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!

The Myth of Character Development

It seems like everyone who wants to give advice to aspiring authors has one thing they harp on more than anything else. They claim that it will make or break your story. It will draw in or alienate your audience. Your success and skill will be endlessly measured by it.

The it, of course, is character development. The things they are saying are pretty much all lies. Or at least, half truths. You can’t even google “authors who didn’t need character development” without getting a bunch of posts about how to develop characters. It makes me sad.

 

1. The Half Truth

One of my favorite authors is Arthur C. Clarke. If you have ever read one of his stories, whether it was a novel or short fiction, I dare you to remember a character’s name. I read his stuff all the time and I can’t. But I can tell you exactly what happened in the story. I can tell you all of the cool ideas. In fact, when I read his stories that are character-centric, I tend to leave them unfinished. He simply couldn’t do it. He can’t write an intriguing character. Except for HAL-9000. And that was a computer.

Yet he was a very successful writer. He wrote and sold a lot of novels, tons of short fiction, and even a few screenplays. The myth of having intriguing characters is much more a result of something else.

2. YA lit

I feel that Young Adult literature has skewed fiction a bit. Young Adults, or as we used to call them: teenagers, are at a point in their development that requires a sense of belonging. Something or someone to relate to. Harry Potter struggles just like they do. Bella and Edward were meant to be together, no matter what anyone else says. All of these things point to a deep need for something other than a story.

3. Visual Media

TV and Movies have always been character driven. Lots of movies have no plot whatsoever. And lots of TV shows have to rely on character development to drive the whole ship. The lines between a written medium and a visual medium have become very blurred, leading to television tactics in the great American novel.

4. It’s not all bad

Now, don’t hear me saying that characters don’t matter. They do. I just don’t think we have to spend so much time developing every one of them to the point that we can write all of their back stories. This epidemic has to be put into perspective.

 

Next Time

Next week, we can discuss fixing this mass falsehood. What is good character development? How much do of it is enough? Why are everyone’s main characters a transcendental metaphor?

Next time! All this…and more…

 

The Zen of World Building part II

Part 2 of our world building adventure will center around attention to detail. In the previous post we covered a broad spectrum of characteristics, but now let’s focus on some nit picky things. This won’t be long, but will definitely give you something to think about.

 

Characters

Some author’s worlds are completely reliant on their characters. If you haven’t read “The Steam Dancer (1896)” by  Caitlin R. Kiernan, it’s a great example of this. It’s steampunk, but you wouldn’t know that without the characters. They drive the story into that subgenre. The dancer has a steam powered leg, and her husband is a mechanic. No, it isn’t as romantic as it sounds.

Anyway, characters can sometimes drive your world. Think of Dragon Ball Z. If the Z fighters don’t have super powers, it’s just another kung fu manga/anime. The characters drive it to another level.

Setting

Mountains or Urban? Desert or Utopia?

A lot of world building depends on the setting. And just like i said last time, you have to take into effect the scope of your work. Is there a single setting? Are there multiple settings? Are there multiple planets? Universes?

Whatever the scope or setting is, it can make or break your world. A foreign planet without weird creatures, climates, and plant life is not going to be foreign to anyone. It could easily be Earth in the far future well past humans…

GASP…another setting…

Technology

Much of science fiction involves advanced technology. Much of it does not.

This is vastly important for world building. In a post apocalyptic future, is there still tech, or is a 12 gauge the top of the line weapon? Do the bad guys have some super weapon that trumps your hero’s EMP device?

Are we in the Matrix?

All of these are important questions when building a world.

 

Practice

What I am about to tell you may reveal my nerdiness in ways you would never possibly imagine.

Oh well.

Go find a group of people to play a tabletop RPG with, and be the Game Manager.

This will allow you to create a world, build a story, and have fun during the process. You will have to integrate your party’s characters, baddies, weapons, and all sorts of cool stuff. There are plenty of games out there, and not all of them are fantasy. Fantasy is fun, but there are other options. Go play a game!

 

I hope these posts are helping with our world building. Let me know if there is anything you want more fleshed out!

 

Secrets to Writing Good Sci Fi part 2

Last time I talked about Genre, World Building, and Character Development. All important ingredients in the recipe that is Science Fiction writing.

And yet they are only part of the recipe. So today I want to talk about some other ingredients.

1. Voice

When I write stories, I always think about Genre and World Building when starting to write. These two things greatly influence the voice, or tone, of my story. If I’m writing a cyberpunk noir story in the vein of Bladerunner, I write in first person and speak of the world through the eyes of a hardened detective. Attention to little details like that are what give my story just the right voice. It sets the mood and helps push the story along. If Star Wars had been a first person narrative type of thing it wouldn’t have worked. There would have had to been one main character who was followed the whole time. That means we wouldn’t have many scenes with Vader.

WHO WANTS STAR WARS WITHOUT VADER?!?!?!?!

Appropriate voicing does a lot for a story.

2. Plot

Plot is very important to your story. DUH. But seriously you should spend some time on it. I write short fiction, but my plots can get pretty convoluted. The main thing to remember is that the plot is what will make or break your story. The plot is the story you are telling, not just events that unfold. Give it room to breathe. I know you want the cool scene in your story where there’s a bunch of cool tech and robots and bombs and cars and flying motorcycles and… but if there’s no point to that scene, why is it there? We all have cool Sci Fi ideas, that’s why we want to write. But if we can not organize those ideas into a coherent story line, we’re basically writing a magazine article for futuristic tech with no pictures. Boring.

3. Character Relations

Last time I talked about character development as it related to a situation. Now I want to talk a little bit about how they interact with other characters. I’m currently working on story, and the excerpt I gave last week was very character heavy. It opens with a conversation between a rich businessman and his chief of operations having a conversation about their workers and the cost of saving their lives. It reveals that one loves money and the other loves people. This affects how they interact with each other, and later with other people. The science of relationships is a hard one to pin down. I’m fortunate enough to interact with people on a daily basis, forming my thought processes when writing dialogue. This helps drive my story in a number of ways, and saves me time, and lots of prose, when developing character relations. One of my beta readers loves that my stories are dialogue driven ‘just like comic books.” He loves that I do just enough world building to focus my story into dialogue and build characters, their relationships with other characters, and their relation to the plot as a whole.

WOW. Lots of thoughts this week. Hopefully it will spur you to write more Sci Fi. I’ve got my plate full with this story I’m working on, and it’s already in novella range as far as word count. I hope all of you are having good writing days.

 

Keep it up!

Secrets to writing good Sci Fi

silly-robots-gears.jpg

If you’re like me, there’s something wrong with you.

You were normal once; just a carefree person who loved watching Trek and Firefly.

Then it happened. The one thing that could turn everything upside down.

You decided to write.

For me, it started in the spring of 2012.

My friend Nick had just finished his first novel, and he asked me to be a beta reader. I read it, and it is delightfully a thriller with a sci fi twist, and something stirred inside of me.
I thought about all of the sci fi I had read and watched. I thought about how many conversations I had with Nick about sci fi. And then I thought something else:

I can do that.

So I set out to write a novel!

And I wrote something that’s as long as a novel, but I wouldn’t really call it that. It needs some heavy editing, and maybe I’ll release it as a novella some day.

But back to my point: at some point in our lives we decided to write, and now our lives are different.

I find myself thinking of stories instead of thinking about someone else’s universe. I have a desktop full of unfinished and unedited manuscripts. I scour the web for places to sell my stories. I drew this funny little confused robot guy on my ipad and launched this blog.

All of this because I thought I could write, and write well.

And now I have this wonderful problem of writing stories all the time. And I do, I write all the time. I write at work, I write at home, I write when I’m away from home. It’s not just something I kind of do anymore, it’s becoming part of who I am. And through all of this, I feel that I’ve been getting better and better.

And since it’s now 2013, I thought I would share some of the things that help me write stories.

1. Genre

Science Fiction…duh.

But more specifically, what subgenre am I writing? I started a story today that I specifically wanted to be Steampunk. I wrote a Cyberpunk story that I wanted to be a noir detective story. My novel is hard sci fi with some mech thrown in. Knowing what specific corner of sci fi you want to fit into will help your story move along smoothly.

2. World Building

World building is something that I really love to do. I hold in my brain the ability to create whatever I want. I have created a city with integrated fiber optic cables in a seedy underbelly blocked from sunlight. I have created a world where war has divided society into castes of socialism controlled by capitalists. I’m in the process of creating a world with steam powered machines. Anything goes.

3. Character Development

Characters are tricky. When I set out to be a writer, almost every character I came up with was me. The main character was me. The supporting female was me. The robot was me. They were all me.

That’s lame.

Spend time on your characters. Some people like to write a full bio for characters before writing the story. Others like to make a small chart of every character. Perhaps you do something else.

The main thing is to understand genre and world building. Hard Sci Fi usually requires military, steampunk has mechanics; those sorts of things. Flesh out your character within the parameters of the genre and world they’re in. They don’t have to fit inside of a cookie cutter mold, but if they’re the one brownie in a world of snicker doodle’s, everyone is going to notice.

New Year, new stuff. I hope everyone is working on some sort of project!

Short Stories – Serials, or One Shots?

Lately I have been writing a lot of short stories.

A few of them are actually good, some not so much.

But we’ve already discussed the importance of getting out the good with the bad.

With thee advent of my stories came another question though:

Am I writing these characters only once, or are they going to come back?

One character I wrote, Mal West is his name, I think will come back. He’s a detective, and there’s always a case. In another one I wrote, the characters name is Hershel Gentry, and he isn’t coming back. Although, he kind of thinks he’s a detective…

Anyway, here’s the bigger question:

Can this short story turn into a lot of short stories?

If it can’t it’s ok. I wouldn’t want some of my stories to be a series. That would be a pretty lame series. But if it can, here are some helpful guidelines.

1. Make your character lovable

I don’t necessarily mean they have to be loved by everybody, but they need to be memorable. If your audience can get into the character, they are definitely going to read more than one story about them. So give your character a quirk, or personality trait, or even a weapon that everyone can distinguish as that character’s.

Example: Superman stands for truth and justice, Monk is a hypochondriac, and King Arthur has a magical sword.

2. Give them an occupation that lends itself to stories

So my character Mal West is a detective. He solves crimes, and there’s never a shortage of crime. So the first one I wrote is a murder case. Next time maybe a theft. After that another murder. But the point is that he can have several stories written about him, and he’s being a detective, but he’s always got a different case.

Example: Batman solves crime from a plethora of villains (Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Ra’s Al Ghul)

3. Don’t forget the mood

So in a previous post I talked about how short stories are more about ‘mood’ than anything else. I still hold to this. So when you get a series going, don’t forget the mood. It’s really easy to slip into a cookie cutter story writing mode if the characters are always the same. So be prepared to change the mood from story to story. One could be sad, one could be dark, one could be lighter. Just don’t forget the mood when writing a short story, or it will be just another short story.

What have you been writing? Tell me please. If you’re writing short stories, are they one shots or serials?