Short Story: Desert Heat

I wrote a random little piece using a prompt from a book called The Writer’s Block. The prompt doesn’t really match the story, at all, but whoever said prompts and stories had to? The prompt was “According to the Texas Department of Transportation, one person is killed every year while painting stripes on that state’s roads and highways. Describe one of these accidents.

Desert Heat

I walked along the empty highway, miles from anywhere, miles from nowhere. The sun shone down on me from high up in the sky and I could feel a layer of moisture coating the back of my neck. I hadn’t had a drink in nearly two miles. My knees had become unstable.

I didn’t think I would make it to the next town.

In the distance a truck the colour of desert sand had pulled over by the side of the road. A man stood on the dirt track beside the highway, a wide brimmed hat sat askew on his head, whilst his pants were gathered halfway down his legs. His hand wrapped around his manhood as he angled urine away from the road.

It felt like a mirage.

There was no water, no food, no vegetation at all except for dry grass that had miraculously survived the summer’s heat. What I saw was a man who could take me to water, to food, to shelter. I saw a truck where the window could sit open and the great gusts of speeding air could cool me to a shiver.

“Wait,” I shouted, my throat burned more each time I repeated the word. I picked up my pace, though each step wasn’t much faster than a slow walk.

The man zipped up his pants and returned to his vehicle. He rolled down a window and I felt an insurmountable amount of jealousy. I could almost feel the stagnant air circling around my face when the engine roared and the truck sped towards me. I tried to swallow but my sandpaper throat made it almost impossible.

“Wait,” I shouted again, not much louder than the other dozen or so times. I moved out into the centre of the road and lifted my arms in front of me, an action reminiscent of the times I spent in the gym trying to lift weights.

I stood my ground, feet firmly on the tarmac; a little squishy from the burning ball of fire up in the sky. If I stayed where I was the truck would have to stop, he would have to pay attention to me.

Where my throat had failed, my body could not.

The truck came faster down the road, the engine ticked over, the wheels turned with each few yards. I waited until the truck approached, fearing nothing but the unbearable heat.

When the truck flew through me I expected to feel pain. The sudden shock of a vehicle smashing into my weak skeleton and throwing me out across the scorching desert. I didn’t feel any pain. I didn’t feel anything else either. I turned around to watch for the truck travelling on behind.

“Come back,” I said, my attempt to scream failed like every attempt before it.

The truck drove on down the road at speed as though the man hadn’t seen me. A few hundred feet further along the highway the truck slowed. The man got out of his vehicle and walked again to the side of the road. He didn’t drop his pants, nor did he urinate. He knelt down beside a shape, his head low as if in prayer.

That was when I knew that the truck wasn’t a mirage. It wasn’t my saviour from the heat.

I was already gone.


Beyond The Books

The greatest thing about fictional worlds is their capacity to stretch out beyond a set of books. Minor characters, barely seen locations and briefly mentioned events can provide a whole new opportunity for ideas. It is even more possible, and perhaps even more important, when a world is so far removed from our own. For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to be focusing on the Wizard World of Harry Potter fame. It is a magical and sometimes mysterious place filled with many, many things that we only know a fraction of information about. We may know Harry Potter and his years at Hogwarts very well, but there are parts of his world which would – and have – made fantastic opportunities for further reading. Quidditch Through The Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard are two of such opportunities, books that provide more information into different aspects of the Wizarding World. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them is not only another book, but it’s also on the cusp of being turned into at least one film. This book/film allow us – the Muggles enjoying Harry Potter – to experience the world through different eyes and different aspects of said world that we might never have been exposed to.

As I’ve been working through a re-read of the first three Harry Potter books, I have found myself considering the possibilities within the Wizarding World to explore further some of the characters and locations.

I have decided to pick out a handful of locations I would love to learn more about through either novel, short story or film. The chances of them actually happening may be slim, but a Muggle can dream.

The Wizarding Bank created by a goblin named Gringott and operated by other goblins. It is a weird and wonderful location that we have been lucky enough to see in various guises in the Harry Potter books and films. The idea that a bank can be created under the streets of London, with vaults dedicated to each individual or family, guarded by spells, enchantments and, as rumour has it, various other magical creatures. It’s something to be revered and it’s something which I think would benefit from its own set of stories. We know very little about the goblins who work at the bank, whether there are any cheerful goblins, or even what most of them are called. It would be interesting to experience Gringotts through the eyes of a young goblin who has started working at the bank. Alternatively, there is also the potential for Bill Weasley to be the focus of a story and experience Gringotts and his work for the bank over in Egypt.

Where better to begin a brand new story than in the only all wizarding village in the country? It would be a great place to learn more about the history of the Shrieking Shack, or Madam Rosmerta’s life running the Three Broomsticks. What a fantastic opportunity it would be to meet many new characters, some of the regulars at the pub, or really get to know the owners of Honeydukes and Zonko’s joke shop. There are also many, many shops and homes which we haven’t had the pleasure of visiting, or learning anything about. I wonder what it would be like for a small child growing up on the outskirts of Hogwarts, learning more than he or she should know from the older children as they make their visits to the village.

The Ministry of Magic
There is much we know about The Ministry, and much we don’t know. The number of departments which are designed to look after the Wizarding World and the different people who must be involved in the place. What we have learnt about The Ministry has been fascinating, sometimes terrifying, but to learn more would – and could – be very important in further understanding the Wizarding World as a whole. Whether we followed a character we’ve met but know little about, or a brand new character, the opportunities are endless.

Other countries
The idea of exploring the Wizarding World in other countries is quite broad, but I think it would be completely fascinating. We have had glimpses at what is out there – other schools involved in the Triwizard Tournament, dragons in Romania, Gringotts workers in Egypt. We know from Quidditch Through the Ages that those wizards in Eastern countries opted to use a flying carpet instead of a broomstick, whilst the Wizarding World in the UK has outlawed the breeding of dragons. These small differences can really bring something new to an experience. Perhaps we could follow one of the lesser known characters from Hogwarts as he or she travels the world. Or maybe one of the older characters doing so in their youth.

Godric’s Hollow
A village probably quite unlike Hogsmeade, whilst it has been home to many wizarding families over the years, the fact that it is shared with Muggles is what makes this village so interesting. We’ve seen how Harry Potter manages to live alongside his Muggle relatives, we’ve heard glimpses of Hermione’s Muggle upbringing, we’ve even witnessed Harry and Hermione at Godric’s Hollow on their quest for Horcruxes. But when have we really had the chance to see exactly how Muggles and Wizards live side by side in the same village? The opportunities for discovery from unsuspecting Muggle friends, the idea of Muggle friends at all. There is the potential to continue on Harry Potter’s life – though that would depend on whether he’d want to return to the location of his parents’ deaths, or I’m sure there are many other wizarding families who would be fantastic protagonists for a new set of stories.

There are many different possibilities within each location, many more locations besides and the opportunity to explore the worlds of new and existing characters. In a world as vast as Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, the potential situations are endless. With the recent news of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them being made into a film it brings about the question as to whether anything else would be possible. It’s certainly not impossible. If it was, then JK Rowling wouldn’t be the one in control of the writing of the Fantastic Beasts films. She’s always shown an interest in going back to Harry’s world (no matter how small), whether that’s through his eyes or someone else’s, we don’t know. Nor does it really matter. What matters is that the world is so big that she could write a book a year for the rest of her life and still have many, many more stories to tell. It really is a truly remarkable world that she has mapped out. If only we could really wander through the streets of Hogsmeade, or visit the Museum of Quidditch in London.


Yesterday I wrote about different kinds of novels and the difference between linear and non-linear storytelling. I also mentioned point of view and indirectly, narrative, something which I have a lot of interest in.

Narrative is a very important part of a story. The voice a story is told from can make or break a story and it’s something which makes translating a novel into a screenplay rather difficult. The Hunger Games, whilst revered by many, also lost some of its magic (or so they say) because being put on the screen meant that the viewpoint couldn’t be honoured in the same way.

As many of you will already know, there are three main narratives; first person, second person and third person.

First person seems to be very popular in storytelling, it makes sense because it’s very personal to the character telling the story. You get to know what “I” think about the story and how the main character experiences the world that they are in. The only problem is that it makes it difficult to look at other character’s experiences, unless you include several viewpoints in the story.

Third person is just as popular, it gives a more umbrella view of a world looking at it from the eyes of “he” or “she”. You can include aspects of a person’s thoughts or feelings, though it works differently from first person. It allows for more character’s viewpoints to be explored. It does sometimes lose the personal “I think…” aspect of first person, however.

Then there’s second person. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book written in second person narrative. I’d really like to, but it’s not very popular. How often do you read a novel that talks about “you”? It is, however, a useful tool for non-fiction books. I think that as a novel written in second person, it would probably be very intense. It almost puts the reader at the centre of the story, something which may feel too intense for some people.

I think that all three narratives have their uses in fiction – yes, even second person. It all depends on what story you want to tell, who you want to write about and what experience you want the reader to have. The epistolary novels I mentioned yesterday create a different environment to that of prose and dialogue. So is true of narrative.

The Harry Potter series was written in third person, whilst the story is generally from Harry Potter’s point of view, the way it is written allows for some aspects of others’ experiences to be included in some capacity. Had the story been written in first person, the stories would probably feel very different.

Many stories written as epistolary novels, such as Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Colour Purple, are written in first person. Pulling them out of first person and into third person would change them completely. We would lose so much of that personal feeling and thought that the stories would be unrecognisable if they were rewritten in a different narrative. The Color Purple is a very personal story about one woman’s life and horrific experiences, so to recreate the story in third person, much of that would probably be lost.

As someone who has spent a lot of time reading and writing fanfiction for a portion of my life I think that first and third person are miles apart. In fanfiction, for me, it feels like it’s too personal for a story to be written in first person. I doubt any fan knows a character well enough to write their innermost thoughts and feelings, as much as we might like to think that we do. Which is why I believe first person in fanfiction isn’t the way to go. Third person gives just enough distance for it not to be a problem.

In novel writing, however, I believe the author knows their character better than anyone else and that’s why first person works so well. You are enough of your character for you to be able to be the “I” you’re writing.

I think I’m part of a minority that enjoys second person. Being in a world where fanfiction is popular, I’ve written second person from time to time. It’s easier to create short pieces in this narrative because it doesn’t matter how intense the story becomes. Some believe anything more than a short piece would be too much written in second person. I’m not so sure and I’d love to have a go. I believe that the intensity of second person would give a unique stance on many stories.

Second person, though, isn’t popular. I’m not sure how many novels there are in the world that contain second person narrative. I wonder, however, how many have snippets written in such a way. Perhaps that’s a more acceptable way of writing second person narrative, to interlink it with first or third person so that a story is made up of multiple narratives.

There are other versions of these three main narratives, usually involving tenses. First person past tense, first person present tense, etc. But for the sake of ease and not confusing things, I have talked mainly about the three different ‘person’. Whichever narrative you choose for your writing, it has to fit for you. What’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for someone else, and what’s wrong for me might actually be everything a person needs to make their writing everything they’d hoped it would be.

Stories telling order out of

When you think about a novel it’s easy to wonder how there can be different kinds. A story is a story and regardless of how it occurs, it’s still some version of long prose which makes it what it is. For a long time I’ve never really considered the differences between different types of novels and it was only this year that I realised they have different names, also.

It’s not just novels which portray stories in different ways; films, television programmes and even webseries can be created very differently from each other.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) and The Color Purple (Alice Walker) are epistolary novels; stories told through letters, diary entries and other documents rather than the traditional prose and dialogue. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries are a fantastic way of putting epistolary stories onto a screen.

Some stories, such as The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult) and Sarah’s Key (Tatiana de Rosnay) are written using different timelines. The stories jump between the past and the present, each time period interlinking to create a carefully woken story. Something which can be seen in many different films and television programmes.

Even a more traditional novel can be split into different viewpoints, told through the eyes of several characters or just one. Some stories are narrated by someone on the outside (Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte) or a very personal story told from the eyes of the protagonist (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne).

In fact, the more I think about different types of storytelling, the more I’ve come to realise that there isn’t really a traditional type of story. You could say that a story told through dialogue and prose is traditional, but then you look at the types of narration and points of view and the whole idea of traditional is thrown on its head.

Linear versus non-linear storytelling is a battle that I don’t think could ever be won. It’s all down to preference at the end of the day, and one really good linear story might twist the arm of a hard core non-linear fan.

But what about stories that give the readers or viewers the choice over how they want to consume the story? Remember reading those books as a child where you could pick what you wanted to happen next? It’s not exactly the same, but it’s not far off.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, as mentioned earlier, is a great example of epistolary storytelling outside of novels. It’s also an interesting portrayal of linear versus non-linear storytelling. Being a piece of fiction created through weblogs probably puts it in a very specific place in terms of its ability to tell stories in different ways. For someone new coming into The Lizzie Bennet Diaries they have different ways of viewing the webseries. The fact that there is one YouTube channel available makes viewing The Lizzie Bennet Diaries very easy. Except for one rather large factor, there are other videos on other YouTube channels that contribute to the story. There’s also a portion of web content that also adds to the storytelling.

I was lucky enough to watch TLBD from near the beginning, so that meant that I followed the story in a very linear way. I started at the beginning and I jumped between Twitter, their website and different YouTube channels in order to get a start to finish experience.

But there are people who came in at the end who may have watched every weblog that ‘Lizzie’ created before realising that Lydia created some of her own. Watching those as an aside would probably bring about a very different experience because it fills in the blanks. It’s a bit like building a wall – you can build a dry stone wall (the main story) and it can stand alone, you could put concrete into the gaps. The concrete isn’t needed, but it can be useful/make the wall (the story) a little different. That in itself would provide quite a nice type of storytelling. It would be a little like J K Rowling producing a number of short stories that interlink with the Harry Potter books. You may know a character’s fate, but by reading more about their experiences you could learn new things and feel like it’s added something to the original story.

The great thing about non-linear storytelling is that a story can be fantastic as a whole, but when broken down it can also be just as amazing split apart. I think one important aspect of non-linear storytelling is being able to tell a story which can be enjoyed from start to finish even if you don’t watch or read every aspect of it. The Harry Potter books are great as they are, anything extra would only be a bonus. The extra would also be enjoyable on its own. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries work all by themselves; Lydia’s videos add an extra layer to Lydia’s character, yet can be great all by themselves.

One day I’d really like to have a go at writing a novel that doesn’t fit the linear pattern, I’d like to tangle up storylines, interweave characters and create something that can be pulled apart and glued back together in whichever fashion a person wishes.

Happy Birthday to a fictional character.

Today is the birthday of one of the first original characters I created. I’ll always remember it because I gave him a birthday that also belongs to a couple of other people I know/know of. His name is James (Jamie) Stevens and if he were a real person he would be seventeen.

Fictional characters are really important, some people may believe otherwise but in a world full of television, films and books, we are surrounded by them. Whether you barely watch television and films or read books or watch and read as much as feasibly possible, everyone is exposed to the weird and wonderful people out there who don’t really exist.

There are many characters, though, who people relate to. There are characters that people fall in love with, want to hug, and even slap. Everywhere you turn there are villains, heroes and the average Joe Bloggs going about their fictional lives. You just have to browse Twitter, Facebook or various social networking sites that are frequented by fandoms.

A character isn’t just a person who doesn’t exist, they’re the capacity for our lives to become richer, the opportunity for us to see the world through new eyes and experience it as someone else. Sometimes we might wish we’d done something or wish we hadn’t done something and being able to see it happen to someone we effectively care about makes characters so important.

I love fictional characters a lot, whether I created them or someone else has.

I think that when you create a character you experience them in a different way to the people watching/reading about them. You know everything about them, their ins and outs, the good and the bad and you know more than you may ever share with the rest of the world. You reach a point with that character where maybe you don’t like certain things about them, but you accept that it’s part of them regardless.

When you fall in love with a fictional character, it’s very easy to ignore the bad parts. I see people all over the internet completely oblivious that the flaws in some of their favourite characters and I suppose it’s natural. It’s human nature to ignore the flaws in someone who is new and exciting, whether they’re real or not. Eventually, though, you see the bad, you experience those flaws and you find a way of accepting them. If you can’t then you move on and find someone else to care about, or you love them even more in spite of who they’re not.

That’s something I love dearly about fictional worlds and the characters within them, their capacity to be exactly like people in the real world. If you’re the kind of person who puts their heart and soul into fiction then you experience character’s stories through their eyes and it hurts when someone dies or bad things happen. It’s almost an acceptable level of pain, even if you’re sobbing your eyes out over a terrible fictional death. Most of the time, it’s got that level of distance where although you loved that character a lot, life goes on and they’re not actually real.

As a writer, my favourite thing is putting my characters through hell. In his fictional lifetime (which goes on beyond this current year right into Jamie’s adulthood) Jamie Stevens went through a lot. When he was a small child he was kidnapped by his biological father, his mother had children with his step-dad and a beloved friend died. All in a day’s work for a writer, but it’s all experiences that made him who he is today, or will be tomorrow.

Even if he isn’t real he’s still my first proper fictional character and I will always cherish the moments I shared with him. It’s weird, really, because I’ve not thought about him in a long time. His story has never gone further than a drawer in my old bedroom or a file on a floppy disc drive that I eventually transferred over to a newer computer. It doesn’t need to. Nobody needs to know what happened to Jamie Stevens because he’s my character. Maybe one day I’ll bring him out to play, give him a new life where things happen differently and he’s given a new lease of life. Or maybe he’ll stay in that drawer never to be seen again.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop thinking about him every time September 16th comes around. I can’t help it. Like any fictional person to have meant something to me, he’s there on the cusp of my life. A bit like the many people who have come and gone from my real life.

Fairytale Love

Fairytale love doesn’t exist, except on a page or screen. That’s what people say anyway. Love is supposed to be this glorious, massive thing that sends people crazy, puts butterflies in their stomach and even makes someone kill someone else. It’s the most famous kind of love – even more so than family love, I would say – and it’s the kind of love that people strive for.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re five years old discovering fairytales for the first time, or eighty years old looking for someone to spend your final days with. The idea of falling for someone who is your everything, a person who is your happily ever after, is a big deal.

Many people fall in love and experience the butterflies and the head over heels feeling of being with someone special. But for some people it’s just a dream, an unobtainable dream meant only for those in fiction.

Fictional love has been in existence for years, even back in the days when romance wasn’t as important as marrying the right person who has the right standing in the community. You just have to look at classics like Pride and Prejudice to see that the idea of love hasn’t really changed, but the conventions of relationships have. Once upon a time we may have married someone for convenience or if you were unlucky enough to get pregnant outside of wedlock. Even Jane Austen dreamed of that special someone, though, that person who makes your heart flutter. If she didn’t, then she wouldn’t have created one of the world’s best romances.

I think the thing that sets fairytale love apart from other kinds of fictional love is the idea that a person, or a couple, can live happily ever after. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work like that and nor should it. Without the difficult, unhappy times, we don’t appreciate the good moments in our lives. Fairytale romances would surely be very boring if we looked past the happily ever after these couples supposedly have.

The idea of fairytale love, for me, goes back to Disney. They produced animated film after animated film dedicated to a story where good conquers evil, the knight in shining armour saves the damsel in distress, they get married and then they all live happily ever after. We never get to see the happily ever after, the inevitable turmoil and difficulty that some of these relationships would have faced in the real world, and perhaps that’s half the charm.

From Snow White, to Belle, to Aurora, to Meg, to Mulan and more recently, Rapunzel. These women have all experienced the one true passion that in the real world is something very different. That doesn’t stop people dreaming, it doesn’t change the fact that little girls still love the idea of being a Disney princess and women still dream of meeting that perfect person.

In fiction, romance and love are such important themes whether they’re the main storyline or a facet of a deeper, more developed story of pain, suffering and heartache. Without relationships – romantic or otherwise – fiction would be as flat as a pancake. It would be boring and thoughtless. Relationships are as important in fiction as they are in real life. If you don’t have people to spend time with, or to communicate with, then life is inevitably a little less significant, or even worthwhile, than if you’re surrounded by people who you care about and spend time with. It’s the same in fiction. If characters don’t interact, then you just have a story about a person sat in a room on their own with very little reason for their story being told.

Including themes of love and romance, the reader or viewer is able to experience a relationship, whether it’s like ones in their own lives or not. Love must be as special in the real world as in the fictional world, because how else can so many stories exist about that knee weakening feeling?

The difference, I think, is the happily ever after. That moment after the story ends when somebody didn’t wash the dishes, or take out the dustbins, or the romance has dwindled because real life has got in the way.

Everyone likes the idea of perfection, a world where the little things don’t matter and the world isn’t flawed. But love is flawed, as is the world, and every relationship will go through difficult times. That doesn’t mean we should stop writing about fairytale romances. Even if those fairytale romances are mixed into a story of betrayal, murder, death and destruction. As long as two people fall in love, regardless of what happens to them, and there’s the hint of a possibility of a happy ending, then that’s enough. That small dash of hope that maybe you can have that fairytale ending too. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find someone to love you the way that Darcy loves Elizabeth and Charming loves Snow White, and a happily ever after is waiting for you.

Coming of Age in Fiction

The-Perks-of-Being-a-Wallflower_10(The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky)

Coming of age is a phrase we all know, but what does it really mean for someone to come of age in fiction? Coming of age is the transition a young person goes through that takes them from being a child to being an adult. I suppose you could, in some respect, consider a person’s adolescents as the coming of age period. The ways a person goes about their coming of age, however, really depends on the community they’ve grown up in. It is sometimes the point at which a person reaches sexual maturity or it could be defined by their religion. According to Wikipedia, it is ‘most commonly 16-21 when adolescents are generally no longer considered minors and are granted the full rights of an adult’.

The appeal of coming of age stories is relatively obvious; everyone can relate to them because in one way or another, we’ve all had our own version of coming of age. Whether you’ve suffered great loss, experienced something profound or merely found a reason to mature, they all make up the stories of our own lives.

Authors often take aspects of their own life and depict it in writing. Utilising our experiences is what makes writing have depth; it gives it the life that you can’t always get when you haven’t experienced something. Researching someone else’s experiences is another way of playing out scenarios that didn’t happen to you but that you feel matter for a character’s coming of age. Hindsight and knowing what your friends and family have done in their pasts can really help to greater understand different aspects of the growing up process.

I think other people’s situations are a significant aspect of the coming of age genre. Why relive your own life time and time again when reading a book or watching a film when you can see what it was like for someone else?

We all have regrets – the things we did that we wished we hadn’t, or the things we wished we’d done but didn’t make the time. This genre allows us to explore those hidden desires, the lost moments we can’t ever get back. It won’t change the fact that we can’t experience those situations, but it is a way of reliving your past through someone else’s eyes. I think that’s one of the greatest things about coming of age fiction – and fiction as a whole.

Some coming of age stories show an embellished version of reality. The television programme, Skins, portrays teenagers living out their lives in a way not many television programmes have. In the midst of the strong realistic storytelling and the depth of emotion, there’s the highlighted (and sometimes criticised for being over exaggerated) aspect of teenagers letting off steam through sex, drugs and alcohol. American Pie, the film series, is very much a comedy, showing the drive to reach sexual maturity as something that can be laughed about; a challenge to achieve before a set point in time.

There are also more realistic stories which don’t add the extra baggage and talk instead about love, lust and loss. They may fail to acknowledge the more seedy parts of teenage life, but what they do explore are the deeper, more meaningful parts of being human. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (by Ann Brashares) covers many themes from death to life and everything in between. Whilst Lord of the Flies (by William Golding) shows that sometimes you have to rediscover normality and by doing so you sometimes have to grow up quicker than you expected.

Whether a story shows that significant moment in a person’s life, where everything changes, as funny, or serious the message is still the same. We all come of age in our own way, we all experience things or avoid experiencing them for similar reasons, and in the end all that matters is that we’ve reached a point in our life when everything looks a little different.

Death, sexual confusion, mental health issues and recreational exploration are things that everybody will face in some capacity; whether by yourself, or you know someone, or you know someone who knows someone. We can’t escape the trials and tribulations of life, and nor should we want to, because without them we might never reach that point in life where we see things clearly. Coming of age matters in life and fiction and as long as people are going through these experiences in reality, people are going to write about them in fiction too.