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!

Speculation and the Art of Fiction

It’s always something that is thought or said that invigorates the mind of a writer. For instance, when pitching Star Wars episode VII to J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy simply asked, “Who is Luke Skywalker?”

This was enough to get J.J. to take on the project and co write the movie with Lawrence Kasdan. Similarly, for my most recently published fiction, I asked the question, “How would a superintelligent AI act towards humans?”

 

Simple questions, but important none the less. Once the question is asked, speculation must replace curiosity. One must move from wondering about the question to answering the question. Sometimes the questions get radically profound answers, leading one to see the beauty and terror of The Matrix.

Other times the answer is midichlorians.

But what separates good speculation from bad?

 

Plausibility

Plausibility? Aren’t we talking about fiction here?

Sure. But that doesn’t mean you can just wave your hand and it not be a plot hole. I always like the Star Trek TNG answer to the transporters.

“Are the transporters online?”

“Almost, we need to fix something on the Heisenberg compensators.”

What does a Heisenberg compensator do exactly? I don’t know. All I know is it compensates for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which is the main barrier for technology like that. It isn’t a matter of fiction, per se, but it is a matter of plausibility.

Originality

Originality is a tricky subject, because one could argue that it no longer exists. While that may be somewhat true, presentation is always original whether good or bad. An original presentation can make or break the fiction we are trying to write.

In order to bring this to the forefront, remember to speculate from your own viewpoint and not a preconceived notion. The status quo never stirred anyone to great achievement, unless it moved them in tangent.

Consumability

Ok that isn’t really a word.

But what i mean is that it has to be palatable. Someone has to want to read/watch/play it. Bad fiction that is of the most wildly original speculation is still bad fiction. The point of being an artist is to have an audience that will consume the art, otherwise you’re just a pompous windbag who nobody cares about.

Don’t be that person.

Create things that are good. Get an editor. Hire an artist. Rewrite the sentence until it makes sense. Do whatever it takes.

 

The Art of Fiction is one that is one that heavily relies on speculation. A rocket scientist can not speculate on the right amount of fuel to get to the space station. An accountant cannot speculate on the cost of a mission that the rocket scientist is purchasing fuel for.

But a writer can speculate about how both of them do their jobs.

Happy Writing.

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

Summertime Blues

Well, it sure has been awhile. I have finally settled into the new place, and all of the comic books are waiting to be displayed out of reach of a 1 year old. Much like these toys on a bookshelf.

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Yes. I am a nerd. But you knew this already or you wouldn’t be reading this blog…

Anyway, what is everyone working on? I’m in the middle of writing a story, and I’m trying to locate an artist for a few graphic novel ideas. Let me know what you’re working on, and if you want a beta reader shoot me an email. Hopefully later this week or early next week we will start a new series of blog posts on a very, very, hot topic…

The role of females in consumable media. Specifically in science fiction. Don’t miss it!

Where Science Fact Meets Science Fiction

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that the Silly Robot has a special place in his memory banks and emotion chip for the Hard Sci Fi genre. Authors such as Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and John Scalzi permeate the way I think about science fiction and how it is written.

Lately I have ben frequenting io9.com, reading all sorts of interesting articles about all sorts of interesting things. The thing I love about io9 is their blending of science articles with a genuine love for science fiction. They intertwine sci fi into most of their articles about science, and do so in very informative and entertaining ways. I have gleaned several ideas for stories on their site, and I hope they continue to churn out content for years to come.

Creating Hard Science Fiction

Hard science fiction is special to me because science is a major part of the storyline. I have a degree in Agriculture, which basically means i have a degree in biology with a concentration on production, so being scientifically accurate is sort of ingrained into my being. I have scoured countless scientific journals for research facts, and doing so for fiction i write is commonplace. Weaving these facts into a work of fiction is accomplished in many different ways.

I love Arthur C. Clarke because of his use of science in his stories. They aren’t always the strongest plots, but the science is fascinating. I just have to keep reading and reading to find out what all of the gadgets do.

Heinlein tends to use science as a sociopolitical device in his stories. Artificial Intelligence running revolutions, exo suits driving a conquest, and Martian colonies causing a dramatic social revolution on Earth are a few ways he accomplishes this. Ideals are achieved through the use of technology and scientific proficiency.

Elements of Hard Science Fiction

HSF is usually associated with long paragraphs explaining tech and how it is used. John Scalzi has a fascinating few pages on his ‘skip’ drive in the novel Old Man’s War. And it actually adds a weird element to the story as he does it. It’s quite fascinating. And OMW is a really good book on top of it.

Most HSF stories take place in space, utilizing FTL propulsion and other theoretical technologies. The desire of the authors to stay scientifically relevant drives the universes their stories take place in. Some of them, Isaac Asimov comes to mind, even start a separate writing career in the non-fiction section of the bookstore. Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke were even brought into the newsroom for the Moon Landing in 1969. Science permeated these mens’ lives, driving them to write the fiction they are so renowned for.

How To Do It

So what if you just like writing about some guy who galavants around the galaxy with a laser gun saving pretty girls?

Then HSF probably isn’t for you.

But if you want to write it, remember a few of these things:

Science

It’s all based on a desire to stick to facts and accepted theories. Find a theme and go with it.

Speculation

Sticking to facts doesn’t mean you can’t draw conclusions based on them. Does your FTL drive move the ship or the space around it? How does time factor into your story? Are there sentient species on other planets? All of these, and more, can shape your story.

Silliness

Have fun. Reading some of the guys that are dead then switching to guys that came after them is sometimes disheartening. They think HSF means that everyone is totally and completely serious about everything and nobody laughs. Heinlein makes all sorts of jokes in his writing, and Arthur C. Clarke has an entire story about two British freight pilots sneaking the prince aboard their vessel without the captain finding out.

That’s why I like John Scalzi. He’s a throwback to those guys without being a copy. Go read his books.

To Infinity and Beyond

If you want to write HSF, become a researcher. A true student who learns and adapts. Have fun in the facts. And most of all, write good stories.

A Silly Robot’s Guide to Writing Sci Fi: Part 2 – Planning

I’ll admit it:

I am most definitely a ‘pantster’.

However, that doesn’t always work to my advantage. More often than not, I find myself stuck at some critical juncture in the story. That’s the point where I think, “…hmm…should have planned a little more…”

When I do plan, even just a little, I find that my story moves along smoothly; not to mention ‘stuck’ becomes ‘mildly inconvenienced’. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but planning can seriously up your game on a project. Especially if you’re a Science Fiction writer.

1. Do Your Research

I covered this in a previous post. Researching takes a long time, but in the end it’s worth it. You learn a lot, and it helps you grow as a writer and expert. Remember that there are several aspects of research, and skimping on any of them will hurt your plan.

Particularly in Sci Fi, research will deal with complex scientific systems and budding scientific discoveries. If you plan out how you reveal certain aspects of what you have researched, moving the story along becomes easy. The science can be a major part of the plot, or just a device to make it work.

Whatever you use it for, do the research.

And while you research, keep a log of story ideas. Whether it’s written or on your phone or computer. If you don’t keep track of your ideas, they will leave you and return to the ether.

Research must be recorded.

2. Plan the Ending First

If you have ever written anything, you know that ending a story is the hardest part. I recommend planning how you are going to end a story before you ever begin it.

But Will, that’s crazy!

Is it?

The stories that I have the most trouble with are the ones that I don’t know how to end.

If you’re like most of us who write, you will inevitably be sitting somewhere. Let’s say Whataburger. Or for those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live in a state with Whataburger, let’s say…ugh…McDonald’s.

And while you’re sitting there enjoying your juicy…

Ok, you know what? I can’t do it. You’re at Whataburger. You’re vacationing in Texas.

And while you’re sitting there enjoying your juicy Patty Melt and gimongous drink (cause you can and it’s always 100 degrees down here. Dec. 18th when I’m writing this and the high temp was 86 today) you get a killer idea for a story.

Your main man is going to do that super awesome thing that puts him in all of these larger than life situations, and at the end of it all…

At the end of it all…

CRAP what happens at the end of the story?

So you jot down your idea (in your handy dandy notebook or iphone or whatever) and when you sit down to write, think about how you want it to end. Happy ending? Sad ending? Open ending? Knowing how the story ends is just as important as the story itself.

But Will, it’s the journey not the destination that really matters!

Well, you can spout Eastern philosophy all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that all of your reviews are going to say,

“The ending was kind of disappointing. That’s why I only gave it 2 stars.”

3. Character Development

This is going to sound like redundant rhetoric, but character development can make or break your story. I write mostly short fiction, and character development is much more important than story development. The story sort of develops on its own with my characters. (I said sort of. No angry comments.)

This doesn’t mean you have to spend three pages describing Clark Kent’s background, but it does mean you have to reveal his character.

So put him in a situation that does just that.

Character development does not have to be boring. If done well, it can be the driving force in a story. So before you start writing the story, write your character. This deosn’t have to be extensive, but you should have some sort of grasp on your character’s personality. Hero or anti-hero? Shy or charismatic? Strong or weak?

I like to use the analogy of Kirk and Picard.

Yes, I’m that big of a nerd.

Kirk flies by the seat of his pants, and is a metaphor for Humanism and Hedonism. He wants to shoot first and ask questions later. He only plays by the rules when he has to, and all other times he throws the book out the window. Or the airlock rather. You can’t throw stuff out of windows on the Enterprise.

Picard is more reserved; he weighs every option and holds regular meetings for input. He is calm and calculated, without being as stoic as Mr. Spock. He rarely acts without hours of reflection and considerations, all while sipping his Earl Grey and eating scones.

But we don’t have to read that in a paragraph. Here’s what to do:

Have three Romulan Warbirds decloak in front of the Enterprise and let’s see who does what!

4. Outline

Which brings us to our final point.

Having an outline of your story will help keep everything in order, plus it will allow you room to move. What I mean by that is you don’t have to stick to the outline strictly. There will be plenty of room to veer in and out of the defined lines. I.e. the Enterprise is confronted by three decloaked Warbirds and the resolution is a tachyon burst to disrupt their warp engines. However, I did not say how the tachyon burst would be initiated. Perhaps Mr. Data initiates it from the tractor beam dish, or maybe Geordi creates it from the Enterprise’s own warp field.

Or Kirk just fires three photon torpedoes and the phaser array, all while Scotty boosts the warp engines and they outrun the danger.

Either way works. But they all fit the outline.

All in all, planning can make a mediocre Sci Fi story into something that grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. And who knows? Maybe it will lead to a cherished cult classic in the vein of Asimov and Dick? Use these ideas, mix and match, or ignore them altogether.

But keep writing!

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!

Capturing An Idea

Initial Capture

What do you do when you get that idea that is OMG THE BEST IDEA EVAR?!?!

I hope you capture it in some medium.

I like my phone’s note pad. It let’s me jot down some quick notes so I can come back and flesh it out later. Because, like most people, I’m busy. There’s always something to do.

Sometimes I get ideas for stories while I’m writing other stories.

Oh, and this is the WORST:

So how do you keep track?

The main thing to remember is that you will have ideas as a writer. It’s inevitable. I decided last week that I was going to take this week off from writing. Guess how many story ideas I’ve had? At least two, because I finished one story and sent it out to my beta readers and I got over 1500 words done on another one today. Oh the life of a writer.

If you don’t have some way to log your story ideas, get one. You don’t have to have a notepad on your phone. I also have a leather bound note/sketch pad that I carry around sometimes as well. Just having something to put ideas down on is a must.

Taming the Monster

So once the idea is captured, how does one go about taming it?

Well we do the aforementioned fleshing out.

A lot of writing guides don’t really tell you how to flesh out an idea. And it’s simply because they can’t. There are too many variables to create an accurate equation for writing. Voice, tone, word count, point of view, characterization, plot; and many many more go into your writing. If you haven’t figured out how you do all of that yet, then you need to write more. And write in more than one voice, using many different voices and tones etc. Your cool idea will never become a cool story if you have not honed the skills needed for your craft.

I run into the same problems with young musicians I work with. They all want to play rippin’ guitar solos and try to go at it as fast as they can. The only problem is that they suck at playing guitar. They haven’t practiced enough to play that well.

If your beta readers and editor aren’t impressed with your skills, go to the woodshed.

Releasing the Beast

When your idea is fully down on paper, or hard drive…whatever, then you need to do the last part. Which is editing. Let me make this clear: no matter how hard you work on your first draft while you’re writing, it NEEDS to be edited. Whether you get a professional editor or edit it yourself is another story, but i assure you it needs to be edited. I edited a story the other day to be submitted to a publisher and it was FULL of mistakes. Not just spelling, any decent word processor will catch most of that stuff, but grammar and sentence structure were terrible in some places. They made very little sense within the context of the story.

Here’s some advice on editing if you’re going to do it yourself. Put the story away for a while. At least a couple of weeks, if not longer. You need to forget the story so you can go in fresh and catch your mistakes. If you haven’t yet, you should read ‘Let’s get Digital’ by David Gaughran. Great book on self publishing and the digital revolution. Pick it up and read it.

The art of capturing an idea and completing it is one that many people haven’t mastered. Take this for example:

Battleship Destroyer

Go ahead and read the ‘Look inside’ portion. I dare you. You won’t make it without laughing. This is an example of what can happen if you don’t follow step 3. Don’t be that guy. And don’t forget that repetition leads to mastery. (Not that I’m a master. By ANY means.)

Keep writing! I know I will.