Sunday, September 29, 2013

Shallow Ways to Create "Deep" Characters

...Or Depth a la the Disney Channel

We all know that shallow characters suck, but who has time to develop the multi-layered characters that are the beating heart of your story?  Well, worry no more.  Simply slap on one of these qualities and fool the masses into thinking your one-dimensional stereotype is a deep and thoughtful individual.  Best of all, it doesn't take any of your precious time, effort, or creativity.  


She's reading a book.  That means she's, like, smart, right?

Why It Works

We like smart people.  What better way to convey intelligence than by handing them a book and maybe a pair of glasses.  If they're a scientist, they can have a lab coat, too.

Why It's Shallow

I have nothing against reading (obviously).  But this is lazy.  A person holding a book at the start of story might not actually display any cleverness, while plenty of people might show intelligence without reading all the time.

How to Deepen It

Rather than handing them a generic book, figure out what they like to read.  Fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.  Fantasy, Scifi, Classics, Modern Literature, Children, Comedy, Mystery, Romance.  History, Biography, Psychology, Self-Help, True Crime, Biology, Physics, Religion, Philosophy.  Pick a few and see what it says about them.  For instance, I once had a tough girl who secretly loved to read Wuthering Heights and a trigger-happy boy who was pretty knowledgeable with history.  Bonus points if their choice of reading material affects the plot.


Braces and glasses?  Please.  And did you see her wardrobe?  What an ugly duckling.

Why It Works

Who hasn't felt ugly from time to time?  It's easy to sympathize with characters who are bullied for their looks. No one thinks its fair to suffer social rejection for something they have no control over.

Why It's Shallow

Very few writers have the guts to write hideous characters.  What we get instead is an average-to-beautiful person, with some frizzy hair or bushy eyebrows lopped in.  Other times writers actually try to sell "skinny," "pale," and "tall," like their faults.  Your character's basically a supermodel.  Stop trying to pretend she's ugly.

How to Deepen It

If you aren't willing to commit to an-honest-to-God ugly character, you have a few options.  First and most obvious, you can drop the issue altogether.  There's nothing wrong with have an average-looking character.  If the character must be a social reject, there could be many reasons, from awkwardness to lack of self-esteem to being different in some way.  More risky, you could make the character an ethnic minority.  She needn't suffer from overt racism, just a standard of beauty she can't hope to meet.


Look at him in his leather jacket.  He's so cool.  He makes his own rules and anyone who tries to stop him gets a swift punch to the face.

Why It Works 

A character who refuses to blend in to society is going to stand out.  And anyone who's ever felt stifled by rules, norms, stupid bureaucracy, or unfair authority figures will appreciate the rebel willing to take them on.

Why It's Shallow

Is your character actually rebelling?  Is he fighting some sort of social oppression?  Or is he just projecting a "cool" attitude, dressing in tough clothes, and making witty remarks at the principle.  And let's say, he does do something rebellious.  Does he face any repercussions for his actions?  Or do all authority figures roll over under his magical rebel powers?

How to Deepen It

First, you as the author should know what he's rebelling against.  It could be some vague idea like middle-class American values or some specific authority figure like an oppressive teacher.  Next consider the cost.  The authority will push back.  How does your character deal with it?  Why rebel at all?  Is there some specific moment in his past that made him decide to push against the power?


Save the whales, you male chauvinist pig!  Free speech for all and down with school uniforms!

Why it Works 

Half the time it doesn't.  The idea behind it, though, is to show that your character cares about something bigger than themselves.  They might be annoying, but how can someone who devotes their live to a cause be shallow?

Why It's Shallow

Certain writers fall into the trap of thinking that giving a character a cause is akin to giving them a personality.  And so an environmentalist dresses like a hippie, holds protests on the weekends, and screams at everyone who forgets to recycle.  Likewise, a Raiders fan wears a jersey at all times, tailgates the games on weekends, and screams at everyone who mentions another team winning.  Both are loud and obnoxious and fanatical.  Loving trees instead of footballs does not prevent the character from being a one-dimensional stereotype.

How to Deepen It

Make the rabid environmentalist a Raiders fan.  Seriously, any kind of life outside their cause adds depth.  


Other girls only care about their hair and makeup.  Not me.  I'm going to leave this one-horse town and make something of myself!

Why It Works

Everyone has a dream.  Who among us hasn't wished to be a teacher or a doctor or an actress or an astronaut?  Who can't relate to the desire to become more than what we are now?

Why It's Shallow

Everyone has a dream--even those "other" girls who seem only to care about their hair and make up.  Anyone can want something.  It's not exactly an extraordinary trait.

How to Deepen It

Having a dream is nothing.  Pursuing a dream is everything.  What do they sacrifice for the dream?  How do they deal with obstacles and disappointments?  Are there any moral lines they will or will not cross to obtain their dream?  These things make up the heart of the character and also the heart of the story.


None of these qualities are bad in and of themselves.  The problem is stopping too soon and not thinking about how these qualities relate to the characters.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Weekly Update: 9/27/13

Two rejections.  One on Monday, one on Friday.  They came so quickly, it almost hurt, as though I'd made some ghastly mistake on my query letter that resulted in it getting tossed in the reject pile.  As to what that mistake might be, I can only speculate, since the rejections are mass-produced.

Intellectually, I know to expect rejections.  All writers get them.  It's a mark of professionalism to get rejected.  Famous authors have stacks of rejection letters.  All well and good.  That doesn't keep me from feeling depressed about it.

I haven't had a good week.

I did get a subbing job on Monday--Japanese--but it was a long day with complicated instructions and I came home tired.  I wrote 7,000 words this week, but the chapter went nowhere and I at last shoved it aside, convinced I'd be better just moving on.  I feel passionless and uninspired.   The house is a mess and so am I.

I think I'll cry and scribble poetry like an angsty teen.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Art of Description

I'm a fiction writer.  But I learned how to write description by living in Japan and boring my family with 10-page long emails about all the new things I encountered.  Practice makes perfect.  Describing nonfiction honed my observational eye, developed my style, and gave me "cheat sheets" of experiences I could pull out later and incorporate into my novel.

So go out into the world and start describing things!


Find Something That Strikes You

If you're bored, your writing will be bland.  If you're enthusiastic, your passion will shine through.

Therefore, chose the subject of your description wisely.

When you describe, start with the thing that strikes you most and why.

If you don't know the reason why it strikes you, keep describing until it comes.

If you finish describing and still don't know, note your emotions and move on.

Description must have a purpose. When you discover the reason the subject captures your interest, you figure out your reason for writing.

Look for Different Angles

When people go on a trip and see an ornate mansion, they first snap a picture of it head-on.   As a result, there are thousands of the same head-on pictures of that ornate mansion.  This is boring.

Artists create interest by looking for different angles.

Writers create interest by describing unexpected details.  A white building is not interesting.  But the chips in the pillars might be.

This does not mean you cannot start with that same head-on shot of that mansion.  Sometimes you need to write down the plain facts.  Just don't stop there.

Be In the Moment

First, be aware of the moment you're in.  Second, try and write it down as soon as you can.

If you are not aware or only half-aware of where you are and what you are doing, nothing will go into your head and what little is in your eye flies out as soon as you see something new.

Pause.  Focus.  Memorize.

If you need to, make a mental checklist of what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, both physically and emotionally.

Taking pictures, making recordings, and writing notes can either enhance the experience or detract from it.  Do not be so busy flying from photo opportunity to photo opportunity that you forget to see what you're taking pictures of.

Better you observe 5 things well than 50 things poorly.

After observing, make space to jot down your experiences.  Do it sooner rather than later.

I find I can remember things for about 2 days without memory aids (pictures, recordings, pamphlets) or 2 weeks without them.  Afterwards, events start to get blurry.

Details First, Narrative Later

Write down everything.

Don't try to sound pretty.  You'll move your focus to your writing and lose whatever it is you're trying to describe.

If you can write down everything and consistently write well at the same time, congratulations.  But this happens rarely.  If you must chose between details and proper syntax, chose details.

Stream of consciousness can be your friend.

Write quick and thoroughly, but also make sure you can read your own writing.  If it's nonsense to the world, you're on the right track.  If it's nonsense to you, you're in trouble.

Re-read your notes soon after you write them.

Re-write your notes, this time focusing on clarity, narrative structure, and logic.  What that means is that if you were to send your description to your mother, she would know what you're talking about.  Form complete sentences.

Pick the Quirkiest Details

Most of the description is superfluous.

Superfluous description weighs down the whole narrative.

Choose only the details you vitally need or you find quirky and interesting.  Something unexpected.  Something which cannot be discerned from a photograph.  Something that ties to your voice or your feelings.

Get rid of all the rest.


Please note: In all of the exercises, seek out the novel, not something you're familiar with.  There's less chance of ennui and you will usually get an emotional boost of coming into something new.  You want something that will spark your enthusiasm.

No Cameras Allowed

You go to a museum and discover that the beautiful art inspires you.  Unfortunately, no photography is allowed.  You want to capture the beauty of these pieces, but all you have is a pen and paper.


Walk around the exhibition, taking in the art.  Find 3-5 exhibits that sparks thought or emotion, pieces you keep coming back to.  Study them again.  Really take in all the details.  Form a picture in your head, then write it in your notebook.

In theory, you have as much time as you need.  In reality, other museum-goers will want to look at the piece, too, so you may have to be quick.  Go back as many times as you need to.

After the museum, go back to your notes.  Can you still form that picture in your head?  Organize your notes so that others can see that same image.  Try to tell a story about it, to make others want to read it.

You can post it on your blog later, if you want.


Details.  You are expanding your observant eye.


If museums bore you, chose any place where you can sit down and observe for a period of time without embarrassment.  A garden is fine. So's a car show.  Whatever gets you going.

The New Restaurant

It's new to you.  Not only have you never been to this restaurant before, they're serving food you're unfamiliar with.  Maybe it's a little upscale.  Maybe it's a little ethnic.  At any rate, you promised your pen pal you'd tell her everything.


Go inside.  Notice the layout of the restaurant, the music, the chatter.   Sit down.  Is your seat comfortable?  Order.  Take in the sights and the smells of the food.  Are you getting hungry?  Or is your stomach roiling for a different reason?

Now how does everything taste?  How are the textures in your mouth?  Does it remind you of something you've eaten before?  Or is it completely new?


Sensory Details.  The more senses you incorporate, the stronger the reader's experience.


If you have dietary troubles, you can try focusing on another kind of unused sense.  Describe a concert.  Go to a perfume store.  Find a petting zoo.

Water Slide

You get to be a kid again.  Climb to the top of the platform.  The wind blows, setting goosebumps to your skin, and the platform wobbles.  As you wait in line, you look down and your stomach churns.

Then it's your turn.  You push off.  Water gets all over your hair.  The tube twists and turns.  You move your body with the curves.  Faster, faster.  You plummet into the foot deep pool with a splash.  Water gets in your ears.  You shake your head.  You stand and stumble for your towel, a huge grin on your face.  Again!


As you recreate the experience of sliding down the water slide, really concentration on your verbs.  Whenever possible use an active verb (push, wobble) instead of a passive one (is, has).


Not all description is static.  Incorporate action into your description, and the reader will feel like they're playing alongside you.


I used a water slide as an example, but really any kind of activity is fine, whether going to a dance or jumping out of an airplane.  Just make sure its something you participate in.  Going to a baseball game is fine, but watching one on T.V. is not.


Description is hard work, but it need not be monotonous. If planning exercises stifles you (as it does me), carry around a pen and notebook and be spontaneous.  Incorporate description into your everyday life--in emails to family, records of fun trips, reviews of restaurants.  This shouldn't be a chore.  Have fun with it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Artifacts from the Junipero Serra Exhibition, Huntington Library

I came to the Huntington Library (actually more of a museum/ bontanical garden) in order to write, but not about this.  When I stepped into the temporary exhibition of "Junipero Serra and the Legacies of the California Mission," I only meant to stroll through and take a few pictures.  But the curator told me no photos, so the only way to capture the exhibition was through old fashioned pen, paper, and fine observation.

This is not a narrative of the history of Juniper Serra, just a description of a few random items that caught my eye.  I'm posting them here because I want to remember them.  As a writer, everything can be story fodder, and I can see these things slipping into my fantasy novel.  And who knows?  Maybe these descriptions will inspire you too.

Historical Note: The 21 white-walled church-towns are California's oldest historical buildings and one of our cultural icons.  Franciscan friar Junipero Serra (1713-1784) established the first 9 Missions, used to convert and "civilize" Native Americans in the area.  Though the intentions of these missionries were good, thousands of their converts perished from disease and much of their culture was lost.  The legacy of Junipero Serra is mixed, but his mark on the state remains irrefutable.


This map shows the town where Junipero grew up, home of 30,000 residents and a thriving Mediterrean trade.  Red-roofed white houses with no space between them cram together in rectangular and triangular bunches, laced together by narrow disorderly streets.  The wall holds the city in.  It curves and juts, ragged, like the edge of an oyster.  But I recognize the strategy in such a design, trapping invaders into corridors, angling guns and cannons at them.  The cannons are so small I almost miss them--as big as the white stripe of a thumbnail.  There are tiny palm trees along the one fat road and windmills outside the walls.  A grey cathedral made of sloping vertical lines sits close to the wharf, and the wharf pokes sword-like into the sea.  There are check points close to the tip of the blade.  Galleons sail the blue se, the water around them like white puffs of cloud.

"Sacristy Cabinet"

It's just a cabinet about three feet high used to store sacrements important to the Catholic mass.  Yet to me, it's like a treasure chest.  The sacred objects--chalice and monstrace--sit in a display nearby.  The chalice and monstrance are made of gold and have the curvy ornate bases of Victorian candleholders or lamps.  The chalice ends modestly as a normal-sized cup, but the monstrance explodes into a spiky sun, twice as tall as its brother.  I have no idea what its for.  The chalice and monstrance both appear as a relief on the cabinet's door.  Above them are carvings of twisty vines and red flowers.  The sacristy cabinet is very old.  Tiny holes where insects once burrowed flecks the wood, and the paint looks waxy, like a child has scribbled on it with a melty crayons.

"Soldier and Wife"

They are sketched with pen on yellow paper no bigger than a To-Do list.  1791.  The soldier is young.  He has no beard and his face is freckled.  He wears a black hat, pants and a jacket, and a long leather vest over his jacket which the information panel tells me is for deflecting arrows.  His leather vest/jacket reminds me of a fitted poncho.  I look at him and see a Flamenco costume without the exaggeration.  It think of Latin culture and I wonder if this was part of its origin.  His wife, by contrast, seems far more colonial.  White cap, buckle shoes, bodice and skirt, sleeves tied with ribbons at the elbows ending in a long ruffle.

There are other military artifacts are nearby.  At first I think the shriveled, sun-warped leather thing is a breastplate but turns out to be a shield.  Hints of green and red flirt with the tan of the leather, but most of the coloring's long worn off.  A second soldier carries his shield on his horse's neck.  He's older.  He has a mustache and his uniform is colored.  Its dark blue and big at the leg and torso.  Do layers of armor account for the bulge or is this soldier merely fat?  He sports the same black hat as the unhorsed soldier, but his leather vest goes only to mid waist.  He wears a black pouch, some precursor to the fanny pack.  There's red trim on his hat, cuffs, and collar.  There's a giant spur hanging off the foot loops of his saddle.  He carries a long spear horizontal.  A pistol is strapped to the back of the saddle, but it's so small I nearly overlooked it.

"Adelante/ Onward"

A modern portrait of Junipero Serra done in oils, comissioned by the Catholic church, 1988.  Jagged streaks of sunset crimson paint the sky.  It's the same color red as a tiny rose tucked in the corner.  Junipero wears black robes, and his features are dark, but his skin glows golden, as does the crucifix around his neck.  So much red and black and gold makes me think of fire.  Not hellfire, but rather the forest fires that sweep the mountains each summer.  California is burning, but this is a normal thing, a natural thing, a thing necessary for rebirth.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Weekly Update: 9-20-13

I finally sent out the first 5 query letters, and when it was done, I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

The process took me more time than expected.  The actual act of researching agents, writing individual queries, and editing the first 5-50 pages took forever.  It deceived me by making me think I was close to finishing.  It took me an entire day to write a summary for my book and I thought it was good.  But as I looked at other query letters, I decided my summary needed a stronger hook, so I spent another two days re-writing it.  Then I wrote unique paragraphs for each agent.  Then I re-wrote my summary again.  Then I redid the introduction.

This Thursday I decided my letters were fine, and I was all set to submit.  But as I looked at my sample pages, I realized that the conversion from the Pages App on my iPad to Microsoft Word inexplicably screwed up the formatting.  The line spacing went crazy and random indentations disappeared.  Correcting all these minor errors ate up another hour and a half.

All the while an anxious cry in the center of my chest urged me to watch T.V., write my story, do dishes--anything but send the letters in.  I had--and still have--this sense that my life will change, whether I'm ultimately accepted or rejected.  The weak part of me cries that I'm not ready.  That it's easier to sit and do nothing.  I know I can't just stay static, but I'm terrified of moving into the unknown.

Today I had everything ready.  In the most bored, cut-and-dry way possible, I cut and pasted my query letter and sample pages onto emails, checking nothing beyond the spelling of the name.  I pressed send and that was that.  Am I ready for rejection or even (hope beyond hope) acceptance?  Not really.  But now I have no choice but to face my fears and move forward.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book Review: The Skinjacker Trilogy

Title: Everlost (Book 1 of The Skinjacker Trilogy), Everwild (Book 2 of The Skinjacker Trilogy), and Everfound (Book 3 of The Skinjacker Trilogy)
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, YA


A white Toyota slams into a black Mercedes, and just like that, Nick and Allie are dead.  But something happens on their way to the light.  Their souls collide, and they spin into Everlost, a parallel dimension hovering on the border between life and death.  Here, child ghosts wander through deadspots--destroyed places that have "crossed over" into Everlost--and Skinjackers possess humans to remember what it felt like to be alive.

To Mary Hightower, Everlost is the only eternal place, more real than the living world.  It is her duty to gather and nurture new souls, like Allie and Nick.  But Allie doesn't trust Mary.  Plunging headfirst into a world of monsters and secrets, Allie and Nick soon learn that all is not what it seems and sometimes those souls with the best intentions may be the ones to destroy the world.


Although Everlost exists parallel to the living world, it might as well be its own realm.  Like any well-built fantasy, the protagonists must learn the rules of their new world, develop their powers, and confront villains who wish to dominate and destroy. Since I write epic fantasy, this is all in my wheelhouse and I have to say I found it greatly amusing.  Though the point of view was third person omniscient, the author mostly kept inside the character's head, drifting away only to offer key bits of explanation to the audience.  This allowed the book to run at a fast pace.

I, personally, judge an author by the quality of their villains, and Mr. Shusterman writes them just the way I like: full of empathy.  The antagonists may do horrible things, but they never lose their humanity.  In the end, they're tragic figures, presented with the choice of changing or clinging to what they think they desire.  Some crossover to become heroes, while others lose themselves forever.

Allie and Nick both find love--but surprisingly not with each other.  Their separate romantic arcs illustrate the power and limitations of love and its ability to change people.  I'm picky with my love stories, but these two hit all my favorite buttons.  The romance strengthened the characters rather than weakened them and did not take away from the plot.  The emphasis was on emotional (and dare I say spiritual) connection rather than physical.  A bittersweet edge ran through the romance, for as pure as the love might be, when your characters are ghosts, you know happily ever after is out.

The Skinjacker Trilogy hits all my preferences right on the nose, so how can I help but to recommend it?  It's a weird, fun, and solid adventure series from Neal Shusterman, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Weekly Update: 9-13-13 (Cruise)

Four friends from high school opted for a 4-day cruise off the coast of California.  Carnival's Inspiration took us to Catalina Island and Ensenda and back to Long Beach.  We dined and danced, watched shows, listened to live music, swam and sunbathed, and took about a million pictures a piece.

Best Food: Jamaican Pork.  It was spice-encrusted, tender, and meaty.  The sweet potato mash complicated it perfectly.  I also liked the martini-brased fish, spicy alligator fritters, and not-too-sweet souffle.

Best Drink: Raspberry Margarita.  The funny thing was that I drank it before I even got on the ship, during a Bon Voyage Party at a Mexican Restaurant around Pomona.  The drink was sweet and fruity with just enough alcohol for me.

Best Activity: (Tie) Laughing with all my friends at the stand-up routine of Doug Williams while drinking a virgin pina colada.  Also, whizzing down the "Twister" water slide.  I found that if I pushed off fast, lowered my head, and tilted with the curves, I could make good speed down the blue and orange tubes before hitting the water with a splash.

Best Excursion: La Bufadora Blow Hole in Ensenada, Mexico.  The natural phenomom is named after the sound it makes, which is like a buffalo's snort.  The ocean rushes into a cove, the buffalo rumbles, and a spray of fine mist shoots straight up in your face.  Awesome.

Best Spontaneous Moment: Eating lunch on the ship while docked at Catalina Island and seeing pods of dolphins swimming everywhere.  It was so spontaneous I didn't even have my camera.

Overall Impression: It was nice to feel taken care of, to not have to worry about planning meals or doing chores or answering emails or researching activities.  My friends and I got to play like kids without a care in the world.  It was a good time.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Weekly Update: 9/6/13 (Accomplishment)

I woke up this morning thinking of accomplishment and delayed gratification of it.  Each day I mentally tabulte my tasks that I need to accomplish for the day and how it feeds in to the weekly goals which in turn feeds into my quater goals.  (Any further in time and the goals start to look fuzzy.)  If I don't accomplish anything, I feel squirmy inside, like I'm falling behind.

The problem is, when starting a new story, you don't have much solid to show.  It's one thing to have a finished chapter, even if the draft is lousy.  Then you can at least say, "Look, I did this!  It's proof I'm not just slacking off."  But it's a little harder for me to justify, to myself, reading my previous work and taking notes, because then all I have is a sloppy mess of scribbles you can't turn into Teacher.  No matter that this is where most ideas come from.  For some reason, it just doesn't count.

The trap of accomplishment very nearly knocked me off my horse this week when I began work on my second novel.  I was so eager to get something on the page, I didn't bother to read my previous draft.  Always read your drafts!  Even if you cringe at how horrible they are, at least they have ideas in them and it is far easier to work with a bad idea than to come up with something original off the top of your head.  I knew this--I'd written blog entries on this.  But I was so consumed with the thought of getting a quota of page numbers down (as if to make up for my summer laziness) that I neglected this vital step.  It wasn't until hours later when I threw my hands up in disgust at the dribble I was forcing out, that I turned to the draft I had--and that's when the ideas started flowing.

In addition to Novel 2, I've also had a residency to apply to, query letters to write, a new chapter for my Coffin story, family get togethers, and preparation for my cruise next week.  As of now, I've accomplished the residency and that's it.  I've done the work, but it just hasn't come together just yet and the week is waning.  Once I leave my house, I leave my work behind.  Everything needs to be settled, but it's not, and so I've got this nagging anxiety in the back of my mind that if I don't hurry up and finish, I get a big fat F for the week.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fiction: Singing the Blues

Blue eyes stared at me.

At first, I thought I must hallucinating.  Hours I'd clung to my life buoy, watching the sky go from pitch black to gray, watching every other passenger succumb to exhaustion and slip beneath the waves.  Now, with my teeth chattering and my limbs numb, a girl's face appeared, fresh-faced and curious.  Her hair was slicked back and her lips were red and she reminded me of a supermodel.  For a moment, I thought I'd drifted into a photo shoot.

Then she dived into the water, and I saw the flick of a fish's tail.


I wanted to laugh.  When I was a girl, I used to be obsessed with mermaids.  It was one of my many magical phases, along with fairies and unicorns.  Now I'd seen one, and I was dying.

I could no longer feel my fingers but they must have given way.  My head sank under the ocean.  I tried to kick.  I failed.  Above me, squiggles of yellow dawn broke the surface of the waves, beautiful enough to make my heart squeeze.  This is the last thing I'll ever see.  I sobbed and salt water rushed into my mouth.


I don't know what happened after that.  All I remember is darkness and pain.  The pain started in my lungs, but soon blossomed over every part of my body.  It felt like millions of pins carefully skewering each one of my nerves, inside and out.  I screamed.  Pain blotted out all conscious thought.  White lights danced before my eyes and I clawed at them.

I woke up.

My head rested on sand, a strand of floating hair tickled my cheek.  As my eyelashes fluttered against the light, I opened my mouth to take a breath.  I tasted salt.  That's when I  realized I was still submerged.  I pushed up with my hands and my head broke the surface of the water.

I was alive, stranded on an island with white sand beaches and gentle waves that pushed foam upon the shore.  The burning in my lungs had receded.  I felt strong again, strong and alive, and I wanted to laugh and cry and thank God all at once.  But when I opened my mouth, all that came out was a single bell-clear note, like the vocal stylings of a pop diva's solo.

Then I noticed the tail.

It was white as ivory and with long spiky fins.  I poked the tail, felt the roughness of the scales beneath my finger.  I couldn't believe this white thing protruding from my waist was mine.  I must be hallucinating again.  Stand up, I told my legs, but the tail only flopped and thrashed.

A girl in the water nearby clung to a boulder, slowly hoisting herself up, like a foal on slippery new legs.  My legs.  I recognized the scar on one, where I fell on a piece of broken bottle.  What's happening? I wanted to scream.  Only music came out, sweeter than any sound a human could make, and it filled my soul with horror.

The girl looked at me.  Her eyes were blue.

* * *

Author's Note:  This was originally a 10-minute prompt from my writer's club, using different colors to tell a story.  I cleaned it up and expanded it for this blog.  Couldn't think of a good title, though.