Here’s a quick one for you, apropos of the holiday. Lots of people have drawn this connection before, but I’m not sure too many of them really considered how deep it goes. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: flash fiction
One of the real joys of writing is getting to see your work interpreted by other people. Cover illustrations are always wonderful — getting to see how a talented artist viewed your characters and world is a real treat. Audio recordings and adaptations are also fun, especially when the production values are as high as, say, Drabblecast’s. And I mention that particular venue because I had the enormously good fortune to get a Doubleheader episode this week with two of my very short stories, Unintended Consequences and Expired. I love the cover art, and Norm did an amazing job with the audio. It was enjoyable hearing the musical selections in the background: I thought the use of music in Unintended Consequences was particularly good and really added something to the ending of the piece.
How about the rest of you out there? Have you had a similar experience of getting to see or hear your work through the eyes and ears of another artist?
While I haven’t been blogging lately, I’ve had quite a rush of productivity. I wrote a Halloween story that was quite well-received by beta-readers, and I’m about 8k words into a (probably 20k word) novella that I expect to have finished by the end of the month. Rather than do NaNoWriMo this year and wind up with 50k words I’d need to either expand (80k seems to be the minimum spec-fic novel length these days) or vastly cut, 20k seems like a perfectly reasonable tradeoff between writing long and not burning out. It’s a hard length to sell, of course, but I’m extremely happy with my results so far. If push comes to shove, I’ll publish it here.
I have also been experimenting with extremely short fiction (100 words exactly) at the suggestion of one of the masters of the art. I’ve been posting my favorites over on the Drabblecast forums (one of which appears in this week’s Drabblecast, Episode 222!) It’s been an interesting experience — fiction at that length is very pared-down and tends to turn on a twist. It’s difficult to get right, and very easy to botch. There’s not a lot of room for complication and nuance, but it’s surprising what you can do with some carefully-chosen verbs and adjectives. In particular, it’s been good practice at word tactics, trimming all of the fat in a piece, learning how to change a few words into one while preserving the punch so that more story can be fit into the same number of words.
For example, compare:
Pitr rationed out the precious crimson fluid, fingers tight on the control knob. One drop. Two… Oh, good lord, dare he?
Hands trembling, he twisted the knob to stop the drip. The bottom of the tube bulged oily red liquid.
He took the jar from under the drip, carefully mixed it, then threw away the stirrer. The jar felt warm; it seemed to faintly glow. He dipped a carrot into the sauce. It hissed.
The student’s eyes bulged. “Are you sure you don’t want to try it first, Professor?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I don’t even like spicy food.”
Pitr rationed out the precious crimson fluid, fingers gripping the control knob. One drop. Two… Oh, good lord, dare he?
Hands trembling, he stopped the drip. The bottom of the tube bulged oily red liquid.
He took the jar from under the drip, carefully mixed it, then discarded the stirrer. The jar felt warm and glowed faintly. He dipped carrots into the sauce. They hissed.
The grad student’s eyes bulged. “Don’t you want to try it first, Professor?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I dislike spicy food. Wait, stop!“
The student relaxed.
“Don’t eat until the camera’s going. OK, now.”
I’m not saying that either one is genius fiction or even worth more than a chuckle. But you can see some of the process there, how I decided that the ending wasn’t quite satisfying enough, I wanted a slightly more complicated ending, adding a dozen words of story without increasing the word count. So I went back and removed and rephrased. For example, changing “he twisted the knob to stop the drip” to “he stopped the drip”, or even pluralizing “carrot” so as to remove its article and save one word. (Here’s a challenge: Can you cut that second version to 90 words? 80?)
The best thing is that as exercises go, this really has a tremendous bang for your time buck. The result isn’t always (or maybe even usually) a good story, but the practice of going from idea to execution and then to polish really is worthwhile.
This is the kind of exercise recommended by Ken Rand’s The Ten Percent Solution, which is basically advice on cutting down any story to make it leaner and clearer, and as a result, stronger. I’ve tried it on a few short stories, and while it can be a real pain to do right, the results is almost always considerably better. Every now and then I think to myself that I’ll try it out on one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, or an early Lovecraft, just for fun. If I do, I’ll put the result up here for you all to laugh at me.
Here’s a quick little piece I dashed off this afternoon. It’s just for fun, so I figured I’d post it here. Enjoy!
Nor A Real Bastard
Mr. Chuck Wendig, esq put up a flash fiction challenge earlier this week: spin a thousand-word yarn riff off the term “Irregular Creatures”. Now, I’m exactly the sort of person to say no to a challenge, but I had a look at some of the excellent entries (don’t miss Marko Kloos’s Seeds if you have bird feeders and the problems that come with them)
Thusly inspired, I dashed together this little piece that I call,
I typed up the story that I wrote on the plane and did some relatively light editing: the result is a fairly brisk 1400-word short story, straddling the line between flash fiction and a very short story. I let a few friends have a look at it, and the results so far have been similar to mine: confusion and cautious “I like it”s. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, that was interesting. Thanks to the thunderstorms, I spent far too much time in an airport yesterday, and didn’t get home until midnight. But the end result was more work on that piece of flash fiction (which may no longer be flash, I’ll have to type it up and word-count) and managed to overcome several plot problems I’ve been having with my most recent mystery: Add a character!
One of the main assets that a real police inspector would have, after all, is underlings: both for doing some of the dirty and boring work, and for protection and making arrests. So, I am now introducing Sgt. Popper! Er, to be renamed once I get more of a feel for the character, of course. (I enjoy my little puns, but they get tiresome after the fourth or fifth revision)
So, why didn’t I start out with such a character as a matter of course? Well… more characters, to my mind, mean a longer story. And I’ve also kind of resisted the Watson thing, either in first-person or third. It seems cliche to me, and if I feel like I’m writing a cliche, I won’t want to finish it. But in this case I’ve talked myself into needing this character for other reasons, and so I might as well make use of it. (What do you think, are Watsons annoying?)
There’s something about airports and airplanes that’s good for writing. I can’t tell whether it’s the lack of decent internet access or the cramped seats that make it tough to use your laptop, or the scarcity of outlets, but lately I eventually drag out my notebook and start writing longhand. I got the better part of The Body and the Bomb written in the Austin airport. This time I got a fun little piece of flash fiction that I’m entitling “The Necromancer in Apartment 5″. I mostly finished it on the flight from MHT to BWI; I figure I’ll polish off the rest on my way back. (Assuming that I haven’t made too-enthusiastic use of my drink tickets after tomorrow’s meeting) I’ll type it up and edit it when I get back. Not sure yet if I’ll try to sell it or just post it here.