterday’s tempest. About four feet into the alkaline waters rested many beautiful conch shells, shifted close to shore by the churning waves of yesterday. Abby and I, having a special affinity for conch shells, felt absolutely elated. I set down the small green pail so I could wade in with Abby and pick up a few of the alluring shells. We grabbed two shells each, placing them in our bucket. Euphoric with our good luck, we each grabbed two more shells to carry up to our condo for safe keeping. We made the short trek back to the condo building. We clambered into the elevator that would take us to the seventh floor, where our lodgings were located. As the elevator climbed we chattered excitedly about the shells that stood apart from our usual finds. As we reached the seventh floor a cold, sharp object poked at my hand. Panicked, I looked down to discover that our stunning shells still had living inhabitants which had finally figured out that they were no longer in their aquatic home and had begun to stick their single, clawed foot out in protest. A strangled sound of horror escaped my throat as their slimy, oozing, hideous bodies began to emerge from their beautiful shells, attempting to find water but instead wrapping around my fingers. It took Abby only seconds to discover the cause of my panic as the shells in her hands were also coming alive.

As the elevator doors opened, we sprinted to the door of our condo, immediately dropping the shells and their repulsive dwellers. We quickly collected ourselves and found a bucket big enough to safely hold our eight conchs. Once they had been safely contained, we debated on whether to return them to their rightful home in the ocean or selfishly let them die and keep the shells. Unfortunately, our love of unique shells won out. We left all eight shells in the bucket, without water, and returned to the beach, assuming they would perish by the time we returned. The soothing sun quickly erased any thought of the suffering conchs, and we enjoyed the rest of our beach day without guilt. After the sun had set, we returned to our condo. Suddenly, we remembered our tortured conchs when the bucket came into view. We cautiously approached the bucket. No movement occurred from within. I gently prodded the bucket with my toe, and the bucket came alive with frantic clawing as they tried, in vain, to escape their confines. A shriek emerged from my throat, and I realized they weren’t dead as I had assumed they would be after hours without water. It turns out conchs, very similar to snails, have a protective layer of slime to preserve their skin and allow them to survive outside of water for many hours. As the regret and foolishness of our earlier decision sank in, I realized there was no going back on our decision. The beach closed at sundown, and the conchs wouldn’t make it until the morning. They were clearly suffering. So, we decided to put the poor, innocent creatures out of their misery.

After searching the condo, we decided to pour a mixture of bleach and water on the conchs to end this whole horrible ordeal. In a moment of steely courage, we booked it outside and dumped the potent mixture in the bucket. As the sounds of a frantic struggling from within the bucket reached our ears, we ran back into the condo, unable to bear the sounds of our mistake. A few hours later, we emerged to see if the bleach had done the trick. As I shook the bucket there were no signs of life, a small relief. However, knowing how hardy these creatures are, we decided to freeze them to be 100% sure they were completely dead. After tentatively removing them from the bucket and placing them on paper plates, we inserted them into the freezer and went to bed. The knowledge of what had transpired weighed heavily on us.

Eventually, morning came, and we opened the freezer. The conchs appeared to be in the same spot as we had left them. It was time. We needed to remove the dead creatures from the shells we had so desperately wanted the day before. However, you cannot simply pluck a frozen conch from its shell. You must boil them first.

We heated up a pot of water, our stomachs turning at the thought of what we must do. Using a pair of tongs, I dropped the icy shells into the scalding water with a small hiss. As the conchs unfroze, a vile yellow-green foam rose to the top of the water, releasing a horrendous smell. As everybody choked and gagged at the smell, we turned off the stove top. The time had come to remove the conchs. We gathered a trash bag, paper towels, and a pair of tweezers to pull the conchs out. Neither Abby nor I could bring ourselves to complete this final stage. We bribed my little brother into doing it with the promise of two of the lovely shells. He readily agreed, always one to be involved in something others considered gross or unpleasant. It turns out that conchs really do not like being removed from their homes, even when dead. Despite having been soaked in bleach, then frozen, then boiled, those little warriors were not giving their shells up easily, even from beyond the grave. After a solid half an hour of yanking, they wouldn’t come out. We boiled them again, the same noxious foam and smell rising. Finally, nearly twenty-four hours after we unknowingly plucked the conchs from the sea, the conchs were removed from the shells. The moment, void of victory, was a moment of realization that we had just intentionally murdered eight ocean creatures. A fact that still haunts our consciences.

The conch shells sit on a shelf in my room, surrounded by many other trip souvenirs with much less violence behind them. Every time I pass the beautiful shells, it is a weighty reminder of the Great Conch Debacle of 2015.

2017 WC – 1st Place: Adryanna O’Keefe

In the kingdom we call Attic,

A treasure chest, veiled in dust,

Conceals the riches of a dreamer,

The visions of a queen.

A mirror, framed in solid gold,

Entrusts to us an image sweet,

Of full cheeks tinted pink as posies

And eyes as dazzling as the seas.

Fabric cascades in gentle waves,

A waterfall of red,

And gathers in a puddle

Around two tiny feet.

Mother’s pearls from neck descend,

A moon in crimson sky,

Pint-sized fingers twist and twirl

Stars which hang on golden thread.

Sunshine drops in ringlets,

Her shoulders are its throne,

Proud it sits, framing rosie cheeks,

It’s only friend a lacy bow.

A gentle voice like music calls

And child shrugs off her daze.

Bare feet forthwith pitter-patter

As queen from loyal kingdom flees.

Some call it a fancy,

This Lilliputian’s dream,

Whom the world greets as a princess,

But who yearns to be a queen.

days of life

Days pass, and as they do, we pack them up in boxes and call them “Weeks”. A few Weeks pass, and we pack them up in a box and call it a “Month”. A few Months pass, which get packed into a “Season”, and then four of these whisk by and get labeled as a “Year”.

But that’s not the end. Once enough of these Years have passed, we refer to them as “Decades”. These Decades continue, and soon, we pack them all up in a box called a “Coffin”, and we bury it six feet under the ground.

 

summer night

{moon sits in southeast}

amidst a throne

of clouds

filling the horizon


{sky above drenched}

in deep, deep blu

Frozen: Not Another Disney Love Story

Do you want to build a snowman? If you haven’t been hiding under a troll for the last few years, you’ve heard this line from a song in the popular children’s movie Frozen. People of all ages have fallen in love with the music and the story. Despite its often lighthearted tone, it teaches valuable lessons about the perils of infatuation and individuality, ending with a powerful display of true love.

Frozen may best be described as fun, yet foreboding. The first three songs are each a testament to this overall tone. As the movie opens, workers sing about the cold mountain ice they cut and deliver for a living, and it’s a fun song with steady rhythm. As it finishes, though, they warn “beware the frozen heart.” This is a mysteriously-placed warning, and for a first-time viewer, it’s unclear what they’re talking about. The next song, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” starts as a sweet story of two sisters being best friends, goes on to feature their parents dying in a shipwreck, and ends with the sisters growing apart because of Elsa’s ice gift. Several years later, it’s coronation day, when the sisters sing “For the First Time in Forever.” Anna is excited to meet everyone (perhaps “The One”), but Elsa is fearful of her power becoming visible. These first few tracks are a continuing reminder that, while the movie is meant to be enjoyed by children of all ages, there are issues that must be dealt with. The presence of Olaf is the only thing that keeps the plot from burrowing itself in a dark and snowy hole once everything has gone wrong.

One theme of Frozen is a powerful argument against love at first sight, but the scriptwriters do a masterful job of letting this point flow naturally with the plot. You may recall, for instance, that Elsa’s powerful display and dramatic exit are brought about by Anna’s sudden news that she is marrying Hans, a prince who introduced himself to her that day. As Elsa says, “You can’t marry a man you just met,” to which Anna replies, “You can if it’s true love!” This not only provides the stepping stones for the plot to follow, but it also sets this love story apart from the ones featured in other Disney films. At first, when they fall in love after a few run-ins and a song, the viewer may be rolling her eyes and saying “This is just like every other love-at-first-sight story.” We discover later, of course, that Hans has sinister intentions. This isn’t Sleeping Beauty’s kiss or Cinderella’s dance. It’s all a fraud brought about by a poor, conniving, thirteenth son who knows he’ll never have a chance at the throne in his own kingdom. It ends up being, then, that the only love at first sight in this movie turns out to be hollow.

The second prominent theme of the film is individuality. The most popular song in the score, “Let It Go,” is about Elsa giving up on her facade and depending on herself for happiness.  Her life has been characterized by fear, and this is the moment where she stops being afraid and decides to just be herself. However, this is not a healthy version of individuality. Later, we see that the fear is still there; she worries that if she goes back down to the people, she will hurt them. The real way to deal with the fear is connection, not escape. Incidentally, this is a lesson that Kristoff learns as well. When we first meet him, his desire is to be a rugged solitary mountain man who harvests ice. He doesn’t want to help Anna and he certainly doesn’t care to fall in love with her. Only as their journey progresses and she fights off a pack of wolves does he begin to see her differently. When he hears her story and the circumstances that led to this crisis, he gives startled feedback that helps her understand how ridiculous the “love story” really is. Later, they fall in love, and it’s not about singing cute songs or having things in common, it’s one based on care and true knowledge of each other. Though Kristoff begins as a lone individual, he finds Anna to be a loving companion, and gives up his individuality to care for another and let another care for him. Through Elsa and Kristoff’s characters, we see two individuals learning to let others into their lives.

Frozen resolves with a heartwarming display of sisterly devotion. Kristoff doesn’t ride in, clad in shining armor, and Hans certainly doesn’t lend a helping hand. While some may call this a feminist statement, it’s actually about much more. Too often, books, TV shows, and movies try to solve all trials with love. This is a lie being ingrained into the minds of young girls and boys. Contrary to this, problems do not disappear when love is introduced. If anything, more issues are added. No one is perfect, and adding another person to the equation doesn’t alter this fact. The ending of Frozen is exactly the reunion of siblings that it needed to be. If Kristoff (or Hans) magically saved everyone, the plot of the movie would be in shambles. Later on, it’s clear that Anna and Kristoff end up together, but it’s not the point of the movie. It’s not about heart-fluttering, mind-blanking, tongue-twisting infatuation. It’s about everyday love and compassion for others.

While many people mock Frozen simply because it’s popular, there’s a lot to be learned from it, and the lessons it teaches are valuable for the children who watch it. The movie maintains a fun tone while dealing with a dark plot, and gives powerful lessons about infatuation, individuality, and true love that will impact the children who have seen it. Frozen isn’t just another Disney love story. It’s a thought-out lesson for children of an infatuation-crazed generation.

As you may have guessed by the formal tone, I wrote this for my writing class, which will be coming to an end soon. I’ll miss it, but I know I’ll enjoy Summer. 

General Editing Guidlines

This month, I hope to give out editing copies of my novel, The Fantastical Journey of Gavryn Wickert. I’m writing this post for anyone who wants to help. All you need is…

  1. The book. (I have a select team who will receive it from me for free in exchange for valuable edits.)
  2. A pencil. (Or pen.)

These are the general guidelines for editing, just so communication is efficient and consistent.

1. Grammar and Spelling

I expect the most common errors you find will be somewhat-obvious grammar mistakes like “at” instead of “and,” “they’re/there/their,” “we’re/were/where,” and the like. In the interest of making good use of your time, I’ve tried to get as many of these out as possible, but I’m sure there are a few lurking in the shadows. You’ll also find words that should be one word, like “in to.” I’ll get into the methods of pointing this out in a bit.

In terms of spelling, spell check has helped me to spell words right, but often it helps me spell the wrong word right. If you see a word that you think may not be the intended one, just point it out. (Note: there are also a few words that have originated in this fantasy land, and unless you notice an inconsistency, you don’t need to worry about those.)

If you see a grammar issue, just cross out the error and write the correct word(s) above or below it on the page. Same with spelling.

2. Punctuation

You may have already realized; I do some weird things with punctuation that I’m not always sure is right, but I think it sounds nice or looks nice, so I do it. Again, if you think something is wrong, just point it out. Place the correct punctuation beside it if you think I should replace it, or put a slash through it if no punctuation is needed.

3. Storyline Consistency

Someone once said, “consistency is the easiest way to cover up one’s mistakes.” Just kidding, I made it up. This is a real problem in writing. You write a few chapters, take a break, and come back two weeks later, not realizing you killed a character last writing session. Readers will wonder why this ghost has now appeared and the other characters don’t see anything unusual about it. So, if you see a plot hole or an inconsistency, just point it out and explain in the margins!

4. Storyline Advice

Now, don’t take this too far. At this point, I’m willing to alter about 2% of those 60,000 words. I’m not really in for an overhaul, here. That said, if you think something should be changed slightly, please feel free to mention it in the margins. For instance, if you think a different character should say a line of dialogue, or if you think something isn’t explained adequately, just point it out.

5. Description

I’d really like to add more description to the novel, but I’m not always sure where to put it or if the reader will even want it. If you’re reading along and suddenly feel that you don’t have a good picture in your mind of the surroundings, just put off to the side, “description of _______ would be good.” Then I’ll know what needs to be explained.

6. THE GOLDEN RULE

This is the most important part. Whenever you make an edit, just put a checkmark in the lower corner of the page. It doesn’t need to be a perfect checkmark, but it needs to be there, or I may never find your edits on that particular page. I can’t read each copy of the book, looking for edits! That would take like at least 25 hours. This way, I can skim through the book, and when I see the checkmark, I can stop and fix things. To be clear, you don’t need a checkmark for every edit on the page, just one to say “there are edits on this page.” Then, once I’ve finished with those edits, I circle the checkmark and know those issues are solved.

7. Disclaimer

Just in case you begin reading and feel the weight of proofreading settle on you, just know that there are others helping as well. If you notice something, point it out, but don’t feel like you are the sole bearer of all problems and you must solve them all for me. Just read the book and enjoy it!

Advice Applied: A Humorous​ Short Story Based on a Mark Twain Speech

Here is a short story I wrote for my writing class that is loosely based on a Mark Twain speech.

“Gertrude!” a woman yelled up the stairs to her young daughter. A pudgy, young girl of short stature bounded down the stairs, taking each one as if falling from the one before. Her short brown hair waved around her head like swings on a carousel. Prior to her mother’s calling, she was stuffing her face full of sweets in the family’s attic. She had been doing this because she knew what day it was and that she would not have access to her much-craved chocolates for the rest of the day. This was the day that her mother had talked with much excitement about weeks ago. The whole family was going to attend a speech by Mark Twain. Gertrude hated Mark Twain and all his writing with the same passion that she reserved solely for chocolate, especially chocolate-covered marshmallows, of which she was rarely able to partake.

Gertrude’s sister, Liesel, who was always reading boring books with horrendous covers, had paid her in chocolate to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and she had regretted giving it a try ever since then. “Chocolate dissolves in one’s mouth and is gone, but words often stick in the mind forever,” she said bitterly to her sister, months after reading the book. In addition to this, she realized her sister’s chocolate was not hidden in a very good location, and the dog was too easy to blame. She stopped reading the book that day.

When they arrived at the place where Mark Twain was scheduled to speak,  Gertrude was huffing and puffing to herself about how she didn’t like authors; she didn’t like speeches, and she really wished she had secretly stayed home and raided her mother’s chocolate cabinet. Gertrude was a simple girl; she liked chocolate and dreaming about how she could get out of school assignments. She did not like speeches; she did not like books, and she did not like Mark Twain.

All of these troublesome thoughts came to an end as Mark Twain addressed the first point of his speech, saying, “Always obey your parents, when they are present.” This sounded delightful to Gertrude. All of her life, she had been told to obey, obey, obey, always and without question. “Don’t eat too much chocolate,” her superiors would say. “Respect adults,” they would advise. “Stop chewing on the corner of that book,” her mother had told her in one particular instance. Now… this idea that Twain was purporting made so much sense to her! Why would anyone obey their parents all the time? Surely it was more fun to do as you wish, eat chocolate as you may, and say whatever you like to teachers, rather than march around and be good.

Mark Twain continued to catch her attention, “If a person offends you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch for your chance and hit him with a brick.” For days, Gertrude had agonized over how to address what her friend, Patrick, had said to her, “I don’t want to play with you right now.” He wasn’t really that mean, but Gertrude was offended, and she needed a way to let him know. This suggestion from Mark Twain was perfect; she could wait for Patrick where he always went to read after school and drop the brick upon his head! This way, perhaps he would realize they weren’t on the best of terms, and then they would be able to talk about it.

The end to his wisdom had not come, and Gertrude listened more intently than she had ever listened to anything in her life. “Be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught.” Suddenly, Gertrude made the decision to lie only when she was absolutely sure that no one could find out. She had to build trust with people and be honest when she had stolen various goodies out of their cupboards so that when she desired to succeed in larger chocolate heists, they would not suspect her.

On the ride home, Gertrude could not stop thinking about all her plans, and how much Mark Twain’s words meant to her. Nevertheless, she would never read any more by him, because she hated his writing.

The next day, her mother asked her to dust the dining room, which would have been well and good had her mother stuck around to see her do it. Gertrude decided to walk to the park instead.  The walk was not too long, and the birds sweetly singing in the trees were not too great a burden on her ear. As she approached, she noticed her friend, Patrick, swinging slowly on a swing set near the large oak tree he always read next to. She soon realized it was a perfect moment to enact her plan. Swiftly, she looked around for a brick but then decided a rock would do. Slowly and quietly, she crept over to him. He was singing to himself and didn’t notice her. A few steps closer, and then, before she could convince herself to do otherwise, she flung the rock at him and ran away. The next time she asked him to play with her, he probably would. Of course, Patrick never knew who threw the rock at him, because the pain was too great for him to open his eyes and get up off the ground to see.

When she got home, her mother stood at the door waiting for her, a judgmental scowl on her face. This was problematic, for Gertrude had not realized her mother would be back so soon. “Where have you been, young lady, and why have you not dusted the dining room?” her mother yelled.

Gertrude thought for a moment, then remembered a good tool she had acquired from the speech that day. “Just after you left, a young girl, much younger than I knocked at the door and said her mother needed assistance, and I ran and helped them,” she told her mother.

“And which way did you go?”

“It was a new way I’ve never been, and we went so quickly, I didn’t really keep track…”

“I see,” her mother answered.

“So, I was able to help them, and I came back as soon as I could,” Gertrude explained.

“Well, go and dust the dining room before supper,” Mother instructed, and Gertrude quietly complied.

Throughout the following days, she continued in the academy of lying, revenge, and quiet disobedience. Just as Mark Twain had promised, she soon realized she had developed a moral code with much resemblance to those around her. She was still determined to never read anything written by Twain, even if she were paid all the chocolate of the world, but she would forever treasure his wise words for living given in his speech.

Creating a Main Character for Your Novel

As a writer and weaver of stories, one of my favorite things to do is create characters. I love writing characters more than writing their dialogue, explaining a world, or even creating a plot. Building a character makes you feel like you’re making a whole new person. Often, when you’ve finished, it’s hard to believe the character doesn’t exist in real life because it becomes so real in your head.

Here is my process for creating a main character.

Decide on Some Basic Things

First off, you’ll need to decide some basic things. Most likely, you already have these things figured out. Is the character a boy or a girl? Are they tall or short? What does he or she look like?

Give Them a Name

Naming is sometimes fun and sometimes really hard. When someone is born in real life, their name has a chance to shape them, and they have a chance to shape the perspective of others on their name. But in fiction, you have to be careful with the preconceptions you instill with the name. Does the name sound bratty? Does it sound too hipster? Will it make people think the character is dumb?

Personally, I feel that it’s usually best to go with a less common name so that people probably haven’t met someone with that name before. For my last novel, I used the name Gavryn, which is actually completely unheard of. I love that name because I was able to shape it to mean whatever I wanted to, instead of starting off with ideas for someone with that name. For my current novel, my character’s names are Elisa and Clairen. Clairen is fairly rare, whereas Elisa is an older name.

The important thing is that you choose a name you can shape throughout the story.

Build Their Personality

Now is the most complex part. You want to create someone with an intricate and consistent personality. Will they be an extrovert or an introvert? Will they be nice or mean? Will they be sharp or dull?

All of this is up to you, but unless you aim to confuse your reader, the golden rule must be consistency. All things said and done by the character must conform to what he or she is supposed to generally be like. All twists from this general idea must be accounted for and explained somehow.

Predetermine Their Character Arc

Lastly, you must decide what the character’s story within your story will be. Will they have a rebellious time but come back to the light? Will they stay loyal to their friend? Will they learn what true character means? Will they go head-to-head with the pope in Vatican City?!

It’s all up to you. Now, stop surfing the web and get to writing your story!

Magic Theory

As a writer of fantasy, one must learn to understand how magic works and the different theories of its use. If you let the characters in your book or short story run around inventing magic out of thin air, their power will be completely boundless and it will become incredibly unrealistic, because, as we all know; people have unlimited wants but limited resources. If this economic rule does not apply to magic, then… I don’t even want to think about life if economic rules didn’t apply.

Here are a few theories of magic that I have created or heard of from various sources.

Enzone

I’m naming this theory of magic off of the element of magic used in my own novel, The Fantastical Journey of Gavryn Wickert. In this version of magic, it is an element in the air that can be taken in by the user. Anyone can use it; there is no special blood or ancestry required, but it takes practice. Once someone is used to letting in the element, they then practice expending it by fire and ice and whatnot. So, I guess you could say the enzonic theory of magic acts as if enzone is a blank element that can be turned into something. However, it cannot only be turned into elements but can also be used to look into someone’s mind or lift objects without touching hem.

Strength

This idea of magic is demonstrated in the Eragon books, where magic comes from within and uses up inner strength. This is how the author keeps it from going out of control while giving his characters extra abilities.

Science

In many books, the theory of magic is simply the idea that magical things can be attained via scientific intel. Instead of it being an unexplainable mystery, it is a thought-out process.

If you have another theory you’re thinking of, please comment and share it!