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!

Westerns and Sci Fi

I have a confession:

I love westerns.

A lot.

Sometimes, I sit and watch them for hours on the Encore Western Channel.

It may be a condition.

And what’s funny is that I like westerns more for the characters than the story. As I’ve written before, I’m much more about writing a good story than I am a “good” character. But it’s the strong characters in Westerns that draw me to them. From John Wayne playing John Wayne in all of his movies, to Val Kilmer and Kurt Russel in ‘Tombstone’, Robert Taylor in ‘Lomgmire’, and Emily Blunt in ‘Looper’ (ok kind of a stretch, but she was talking in a drawl and carried a shotgun…) this is what draws me to them.

And while Sci Fi tends to lean more heavily on story than character, at least the sci fi I like the most, the two are very similar. Let’s look at some comparisons to further connect my two favorite genres.

Frontier

The frontier of the American West is romanticized to no end in westerns. Sprawling open range with mountains in the distance, the threat of natives attacking the invading settlers or vice versa, and the quest to tame the wild ground found in the throws of exploration.

Or to put it another way,

“To boldly go where no one has gone before.”

When Gene Rodenberry pitched Star Trek to executives back in the 60’s, he billed the show as ‘a wagon train to the stars’. Because of this, James T. Kirk is your classic frontiersman, albeit with a space ship and laser guns instead of a covered wagon and a .45. This genius set up by one of the 20th century’s best creative minds has forever cemented Star Trek in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.

Frontiersman

As stated about Kirk above, many Sci Fi characters share traits with the heroes of westerns. Mal and Zoe from Firefly come to mind. Han Solo and Chewbacca. The list can go on and on. All of these characters have a strong sense of themselves, and hardly waiver on anything. They know that their road is one seldom traveled and rarely conquered. But they do it anyway.

Guns Blazing

Everyone like a good shootout. Therefore Sci Fi Westerns have gun fights. Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Cowboys and Aliens, shoot even that one episode of Dr. Who was a western mash up with gun fights, fancy hats, and horses. The two genres are intertwined with enough mystery and romance regarding firearms as anything.

Breathtaking Scenery

There are two things I will never tire of:

Mountains and Space.

I runaway to the mountains every summer, and I love looking at new pictures from NASA and other space agencies that like to take pictures. In fact I’ve made several graphics from pics anyone can download from the JPL.

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Westerns and Sci Fi love to take advantage of beautiful scenery. ‘Longmire’ has quickly become one of my favorite shows because of the awesome mountain views, and Walt Longmire’s love of one liners and lever action rifles. Nothing consumes me more than stars and their dust the mountains are made of.

So go watch or read a western. I know you watch and read science fiction. If you like Native American culture and mysticism, then ‘Longmire’ is a good way to break into the Western Genre. Plus it’s set in the present so you don’t have to wade through an hour of how the settlement came to be before the action starts. It’s exclusively on Netflix now, so have fun watching ALL THE EPISODES!

Peace

Have you checked out the latest from The Silly Robot?

Uncanny Divide

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New Horizons

With all of the recent spacecraft landings on different bodies in the solar system, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how these achievements will affect us in the Science Fiction realm. I have a few ideas about how they could shape the near future.

LANDING ON A COMET

courtesy nasa.gov

It’s no secret or small feat that we have landed a probe on a comet. But what does this mean for us? Well for one thing we will know a lot more about comets than we previously did. Also, have you ever thought about how much fuel it would conserve to hitch a ride on one? Perhaps we will be using comets as Solar Systemic taxis in the near future.

CERES

If you don’t know what Ceres is, it is one of the largest non planets in our solar system. It is roughly the size of Pluto’s moon Charon, and resides in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. There is a probe sending higher and higher resolution pictures of it by the day, and soon we will know precisely what its surface looks like. There is already speculation, because the low resolution images have yielded different colored spots on the surface of the asteroid, as well as a rotation. It will be quite the adventure if we decide to venture out for a manned mission to Ceres,especially if we can make it on a taxi comet ride.

EUROPA

Recently the white house requested a bunch of million dollars (30 to be accurate) to fund an unmanned mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Why is it so tantalizing you ask? Well there are a few reasons. The first one is that scientists believe Europa has a liquid ocean underneath its icy crust. They say this because the formation of new cracks on the surface indicate geo thermal activity and plate tectonics. This is significant because it would be the only occurrence of this mechanism in the solar system besides right here on old planet Earth.
And a liquid ocean could hold other treasures. What if there are some alien bacteria down there in those deep oceans? Bacteria tend to thrive in otherwise uninhabitable places. And what if there’s an alien fish? Or alien Merpeople?! The possibilities are endless. Of course this is all speculation. There could be no ocean and just really crappy ice that moves a lot. But it’s fun to guess.

These new horizons are ones that excite me as not only a SciFi writer, but a Sci Fi fan. I can’t wait to see what we all produce as a result of these discoveries. It really is fascinating to think that in a just a little over 100 years we’ve gone from flying planes short distances to sending craft to the far reaches of the solar system. The voyager missions are still kicking out there somewhere. We can catch a ride on a comet. We can explore new worlds seeking out strange new life.

It really is an exciting time.

Embracing the Future (no matter what it may be)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

We live in an interesting period of history. I won’t go into a rant on any level. But I will say this: we have to start thinking about our future.

The Future!

Back in the 50’s and 60’s futurism was all the rage. The space race was on, the Cold War was in full swing, and Science Fiction writers were mostly positive about the way things were going. Artists and writers came up with worlds that were full of awesome technology and shining visions of jetpacks and flying cars.

If you haven’t noticed, we don’t have either of those.

Others envisioned a world run by electronic strips on small cards and computers that run everything in the home.

We have those.

The point is simply this:

They dared to dream of the future.

Futuristic Dreams

As writers of science fiction, it is important to dream of the future. Often our stories are set there, making it not only important, but necessary. Maybe you dream of a space faring human race. Or perhaps you stick with the 80’s futurists and see a world full of cybernetics and dystopia. But we have to always be looking forward, to what lies ahead.

What does your future look like?

I have several visions of the future. All of them are different and depend on an infinite number of circumstances.

Revisiting the Past

“A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future.”
Robert A. Heinlein

Have you read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End? How about Heinlein’s Starship Troopers? Asimov’s Robot series? What about Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World?

All of these works have their own perspective of the future. And the best thing is that they were written in the past, yet they hold visions of a future not yet reached. By observing these writer’s visions of the future, we can draw our own conclusions. One interesting thing to note is that some of these writers thought their futures would be in place in the time we live in now. Which begs the question:

When do we see our futures happening?

This post is kind of weird and very speculative, but the main thing I want to get across is our need to dream. I said at the beginning that I have been thinking a lot lately.

I’ve been thinking about the future.

Silly Graph Mania

So I got a little graphic happy this past week. I’ve been doing a lot of writing during the day, and decided to spend my Ranger watching nights with some pretty cool looking backgrounds. So have some Silly Robot graphics! Or not. But here they are anyway!

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Use them wherever you’d like!

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 🙂