Interview with the Winner of WEbook's January Challenge: Below the Surface

Although we're now well into Spring (or so we hope...), back in January when the weather was still bitterly cold and nobody was sure if we'd see the other side, we set you the first WEBook writing challenge of 2016!

In order to distract ourselves from the cold and the seemingly endless darkness, we set you a whimsical challenge that harked back to times of your youthful innocence (ha ha). We asked you to breathe life in to things that were devoid of soul; to animate the inanimate. We asked you to look below the surface of what you see before you, and show us something else hidden there. 

Is your water bottle really content with you consuming it's innards?

Does your highlighter see its work as enlightening, or a real drag?  

Each entrant to the January Challenge gave life to objects from various corners of our daily lives. We saw bickering clothing and manipulative smart phones, exasperated laptops and gangland kitchen utensils. Each entry was brilliant and unique and really helped to divert away from the dull skies of January (thank youuuuu). 


Character and character development are - obviously - a really important aspect to just about any story you could hope to write. In the January Challenge, the human element of the main character was removed, meaning that the authors were not able to rely upon stereotypical traits that one might associate with say, a male, or a blonde, or someone who wears glasses. 

Whether you find this disassociation from the humanity of character something that is a help or a hinderance to your writing is entirely dependent upon your personal skill set. However, you can always use this type of writing challenge to explore character development in a more academic, or (if you don't like that word) structured way. So, let's strip it back to basics and look at how to develop a character from scratch. 

The first, and most important thing that every character needs to have, regardless of whether they're good, bad, male, female, fat, thin, old or young, is a goal

Every person, object or creature must have a purpose for being. Whether we're talking about the water bottle, whose purpose it is to store water, or the heroine, who strives to save her village from bandits, or the man who simply wants to get a good turkey sandwich,  every character needs a goal. 

Identify what is standing in the way of your character's goal (the challenge), and what are they going to do - or not do - about it (the action)? 

It's at this point that you can start exploring the personality of your character based on their reaction to this central situation. Let's take our man in need of his turkey sandwich. For weeks he's been dedicating his lunch-hour to testing out different sandwich shops, hoping to rediscover that one perfect turkey sandwich he ate on his first day in the city. 

So, now we've got three basic character traits that have been revealed organically. This is opposed to an author superimposing a variety of traits onto their character, which may or may not work out to be complementary later on down the line. 

Relying on organic development is endlessly beneficial when creating a believable character portrait for your reader. You can use this approach to develop any number of peculiarities and quirks for your character. 

Because you're the author you can of course circumvent this by manipulating the story to suit your needs, but it's usually best to start with a triad of three main traits that you can build upon and diversify from there. People change, and so can characters. 

Once you've got this solid foundation, you can start to have a bit more fun with your character. Give them some hair (or not), choose what colour their eyes are and describe what the sun feels like on their face. It's useful to write down your three main character traits on a piece of paper and keep referring back to it as you write. Add on any new traits that are revealed in your character as your story develops, and keep reinforcing these as time goes on. 

Before you know it, you'll have a solid, believable character who fits perfectly in your story. Whether your character is a man in search of a turkey sandwich, or a bottle wincing with pain each time its innards are drained by a thirsty human, is up to you...

The winner of our January Challenge: Below the Surface was Josafat with their creepy tale of the murderous scissors, Scissors of Mercy

This story left us wondering if it was the scissors who drove the action or their mistress. Wonderfully characterised, the scissors were brought to life in a luxurious flurry of comedic sexualisation and bloodlust. 

Josafat was kind enough to have a chat with us about their entry. Read on below for the full interview.

WEbook: The object you selected to personify in your winning entry, the scissors, are represented in a way that highlights their ability to create and destroy. This theme of creation and destruction runs neatly through you piece and we see this presented in a number of ways. For example, the pajamas that the woman and the scissors have both created and destroyed, the relationship between husband and wife that was once created and (we assume) the husband has destroyed. 

These oppositions create an interesting structure within the story – were you actively trying to balance the story like this, or was it something that came naturally? 

Josafat: The balancing act between creation and destruction came to be in the later stages of writing the story as a natural consequence of the seamstress' creative role and her intimate relationship with the scissors. The first lines written focused on the alchemy of seamstress and scissors and how the creative force of the woman fed directly into the steel of the otherwise inanimate scissors. 

As writing progressed, the destructive aspect emerged; it had been hidden both from me and from the scissors until the seamstress' atypical actions began to reveal a crisis. After that point, when the scissors knew something was different, the destructive aspect became as important as the creative aspect, and I consciously wove this into the story's crisis. 

The pajamas are a physical example of that creation and destruction. However, I had not realized that the relationship between husband and wife was the abstraction that echoed that destruction, at least not consciously, but it makes sense that the relationship, having been forged of love (usually a creative force) was destroyed through the husband's annihilation.    

WEbook: In your personification of the scissors, they become a fetishized object. From the sexualized opening line that makes the reader question what kind of deviancy they’re about to be led into, to the bloodlust that the scissors carry with them after they’ve tasted the husband’s heart. 

In fetishizing the object within the strain of personification, the scissors take on a personality of their own – did you find it difficult to develop a personality for an inanimate object? What method did you use to approach the development of its personality as an object rather than a human character? 

Josafat: Choosing the scissors as the object of the story facilitated my process mainly by the fact that scissors have "eyes" yet cannot see. From that point on it was easy to let the personality emerge by playing with the basic usage of scissors: once sticks one's fingers in its eyes! That, and the scissors' inherent blindness, which I solved by seeing through the seamstress' eyes, were the raw material upon which to build the character. 

The fact that scissors, in a seamstress' hands, are a tool of creation, made them automatically partakers in the creative process. Furthermore, the fact that they cut and could be used to hurt made it logical for the next stage to destroy with the same blades that would otherwise make beauty. 

Developing this "inanimate" character depended on different criteria than developing that of a human character because there were natural limitations such as their blindness (already mentioned), their lack of motion when not in their mistress' hands, and their basic function of cutting. A human character would not naturally have had those limitations. 

These limitations are what made it crucial to make the scissors an object of magic and sensual creation when manipulated by the seamstress. 

WEbook: You’ve set yourself up for a continuation of this story with the scissors' new mistress, do you think we’ll get to hear more about the murderous scissors? 

Josafat: Funnily enough, as I wrote that last paragraph, the images of what would happen next naturally flowed through my mind. The appeal of the scissors' newfound "hobby" of killing definitely played into the way I wrote the paragraph. 

In this story the scissors, from my point of view as the author, were blameless until they embraced the killing and realized they would do it again. Interestingly enough, a friend of mine who read the story said she would be ready to read the subsequent series, so it is likely that the adventure will continue, hopefully with some form of redemption for the scissors at some point. 

WEbook: Who is the true killer in your mind? The scissors and their jealousy or the woman holding them and her desire for revenge? 

Josafat: This question touches a crucial point about the story writing that reflects my inability, even as the author, to decipher what is really hidden in the few lines that tell of the scissors' apparent predisposition to kill the husband given the mentioned jealousy before the crime occurred. 

As previously mentioned, the scissors would appear to have no actual purpose if it were not for the witchcraft of the seamstress' touch, but the fact that they felt jealousy speaks of something deep within the scissors that I have not discovered; perhaps something to clarify in a prequel! 

So my first answer would be that the woman is the true killer, but there is something about this that still leaves me to think that there is more in the relationship between the woman and her tool that could say otherwise. 

WEbook: Who is your favorite writer on WEbook? 

Josafat: I must say Sprayoncrayon. His writing shows a wittiness and creativity that appeal to my reading senses. I have loved his submissions to the monthly contests as well as some of his other work and I believe he is always one of my top contenders. 

WEbook: What are you writing at the moment?  

Josafat: I have a piece titled Coventry Carol actively in work. Interestingly enough, this piece was meant to be part of the Christmas 2015 monthly challenge, but it grew much longer than I could fit in 850 words so I am now writing it as its own thing. 

The piece, as the challenged called, is a Christmas story about a girl named Carol. Carol is a mystery. She always wears black and shows unexpected racial tolerance in a small community where racism is alive and dictates the dynamics of the small population. The story is told by another girl, Camille, who is enraptured by Carol's uniqueness and wants to become her friend. Fate brings them together as events both beyond and within their control unfold around them. 

Aside from that, there is my project Jen of the Dandelions, a story about the curious relationship between a troubled botanist and Biology teacher who returned to the U.S. after living abroad upon his mother's death and his young neighbor, a wild and mischievous girl who digs into the darkest ground of his true self. Beauty and ugliness both sprout of this fated relationship.

WEbook: Who are your favorite authors, or what are your favorite books? 

Josafat: I will always love Anne Rice, with her vampires and witches. I have read and re-read her different series many summers. I am enchanted by her philosophy of the supernatural and, were I to become a vampire, I would want to be one of hers. 

Other books on my top list are Girl with a Pearl Earring—which appeals to my artist persona, the Hyperion series—one of my favorite sci-fi series, and The Sword of Truth Series, by Terry Goodkind. 

WEbook: Any tips for aspiring challenge winners? 

Josafat: To step outside of the ordinary, to oppose the commonplace and juxtapose ideas that would seem to clash at first. In other words, to let some of the randomness within their own minds come forth, to weave concepts and images with each other, and find associations that may seem impossible at first. 

Also, to just write and write and write, letting the flow come forth and then not be afraid to cut away the extra, that which is not needed to gain focus in a short story. 

In summary, take a large batch of the best scented flowers and mix them together to then extract the 850-word pure essence that will "wow" the reader.

WEbook: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Josafat! Congratulations again on your win, and we look forwards to seeing many more of your entries over the coming months.

Announcing the Winners of WEbook's February Challenge: Split Personalities

Happy Monday WEbookers!

It's the beginning of another week and another month, and while you're all deep into the groove of writing your subs for March (because of course you are, aren't you?), we've been deliberating over the winner for February's subs...

February's challenge was (another) difficult one. Stories rely heavily on the characters that inhibit them, and by giving you characters and their traits to work with when crafting your sub, we intentionally removed one of your most valuable tools: the ability to sympathise with and understand your own characters.

The comments and chatter around the February Challenge portrayed a sense of uncomfortableness about having to work with pre-determined characters. And, there appeared to be a overarching agreement that in order to write a good story, you've got to be come up with the character on your own. You're not fan fiction writers, for goodness sake! Yet within the confines of a challenge that intentionally removed the malleability of your characters, there emerged a focus on the development of scene, intent, structure and a complexity of background.

While this was a hard challenge, those of you who did enter achieved some great results. In removing the emotional attachment a writer naturally has to their own characters, many subs were able to successfully invest this emotion into the other elements of the stories - and ultimately, that's what created the winners.

Remember that a challenge is just that; something that should take you out of your comfort zone. If you naturally recoil from a challenge brief, you should question why that is. What can you do to make this challenge work for you? Why does this approach make you feel uncomfortable?

Each time you explore a new approach to writing, you diversify yourself as an author. Your writing ability develops and you are able to deliver a stronger final product in your writing as a whole.

A huge thank you to everyone who entered the challenge in February. We really enjoyed reading all of your interpretations of our characters! It never ceases to amaze us how many different directions the same brief can take us in. While we had six characters to begin with, there were so many more at the end - because you had made them your own characters, in their own stories, living their own lives. Each Sarah may have loved blue, ribbed sweaters. But, no Sarah loved them for the same reason.

Congratulations to the winner of our February Challenge: Split Personalities...

Runners Up:

Thanks again to everyone who entered! 

This month's challenge is up, running and open to entries. You've got until the end of the month to get your entry in, but the earlier you enter the more feedback you'll get from other members on how to improve and refine your entry, so don't leave it too late!

This month's challenge is an open challenge, meaning you can write about whatever you like! Gone are the restraints of February, and the month of March hails freedom!

Good luck and happy writing!

Hannah from the WEbook Team

An Interview with Kristy_Matthews - Winner of the December Challenge

Cast your mind back to December, when the weather was warmer and we were all chuckling to ourselves about having 'skipped winter this year'...

There's no way we were ever really going to get away with that one now, were we? 

Well, if there's one good thing snow's for, its got to be the excuse it provides to light a fire, stay inside, and read a book (or three). If you haven't already had the opportunity to read through December's festive challenge entries, now you've got the perfect excuse!

The brief for our December Challenge was purposefully broad, asking only that entrants included a character named Carol, and some kind of Christmas-themed festivities. As usual, we received a massively dynamic range of entries, including a mixture of soppy traditional tales, sarcastic commentary, sadistic murder, and sentimentality. The quality was such that the judges had a challenging task on their hands just to whittle it down to the final five runners up, and one winner!

Luckily, this month the judges' initial round of voting drew a unanimous winner, which was a rather unexpected christmas gift to themselves. Thanks literary Santa!

Perhaps Santa found himself a victim 
of the digital revolution, with his robot 
replacement running an OS called Carol...
Writing a festive tale can be something that many writers actively avoid - and it's easy to understand why. Often filled with cliché and dog-eared phrases, even the traditional festive story-arcs have long been feeling a little flat. Each year authors must face an increasingly challenging juggling act between originality and tradition. On one hand, you don't want to bore the reader with familiarity, so some kind of originality is required; but nor do you want to unwittingly offend anyone by disrespecting their beliefs through your witty take on the Yule-tide festivities.

So what should you do?

Here are a few things to consider about cliché before you finish constructing your literary master plan for Festive Domination: 2016

Cliché (which of course is usually 'avoided like the plague'), suddenly becomes annoyingly relevant when you settle down to write a themed or festive story. In fact, it becomes more than relevant, because to make something seem 'festive' you've almost definitely got to conform to some of the tropes that people expect to find in a festive story; ergo: cliché.

But writing good cliché is really difficult, especially because it goes against everything that you're 'supposed' to do as a good, original writer. So dial down the gag reflex, and start channeling the sparkly, peace-loving, tinsel-mentality. Or should you?

To write good cliché you need to be careful, take a good long think about what it is that you're looking to portray and make it believable. Cliché is often negatively received by the reader because it a) makes the reader more able to guess what's about to happen in your story, or b) it makes the story itself become unbelievable because the writing is just a little too warm and fuzzy for anyone to actually be able to relate to, realistically.

Obviously everyone knows what it's like to be a billionaire mouse though...
So remember to use cliché sparingly, but place it well. Don't be hesitant to make a miracle happen, but do make sure that it's something that could actually happen within the realms of your story.

A good thing to keep in mind, is that cliché has become so because it's popular. People like to read stories that have a happy ending. People actually - shock, horror - like for things to turn out well. It's ok to have a happy ending, but what's not okay is to drown it in sweet sticky toffee, chuck it in a bin full of tinsel and make it dance like a puppet to the tune of Silent Night. Although thinking about it, that might make quite a funny story...

The winner of our December Challenge, Kristy_Matthews, developed a story that had just the right balance, plus that little bit extra...

Congratulations to all of our entrants in the December Challenge, especially our five runners up!

The Annunciation by RJ_Urquhart | Carol's Swansong by Ernest_Lee | Ein Weinachtsleid by Nina_Lee | A Carol's Carol by W_Miles_Bell | Avoidance by girl bird

Kristy_Matthews was kind enough to have a chat with us about her entry. Read on below to find out how she developed her story, how she approached dealing with the treatment of such an emotional subject matter, and how she grounded her story in a relatable reality for her readers.

WEbook: Hi Kristy, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your winning submission in our December Challenge: ‘It’s Christmas, Carol’. 

Your story is a sad, but also heart-warming tale that explores themes of love, loss, the strength of family, and of different ways to deal with grief. We see Gertrude, the grandma, smelling of whiskey, the mum who wants to have the perfect Christmas and the daughter who doesn’t quite want to face the day. The story itself is realistic, and by stripping it back to the daily annoyances of life – such as putting on the washing – it becomes not only believable to the reader, but also a very poignant portrayal of how despite the loss of a loved one, the world keeps turning. 

When you were planning this story, did you find yourself drawing on personal experience, or did you use research to inspire you?

Kristy_Matthews: Well, Christmas for me was always an interesting time. My father was in the military, but my parents were divorced. So growing up, I only got one parent to spend it with. Even though grandpa's sisters didn't drink, my aunts were very similar to Aunt Trudy. But I also come from a military family.

My brother was in Afghanistan and while he was over there this scenario has become a very real possibility. I helped my sister raise my nephew while he was over there, the holidays were an emotional mess. I really wanted to reflect on the sacrifice that soldiers have to go through, but also, what their families go through. Especially over the big holidays, it's one of the hardest things for everyone in that situation, and everyone tries to be strong when they don't think they can anymore.

WB: Christmas is a time, traditionally, for family and togetherness. When one of the constants is removed from this experience – in this case the death of the MC’s father - it inevitably creates instability and sometimes fracture within the lives of the people that are left. In your story, you initially distance your MC from the action, before placing her at the forefront. By doing this you hint at these fractures being healed, and create an emotionally satisfying ending to the story for the reader. 

Do you think that it’s important to create these healing moments when writing emotional pieces such as this? If so, why?

KM: I definitely believe that having a healing moment is important. They are there throughout life. Life can go along being absolutely horrible, and I think often times people forget that it's the small things that make it worth it. People forget that the small healing moments in life are essentially what makes it worth it. It makes it way more real, but it also makes it so the piece is readable and you aren't a complete emotional wreck after it's over.

WB: The rebelliousness of your MC seems on first reading to be simply the standard fare of a teenager, but upon a second or a third reading it becomes clear that this is not entirely the case. Firstly, we have the mixing of the dark and light laundry, the threat of them mixing to turn the light dark. Then, we have the black t-shirt she chose to wear – replaced by the green sweater her mother selects, a colour symbolising life – then finally the dark ribbon used as a choker. 

Did you intentionally use these as symbols of the MC’s grief in your story, or was it coincidental?

KM: Well, a lot of these small things are actually experiences I've had with my own mother. I was a very angsty teenager. It was much to my mother's chagrin when I'd mix laundry or try to wear black clothing and heavy makeup to family holidays. Green is her favorite color so often times when she would choose my clothing green is what she'd choose. But I also like the psychology behind colors. Green is a calm color, it's the color of harmony and balance, it symbolizes hope, renewal, peace. And that's exactly what her mother needed at the time. But the dark ribbon and clothing also show that she's depressed and trying to kind of wreak havoc on her mother's emotions to make herself feel better, while trying to express herself and who she is at that point in time.

WB: What kinds of fiction do you usually write? Can you tell us about something you are working on, or maybe something you’ve already finished?

KM: I usually write romance, very woman-oriented books. Right now I'm actually working on something a little bit different. It's called Leap of Faith, and the basic idea behind it is that souls are not tied to any one body or "shell" as they're referred to in the book. So it's about a soul's journey to find the right shell made for it, which only comes about every millennium. It's going to give a lot of insight in the war of what the body and soul want, but also, things like schizophrenia and Deja Vu are explained. I don't want to ruin it, but I definitely look forward to finishing it. I have a good friend who is editing it every time I finish a chapter, then I'm gonna try and get it published because I definitely think that this book will not only be entertaining but might help someone who needs extra inspiration to get through what they're going through.

WB: Who is your favourite writer on WEbook and why?

Favorites are always really hard for me to choose. I don't know if I really have one. I enjoy many people's writing and what they bring to the table. Everyone has a unique view and they express it differently and writing is so beautiful because it shows how that person thinks and feels, you can see their undertones and it really helps you get to know what they're thinking and feeling. I may not have a favorite, per say, but I love everyone's here because I appreciate them for their beautiful uniqueness.

WB: What are your favourite books or authors, and how have they influenced your writing?

KM: Well, right now I'm reading Harry Potter. I love the Harry Potter universe so much and Jo has made such an influence on my life between her writing and what she did to accomplish what she did. But she also is so influential because she started off in a very similar place I did. We both loved to write and young ages, we both lost a parent--not in the same way but still, we've both been in abusive relationships, we both have been in the same financial situation... so looking at her and seeing where she now gives me hope, not only as a reader but as a writer as well. It gives me hope that someone might see my story and love it, and then by some magic I can touch millions of people's lives with my work. I'll probably never be as big as her, but it's definitely my dream to at least touch one person with my work. I also enjoy the Luxe novels, I'm rather obsessed with the American Victorian era. I really just like to read, I love books and the knowledge they can bring but also the fact that you can completely escape into another world because of them.

WB: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us about your winning entry Kristy! We look forwards to reading many more of your entries over the months to come.

If you haven't already had the chance to read Kristy's winning entry in full, you can still find it on WEBook, along with all of the other entries in the challenge. 

Don't forget that the January Challenge: Below the Surface is open to submissions until 31st Jan... 

Good luck!

Happy reading!

Hannah from the WEbook Team

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