The Art of Flash Fiction

I know what you’re thinking.

What is flash fiction? Is that where the main character wears a red suit and is surrounded by yellow lightening?

No.

Maybe.

But the much broader term ‘Flash Fiction’ generally means any piece of fiction less than 2000 words. That’s around a 5-6 page story, just enough to pique interest and present an idea.

I love flash fiction.

I’m currently assembling a lot of the flash fiction I’ve written into an anthology, or reader, or whatever you want to call it. There are stories that deal with longing, loss, space, robots, the origin of a species, all kinds of things.

And all of these stories are extremely short. All of them combined might make 50 pages.

So how does that even work?

Ideas rather than plots or Characters

Flash fiction is much more about how the story makes the reader fell than how good the plot/character development/whatever metric people use to score a longer story is. A well written piece of flash fiction will leave the reader thinking about the overarching ideas of the story. Not to say that a great plot or character can’t be developed in that short of a frame, but the idea is usually what sticks.

Hate Charles Dickens

I (Will) am well documented as saying that I hate Charles Dickens writing. It has too many words. Likewise, a flash fiction piece should be concise and not use flowery language or overly complicated words to describe something. Be concise. Tell a story, don’t give a dissertation.

Trust the Reader

Readers are smarter than we authors think. Most of the time anyway. If you think the scene is not properly set up by being concise, think again. Readers can fill in any gaps you think are missing, because they are smart individuals. They have probably forged scenes in their heads before. It’s ok to let go of their hands. You can do it. Stop saying so many words. You’re becoming an adjective farmer and flooding the market. Stop it.

 

Flash Fiction is a great way to start a daily writing habit, and also to make a little extra cash once you can collect them into an anthology. Don’t sleep on it.

Write a story!

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Uncanny Divide:Six Tales of Artificial Intelligence

Here it is folks, the new Short Story anthology from Turtleshell Press and Happy Pants Books:

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It features myself, and two other great authors you should check out. These six stories feature some thought provoking fiction on the subject of artificial intelligence, and will keep you engaged until the end.

Plus they’re short, so they read quickly and leave you wanting more!

Please check it out, buy a copy, leave a review, and help support this little endeavor. We all would appreciate it and the more we get funded, the more we can do what we love, which is write stories for all of you to enjoy.

Click the link, and begin the journey!

Uncanny Divide: Six Tales of Artificial Intelligence

Sterner Stuff

Submitting stories to publishers is like sending your kids to an interview. You want the best for them, but ultimately their fate is in the hands of a stranger. A stranger with immense power. The power to make them flourish, or the power to CRUSH THEM INTO OBLIVION…

The waiting game

I’ve submitted stories and it’s taken less than an hour for the publisher to send it back. They weren’t feeling it or whatever. I’ve also sent in stories and waited for months just to receive a form letter saying they didn’t like my story. I’ve self published things and waited patiently for sales to pick up steam, and they do for like a week, then they dwindle. I write and write and write and then wait and wait and wait. And yet…

I Won’t Stop

I hate the rejection, and even the waiting, but I love the process. I love getting these random ideas that turn into cool settings or plots. I love watching my wife have no idea what I’m saying as I rant about how cool some story I’m writing is. I love hearing feedback from beta readers and thinking up new ways to write my existing stories. It just gets in your veins and begins to flow freely.

Keep at it

I’ll keep writing for a long time. Maybe some day I’ll give it up. Maybe not. What are you going to do? Can you handle the rejection? The suspense? The thrill? The adventure?

Or will you sit at home, wondering what will happen?

Summer Ideas

OH MAN HAS IT BEEN BUSY AT MY HOUSE!

My son Hal came forth from his mother’s womb a couple of weeks ago, so that’s a big thing. Also: babies are awake when you want to be asleep.

But nonetheless, he is adorable and will grow to be a strong man.

His grandparents on both sides have been in and out since he was born, as well as all of his aunts and uncles. It has been a fast paced thrill ride for all involved. Especially Hal, cause about a billion people have held him so far.

All of that being said, I got to go see Pacific Rim this week.

IT WAS SWEET

It was actually really good and had few enough plot holes to be a sustainable story (should Guillermo del Toro decide to make another one).

The monsters and robots were explained very thoroughly and the action was top notch. The cgi was great and I had no trouble believing the premise or the way the world was built around the major plot themes. The sets were good, the colors fantastic, and most of all the storytelling was top notch. It was just as good or better than any mecha anime I’ve ever watched. Not to mention that it’s holding its own at the box office and will hopefully make back its budget.

So what can we pull from this? A few things that we already know, but we’ll phrase them a little differently:

Push the Limit

Who knew a giant robot movie that wasn’t based on a beloved toy line and cartoon would do well at the box office? GDT took a chance and made a really good movie. I mean this is the guy who gave us some pretty good Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth, but giant robots? This stuff is almost exclusively reserved for anime.

But it works.

How often in our writing do we stick to what we think is easy? For example, I have never written anything about time travel because I think it’s just too hard. i have really cool ideas about it, and I love Dr Who, but I just haven’t done it.

Maybe it’s time i push my limit.

Good Writing elevates Cool Tech

Giant robots are sweet no matter how you slice it. When they fight giant monsters, they get even cooler. See Voltron. Or these guys.

Don’t judge me.

Anyway, cool tech is always cool tech. But good writing makes it better. Take for example these movies. But if you have cool tech that is used well by the writing style and premise, you can capture lightening in a bottle. And if you’re remembered for a story with cool tech and not cool tech in a story, you’re on your way.

Don’t be afraid of subgenres

Aside from being a mecha movie, Pacific Rim was also heavily cyberpunk. There were bright lights of all different colors set against a very dark background (very Bladerunner-esque) plus all of the digital interfaces and the neural-link mechanics. The 3-d greatly enhanced this aspect of the movie and really gave another level to the feel of the world. I found myself immersed in the technology rather than hit in the face with it. I had no trouble believing that their world was as much digital as it was physical.

Trouble

Now the bigest obstacle i find in writing sci fi is getting anything across in writing that would be way better in a film medium. Thus we have to spend lots of time world building. I’m all for conservation of words and short story writing, but sometimes we have to use a few more words to get the setting right. So maybe write a novel if it gets the setting right.

Just a few thoughts from my end.

The next few weeks are still up in the air with content and posting. Hopefully I will have some guest posts coming up, from J. Aurel Guay for sure and possibly some others. I hope all of you are having a great summer, please let me know what you’re working on!

Ok for real, let’s talk about Arthur C Clarke

I’ve been on somewhat of a Clarke binge lately, reading two novels and a few of his short stories. If you haven’t read any of his work, I highly encourage you to pick some of it up. The two novels I read were ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ and ‘Childhood’s End’. I want to talk a little bit about them and a few of the things that make them great, and a few things that I felt were lacking.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

Style

First and foremost, I want to say that Arthur C. Clarke is a capital everything FANTASTIC story teller. I could not put either of these books down and finished them within a few days. He has a way of describing things without being too wordy. Circumlocution is not in his skill set.  These novels are not lengthy events, and yet they are packed with great wordsmithing.

World

If you read things that describe who Arthur C. Clarke was, you will often find the words ‘author’ and ‘futurist’. His novels are set in fantastical worlds where computers run everything and space is ripe for exploration.

But Will, computers do run the world and we have two cars on Mars.

Yeah but Clarke was writing before we even had a space program.

In fact, many of the things Clarke dreamed up in his writings are part of our world today. Go research it.

He also has a way of bringing you into his universe, and keeping you there. This is most likely due to his wonderful storytelling, but it’s a wonderful side effect. you get cool futures and the desire to stay in them.

Plot

Here’s where I start being slightly negative. Let’s start with ‘Childhood’s End‘. It’s split up into three parts, with the first being by far the best. In fact, Clark wrote the first part as a short story, and it was liked so much he made it into a novel.

I’m gonna be honest, I hated the ending. You can think I’m an idiot for that, or whatever, but I thought it was lame. A super powerful, corporeal presence needs a race of space devils to cultivate races to add to its hive mind?

Star Trek V anyone? You remember, the TERRIBLE one?

And ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ kind of let me down. I was entranced by the story for the whole book, and then BAM! ‘Well actually Rama is just using our sun for inertia to fly off again.’

The last line was pretty good though. And I do understand that he went on to write three more books. But the second was written 17 years after the first. So for 17 years everyone was left wondering what happened with Rama. But I’m still blown away by his storytelling abilities. I spent two days enamored with finding out why Rama was here only to find out that Clarke didn’t even know!

Characters

Clarke is great at writing, but not great at writing characters. And this is by design. He doesn’t focus too much on his characters because they aren’t the center of the story. His ideas and visions of the future are. Don’t get me wrong, i still like some of his characters. They’re often just used to add some new idea to the story, not to be the focus of it or thicken the plot.

I hope that this post drives you to appreciate Clarke. He was a great writer, and a dreamer of dreams. If you haven’t read the books i talked about, go pick them up. Maybe you’ll like the plots more than I did. But one thing’s for sure: you will finish them. And you will probably finish them quickly.

And when you finish great Sci Fi quickly, you have more time to write great Sci Fi 🙂

Beta Readers

If you are a writer, chances are you have a certain fear that all writers have:

Rejection.

The ugly reared head of criticism.

Of it’s not good enough.

Of the word, No.

Which is why you need a standing army of people to tell you that before you make your writing public. With a steady second group of eyes to go over your work, your success will surely be greater.

Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

But this is for editors!

Wrong. If you send your work to an editor with a bunch of silly mistakes, the editor is never going to work with you again. you want your editor to focus on more important things like structure. With beta readers, your mistakes will become more prevalent. If three or more people are reading your manuscript, they will find your mistakes. Cleaning up your manuscript before it ever goes to an editor is professionalism, not tedious extra work.

Story

One of my beta readers recently called me and gave me a detailed critique of one of my stories. He said he was ‘entranced’ with it until a certain point. At said point, he became very confused and wasn’t thrilled with the rest of the story. Good criticism. Prompting me to rewrite that chunk of the story. This particular reader is a fan of hard sci fi, consequently the genre this story is in, so he had a lot of expertise on how to fix it.

Choosing

I had a beta reader who always said my stories were bad. They didn’t really give a reason, they just didn’t like them. In a later conversation, I found out that this person did not like reading short stories. Therefore, they are not a beta reader for me anymore.

When choosing beta readers, there are a few things to keep in mind other than the mistakes they can catch. They should be people who enjoy reading the genre you write in. Hopefully that genre is Sci Fi and you have an army of nerds awaiting your next creation!

Be careful with family. If you have a cousin or sibling that likes reading, by all means let them read for you. But your mom probably won’t give you any good constructive criticism. Make sure that if you have beta readers in your family that they will be beta readers and actually help you become a better writer. And being a better writer is what we are all trying to achieve.

Why “What If” Matters

This a guest post from Grant Barnes of nerdcoretheology.com. Enjoy!

Why “What If” Matters

I am, like my esteemed colleague here at Silly Robots, a fan of science fiction. So much so, I created a blog trying to connect the dots between theology and culture, nerd culture specifically (the results of which may vary from post to post.) Part of my own quest on my blog is to ask the big questions, and see where they fit in our world. The reason I love theology in many ways is that it asks a simple question—a question that Science Fiction is based upon: What if?

“What if” is perhaps one of the most entertaining and enlightening questions that can be asked, and it’s a question that I have no doubt every science fiction –nay, any writer—asks of themselves to establish a premise for their story. Almost any good story can be boiled down to a premise starting with “What if”:

  • What if humanity got its act together, and with a number of other cooperative alien species, decided to go and explore the rest of the universe? (Star Trek)
  • What if a bunch of humans stumble upon a distress beacon on a distant planet and pick up some unexpected, horrifying cargo? (Alien)
  • What if the police started using psychics to predict crimes? (Minority Report)
  • What if someone actually invented a machine that can travel through time, and it wound up in the hands of an idiot teenager? (Back to the Future)
  • What if Dracula came to New England instead of London? (‘Salem’s Lot)
  • What if Moses came from Outer Space? (Superman)

The list could go on and on, but you are beginning to see the gist of the argument. Figuring out a good premise is often the seed of an idea that could grow into something beautiful, something profound, something exciting or something that questions the very nature of reality. It’s the first step to writing a good story, and that’s what this whole endeavor of Silly Robots is all about.

So how do you go about asking this daunting question?

1. Go big or go home? Not necessarily.

A good “What if” doesn’t have to start with anything outlandish, lest you become intimidated by the task of writing a story. Garrison Keillor, writer and radio personality, once said “A good story will never start with something like “The cat sat on the mat. However, a good story might start with something like “The cat sat on the dog’s mat.” All it really takes to get someone interested is to put something out there that is just a little different from the ordinary. One thing out of place, one thing just different enough to make large scale changes to the world.

One of the best examples I’ve ever seen of a small idea that made a large scale change was in Greg Bear’s Blood Music. It’s about a scientist who works on and creates a kind of intelligent microorganism, something like nanotechnology, but organic. In essence, the organism gets loose, and the scientist himself becomes a host to it. The microorganism then multiplies, mutates, and learns as much as it can—and in effect, shapes the world in its strange, incomprehensible image. Simple idea, huge ramifications.

2. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

I’m sure Will has probably gone over this before, but it bears repeating. Writing is an art—and like any art, it is built on the shoulders of those giants that came before us. Everything we write as authors is done now in a world where books and information are far more available than ever before, and because of that, lots of ideas have already been thrown out there. This, believe it or not, is not a bad thing.

Let’s branch out for a minute and talk about the Fantasy genre (gasp!) This sister genre has much to teach us. For example: Lord of the Rings has already been written. Does this stop the countless fantasy writers who have written innumerable tales using the foundation that Tolkien laid down as a basis for their work? Absolutely not. And it’s shouldn’t stop you from putting your own mark on the genre of Science Fiction.

Again, I’ll turn my eye to pop culture, to the biggest Science Fiction property out there—Star Wars. Star Wars is far from an original work.

There. I said it.

Star Wars, as fantastic and as powerful as it is in our cultural imagination, is an amalgamation of several different kinds of properties. George Lucas makes no secret of the fact that he was inspired by the old space opera serials of his youth, namely Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and the like. He adds into that existing pool of creativity ideas he got from Japanese film and philosophy, as well as European archetypes and Roman history. Mix it all together, and you have Star Wars.

George Lucas, in making Star Wars, did not re-invent the wheel, but took existing parts from culture, philosophy, and history, and put them together to make something not unlike the Millenium Falcon—hobbled together from bits and pieces of other starships, but somehow faster and more effective than anything else. Granted, his “What-if” of space wizards meets WWII-style dogfights is a bit more complex than most, but it all comes together quite nicely.

And finally,

3. Don’t be afraid to mess up.

Not all ideas are created equal, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have value. I’ve had to learn the hard way of not scrapping everything completely when I feel like I haven’t gone the way I wanted to go in my writing. When you ask “What-if”, you are daring to look into the face of creativity itself. Sometimes, you might produce something amazing. Other times, in fact most often, you might wind up with a dud. This should not be a discouragement but an empowerment. The only way to write something better than what you’ve already written is to keep writing anyway. It’s that simple, and that difficult.

Daring to ask “What if” is incredibly risky, but even more rewarding. If you keep on writing, and keep on dreaming, you may wind up being the shoulders that someone else stands on some day. I think that’s something we can all aspire to.

Grant is a Science Fiction writer, blogger, and pastor currently residing in Canton, TX. He has authored stories such as ‘The Samaritan Gambit’. He blogs weekly, daily during Lent, at nerdcoretheology.com