Posted in The Street Crawlers

The Street Crawlers 1: The Street Crawlers

Street Crawlers are a rare breed. These people who trawl the streets looking for any form of shelter have their numbers of the breed declining, and yet still they are a worry for the over-growing population.  Then how can it be that even now, with such low numbers, their kind continues to be broken up into many different categories with many different populations (a sub-species of crawler for the people who are considered by the rubenesque to be a sub-species of person)?

Eighty percent of these sub-humans are named ‘the lost’: the people who have originally had the gross luxuries of an average person but have lost it all through pains such as depression, job-loss, and the occasional political activist who the ‘soldiers of the superiors’ have considered to have an unnecessary lifestyle. Of this eighty percent, twenty-five percent would be children who still had the attachments they had formed in early life. These children would find it noticeably harder to reintegrate into normal civilisation and would struggle with what they should do after their fleeting childhood had ended.                                                                                           

Another group, eighteen-point-five percent of the breed, is filled with ‘Street Survivors’, a group predominantly filled with children raised on the street by another of the survivor field. Half of these would go out into the world and get a low-paid job, whilst the other half flooded rehabilitation centres and mental clinics everywhere: the sufferers of ‘Street Syndrome’.

The last one-point-five percent is extremely rare. These are the ‘Copper Foxes’. They are heartless, thoughtless and emotionally stunted. They struggle to trust and struggle to understand what people think of them, because of a lack of emotion shown to them in early life. A Copper Fox is not something that any crawler would like to interact with, or even think of; though all of them know the tale of the famous one of its kind.

  The namesake of this group was a small child; innocent on the outside, but inside a burning incense of dark hunger loomed in their heart. The Copper Fox, known henceforth in this tale as Plain Jane, was by far the hungriest of the kind. At only seven years old she was seen doing everything and anything she could to destroy other people’s lives. Not even the feeling of jealousy penetrated her mind. The loss of her street crawler family remained her last source of emotion. Nothing more and nothing less than that suffering she had had at that time.

Jane could never be a normal child and would never allow herself to be considered abnormal by those who slept in her own alleyways. The street crawlers around her knew that she was never going to be one of them. But she was a street crawler while she walked across the un-solid ground of her successors. None of the crawlers had the empathetic knowledge to understand her vermin-like nature, as she tore through the limbs of the alley walls seeking for her human prey on whose lives she fed. Keeping her strength she stayed vigilant against any ‘soldiers of hell’ that had accidentally stepped onto her land.

She was neither sympathetic nor caring towards the rest of her street kind and so she didn’t expect the same in return. The only expectation she had of those she considered her tenants, is that they paid her for the right to live in her alleys and always paid her on time no matter what had happened. If they went back on their word she would leave them outside, unprotected, for the soldiers to find and destroy.

She would watch as the camouflaged combatants came in their armoured beast, shot electricity out of the rods in their clawing hands and dragged away the partially awake body to be eaten up by the gnashing teeth of their roaring monster.

The soldiers of hell were about the only people that Jane ever felt afraid of; they, and their beastly contraption that had consumed all of the lives she had come to support. The uniformed soldiers would always feed their beast and never considered anything about where the food was really coming from and what it could be leaving behind; like she had been…

Scrutinised by other street crawlers, she would wander alone, finding new ways for her life to counteract an innocent’s. She was a pure gold mine for the criminal masterminds as, if they asked her to do a job, she would do it without question and without care of the costs of another person.

The lives stacked up like pennies in a jar, each one crashing heavily onto the next and causing another penny to be battered and made blunt, until they were almost non-existent in the crowds. The only luck meeting the Copper Fox came to Jane herself, who grew higher on the hierarchy every time she entered a new street domain. With the footsteps of a mouse, and the roar of a lion, she would shatter the boundaries between good and evil to force in a new kind of creature: herself.

Everybody knew her; everybody feared her; nobody could stop her, and those who dared to try would come to a sudden realisation of what a Copper Fox truly was when their dented and twisted penny dropped onto the others.

The Copper Fox would always win, and only those who worked hard to keep her trust would prevail within the street crawlers’ society. The hierarchy would always be set to her own liking. The pounds would be swallowed from one street crawler’s pocket and into another’s. It was all up to who Jane decided had deserved the money that week.

Starving children were often given bountiful amounts of this treasured cash in order for them to survive, because the more surviving children there were, the more money they would have to pay back in the future to the Copper Fox. Her business was run intelligently, but ruthlessly.

Everyone quickly discovered the power of a street crawler. It was a power that belonged to her and her alone. Street crawlers laid in terror, listening to the song of the fearful fox: a warbling noise only befitting that of a demon or cackling witch. It sent shivers up the spine of even the oldest residents of the streets.

Yet Jane never saw it this way. Her song was the only freedom she could find from her lack of sanity. Her song was the only way she could attempt any kind of relief from who she was, or indeed who she used to be. Through her song she could search for those that she’d lost; those very same people who could never be replaced in her eyes.

She expected no sympathy from anyone, and so never admitted to the pain she felt inside. In her mind nobody could ever give her the kind of love she’d lost so long ago, and there was no point in trying to regain any kind of love again. She wanted it to be exactly the way it used to be, back when her pack was filled with numerous others; back when her family lived with her and everything felt so much better.

She prowled around the streets, her eyes scanning the ground for any sign of the soldiers and their horrible beast, in the hope that one day she’d find them again. Her pack had meant so much to her. The images from her fourth birthday loomed in her mind through day and through night.

There she was, a smile washed over her face as her family went about their usual, oddly-cheerful routine. They were perfectly happy to be celebrating her birth. They were overjoyed she had been born so she could be a part of their group, and she felt the same about them. She couldn’t imagine life without them by her side.

Sylvester sat in the corner, rattling through a rubbish bin to find the best scraps he could for the party. A dirty shoe was flung out, followed by a broken wheel, but no food. His coal black hair stuck to his greasy face and sooty cheeks. His efforts only made him more unclean than ever. Jane didn’t mind. She couldn’t imagine him being clean; it just wouldn’t be like Sly to go near soap and water. His eyes would always sparkle no matter what dirt and debris attached itself to his body.

Slow footsteps walked up behind her and she felt a tender pat on her back. She looked up to see the grinning face of her foster father. He kissed her tenderly on the cheeks, wishing her a happy birthday, before beckoning for the others to follow him.

He had a job for them; a job that could mean more food for them in the short term. Jane had wanted to join in, she remembered, but her father wouldn’t let her. He told her she was far too young to help. She still had a year or so of innocence before having to join the rough side of their society.

Jane had never been a very good listener. She had followed them as they left, right up to the doorstep of the posh house just outside of their territory. A loud crash came from inside the building; an alarm rang inside the doors. Where were her family? She couldn’t see them. She smiled as she caught a glimpse of Savannah and Adonis climbing out of the window above. Their faces were distorted in fear as they tried to push passed one another to escape. Sirens, louder than anything Jane had ever heard, rang out from down the street. Savannah and Adonis pushed each other harder.  

Jane’s eyes had followed them down to the ground where they had met up with her father, Sly and the others. She ran up to them, a large grin on her face, and wrapped her arms around her father’s chest. His mind seemed to wander, barely taking in her appearance. It was as if she had been a ghost and he had been a sceptic. He flinched as the feedback from a microphone came to the ears of the panicking children.

Jane hadn’t understood many of the words he’d muttered, back then. She understood them now. Now, she had heard them used time and time again by those being chased, and those doing the chasing. She had never used them herself though; it was beneath her.

It was beneath him too. In a wild panic he had yelled to the children, begging them to run as fast as possible. ‘Don’t look back,’ he begged. ‘Don’t come looking. Be safe. Be safe’.

They had obeyed, their feet pattering further and further away from Jane’s confused grasp. Her father had picked her up in his trembling arms and charged in the opposite direction. Quickly darting back into the safety of the dark alleys, and hearing the voices behind, he threw the young girl behind a stack of cardboard boxes and covered her with as much as he could find. His only thought was protecting her. Jane knew how hard he’d fought for her to be safe.

The next few seconds contained the images she always wanted to forget. It was this moment that had changed her opinion on everything to do with what she had once thought of as being a peaceful existence.

She no longer expected pity. She no longer expected happiness. Those expectations had disappeared along with everyone she’d known. A Copper Fox, she thought, was better alone. Other people merely got in the way of her plans.

Yet still, Jane waited for them. Waiting until a miracle could happen, and she could feel the tenderness of their love again. She never would.

Entry is an Open Door

Without even meaning or reasoning

You enter our world.

It’s dark and it’s dangerous.

It’s bitten and gnarled.

It closes around you,

The smell and the stink,

But you don’t have the luxury

To stop and to think.

This world isn’t like your old one.

There is no mistrust.

You must depend on others

Or you’ll turn into dust.

You’ll become what we don’t speak of,

The lost ones we leave,

And you’ll lose your way and your head

if you don’t behave.

You’ll see monsters like no others

Lurking in the shadows

But you’ll find friendship in the dark

And family in the alleys.

You’ll step into the heaven

That is the Crawlers’ haven

And you’ll learn to love it every day

Because there is no chance of saving.

You’ll lose friends hour by hour

And gain more just as quickly.

You’ll have days were you can take no more

And days that make you sickly.

You’ll survive on scraps and water

But only if you hunt it.

You’ll search for freedom when you can

But you will never get it.

You’ll learn to fear the Fox at night

And cower when it barks.

You’ll learn the Eagle’s starry stare

And learn the Eagle’s mark.

You’ll come to know the different types,

The Crawlers on their streets.

You’ll learn to be wary and watchful

Of the Street Syndrome disease.

And if you see a hunter or soldier

You must run and run and run.

Most of the Street Crawler’s lost

Have been claimed by beast or gun.

You will love it as you hate it,

Here in our growing kingdom.

But, I can promise you, here and now

That you will never gain your freedom.

Posted in How to Write

How To Write Characters.

From Stick Men to Humans to Everything In-Between

Sitting down and thinking through my ideas for blog posts (of which there was a horrendously long list, so apologies) I had to move this idea to the top of my pile. Characters are, for me, the most important parts of a story—and I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating to say that in some way, characters are the main things you should focus on in your planning stages.     Let me explain myself. There was a vague theory I remember agreeing with whilst I was studying for my degree, in which it was suggested that there were actually only a small handful of plots available to the hard-working author. Although these plots could blend into each other, try to make a difference with their twists and turns and blend of genres, there could never be really anything new to come out of them. So, how, if a plot has been read so many times over the centuries of human existence, do they feel fresh and invigorating every time? My answer: the characters.

            Think about your favourite books. What’s the main thing you remember from them? If I asked you—what happened on page… 63, let’s say, could you tell me the important plot point that was happening? I’m assuming, and honestly hoping, you’re saying no (although if you do remember, kudos to you, my friend). Now, if I ask you to tell me the name of the lead character? ……. Did you get it? If I asked what s/he was like? … If I continued to ask what you liked about them? … And then, if I asked you what they got up to in the book? Could you now answer what the plot was? Can you get closer to what may have happened on or near the theoretical page 63.

            Now, you see, plot doesn’t drive characters—characters drive the plot. They are the only difference to a plot and so they are the integral part to the story. But, how do you write them effectively?

            Well, the key is in how well you as the author know them. Now, you may or may not have been told about the iceberg theory (if you have, I’m sorry, as you’re going to have to sit through it again). The iceberg theory includes a drawing of an iceberg—the tip is showing above the sea (we’ll say 15 to 20 percent) and then there is a giant bulbous piece of iceberg underneath the water (the rest of the percentage, of course). Now a ship coming towards this iceberg will only be able to see the tip, a primitive mind may think that’s all there is, but a good navigator—a proper seaman or woman, will know that there’s plenty more that they can’t see. It’s a feeling, a suggestion that the tip gives.

            To explain the metaphoric rambling: the tip is the amount of information you share about your character in the story, it’s the amount that the reader (or ship) will receive and that you have to steer them towards. The bottom of the iceberg is the large quantity you as the author should know about each one of your characters. The proper seaman/woman, the readers of your work, they need to feel the rest without you blatantly showing it. You do this by using your tip to hint at more—give your character a complexity, a hypocritic quality, a fault, a background that affects everything that they do.

            Don’t sit there and make a list of all their attributes. Okay, okay, let me give you an example:

            ‘Annie was brave, yet gentle and calming. She had long pink and brown hair and her smile was very white. She often went to get them whitened at a local dentist called Hollingbrook’s. She was always willing to go on an adventure and was the complete opposite of Anne in her favourite book ‘The Famous Five’. She liked this book because…’

            You see how this information deluge is bad? How is knowing this adding anything to what Annie is doing? In fact, it will, it all will, but it’s not important enough to spill in your work. You should know it, but the reader should only get the suggestion that they exist. And then one day, when Annie is seen reading a Famous Five book or going to the dentist to her weekly teeth-whitening appointment it will make complete sense because you have built that up in the tip.

            ‘Annie smiled at the man sat across from her, her dazzling white, almost plastic teeth, blinding him as she bent over the map of the island. Her little scarred finger leant on the drawing of the compass at the top and her pink-streaked brown hair laid playfully, sprawled across the coffee table. She reached out a bold, determined hand and rubbed the sweat from his cheeks. ‘It’ll be okay,’ she told him.’

The Iceberg Theory in Doodle Form!

            Now, I’m not going to say it’s a perfect example, as I don’t know this Annie that well yet but it is getting closer to the correct way to write. You see how the things mentioned at the top are almost inferred here? She has shown herself to be kind as she comforts him, brave as she looks at the map, her teeth are even brought into the action and develops their relationship. I’ve even added an extra detail, a flaw of a scarred finger, which suggests something else that’s happened in her past. This excites your reader’s imagination, helps them form their own interpretation of Annie, and isn’t that what makes reading lovely? Even though it’s written by one person and given to many, the many can make their own story as they read it. It’s truly amazing, and the main difference between the written word and visual interpretations of words (films, televisions etc.).

            What else is important for a character? As I’ve shown, flaws often help to make them more well-rounded. Even the Ancient Greeks, some of our earliest known writers, knew this—making their Gods flawed and interesting. Zeus a womaniser, Hera’s jealousy, Aphrodite’s cheating ways and narcissism, Athena’s blunt manner. Even Kronos, a Titan, is afraid of his children and of them copying what he did to his own Father. Give your character a flaw and they become realistic—they become something your readers can understand. It doesn’t even have to be anything big to be a good choice. And again, don’t blatantly say what the fault is, but show it to your readers at the opportune moment.

            To finish, as this is getting a bit lengthy, here’s a few bullet-points which should help you get an idea of how complex this area of writing actually is:

  • Remember that flaws are important.
  • Build a backstory. Spend time with your characters (if you love them it’s easier to connect).
  • Act like they’re your imaginary friends.
  • Characters are what fuel a story. There are only so many plots but there are millions of characters.
  • Remember that real people tend to be hypocritical. There is no such thing as entirely bad or good. People are confusing.
  • Think about social pressures. People change their character in real life depending on the situation and where they are.
  • If doing it from first person or from close-up third person, remember that people often think one thing/one way and act completely different. A timid person is often confident in their head because they’re used to speaking there. An open extrovert may be more likely to speak whatever they’re thinking before they even get a chance to think it.
  • Iceberg theory—show 20% but know 100%. I cannot reiterate enough times how important this theory is.
  • Write some practice short stories with those characters to figure them out. Put them in different situations.
  • And remember, a name will be the first guide to their personality (more on this in another blog post).
  • A narrator is always a character, including an omniscient, which moves us onto next week’s post—‘The Importance of an Omniscient’.

Thank you for reading and…

A Bientot, les ecrivians.