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.

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