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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)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Follow Friday? Thought that was a Twitter Meme...

Welcome to the Writer’s Follow Friday Blog Hop! Not sure if you qualify? If you have a blog to add, guess what, you’re a writer! So check out the rules, grab the link and join the hop! We’re small for now, but we hope to continue to grow.

Please join in in welcoming Liz Schulte from Bat Country with this week’s featured question:

"Some people like to do it in the office. Others prefer it in bed. Some people like it on the dining room table. Get your mind out of the gutter, I'm asking where you like to write!"

Simplicity itself answers this one. I like to do it in my bedroom, where I keep my computer. If I'm away from the keyboard, the bus will do. Or anyplace else where I can sit down, whip out my notepad, and catch my ideas on paper. Ooh, there goes another one... *wanders off*

Want to play? Here's what ya do...

The rules
1) Follow this blog.
2) Follow Elizabeth Sharp, the originator of this hop.
3) Follow the featured author of the week.
4) Go to Sharp words and 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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Publish Hypnotically Storys with Supreme Balance

Or: "How to Avoid Becoming Something of a Meme, a Trope, and a Laughingstock all on the Same Day"

Those of us hoping for a published byline one day have (hopefully vicariously) learned some valuable lessons this week. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Our work deserves our respect. Good writing requires more from us than just stringing words together on a page. We need to study our grammar and usage with a mind to improve them. If we think our work can't be improved, then we probably aren't paying attention to these things. A story or book worth publishing is worth getting right. 
  2. Editors deserve our respect. If they won't accept our offerings, there is a reason. Maybe our copy needs some proofreading, and possibly some heavy editing. Sacrilege! This is nigh unthinkable when we think a project is finished. Think it anyway and hire a copy editor.
  3. Our fellow writers deserve our respect. If someone offers an honest review, try accepting the result with grace and gratitude. If we cannot render this essential courtesy, then we should keep our mouths shut.
  4. Our audience deserves our respect.  We should offer to them our best efforts, not something we pushed through a vanity press because the publishing industry didn't want it. If we cannot respect our readers enough to give them our best, then our stories should probably remain in our journals where no one will spurn or criticize them.
Writing is a business. If we have a problem with any aspect of this business, we should consider the source. Here's a hint about that: the source isn't the evil reviewer who panned our work. It's the work itself. Arrogance is never an appropriate response, and bouts of overweening martyrdom won't help our chances. Success in publishing often hinges on strong relationships within the industry. We writers should be building bridges, not burning them. 

Which of those are you doing?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Writing with Voice

"Voice is the imprint of ourselves in our writing. Take the voice away... and there's no writing, just words following words." -- Donald Graves

Ah, the holy grail of writing. The all-elusive Voice. That thing which hooks our readers, propels them through the pages, and compels them to keep going. Where does it come from? Does it define our work, or is it defined by it?

Perhaps it is the substance that Randy Ingermanson calls our "content". That inner wisdom woven together from our experience in the loom of our imaginations into the tapestry of our stories. Or something like that.

Yes, but how to develop our Voices as writers? Like the physical voice, our writing voice needs to be exercised in order to wax strong and melodious. Like our stories, it begins with its roots in the plain and ordinary. Through vigorous exercise, we build it and give it shape into the extraordinary.

One supposes it all goes back to the Writer's First Rule, no?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dumb Looks are Free

He flashed a glassy grin  toward the beauty, who  wondered what he'd been smoking. Not for long, though; the acrid scent hanging in the air like an accusation finished the story that his tattletale dumb look had begun.

“How many times, Bill? I toldja mushrooms are for eating, not smoking!”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Alphabet Soup for the Soul

Having completed my first week in the freelance writing arena, I can say one thing with absolute authority: Wow.

Yes, indeed. There's an undeniable thrill to being able to set your own hours, pick and choose your projects, and more or less be your own boss. That's the good news. The bad news is what comes along with those undeniable thrills, and that's unfettered frustration.

Writing web content should be easy work for a writer, really. You choose bite size chunks of information and weave them together to show the average web reader something they possibly hadn't noticed or understood before. Do it in plain English that makes sense and people will love you for it. Best of all, they demonstrate this affection by showering you with hard earned cash. Right?

Well, sure. Unless one of your editors happens to be a computer who keeps rejecting your prize winning prose because it contains oft-repeated phrases that, if they were all legally copyrighted, would prevent anyone from ever publishing anything in the English language again. Then you find yourself mired in a hellish sort of alphabet soup, desperately trying to dig your way back out before the looming deadline devours your soul and spits it back at you after only partially digesting it.

Apparently, you also find yourself seriously wondering if, by comparison, writing that novel wouldn't be such a waste of your time after all...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Writing for "Real"

I submitted my first two freelance articles for approval. As of today, I write for actual pay. Livin' the dream, as it were... well, half the dream anyway. I'm ghost writing, so technically I don't get a byline and there won't be any publishing credit.

Still, as far as I'm concerned I've got the half of the dream that matters. It's hard to beat freelance work for the independence and flexible hours! Now: if my boss weren't such a bloody slavedriver, maybe I could get a vaction...

Oh, yeah. My second assignment hasn't been reviewed yet, but here's what the editor said about my first one:  "Writer shows potential - Will need to see another article to evaluate properly."

Given the hell and high water I had to wade through to get that assignment in, I'll take that as a compliment thankyouverymuch.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Day in the Life: The Saga Continues...

My lovlie has dropped off the radar. I assume she's been trapped in a meeting someplace. As I cope with this and mull over my fledgling writing career, the clock sneaks around on me. Father Time taps me on the shoulder and informs me that it's time for another product rotation.

Woot! my Patriotic Duty beckons, so I shut down and stow my computer in my briefcase, which I deposit into my locker on the way to the meat cooler. I drag a cart back to my work area and get busy... and three (maybe four) cases of meat later, my work is done.

It's a slow morning. I don't even need to put more ground turkey out yet! So, it's back to the vendor room for another round of mulling things over. I've gotten good at that part.

Feeling a little bit sluggish, I swing by the break room for a cup of coffee. I notice a hand printed sign over the sink. It reads: "WE NEED MONEY FOR THE COFFEE FUND FREELOADER!" How nice. I was going to get mine from the vending machine, but now I'm curious, so I examine the coffee maker. There's a (rather large) fellow sitting behind me who gruffly inquires as to what I might be looking for.

"I'm just trying to figure out where we're supposed to put the money for the coffee fund," I inform him.

He replies by poking a spot on the table in front of him, as though he expects me to just drop money on the open table based on his glorious majesty or something. I ignore him; I don't even know his name. I'm generally not interested in the names of people who act as though the world owes them something. I certainly didn't owe him a thing. I'm not a freeloader, either. I decide I'm not in the mood for coffee and wander back to the vendor room.

I've got stuff to do that excludes getting shaken down for coffee money. I don't drink that much of the stuff anyway.

A Day in the Life...

The road to happiness needs better maintenance. I've been  working on getting a more optimistic outlook. Really. Sometimes it just seems that life keeps getting in the way. Mostly little things just strung together in a hopeless tangle. Not always, though.

It starts this  morning with a not-so-little thing. I open the door to leave for work and I find a three day notice on my door, claiming that it was posted yesterday but I certainly didn't lay eyes on it till this morning. Wonderful. I wanted to talk to the manager about my rent yesterday, but I had enough trouble just cashing the check so I could pay half of it and explain when she can expect the other half. But no, she can't even wait for me to do that. Gotta demand payment in full, with late fee, within three days. Great.

Well, can't do anything about that first thing in the morning... except to keep working so I can eventually pay. So I traipse in to work with my friend. I help him with some projects at the local base commissary, mostly stocking chicken and turkey products.

The poultry shelves were demolished again as per usual, but that sight actually brings me joy. It's part of the evidence that I'm actually doing something worthwhile in all of this: serving the people who serve my country. This is part of my actual job. What gets me down is all the junk I have to put up with that isn't part of my actual job... like reorganizing inventory for the management's convenience. That was yesterday's circus event.

Or like fifty gazillion vendor stockers dragging gargantuan over stacked pallets of product and all of them trying to use the same corridor at the same time. I've never seen this fiasco before, but I suppose it's got something to do with being the day after a major inventory. They let their stock run low so there's less to manage during the count. Now they're scrambling to stock back up again and get on with business as usual. The problem is this: they're all using the tiny stretch of hallway that the meat cooler is attached to. I have to pull *my* stock outta there and they're all in my way.

Wonderful. They've got two pallet jacks and a small cart full of cardboard someone didn't bother to take out, all parked right where my carts need to be. Great. I can't park the cart with my sanitizer water in the usual spot, because somebody pushes it outta the way to drag another over stacked pallet through. Gah. Fine. Whatever.

Yep. Sure could use some of that serial optimism. Hey, at least my friend is the one in the cooler re-palletizing the junk I had to offload into the Draper Valley section. Let him do the heavy lifting while I do the stuff I'm actually getting paid to do.

Now, if I could just figure out a way to get paid for putting up with all those clueless stockers getting in my way, I'd be a very happy man today.

Hey, that's optimism, right?


Monday, January 31, 2011

Frozen in Time

It was one of those moments that made time disappear, he watching his lover's eyes, and they watching back.

"What do you think we should do?" he finally asked.

Alice skewered her husband with a chilly glare. "Do whatever you want," she frosted, "but I'm getting a good divorce lawyer."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bliss, Blindness, and Bankruptcy

The wedding was golden, signaling the end of her brief enslavement to the inherited tax debt. Del Arnes walked in vibrant style afterward, flowers in the air and her savior on her arm. Joshua smiled as the limo pulled away. He finally had a means of saving his failing enterprise.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dances with Trafficks

Edward hated sales calls with Karen, especially in Washington. The roads were convoluted and the two were stranded. "We can't wait around," nagged Karen. "We'll miss our call." Edward slammed out of the car and jogged for the next station.

Ben's truck got him first... he didn't look both ways.

Reflections on the Trade Skills of the Woodcutter (the mini-saga, Vol II)

Even the simplest trade conveys a great many skills. Take the humble Woodcutter, who must know the length of his ax, which end to hold, with which end to cut, and so forth. Such knowledge is imperative not only when chopping trees, but also when set upon by  large bears...

Ok, supposing it's not a bad attempt, but does it really qualify as a whole story? It seems to lack an ending. As a writer,  how much can I leave to the reader's imagination?

The Mini-Saga

In order to be a writer, you've got to write. In order to write successfully, you've got to write consistently. For those of us who are short on time and/or attention span, this is a potential problem. With a life full of Everything Else going on, how do you make time to develop a new habit like consistent writing?

In A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink describes the mini saga, an abbreviated story which consists of exactly fifty words. It may sound like a strange idea at first, but consider this: the strange and unusual have a habit of stoking creativity and melting away writer's block. The strange and unusual are often what make for interesting storytelling, and if you can write a coherent sentence, you can write a fifty word story.

The mini saga is a very useful tool for developing consistent writing habits. A full story in exactly fifty words. What's yours?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Writer's First Rule

I'm not sure specifically how many rules writers have. That's probably because we don't all have the same rulebook. But ask any successful writer what exactly it is that successful writers do, and they'll all eventually tell you the same thing: writers write! So to be a successful writer, you have to write, right?

Unfortunately, writing is also something that many unsuccessful writers do as well. So what's the difference between a "bad" writer and a "good" writer? Think about it for a moment or three.
It's not quite as easy to answer that question unless you are (or know) a successful writer, is it? I suppose we can call it the Writer's Second Rule: Successful writers sell their work. To do this we have to give readers what they want to read, buyers what they want to buy, and editors what they want to edit. Yes?

I've noticed as well that the best of those sell themselves as well as their work. This is a process that the marketing world calls self-branding.

Just some food for thought. I could elaborate, but tonight this blog is about the writer's first rule: actual writing. We can figure out the rest of the rules some other time, no? Now, to quote Sinclair Lewis: "Why aren't you all at home writing?"