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?



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!

Uncanny Divide:Six Tales of Artificial Intelligence

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


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


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 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.


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.



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.


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.


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!


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:


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.


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.


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 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

The Top 5 Reasons Steampunk is Awesome


I know what you’re thinking.

I don’t need 5 reasons to know Steampunk is awesome.

And I agree. If nothing else, the name drips excellence.

Or you’re thinking:

What the heck is Steampunk? Is that some kinda band?

I’ve been delving into the wonderful world of Steampunk lately, taking a stab at writing a story in the genre. I’m really enjoying it, and I hope that other people like my story when I’m done with it. I’m right around 8000 words right now with little to no signs of slowing down. Hopefully I’ll get to 10k or even 15k and have a novelette or novella on my hands. It’s a fun ride to be on.

But Steampunk is a genre with roots that go way back. I mean waaaaaaay back. But here is my top 5 list of Steampunk that influenced me.

5. The Big O

The Big O was one of my favorite anime shows when I was in Junior High and High School. It’s set in the near future where something has erased everyone’s memories and Roger has to negotiate deals.

Yeah it’s kinda weird.

But in a good way. To quote my friend Grant Barnes, “It’s Batman with a Giant Robot.”

It’s more noir than straight up Steampunk, but it still has steam powered robots and cool gadgets. The series  goes more to the Cyberpunk side of things towards the end of the series, but I like that too. It’s just a lot of fun and worth a watch.

4. The Mammoth Book of Steampunk

I bought this several months ago and it is still filling parts of my day with interesting reads. It has a 3.5 out of 5 rating at Goodreads and Amazon, and that’s fair. It’s an interesting read that’s deeply entrenched in the genre, so non-steampunk fanpeoples probably won’t enjoy it as much as the true nerds. (Such as myself.)

3. Howl’s Moving Castle

Another wonderful anime set in a fantastical steam powered world. A gripping story with stunning visuals, it is a must see for steam fans and normal people alike. It’s an emotional roller coaster with everything you expect from Hiyao Miyazaki. You should probably go watch it right now.

2. Metropolis

A wonderful romp through a retro futuristic steam powered world. There’s robots, bird guys, and lots of other strange things to keep your interest piqued.

1. Final Fantasy IX

My absolute favorite Final Fantasy (and Steampunk thing in general). There are airships, steam powered monsters, and an entire city made of clock gears! What else could a steampunk want? Go dig out your Playstation or find a rom online. Great game.

Well there you have it, my top 5 Steampunk things. I hope that you will go check them out and become a fan of the genre. (if you aren’t already!)

And now I will leave you with a 500 word excerpt from the story I’m working on!

It’s unedited so be gentle.

Free writing! Enjoy!

“If I may sir, I don’t think doubling shifts will do us any good.”

Pennyworth jumped from his seat and leaned over the table towards Higgins.

“What did you say?”

Higgins shifted in his seat and then began his ploy.

“Well you see sir, the reason earnings are down is because we are losing workers by the day. They are working their hearts out to bring in the Glow, but some of them are so deep that their bodies can’t handle the stress and they tucker out. Forty two men were lost this past month alone! Forty two!”

Pennytop sank back into his high backed chair and pulled out his watch again. He rubbed it on his nose, then scratched his hair with it, and finally put it in his mouth and began tasting its golden shell.

“How do you propose we fix this problem Higgins?”

“Well sir, I,”

“And fix it cheaply…

Higgins cocked his head to the side as he produced the drawings he had been working on for the past month. Pennytop leaned over to look at them, then he looked at Higgins with an expression of bewilderment.

“What in the devil is this? It looks to be… a … mechanical…man…”

Higgins smiled through his bushy grey beard.

“Precisely sir. We build a few of these to take on some of the mining load, and we keep our workers while production and profit soar!”

Higgins had raised his arms as if to imitate an eagle, but Pennytop took no notice. The mechanical man had piqued his interest. He began calculating the cost in his head, noting every detail Higgins had written on the yellowed paper. The startup would be steep, per usual, but the returns would be far greater. The dollar signs had begun creeping through his corneas and into his pupils.

“Do it Higgins. I will spare no expense on this project. Get whoever you need.”

Higgins spent the next two days on a steam train to the city of Crucible. The university there would surely provide all of his needs. He arrived late, checked into his room at the boarding house, then hit the first tavern he saw.

It was full of miscreants; some playing cards, others trying to play with the ladies. He seated himself at the bar and raised his hand for a glass. The barkeep walked slowly; he appeared to be favoring one leg over the other. As he approached Higgin’s seat, steam could be seen rising from a hole in his trousers.

“What’s your poison stranger?”

“I’ll have a sarsaparilla ale if you have one.”

“I do.”

The bartender reached underneath his counter and pulled out a chilled mug. Higgins was intrigued by this, and continued the conversation.

“Well that’s nifty. Cold from right under the counter eh?”

The barkeep smirked and snorted.

“University town. Those youngsters come up with all kinds of stuff and want to sell it. Fairly cheap too. This system only cost me two gold and five silver.”

Higgins eyes’ lit up with the low cost.

“And where can I find some of these budding engineers?”

The bartender pointed to a table in the back corner where three young men were seated with a young woman.

“Them right there. They sold it to me cheap, then turned around and bought ale from me for a year straight now. I guess that means they actually paid me for their own product. But my leg here was a might more expensive.”

He slapped the side of his trousers then pulled up his apron to reveal a mechanical leg. Higgins slapped a silver on the counter and headed for the corner table. The barkeep picked up the coin and waved to the youngsters. They nodded in thanks and called for another round as Higgins approached the table.

“Hello young gentlemen, and lady. My name is Wade Higgins, and I represent Mr. Pennytop and the miners from the town of Silver. If you’re interested, I have a task for you. One that promises to be most fulfilling for your careers and your pocketbooks.”

Expanding Short Story Horizons


A few months ago a wrote a post on short stories. I stand by what I wrote, but I want to expand the horizons a little bit. I was reading a post earlier today that redefined word counts associated with fiction from my previous understanding. I was using the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America scale, but after reading this post at Live Hacked about ebook pricing, I like the scale referenced there better. I haven’t written about pricing or marketing or any of that, but the time is coming for me to become more directly involved in it. I have several stories very near ‘ready-to-be-published’ status and they fall into different categories. So let’s talk about different word counts and what they ‘mean’ for short fiction. I will use part of the scale I found on Live Hacked, which was taken from the Kindle Forum.

Flash Fiction <1000 words

Flash Fiction is a tricky thing. Mostly because we think that if something isn’t long it isn’t worth reading. I disagree. I’m a huge baseball fan, and I enjoy reading baseball cards. I’m also a giant nerd and play Magic: The Gathering. The card effects and quotes are fun to read. I enjoy looking up useless information on wikipedia.

So what if you write a story that takes up only a few pages?

I think it’s perfectly feasible. Plus, these stories would only take a few moments to write and edit. Spend a few weeks writing one of these stories every single day, and you will have a nice collection of stories nearing 14,000 words.

Short Short 1000 – 5000 words

These are my bread and butter. I enjoy writing between 2500 and 5000 word stories. Not too short and not too long. Room for chapters or scenes. Not as long as a novel. They take a week or two to write as opposed to months. Or if you’re really persistent you could knock one out in a few hours I’m sure. Editing is still fairly easy, plus people can beta-read them in one sitting. I find that the story can develop quite well in one of these ‘Short Shorts’ and not leave the reader wanting in quality.

But you should always leave them wanting more 🙂

Short Story 5000 – 10000 words

I just finished writing one of these, and it was quite enjoyable. I clocked in right around 8000 words, but it took me a little while to write it. Because there’s more room for character and plot development these take up more planning time. For instance, the story I wrote has four true acts, something that doesn’t quite develop in the shorter categories. With the longer word count, the story draws you in and feels longer than it actually is. What this does is attach your readers to the characters, and perhaps they will want a series of stories instead of just a one shot.

Another note is that this is the range of most ‘traditional’ Sci Fi short fiction. Philip K. Dick and Isaac  Asimov are a couple of writers who were around this word count with their stories.

Well there we have it. A new classification system for short fiction that fits better than 0-7500 words. I hope this is helpful and ignites some new story ideas in your head that make it to paper. What are your thoughts on these divisions? Let me know, and tell me what you’re working on.

A Few Updates

I’m in the editing stage with some of my short stories right now. I’ve been designing covers, having beta readers look over manuscripts, and reading through myself to find errors and other things that could be changed. And this is all on top of my other two jobs.

It’s very taxing.

But I don’t have the funds for a professional editor right now, so I’ll rely on my friend with an English degree who is working on his Master’s.

Yet I still have the urge to write. I already started writing another story and hope to finish it sometime within the next month. So here’s what’s going to happen at Silly Robots for the next few weeks:

I am still trying to write weekly posts. I hope to have a few articles on boring plots and influences on science fiction coming in the near future. There will also be a guest post by my friend and fellow writer Grant Barnes on the question, “What if..?”

I will be releasing three of my short stories as singles and a collection on Amazon either right before Christmas or right after the New Year (depending on the editing mentioned above) totaling over 100 pages of short story!

Very exciting stuff.

I have added a new page to the site regarding guest posting. If you would like to guest post, click on the guest post menu option and follow the instructions. I won’t promise that everyone will get their post put up, but everyone will get a look.

How are your projects going? I would love to hear about them. You can email me at for reviewing, beta reading and the like. [note: I am NOT an editor. Please do not ask me to edit your writing.]

Keep writing everyone, I hope you have a wonderful weekend!


Here are a couple of the short story covers I have been working on. Enjoy!

West of the city cover 4

Zefron Cover 1