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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Microwave Fiction: Just Add Writing!

Flash Fiction -- It's what you write when you don't have the attention span to craft a novella, right?

Just kidding! It's actually what you get when you read or write a short story in a thousand words or less. The actual word count varies depending on what you're doing exactly, but much less than that and you're getting into micro fiction -- which is what I'm doing these days. Among other things.

And that's what I like about these ultrashort pieces. You can hammer out a whole story in a paragraph or less, or sneak in a light bit of reading between coffee breaks. Maybe even both! Not that this new microwave fiction stuff is easy to write, but a truly clever bit will stir the noggin a trifle.

It's a great way to squirt a little oil into the creative clockworks. Make it really good and it will invite both the reader and the writer to think it over. Yes, and there's the catch, but never fear -- here are five links to help with that particular aspect of the challenge:

As an added bonus, here are five bits of advice I've learned from my own attempts:

Build your story up. Start with a single sentence. Then make it a paragraph. If the story isn't told yet, make each of those sentences the start of their own paragraphs. Keep adding sentences and paragraphs until you have a story. Click here for an astonishingly simple method for scaling your story outward.

Keep it short. I had trouble with this aspect of microfiction until I started using Twitter's 140 character limit to define my pararaphs. I still cringe at the amount of wordage I have to cut, but this does help frame my story properly. Interestingly, it also helps the writing flow better.

Go easy on the detail. I tend to get caught up in the details, and that's fine for novel writing. But microwave fiction doesn't give you room to go all Tolkienesque on the reader. Edit out whatever isn't absolutely necessary. Then trim it some more.

Write between the lines. Remember all the details you had to edit out? Imply as much of it as you can with carefully chosen words and phrases. This takes some time and thought, but if a story is worth telling, isn't it worth telling right?

Let the story surprise you. These things don't always go where we expect them to go, and that's okay. Readers aren't looking for the boring and the predictable. If they wanted that, they wouldn't be reading at all; they'd be out smelling the roses or something. No, readers like surprises. Microwave fiction lends itself to surprises... if you let it.

Next up: I share some actual fiction. If ya don't feel like waiting, you might get a preview at my Twitter account as I try my hand at actually making some of my microwave fiction -- *gasp* -- PUBLIC!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Once More, with Feeling: Follow Friday for Writers

The rules
1)      Follow this blog.
2)      Click the quill photo and follow Elizabeth Sharp, the originator of this hop.
3)      Follow the featured author of the week, Nichole Chase
4)      Copy the image code found there and paste it in your blog. Add your name to the link at the bottom of the post while you are there.
5)      Copy and paste the rules in your blog, as well as this week’s question.
6)      Answer the question
7)      Follow, follow, follow. This is about networking, people, making connections with people in your community. So talk to us. We don't bite!
8)      If someone stops by, says hi and follows you, the polite thing to do is follow back.
9)      Comment here and introduce yourself and you just might find a new follower or two.

This week’s question:
Inspired by the spectacular melt down of Jacqueline Howett on Big Al’s Book Blog, how do you deal with a bad review?

Wait. Are we talking about a negative review, which is what Ms. Howett received, or are we talking about a bad review, which is not what she received?

A bad review would be one in which the reviewer is not competently executing what I think of as his duties. This describes a number of the reviews she received on after the debacle on Al's blog. Many of them were obviously written by people who read Al's review but not the book. How could you tell? They were using the same two sentences cited by Al in his blog's comments section and adding nothing new to the discussion. This also describes many of the five-star reviews she received, because they were written as jokes riffing on the title of her book and not as actual book reviews.

A good review is one in which the reviewer actually reads the book and then gives a fair assessment delivered in a well-written review. Big Al's review was a good one. In fact, he was more than fair. It also happens that Al's assessment was fairly negative. In his opinion, the book was not written well. 

In either case, I'll most probably learn what I can from the review and ignore the rest. A professional writer should probably be too busy busting out the next manuscript to worry about what reviewers say about something that's already published. In the case of a good but negative review, I might thank the reviewer for taking the time to review my work. In the case of a review that's actually bad, I'd probably just ignore the whole mess completely and not dignify it with a response.

Sing that to the tune of "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt".

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where Did you Get THAT Idea? Five Ways to Romance Your Muse

A friend recently asked me where writers get their story ideas from. Tricky question, that. It's one of those that should be easy to answer, but turns out being more complicated than you'd think.

Where do writers get their ideas, anyway? 

That's the easy part. I get probably most of my ideas from reading or watching and wondering, "well, but what if...?" The rest of it just comes from exploring my imagination as if it were a world described in the books I like to read... which goes back to largely what I've been reading in the first place.

The seeds of our stories are all around us. Inspiration can really hit us from any direction at any time.  It's our choice as to when, where, and even how we cultivate these ideas and make them our own. But how does it work? Can we do it on demand? Here are five ways I cultivate my own sources:

Bore the Reader

Boring is a lot more awesome than people give it credit for being. Why? Because it's where we start. It's where we pick up our readers before we take them on the pulse pounding thrill ride we haven't quite written yet. 

Try this: describe a completely flat and boring situation. Now fold in a detail or two that makes it less boring. Keep introducing elements one by one until you no longer feel like poking your eye out with a sharp pencil. Continue until you have enough interesting details to launch your story, which by now is unique and awesome instead of boring.

The Path not Taken

Have you ever been excited by a story you read or watched in the movies, but disappointed by the way part (or all) of the story was handled? If you can picture the story that should have been told, there's no reason you can't tell that story yourself, in your own world and with your own characters. 

Old Story Clich├ęs

When pressed for an idea I like to take a story theme that is already overdone and write something from it that feels fresh, new, or even original. It isn't always easy, but if you're suffering from writer's block it's easier than staring blankly and writing nothing. You just strip the idea down to its bare elements, turn it on its ear, and add other elements as needed until you've got a story of your own. A good way to approach this is mixing two or more overdone ideas that don't seem compatible with each other. Make them work together in a believable story and you'll likely have a decent story idea.

The Story Never Written

This one is my personal favorite. Imagine the story you want to see on the shelves but can't find anywhere. Be the one to write it. If you don't have one of those in your head already, close your eyes and start exploring up there.

Be the Director

Another favorite of mine, especially if I need results fast. Forget for a moment that your story isn't even written yet. Pretend it's already a movie. Imagine that first (or next) scene unfolding on the big screen and simply describe what you're seeing as it happens. If the movie gets stuck, be the director and adjust things until the story begins to flow again. This is also a great technique for describing a scene if you can't figure out how to frame it up for a narrative.

Now it's your turn! If my friend were to ask you where you get your story ideas, what would you tell her? (comment below)