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.

What Are Your Thoughts on Horror?

I’ve recently come up with an idea for a horror story, but I’m not sure how to go about it. I’m so much more into Sci-Fi and Fantasy that i find horror difficult. Don’t get me wrong; I like some horror. My friend J Aurel Guay uses me as a beta reader and has written some great horror. I’m also a fan of some horror movies and Poe is good as some earlier type stuff. My question is this:

What are your thoughts? Do you love it? Hate it? Should I go for it?

Let me know in the comments!

It’s That Time of Year

Well it’s that time of year.

NaNoWriMo is in full swing and I forgot about it. Sad face.

I started a story a few days late, but it already needs a heavy rewrite, so I may end up scrapping it. To be honest it would best be served as a graphic novel. If anybody wants to tackle some panel drawing let me know.

Thanksgiving is coming up, followed by Christmas and the New Year. I’m already knee deep in ‘things’ between church and home and planning the 1000 trips my family will have to take. It’s very taxing already. My writing has been on the back burner for months because of the baby and work and editing and designing and everything else. That short story collection I’ve been talking about releasing for the better part of a year may someday become a reality.

But the point is that we all get busy.

1. Find something to do

This blog has kept up my spirits and work ethic, if albeit slightly. I find myself trying to write a post at least twice a month if not once a week. Sometimes it’s hard, but it keeps me going. Researching and having to go out and watch movies for reviews and stuff helps me stay sharp in my mind for future projects. Finding the time to develop these things while not having a full-time writing avenue is difficult, but the creative juices are still flowing.

2. Find other things to do

If you read this blog religiously you know that I’m an avid hunter and fisherman. Well I used to be an avid fisherman. Hunting season is in full swing, and I will be tracking down an elk pretty soon. And there will be pictures of my conquest. Hunting helps me get away from all the stressful stuff and have some alone time. I’m an INTP person, so getting away is extremely important to me. If I was still single, I would probably spend my weekends in another state. Hunting also helps me with self worth issues because it provides much needed meat for my family.

I digress.

Find something to do that isn’t writing to help you chill out and relax. Relaxation often leads me to ideas that I can write down and develop later.

3. Do some writing

As i mentioned earlier, I had planned to do NaNoWriMo again this year. That didn’t happen. But I did start writing a story and have a pretty good idea of where I want it to go. Not very solid yet, but it’s a start. If you’re stuck just writing a blog or you’re done relaxing and have some ideas, try to write a little bit. Who knows, maybe you’ll bang out the next great thing. Maybe collaborate with someone. Do some sort of writing. You’re bound to come out of your funk eventually.

 

This is a post that is similar to many i have already written, and is mostly a reminder for myself and anyone in the same boat. It will end. The ideas will come. The words will make it onto the screen. Get it done.

Keep it up.

Ender’s Game

http://collider.com/wp-content/uploads/enders-game-promo-poster.jpg

 

I saw “Ender’s Game” this weekend. I was both thrilled and disappointed. As I watched the movie, I had several thoughts on story and medium.

 

SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!

 

Subplots can be make or break

If you have read the novel Ender’s Game, you know that the story is pretty complicated. In fact, one subplot is so vital to the story that it effects the end of the novel and its sequels. Ender’s siblings engage in political espionage and fearmongering, eventually leading to a global unification and takeover. This in turn allows Ender to take a team of explorers and find a new planet to colonize, leading to him finding an egg containing a “queen” alien. This gives Ender a chance at redemption for the genocide he committed.

The movie is devoid of this plot. In fact they take all of the things it leads to and kind of rolls them into one sorry excuse for an end of a movie. It ceased to be a well thought out plot and became a rushed, “let’s make this movie less than 2 hours” piece of garbage. The falling action of the movie is quite literally about ten minutes long. the falling action of the novel is at least 50 pages.

 

Medium

All of this being said, I understand that it is nearly impossible to get everything in a novel on film. Every movie would probably be 4 hours long, minimum, which is not conducive to an ADD audience. However that shouldn’t be an excuse to ruin or almost ruin a story. Film is a wonderful medium, in fact it’s probably my favorite medium. I love visuals, seeing the action as opposed to imagining it. But the written word allows a complete description and longer story. The reader is saddened when the story ends, whereas a movie ending is just another part of the experience. Seldom have I heard a general public outcry of “I didn’t want the movie to end” (crappy Hallmark movies and grandmothers aside.)

What does this mean for writers? We have the opportunity to complete a story without making compromises. A story can be as long (or short) as it needs to be, without the restraint of running time. Let’s use this to our advantage, and write better stories. If I ever sell a story property for film, I hope everyone says that it was as good as the book, but I would definitely take “The book was better.”

 

Aside from it’s differences in subplots, “Ender’s Game” was visually stunning, and it did get some of the story aspects right. The battle room, in my opinion, was spot on (even though the story was shortened). Go see the movie, and for your own opinions. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. Remember that it was written in the 1980’s, predicting things that are commonplace in our lives such as the internet and very immersive video games. All in all, I give the movie a solid B.

Top 5 Anime of all time

This post will most likely cause arguments rather than settle them. I’ve been watching anime for as long as I can remember, so it has definitely played a role in shaping my views of science fiction and writing. I will list MY top 5 anime series or movies, and what I love about them. Which will in turn reveal what I draw from them for writing. If I leave out something that is definitely influential, it’s probably because there wasn’t room in this top 5. It doesn’t mean I don’t like it, it just means there’s no room on this list. I would love to do a top 50 or top 100 influences one day if anyone has suggestions…

Without further adieu, here’s the list…

5. Howl’s Moving Castle

The Top 5 Reasons Steampunk is Awesome

A fairy tale with steampunk elements, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is a wonderful movie. From the mysterious Howl to the naive Sophie, and even the wacky Calficer, it’s full of memorab;e characters who all play a vital role in the story. The real world is left behind, and you find yourself right in the middle of the action.

4. Inuyasha

Inuyasha is more fantasy than sci fi (a magical well is really just a stable interdimensional time portal…) but it has strong story elements. It boils down to a love story that spans the eons, intertwining two souls forever. There is swordplay and magic and stuff blowing up and all kinds of weird bad guys. Definitely worth checking out.

3. Outlaw Star

I know that Outlaw Star isn’t the BEST space anime, but it’s good and short and full of action. It has existensial crises and the search for treasure, as well as many other reasons to like it. There is FTL space travel as well as integrated biomechanical beings used to pilot ships. Go check it out.

2. Dragon Ball Z

The Dragonball universe is full of family, friends, and moral conundrums. The sanctity of life is threatened by villains, and the heroes are forced to weigh the worth of the villains’ lives. They usually end up killling the threat rather than deal with it later down the road, but not always. And the themes of redemption and transcendentalism are rampant throughout all three of the dragonball series. Plus they beat the living tar out of each other all the time.

1. Gundam Wing

You knew it was gonna be something with robots…

I like Gundam Wing because of its political turmoil, revolution, and action. Most Gundam series contain these themes, but Wing takes it to a whole new level. Not to mention it has some of the coolest Gundams ever thought up. It’s long enough to develop the themes and allow for a couple of complicated love stories, but it’s short enough to watch in about a week (maybe two) if you watch a few episodes a day. The ending movie “Endless Waltz” is also recommended.

There’s my top 5 anime list. I hope these will help you expand into other series and movies. As I said in the beginning, I hope this list causes arguments rather than settles them. Go watch these wonderful stories, and use them to write your own.

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!

Beta readers part 2

So I’ve been pretty busy lately. If you don’t know, I work at a school. The year is winding down, and I’m trying to keep everything in order. I’m also a minister, and that means with the ending of school comes the beginning of summer. Or as I like to call it, the beginning of keeping a bunch of teenagers occupied and out of their parents’ hair for a while. But it’s all good.

However, I haven’t written a story in a few weeks. Which is odd for me these days.

But what I have been doing, is just as important as writing new stories. I have been consulting with several of my beta readers on some of my stories. It’s been really great to get so much feedback, and it gives me a chance to fix any problems in my writing. I’ve also been doing some beta reading myself, so I get to tell them how terrible their writing is too! >:)

Not really. I enjoy beta reading and giving feedback just as much as I like getting it. I know how much it helps.

So we’ve talked about how important beta readers are, and some things they can help you with. Now let’s break down how to be a good beta reader, which will help us choose even better ones!

Read the work more than once

If you read something more than once, you will catch things you missed the first time. This will greatly improve your critique, and give you something to tell the author. Really get into the text and ask yourself how you feel about it. Which brings us to the next point.

Ask a few questions

It’s important to know what you’re looking for as a beta reader. If you have just started reading an author’s works, then they are basic:

What is the overall style?

What is the voicing?

And once you get to know an author’s style and voice, you can get into some more in depth questions:

What is the plot?

Where is it going?

Do I like this plot?

Do I like the characters?

What’s missing?

Questions like these will help you make a good report for the author. If you answer these questions, the author will most definitely appreciate your feedback. and remember to give it a positive spin..

Be Kind

Authors are fragile (well most authors). If you’re mean and nasty about their writing, you won’t be getting any more free manuscripts to read. And that doesn’t mean suck up and tell the author that their work is awesome when it needs some retooling. We (authors) need to know when something is wrong or bad. But it doesn’t have to be:

“Hey this sucks.”

And this is coming from someone who has been called the most insensitive human on the face of the planet!

(When one of your best friends comes to you with misty eyes because you attacked them instead of gently correcting, maybe you can understand what I had to go through to gain some kindness. Being a jerk all the time is what’s terrible.)

So be kind and lead your author to conclusions. And obviously this will ebb and flow with your author’s personality. One of my beta readers asked me how I wanted one of my stories critiqued and I said ‘shred it’. I knew the story needed work, so getting heavy editing suggestions wasn’t going to hurt my feelings.

But unless that happens, be kind. Your unsavory comments could destroy the will to create and end a career.

Keep Reading. And Writing. And Reading.

I hope this encourages you to be a beta reader. And that goes double for authors. You need to stay humble and help others out. And who better to go over manuscripts than a fellow author who knows about writing? Strict readers are always welcome, but writers will definitely help move the story along. Consider this: two of my readers had read the same story. I got an hour long phone call from one, who isn’t an author, and he wanted me to develop one aspect of my story. The other reader, who is an author, sent me a very detailed email wanting me to further develop a different aspect of the story. Both were great suggestions, and came from two different ends of the reader spectrum.

So keep writing in order to keep reading in order to keep writing…

Get it…?

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.

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.