On Storytelling

I stumbled across a list of storytelling tips from Emma Coats, based on her time working at Pixar. Good reading. I need to get better at #7.

The Jackal Girl (trailer fragment)


The steady breathing of a large animal is heard as it races through the forest underbrush, weaving in and out among the trees.


Some things should not exist.


Ramona, 21, plain, tall, and slender, walks down the dark hall in her pajamas.  She slowly pushes open the door to her grandmother’s room. The lit bedside table lamp reveals an old woman lying in her bed, dead.

The door opens further to reveal the dead woman’s ghostly form standing beside the bed, staring down at the corpse. The ghost turns from the bed and reaches an incorporeal hand toward Ramona.


Some things exist whether we choose to believe in them or not.


A rental car with out-of-state plates is pulled off onto what little shoulder there is of the forest road.  Two men exit the car: Eamon, a large, red-headed man appearing to be in his fifties, and Ciarán, a tall young man appearing about twenty-five.

(inhales deeply, shutting the driver door)

She’s close.

(eyes unfocused, listening as if with a sixth sense)

I can feel her.

In the forest, the large animal lets out a whine, its breath more labored now.

(eyes coming back into focus; quietly)

She’s frightened.

Written for the writing prompt, The Movie Trailer.

Copyright © 2011 Jennifer A. Liss

Stopping to Ask for Directions

It’s becoming clear that I’m using the story, characters, and relationship dynamics in Jackal as a way to work things out in my personal life. I’ve gotten too close to this project, which is preventing me from getting any farther. I don’t wish to file Jackal away in my ever-growing story file. At the same time, I’m learning about works that deal with a similar premise of seeing the dead or interacting with the dead (I recently started watching Dead Like Me, which is an excellent show thus far). Sure, my story is different but I don’t want to wear out a premise that already has quite a bit of treatment lately in recent print, TV and movies because heaven knows, that if I wished to do so, I’d begin crafting a story about vampires. If I’m going to carry on with Jackal, it better be able to offer something different.

I’m considering utilizing the aid of a plot generator, much as Star has previously mentioned using (Star, if you’re reading this, do you still have that link handy? I muddled around your archives but couldn’t find it). It’s a rather backwards way to do things (ideally, you use a plot generator FIRST) and I don’t know if I’ll be able to let certain plot specifics go in order to accommodate new ones. On the other hand, using such a tool may help give me some direction. Even if it only acts as a spring board, it will be well worth trying.

Unfortunately, writing will have to wait for the moment, as I focus on moving the Starrynight website off of a CMS.

Details, Details

Found this rotting in my Drafts folder:

A self-sequestered night at Owen Valley Flooring while Russell worked at the drive-in a few months ago proved to be productive. I did some more exploring of Ramona’s character. I’m good about getting character traits but not always good about translating those into physical choices. Car or public transit? If a car, is this car fun? Fuel efficient? Merely operational? Sometimes, details help paint a better picture of the character. If I tell you that she loves funky hats, you may already have an idea of who she is or even what she looks like. Incidentally, Ramona doesn’t like hats at all and she rarely bothers with accessories, much to her best friend’s chagrin. Sketching out such details helped me discover who Ramona is. She’s not fussy. She prefers to keep things simple. She’s a little lazy. She’s unhappy because she’s static. She isn’t growing as a person and her friends aren’t helping her in this matter.

It was a little bizarre figuring out when she was born and what kind of culture she grew up in. She would have been roughly 5 or 6 when Pinky and the Brain first aired. She is of generation that always had cell phones (and her mom insisted that she have one when she was quite young, even though Ramona didn’t use it much until later in high school). I also found out more about her family dynamic and how this might affect relationships in the future.

Note to self: don’t ignore the details.


Whoa, BEDA 7! The excerpt below was written this afternoon in a rush, so please forgive the roughness. I wrote this as a way to get to know Ramona and Ciarán better. I learned a few new things about Ramona. Ciarán, however, is holding out on me. I still don’t hear his accent in my head, which isn’t helping. Apologies to anyone reading this who has NO idea what the back story is but maybe that is better…

Continue reading “Veils”

In Which She Learns More Wiki Markup

I’ve been working on beefing up wiki entries on all things Jackal, since I have been stewing on numerous points that really need to be written down somewhere that is not loose bits of paper or forgotten GoogleDocs.

I got stuck when trying to frame out a timeline, so I let it be for the moment in favor of working on some of the rules for the universe I’m writing. I needed to figure out veils and gates and parallel realities, mythology and folklore from a variety of sources (ancient Egyptian, shape-shifting lore from all over) and, most importantly, the human dimension that will make this whole thing work. Once I started hashing out these background details, the big plot pieces that were troubling me started to fall into place. Ah hah!

So, even with clean up and additions to the wiki, I am happy to report that I have much, much more to add. It’s almost as if I’m beginning to get somewhere.

How to Break a Heart

I realized it as I talked out the relationship between characters with Tim yesterday: Ramona has to hurt Ciarán. Badly. That will not be fun to write. Not sure of the when or how yet. Ro just doesn’t have the life experience or maturity that Ciarán has, especially in the romantic relationship department.

I’m trying to ignore the love interest for the moment and focus on what Ro will be going through physically and psychologically. Will Ro be willing to entertain a relationship when she is spending so much of her energy focusing on not turning into a giant black jackal and eating* half the town? She isolates herself to protect those around her from the monster that she feels she is.

Also, Ro has to relearn her body. She looks taller (she’s already about 5’9) when in fact she has grown more wiry, even though she’s eating like crazy. Her senses are altered, her hormones and cycle get out of normal sync. She’s restless and she is often disoriented by sudden, unpredictable flashes of the veil. Romance isn’t the first thing on her mind and Ciarán is fully aware of this and gives her space- but Eamon may not…

Still working on really reasoning out the practicals of being a human/jackal/quasi-mythical creature. Not sure about a lot of the laws of this universe yet.

*Ro’s imagination gets away with her- Jackals don’t eat people!


Lately, the only chatter on this blog has been housekeeping-related or private (only because those posts were more very specific notes-to-self and incoherent). So I thought I’d update.

I haven’t done any writing although I did some more character sketching over the holiday break (although sadly, I did this on paper so I will have to get that onto the wiki at some point). I fleshed out Ciarán’s background and pondered over relationships some more. I think it will be a challenge getting Ramona’s family dynamic just right, especially if I decide to go with the ‘stolen child’ plot line, à la Irish (and other cultures’) tales of children being spirited away.

I’ve also found that the tone is evolving. At first, there was a strictly fantasy/adventure feel, then horror, and, most recently, a fairytale-like quality. This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially since practically nothing has been written yet. Up until now tone wasn’t something I was even thinking about.

In an attempt to find some inspiration, I’ve been referring to books from Russell’s library as well as IU library to do some research on ancient Egyptian ideas about the afterlife. I have lots of flagged chapters to skim through when I have a free moment.


I forgot to follow up on my previous post on character naming woe (a minor woe in comparison to the ‘crap, I have writer’s block’ woe or the ‘crap, my laptop died and my novel is gone’ woe). Ciarán finally has a surname: McDonagh.

So why did I get so excited about a surname anyway? Finding a surname meant localizing Ciarán, which is very important for determining his speech pattern. Ciarán hails from the West of Ireland (still deciding on where exactly). The farther west you go in Ireland, the more likely it is that you will cross into the Gaeltacht, areas of Ireland were the primary language spoken is Gaelic. Now that I know what general area Ciarán is from, I can begin looking into dialects hailing from Connacht. I’ll be much happier when Ciarán has a voice. I won’t know him until he does.

I’m enjoying going through the photos, maps and travel journals from my trips to Ireland. Research can be just as fun as the actual writing.

No NaNo

I decided not to tackle NaNoWriMo. I was secretly considering participating this year but, with most of my evenings in the month of October being eaten up by Rocky Horror Show, I didn’t have time to prepare an outline for Jackal. I’ve made the mistake before of writing without an outline. Some people may work fine without one but not me! Also, Russell and I recently decided that we will be vacationing at the end of the month, which would eat up 10 days- a quarter of the time allotted to reach 50K words.  Meh, maybe next year.

Good luck and happy writing to those who are participating!

A Word from the Oh Crap Department

Ciarán finally has a surname. A Google search reveals that my character shares his name with a long-running UK soap opera character who was created a few years ago.

Jackal character: Ciarán MacCarthy
Coronation Street character: Ciaran McCarthy

Head. Wall. Bang.

I really like both the meaning (Ciarán means ‘little dark one’ and MacCarthy means ‘loving person’) and the sound of this name. I had already planned on using ‘Mac’ instead of ‘Mc’ but it’s still probably too similar.  Should I revert to the Gaelic ‘Mac Carthaigh’ or find another surname entirely?

I’m resisting now but I’ll probably end up finding another surname. I don’t want to have to deal with readers’ previous association with this name.