Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Goals Wrap-Up and December Goals

November is coming to a close and December is just a few hours away. As I do each month, I'm reflecting back on the writing goals I set for myself to see how I measure up against them and am working to set new goals for the upcoming month.

Here were my November goals:

1) Write 50,000 words of new fiction. - Done. Total for the month in all was right around 63,000 words of new fiction, 90% of which was my NaNoWriMo first draft.
2) Complete ("win") NaNoWriMo. - Also done.
3) Keep my regular blogging schedule. - As of this posting, done. I tried some new things this month on the blog, not all of them worked as well as I would have hoped (RIP, "Call & Response" Flash Fiction series...) but I kept to my schedule without missing a beat.
4) Write at least one short story of 1000 or more words. - Done. I wrote a few flash pieces during November but also wrote a new 3000 or so word mystery short story which was reviewing by a critique partner, revised, and submitted.

So, four for four. I feel good about that, though I do think that the blog content this month was a bit skimpier than it had been in prior months.

And now, my goals for December...

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Adrift" First Draft Complete

So here I am. Just a tiny bit under 28 days since NaNoWriMo started here in Ohio, and I've typed the last words on the first draft (very much a first draft!) of "Adrift," the working title for the project I chose for NaNo this year.

Honestly, I think I'm in a bit of a daze. Before a few months back, the longest thing I'd ever written was a roughly 9,500 word long mystery story (technically, I suppose, a novelette per "prize" definitions which tend to cut off "short story around 7,500 words). I started in late-summer/early-fall on a very half-baked novel idea which I honestly have no idea if I'll ever go back to.

But, you know, if I hadn't made that first attempt a couple of months back, I doubt I'd be sitting here typing these words now.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Links: November 27, 2011 Edition

So, Thanksgiving weekend is winding down as is November. Those still working on getting to their 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo have a few days left. Those not yet started on their Christmas shopping have under a month to go.

A quick plug before getting to the rest of the links -- I've kept entries open for the third round of my "Call and Response" Flash Fiction prompt contest through 5 PM EST Monday 11/28, so as I write this there are about 25 hours left to enter, if you're interested in doing so.

Without any further ado, plugging, or delaying, on to this week's links!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "God Bless" by Barbara Westwood Diehl

Welcome to the new installment of my Dissecting the Short Story series. This week's entry is a timely one, being for a story set around the holiday season. As with all entries in this series, my intention here is to look at a story which was sold to a pro-rate fiction market, generally one of the large digest magazines, and see what we -- as writers -- can learn from it.

I thought this was a fantastic story and one which went in directions I would not have expected before reading it. If you have a copy of this magazine, it might be worth your time to read this one before reading my notes below.

"God Bless" by Barbara Westwood Diehl
Published in:
January, 2012 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
Approximate Length:
2500 words
Third Person, Chronological (Well, pretty much...)
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Call & Response" Flash Fiction Prompt Contest Deadline Extended

With the holiday week, I'm going to extend the deadline for this Iteration of the "Call and Response" Flash Fiction prompt contest to Monday 11/28 at 5 PM EST. So, if you meant to enter and forgot, feel free to jump in. If there are no entrants by the new deadline, I'll cancel this iteration and see if it makes sense to try again, maybe once a month instead of every other week.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Week "Dissecting the Short Story" Preview

We've been very busy with Thanksgiving prep today along with other things, so I'm going to keep this really brief (and just get it in under the wire for Wednesday, to boot).

This week's "Dissecting the Short Story" entry will be for the story "God Bless" by Barbara Westwood Diehl from the January 2012 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you have the issue and would like to read along, now is the time.

On the NaNoWriMo front, I'm up to nearly 44,000 words and I did manage to get my 500-word minimum in for the day and for my Seinfeld Chain.

For those celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday I hope that it is a wonderful and safe day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Carrie Cuinn Interview

Not that this is really "news", but one of the great things about the internet is the way it allows people to come together and communicate quickly and easily. Earlier this year, after posting the first in my "Dissecting the Short Story" series, I contacted Dave Zeltserman and asked if he would be interested in talking about the story and my thoughts on it. He agreed to do so and my interview with him appeared on the blog shortly after the original post on the story.

This time it's Carrie Cuinn who has agreed to discuss her story, my thoughts on it, and the writing life in general. I greatly appreciate her taking the time to discuss this, as I know she's very busy with both her own writing and her work as a small-press publisher.

Michael Haynes: You've already talked a bit about how the general idea for "Call Center Blues" came to you in your author notes published on the Daily Science Fiction site. As far as the specifics, was the story essentially fully formed in your mind before you started writing it or did you start with the basic idea and see where it took you?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Links: November 20, 2011 Edition

I haven't talked about progress on my November goals explicitly yet this month, so I figured this was a good time to do so.

1) Write 50,000 words of new fiction. Well on my way. I'm over 40,000 total words for the month with 10 days remaining. If I somehow fail at this one, it would be a shock.
2) Complete ("win") NaNoWriMo. I noted when I set these goals that 1 and 2 were sort of counterparts with 1 being a bit of a "safety net" in case I something went truly awry with my NaNo project. I'm over 70% done with the official NaNo objective now. Again, it would take some monumental collapse for me to not reach this goal.
3) Keep my regular blogging schedule. On pace. If I choose to skip a post or two over the holiday weekend, I don't think I'll count that against myself, though I'll still note it in my month-end wrapup.
4) Write at least one short story of 1000 or more words. Done as of yesterday. I'd written several flash fictions earlier in the month, but nothing lengthier in the short fiction realm.

So, unless anything really bad happens in the next week and a half, I should meet all of these goals. I'm really very happy about this, since I wasn't sure I would be able to both write 51,000 or more words of fiction in a month and keep up blogging regularly.

One other thing I'd like to mention before I get to the links. The recently-completed Platform-Building Campaign run by Rachael Harrie included three challenges. Regular readers of this site will know that I wrote a flash fiction for each challenge and that the 2nd and 3rd both were awarded 8th place out of over 100 entries. One of the other campaigners, Katharina Gerlach, worked with many of the writers of responses to the three challenges and got permission to use their entries in a collection which is currently on sale with the proceeds going to charity. One caveat, I have not vetted the charity to which the funds are going. I trust that it's a good one, but if you want to validate that, by all means do so.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Call & Response Flash Fiction Request for Prompts (Iteration 3)

Yesterday I posted the flash fiction which ended Iteration 2 of the "Call & Response" series on my blog, "Abandoned Items."

Every other Friday (when I'm not posting a "Dissecting the Short Story" post) I'll publish a new short story, definitely under 1000 words, often under 500 words. The twist that gives the series its name is that each story will be based on a writing prompt supplied by one of my readers.

Every other Saturday I'll post a new request for prompts. The prompt can be anything at all. It can be a photo, a concept, a few words. Whatever. People will have until Noon Eastern Time on Thursday to submit their prompts. Thursday night/Friday morning I'll announce the winning prompt from among those posted. The following Friday I'll post the story inspired by the prompt.

So, start submitting your prompts right now. They're due by Noon on Thursday November 24th (Thanksgiving for my US readers) and I'll announce the winner that night or Friday the 25th. Finally, I'll publish the resulting story right here on my blog on Friday December 2nd.

As a reminder the person who submitted the prompt which I select will receive a $5 Amazon gift card as a prize for having a great prompt.

The fine print: All rights to the story created based on the prompt will be held by the author of the story. The $5 prize is only available to people with an Amazon account to which I can send the prize electronically. I reserve the right to add more fine print to future versions of this activity if I feel the need to do so. (Though I sorely hope I don't need to.) There are no guarantees that I will continue to run this activity beyond the currently-posted Request for Prompts. (Though I sorely hope that it will be fun for us all and that I will want to do so.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Abandoned Items" (Call & Response Flash Fiction #2)

Hello and welcome to the second installment of my "Call and Response" Flash Fiction series where my readers suggest prompts and I write a story based on my favorite prompt. This week, the prompt was a photo by Nellie -- I've cropped the photo to the part of it that grabbed my attention, the image of a rose in the snow.

Photo courtesy of Nellie

And now, the story...

Abandoned Items

She hurls the flower away and it lands in the snow. It looks absurd lying there, bright red against dirty slushy brown.
"He's a jerk," I tell her. Truth be told, some days I think he's pretty cool, but I know it's what she wants to hear. And he certainly has acted like a jerk to her recently.
She responds with a comment which is both vulgar and unlikely, given that she has broken up with him that morning. The rose was his attempt to get back in her good graces. He left it on her doorstep in a little vase. I know because I drove her home, like I've driven her home every night after practice this week. Romeo and Juliet. She plays Juliet, I play the the nurse. Thanks goodness he isn't playing Romeo. Can you imagine it? Awkward!
She takes one last puff from her cigarette and it too gets tossed to the ground. "OK, I've got to get inside. Barcus gave us a crapload of calculus homework for tomorrow. You drive safely. I'll see you at school tomorrow."
We hug briefly. She pulls away and gives a little wave before going up the steps to her porch and into her house.
It's cold and quiet. The suburban side street has only parked cars, no one is around, not even the seemingly-ubiquitous dogwalkers. No one is watching.
I pick the discarded rose up from the ground. I'll take it home with me, put it in some water, set it on my nightstand. It will look beautiful for a few days before it withers. This will suffice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Persistence

Tuesday night I did not want to write. My shoulder hurt, I was tired, and we'd just watched (another) frustrating defeat of the local Columbus Blue Jackets.

In and of itself, not wanting to write one evening wouldn't be an awful thing. But I hadn't been able to devote lunch time to writing on Tuesday either. So, I was facing the prospect of either getting down to writing anyway or having to use my "mulligan" in my Seinfeld Chain. That's something I haven't done yet. In fact, I had noted on Monday that with 30 days in September, 31 in October, and 14 so far in November that I had a 75-day chain of writing 500 words or more every day.

The more I thought about using my mulligan, I really didn't want to do it. What if I ended up really sick one day and couldn't even get out of bed? I'd regret having using my mulligan just because I was feeling kind of tired and achy one night.

Tackling my NaNo project right then seemed daunting, though. So I said "Well, I've got a flash fiction to be writing for Friday, from Nellie's prompt. I guess I'll start on that." And I did that and when I wrapped up the first draft of that I was at 400 words and change.

If I was the type of person to say "Fiddlesticks", then I'm sure that's what I would have said at that point. But, stubbornly, I opened up my NaNo project. After all, how hard could it be to add 100 words to it and hit my 500. I could do that in just a few minutes. And an hour later I had another 1000 words on my project including some stuff I really like.

So I ended up with a first draft of a flash fiction and 2% of my NaNo work for the month. All because I didn't want to break my chain. No, this method won't work for everyone. But it's worked really well for me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Four Things NaNoWriMo Has Taught Me (So Far)

Monday afternoon I passed the 25,000 word mark and then some on my NaNoWriMo project. So, I'm more than halfway to "winning" NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words for my work in progress. This is now by a fairly large margin the longest thing I've ever written. Before a couple of months ago, my longest ever work was a short story (more technically perhaps a novelette) of just under 10,000 words. I got about 18-20,000 words into a novel project in late-summer/early-fall before I stalled out on it for the time being.

Still, the longest completed work of mine remains that 10,000-ish word story. At this point, I'm estimating that the novel I'm working on, which I currently am calling "Adrift," will end up around 60,000 words. So by that measure I still have more than 50% of the work to go on the first draft. It's a daunting task, but I'm encouraged by the progress that I've made so far.

Thinking about the last two weeks' worth of writing, here are four things I've learned about my own creative process as a result of NaNoWriMo along with some comments on how other writers might look into the same aspects of their process.
  1. I have a limit. For me, this is about 4,000 words in a writing session. Once I've gotten that much written, which probably means about 3-4 hours straight of composing (along with the occasional Twitter break and suchlike), I'm done. I feel tired, I feel unfocused, and I don't want to write another word. Even if I'm in the middle of a key scene, I have to take a break. I suspect that most writers have some similar limits, though I also know there are some who can write many more words in a session. The important lesson here for me is that trying something like "The 3 Day Novel" probably isn't even worth considering for me. I'd be miserable when I was done. The other key takeaway for me is that I can't let myself fall too far behind in NaNoWriMo this year or any other because I'd only be up to so much "catching up."
  2. I work well when I have a plan. Yes, it's the famous "plotter" versus "pantser" discussion. I'm now firmly convinced that I'm a plotter. That doesn't mean that I don't end up going down paths I didn't originally expect in my writing. There have been several developments in my NaNo project that I either didn't expect or that presented themselves in an unplanned way (even if the development itself was planned). Granted, I've still got a lot further to go, but with my 2200 or so words of notes that I made in October (perfectly "legal" for NaNo) I feel much more confident about the path forward. The important thing for other writers here would be to be aware of what writing style works best for you. If you are sure you're a pantser, you probably aren't going to be happy plotting. If you're like me, and are sure you like plotting, don't go off willy-nilly into a long project and expect it to work out well.
  3. Having a support group is important to me. In fairness, I had already sort of learned this before NaNoWriMo, but it's become even more obvious during these last two weeks. There are people on Twitter who I have done multiple word-sprints with throughout the month to-date. We've frequently sought each other out to see if we were available to urge each other on. I've had some very productive sessions during these word-sprints.
  4. It's okay to not fill in all the blanks right away. I tend to write in a very linear fashion, starting at the beginning of the text and ending at the completion. Here, there have been several times it made sense for me to make a note about something I would want to research in more detail later and move on. These weren't things that had an impact on the plot where I would be likely to have a problem if my research led me to an unpleasant surprise, and it let me keep moving forward with the first draft. Would I advise doing this with a key plot point? No. But if it's a bit of period "texture" detail, I think it's just fine to make a note about what you want to research and move on.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year or have you done it in the past? What has it taught you?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Links: November 13, 2011 Edition

We're getting closer to the holiday season and, for me at least, that means that things are getting really hectic in my life. That plus NaNoWriMo has equaled a few frustrating days recently where I just didn't feel like I had enough minutes. I'm very grateful that I had a good writing day yesterday, pulling well ahead of pace on my NaNo project as today looks like a day where I'm not going to get much done at all on the writing front.

Without any further rambling, on to this week's links!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "Call Center Blues" by Carrie Cuinn

Welcome to the new installment of my Dissecting the Short Story series where every other Friday I look at a recently-published short story from a major genre fiction publication. This time, I'm doing something a little different. The story being examined this week is one published by Daily Science Fiction, a pro-rate publication whose stories are all made available to read on-line for free.

"Call Center Blues" by Carrie Cuinn
Published in:
November 2nd, 2011 Daily Science Fiction
Approximate Length:
900 words
First Person, Chronological
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winning Prompt and Honorable Mention

The winning prompt for the second Iteration of my Call & Response Flash Fiction series was provided by scribblingpencil/Nellie. Thank you for participating -- I'm already thinking about ideas for a story based off your prompt!

The story based on her prompt will be published on Friday November 18th. I'll then be issuing a new call for prompts on Saturday November 19th, so if you want to participate in that round, start thinking about what you might want to prompt me with!

I received a bit of good news in the mail today. Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine runs a monthly contest to write a story (250 words or fewer) based off a photographic prompt. The winner gets their story published and is paid $25. I was not the winner for their October 2011 contest but I am one of the Honorable Mentions for that month's entries. There's no publication or money associated with that but I'll get my name listed in print in the magazine, which is kind of neat. More to the point, it's another way of feeling that I'm moving closer to the type of success I'm hoping for in my writing. Which is a good feeling, indeed!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Dissecting the Short Story" Preview

This is a "Dissecting the Short Story" week. Friday I'll be posting my newest entry in that series, and it will be for a story which is available to read free online. Daily Science Fiction is an on-line venture which -- as the name suggests -- publishes a new science fiction short story every weekday. They pay professional rates (and then some) and have recently been certified by SFWA as a pro market.

This week's short story dissection will be for "Call Center Blues" by Carrie Cuinn. You can click that link to read her story. On the DSF website, make sure to click the "Display Entire Story" button to see the end of the story.

If using a pro-market story which is available to read free on-line leads to more discussion, I'll probably continue to work stories like this into the mix, while still doing stories from the pro digest magazines as well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNoWriMo Progress and Musings

Less than 48 hours ago I was sitting on 8,334 words. Now, after a good chunk of writing on Sunday, several hours at a write-in earlier today, and a #1k1hr session with some people on Twitter tonight I'm at 14,150. That's nicely ahead of "pace" for the first seven days of NaNoWriMo and gives me some buffer for the rest of the work week.

Will I make it to 11/30 with a completed first draft? Certainly, right now it's looking good, at least for hitting the 50,000 words required to "win." If I'll be actually to the final word of the story by then or not, I'm not sure yet, and probably won't be until I get a lot closer. I'm nearing the 25% point of my "outline", though, so guesstimating that 60,000 words is a likely final length doesn't seem unreasonable.

And, of course, then I'll be far from "done." I'll be thrilled with what I have accomplished, of course. I'll have planned and executed a project in a thirty-day time period and likely dealt with multiple unexpected events along the way (both real and fictitious!) which required adjustments in my plan. But the novel won't be ready for anyone else to read. I'm sure I'll need at least a second pass through before I want to let anyone see it, other than maybe some excerpts here and there.

I was having a Twitter conversation tonight where the topic of what the ratio of first draft time to editing time is likely to be for a NaNo novel. I haven't specifically tracked it, but I think that I spend about 2-4 times the amount of hours revising a piece of work as I spend in first draft. That includes all rounds including feedback from critique partners. So, realistically, it will probably be six months after 11/30 before I'd have a good sense of where my novel might be going next. And that's OK. It's a long race and there can be lots of winners. And even if what I ultimate decide is that this one's going in the trunk, I'll know that it's something which I am capable of doing, and I'm sure I'll have learned plenty in the experience.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Links: November 6, 2011 Edition

NaNoWriMo is underway! As of Midnight this morning (the 6th), the month was 1/6th over, which makes 8,334 words the "pace" for getting to 50,000 words by the end of 11/30. And that's exactly where I found myself when I hit the scene break where I planned to stop. Quite a fun coincidence! I'm looking forward to doing my writing today as I stopped right before one of the most pivotal scenes.

Earlier this week I was informed that I finished in (a familiar) 8th place in the third Platform-Building Writers' Campaign challenge. I was quite pleased to have placed in two of the three rounds! Thanks to Trisha from Word + Stuff for donating the prize which I won and to Rachael Harrie and all the others who volunteered to coordinate the challenge.  (Oh, and Trisha? I'm officially jealous of your NaNo word count. 23,482 already? Wow!)

Now to the links!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Call & Response Flash Fiction (Iteration 2)

Having published my first "Call & Response" flash fiction ("The Morandini Genie") yesterday, it's now time for the second iteration.

Every other Friday (when I'm not posting a "Dissecting the Short Story" post) I'll publish a new short story, definitely under 1000 words, often under 500 words. Now here's the twist that gives the series its name... Each story will be based on a writing prompt supplied by one of my readers.

Here's how it will work. Every other Saturday I'll post a new request for prompts. The prompt can be anything at all. It can be a photo, a concept, a few words. Whatever. People will have until Noon Eastern Time on Thursday to submit their prompts. Thursday night/Friday morning I'll announce the winning prompt from among those posted. The following Friday I'll post the story inspired by the prompt.

So, start submitting your prompts right now. I'll announce the winning prompt on Thursday November 10th and publish the resulting story on Friday November 18th.

As a reminder the person who submitted the prompt which I select will receive a $5 Amazon gift card as a prize for having a great prompt.

The fine print: All rights to the story created based on the prompt will be held by the author of the story. The $5 prize is only available to people with an Amazon account to which I can send the prize electronically. I reserve the right to add more fine print to future versions of this activity if I feel the need to do so. (Though I sorely hope I don't need to.) There are no guarantees that I will continue to run this activity beyond the currently-posted Request for Prompts. (Though I sorely hope that it will be fun for us all and that I will want to do so.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

"The Morandini Genie" - "Call and Response" Flash Fiction #1

A couple of weeks back I announced a new series on my blog, "Call and Response" Flash Fiction, where my readers can suggest prompts, and I'll pick my favorite and use it as the basis for a flash fiction.

David Powers King was the first winning "prompter" and below is the story I wrote from his prompt:
"A child finds a candlestick in the gutter on her way home from school."
Saturday, we'll start the cycle up again with my second call for prompts. Can I do this during NaNoWriMo and survive. Stay tuned to find out! :)

Without further ado, based on David's prompt...

"The Morandini Genie"

Susan skipped down the road on her way home from school, but only because no one was looking. At twelve, she felt like she was too old to be skipping, even if it still felt fun.
A glint in the gutter caught her eye and she came to a stop. An old-fashioned candlestick was lying at the edge of the road, in the muck left from the prior night’s rain.
She almost passed it by, but something about it held her attention. She knelt down and touched it. Its warmth surprised her. She glanced around. Still no one was looking. She snatched up the candlestick and shoved it into one of the many partitions of her backpack.
The rest of the way home she ran.
She let herself into the house and thudded up the stairs to her room. Her backpack landed with its own thump as she shrugged it from her shoulders to the floor.
She pulled out the candlestick. It had intricate swirls and loops all along its base. The stem of the thing had a chain-like pattern, criss-crossing back and forth all around. She set it down on her desk. A bit of mud fell off and landed on one of her school papers. Susan grimaced and went for some paper towels.
She rubbed the candlestick with a damp paper towel, cleaning off the grime. As she did, she noticed it was even warmer than before. Suddenly, she felt a zap like static electricity on a winter day. The candlestick clattered to the desk. Beside it stood a tiny creature.
“Whoa! 50 years in a candlestick can give you such a crick in the neck!” it exclaimed.
Susan frowned at the little man-like thing. A tiny inkling at the back of her mind said that maybe she should be uneasy about talking whatsits suddenly appearing in her bedroom, but this thing was so small she couldn’t take the feeling seriously.
He frowned back. “Hey, c’mon, that gets me a laugh, right? Robin Williams? Aladdin?”
“Ummm... I think my parents watched that once.”
He glowered again at Susan and sighed. “Guess I need to freshen up my jokes... Anyway, that’s not why I’m here, right?”
“Why are you here?” she asked him. “For that matter, who are you?”
He made a show of looking himself up and down. “Duh! I’m a genie.”
“I thought genies came in lamps?”
“Eh. That’s a common misconception. Actually, anything bearing illumination can hold a genie. Lamps, candlesticks, flashlights. You name it.”
“You’re pretty small.”
“Thanks. I’d never noticed.”
She rolled her eyes. Was he really going to get into a battle of sarcasm with a twelve-year-old?
“So, now what?” she asked. “I get three wishes?”
“Actually, just one. Like you said, I’m pretty small.”
“I need to make it a good one, then.”
“Well, yes. But... Heh... Not too good. Remember. Small genie.”
She considered this. What would she want, if she could have anything...
“Can you make me smarter than Regan from my class?”
“No, sorry. I can make you smarter than Jesse from your class, though.”
“I already am smarter than Jesse!”
The genie shrugged. “If you say so.”
“Fine, then, make me a better runner than...”
“Lacey Hatler?”
Susan nodded.
“Nope, sorry. Remember, think small!”
“Well what sort of worthless genie are you?”
He pointed to a poster on her wall. “You like baseball, right?” She nodded. “So you know Derek Jeter?”
“Yeah, but how do you know Derek Jeter?”
“Azmoteth hooked me up with wi-fi on my stick a couple of years back. Hey, just because I’m ancient doesn’t mean I’ve got to be behind the times.” He shook his tiny head. “Anyway, like I was saying. Jetes. You know him, he’s a big star, right?”
“OK, you know Mickey Morandini?”
She hesitated.
“Didn’t think so. He was a second baseman, played for the Phillies and Cubs, hit about .270 and had 32 homers in his career. So, he’s a baseball player. He’s a pro baseball player. But he’s no Jeter, right?”
“Yeah, but what does...”
“So, look at me like Mickey Morandini. I’m your Morandini genie. Ain’t going to come up with some big splashy wish for you, but I can still help you out. Just in... You know... Little ways.”
Susan plopped on her bed. It figured that she’d have something special happen to her, something cool and unusual, and it would turn out to be totally weak... What could she wish for that this genie could deliver on?
“If I could suggest something..." he said. "How do you feel about ponies?”
Susan didn’t even give that comment a response. Finally, she sat up. “How about if you tell me what you are good at?”
“Ah! Well, let’s see. I’m good at finding lost articles, I’m a whiz at travel -- maybe you and your parents would like to zip down to the Caribbean?”
A vacation with her parents? No thanks. Susan shook her head.
“Hmm... And... I make a mean ice cream sundae!”
She sat and thought. Finding lost things... Travel... An idea came to her, and she presented it to the genie.
He nodded slowly. “It might take some time, though. Are you sure you don’t mind waiting?”
She said it would be fine and made her wish formal. Her genie zipped into the air and flew out her open window.
In her college dorm room, Susan awoke one morning to see that the candlestick she had hung onto for nine years was missing. Her heart leapt. No one else had been in her room; her roommate was out of town. It could only mean one thing.
She darted outside, still wearing her pajamas. And there it was, stuck under a bench. A big oil lamp, tarnished and dented. A note stuck under it read simply “From your Morandini Genie.”
She hurried her prize inside, eager to clean it off, and see what wonders its genie could perform for her.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Five Tips For Writing Flash Fiction

I've always been a fan of flash fiction, generally considered to be stories of under 1000 words. When I was a kid they were called "short-short stories" and they were always among my favorite things to read. I had several anthologies of those stories that I dipped into over and over.

Flash fiction has been on my mind a lot recently. I used the format for each of my three WriteCampaign challenge entries (all available on my "Free Stories" page if you want to look them over). I started a blog series where I'll be writing flash fictions from reader prompts. And my recent sale to Kazka Press, "State Secrets", was as part of their flash fiction contest. One thing I've heard from a lot of people is that they are uncomfortable writing at such a short length. So, even though we're in the middle of NaNoWriMo and lots of people are focused on trying to get 50,000 words written on a novel, I thought that some flash fiction tips might be of interest. (Who knows, maybe you'll decide to write a flash fiction if you're feeling like you need a break from your novel!)

  1. Keep Focused - With under 1000 words to work with, you aren't going to have room for lots of secondary characters, multiple settings, etc. You're going to want to have a very focused stage on which your story unfolds. If you look back at each of my WriteCampaign entries, you'll see that each of them was a single scene. There were four distinct characters in The Chamber, but one of them had no dialogue and another just a single line. The story I'll be posting Friday based on David Powers King's prompt has three scenes, but basically one there is establishing and one is payoff -- the bulk of the story is the central scene.
  2. Make Every Word Count - If you have a specific word target for a contest or publication, this can become really critical. None of my first drafts for the WriteCampaign challenges came in at the limit, so I had to trim each of them. Similarly, "State Secrets" required a bit of paring after my first draft. You can get to the point where you're looking at each word to see if it's truly important. Is there something you're saying with five words that you could say with three? Let's look at "The Chamber" again. In my final draft, the second paragraph starts: "Next was a young girl holding a stuffed animal tightly to her chest." The first draft read: "Next in line was a young girl, a stuffed animal held tightly to her chest." Both say the same thing, but the final version used two fewer words.
  3. Start Near the End - This is a tip that I came across from Jim Harrington earlier today. You're not going to have a lot of room in 1000 words for setup. So, in "Vacation in Paradise," I didn't start with Lea and Jacob planning their vacation, or fighting about whether they should be searching for treasure or deck chairs. The story starts with her on the beach, moments before Jacob returns with a surprise for her. A bit of that back story is alluded to during the course of the story, but only so much. "The Chamber", with its twist/surprise ending, gives no back story at all until near the very end and, even then, it's only a hint of it.
  4. Know Where You're Going - For me, at least, when I write a flash fiction it's usually something where I'm holding the entire story idea in my head. It's "just" a matter of writing it down. I suppose you could "pants" a flash fiction by starting with an idea and seeing where your mind takes you. But I suspect that it would require a lot more word-trimming than if you had an idea where the story was going before you started. (As an avowed "plotter", I realize that your mileage may seriously vary on this tip!)
  5. Be Flexible -  Not every story can be a flash fiction. If you are working on a story and realize that it's just not going to fit into the constraints of the format, be willing to go with that. Of course, if you're looking to enter a contest, you'd be looking at having to write a different story for the contest. So, if you are committed to making a specific story a flash fiction and it's coming in way over your target length, ask yourself what you're willing to remove from the story to get down to the goal. This may be painful. There may be a conversation where the dialogue sparkles and you love the way your main character shows her wit. But if it doesn't advance the story and it eats up 150 words, it may still have to go, or at least be dramatically trimmed.
So there are five tips. If you have thoughts about writing flash fiction, feel free to share them in the comment section below!

One final bit of self-promotion. Kazka Press is asking for "votes"/ratings on the stories which won their October contest. (It's a set of blue stars below the story and above the comments.) These ratings will play a role in their decision as to which stories are put in their quarterly eBook anthology. If you read my story "State Secrets" and wouldn't mind taking a few seconds to give it a rating, I'd sure appreciate it! Thank you!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"State Secrets" is Live on Kazka Press Site

Just a quick note to let you know that my short story "State Secrets" is online now at the Kazka Press website. I hope that you enjoy reading it. If you like it and leave a vote for it (using the little stars at the bottom of the story), it may help my story to be selected for their quarterly eBook anthology.

A couple of other small comments... I just noticed that my blog now has 100 followers. Thanks to each and every one of you for stopping in and reading my thoughts on writing.

Also, NaNoWriMo kicked off at Midnight this morning. I got my first 750 or so words done on the project before going to sleep. Only 49,250 to go! If you want to follow my progress on the NaNo site, you can go to my profile page.