Archive for December, 2009

We are on POSTING hiatus until January 6th at FFC  except for announcements, etc.  And of course, Daily Prompts will continue.

However, please consider submitting a blog post at any time for the January calendar.  

If you have a story coming out at EDF or anywhere else next month, then it’s a good month to write a blog post about that experience or any other writing experience you’ve had.  Remember the blog was established to give you all another platform to market your work.  

Although we don’t pay, we do offer you the chance to put links to your blog, your website, and your online publications.  Go here to find out more about how to do this:

String-of-10 TWO Contest is coming in February.

petaandbabyFor most of us, writing is a somewhat solitary pursuit – after all, it’s hard to actually work on a story if you’re chatting to your Mom, IM’ing your best friend, or grabbing lunch with hubby. But there comes a time in every writer’s life when a certain kind of company becomes necessary.

A certain kind of company? I know, it sounds very Eliot Spitzer-ish. But choosing who to talk to about your baby novel is a fraught process. Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they think it’s-actually-very-funny-or-realize-I-stole-all-my-jokes-from-ten-year-old-Leno-shows?

The best way to get talking about your novel is to start with strangers (Eliot Spitzer, I know) who write. And the best place to find them? Writing classes.

Writing classes are excellent for writers at any stage in their career. They’re a safe place to talk shop, learn tips, tricks, and techniques, and commiserate over dialogue that falls flat and characters who refuse to behave.

And, of course, it’s easy to pick apart someone else’s work. But writing classes are all about tit-for-tat, I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours. So what do you do when it’s your turn to put something up for a critique?

Before you submit:

  1. Polish. Spend some time ensuring your work is as polished as you can make it. This isn’t for the critiquers’ benefit–it’s for yours. If your classmates aren’t wasting time with line edits, they’re more likely to pick up plot and character issues.
  2. Make a list of things you’d like your critiquers to think about. It doesn’t have to be long and detailed–even one or two points is fine. If you can, write your list on the workshop copies, or add a page about it. If you know certain people in your group have a skill set you could use, it’s okay to ask them to pay greater attention to the relevant sections (such as getting a cardiologist to help out with the details of a heart attack).

The day of:

Years after my first workshop, I still tremble when it’s my turn to get feedback. A lot of my writer friends say the same thing. What I’ve learned, though, is that the trick to getting the most out of your first workshop is two-fold:

  1. Understand that you’re human, and that nobody gets everything right the first time around.
  2. Understand that your classmates are human, and that nobody gets everything right the first time around.

Critiquing is an art form. There’s a fine balance to helping a writer improve their work, and tearing down everything you don’t like. It’s also a very personal thing. I may love this description:

Cathy was the sort of the person who didn’t like to slow down, who didn’t like to wait. Cathy was the sort of the person who’d skip a visit to the doctor’s even when her neck would no longer fit through the door.

Our classmate, Kathy with a K, may hate it. And that’s okay.

The point is, both Kathy with a K and I have spent time thinking about your work. Your job is to take our feedback and run with it. How? By being true to you.

When I was first writing, I’d change my manuscript at the drop of a hat. Don’t like my main character’s name? No problem, I’ll give him a new one. Think the mother is too harsh? Well, she doesn’t need to be in there anyway. And while this made my critiquers feel useful, it ruined my work. Yes, ruined–because the story was no longer mine.  Nowadays, I work by the rule of three, i.e.

  1. Just one opinion? Probably no big deal.
  2. Two opinions? Flag it as something to think about.
  3. Three opinions? It’s a problem, and I have to make a change.

Writing classes, daunting as they are, are definitely worth the time and effort. But when all’s said and done, remember that your work is your work. Even if you, Kathy with a K, and I are all working on stories about dogs learning to fly an airplane (and who doesn’t love dog-acting-as-human tales?), they’ll never be the same. Why? Our experiences, our voices are different. And that’s just the way it should be.


Peta Jinnath Andersen is a freelance writer and editor in Cambridge, MA. Her flash fiction story, The Jar, will be appearing in an upcoming issue of  Kaleidotrope . She’s currently working on her first novel.

The call for Submission is open for the new year.  However, from December 18, Friday, to Wednesday, January 6, Flash Fiction Chronicles, is on temporary hiatus.  Please continuee to send in your post submission for the new year and I will put them into the queue.

gayforwowOne must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” –Anton Chekhov

Too often a piece of writing is well-done in terms of character and language, but doesn’t feel complete.  It offers no ah-hah moment.  A writer can create ah-hah moments by  foreshadowing what is to come.   This is not plotting,  but something more subtle in a story:  the careful placement of  events, character traits, propsthat hint or suggest the ending.  Anton Chekhov, the Russian master of fiction,  believed foreshadowing was essential to the structure of stories.    Today this is often referred to as “setting-ups and paying-offs.”

For a story to have impact–and there are those who disagree– there has to be an element of suspense, a question regarding the outcome of the story.  I want to anticipate an ending, but not know the ending.  A story that throws an out-of-nowhere twist at the reader doesn’t work nor does one that telegraphs the ending.   These “techniques” steal away suspense and ultimately, satisfaction of the reader. 

Set-ups and pay-offs are what give the reader that ah-ha feeling at end of a story, and if done well, throughout a story.  Did you ever see Die Hard, the first one?  In that movie, in the very first scene, we know that Bruce Willis is afraid of flying.  He’s on a plane, he looks nervous, and the man next to him notices.  The audience notices too. 

Bruce Willis is a fraidy cat.  What kind of hero is he?  What kind of man?  How will he manage if things in this story get rough?  This gives us a little doubt about him, right?  And the outcome of the movie.  We know he’s Bruce Willis, the action star, but we recognize too that he is human–like us.  This revelation give us characterization, empathy (I’m afraid of flying too!) and tension, but it also does something else.  It sets up the possibility that even though we know Bruce can’t fail, John McClane, his character, just might. 

Back on the plane, the man next to Bruce/John tells him to think about taking his shoes off and squeezing the earth with his toes.  This makes Mr. Fraid of Flying feel better and makes us smile.  Like I said, this is a set up.

Later in the movie, after Bruce/John is safely on the ground again and changing his clothes at his wife’s office, he actually takes off his shoes and squeezes the rug and repeats what the man on the plane said.  Something about sand in the toes, I think.  We smile with the character.  We may even squeeze our own toes.  This is the first pay-off. 

Then the shooting starts.  Bruce/John is still in the bathroom changing.  He peeks out the door when he hears gunfire and sees all bloody hell has broken loose.  Grabs his gun, runs out.  Remember he’s taken off his shoes.  He is unprepared, but he’s a cop and he goes into cop-mode.  Although he may be afraid to be 35,000 feet up in an airplane, he’s not afraid to jump into the fray on 30th floor of Nakatomi Plaza.  Pay off #2.

There’s more.  When Bruce/John is pursued and hides in a glass office, the bad guys notice his bare feet and shoot the glass. He has to race through shards to get away.  His feet are cut and bloodied.  He leaves a trail.  He’s injured and his ability to succeed and survive comes into doubt.  Third pay-off. 

If I remember correctly, there are a couple more pay-offs to this bare-foot business, and that’s why this is a good example of how to a writer can take one idea and use it to create a setup-payoff thread.  The reader or audience can remember back to through the story to the beginning and say, “Ahhhh.”  And it builds with each pay-off until the end.  Many stories will have many setup-payoff threads to create suspense and Chekhov’s-gun-on-the-wall logic.  In Die Hard,  although it is Bruce Willis playing the main character, we are not positive he’s going to win because he is outnumbered, outweaponed, and yes, has bloody feet.   We have doubt.  Which translates to tension.  Which in turn creates suspense.   This is why we go to movies and read books, to be on that edge.   

Die Hard is a not-particularly-subtle action movie which makes it a perfect movie to learn about structure.  Watch for set-ups and pay-offs in other movies too, movies that give you that “ah-hah” experience.  

 Much of this, I learned from Robert McKee’s Story.  His book offers a terrific course on how structure works.  Oh, and of course, from Chekov.


Gay Degani is the editor of Flash Fiction ChroniclesHer fiction is recently published or forthcoming in Every Day Fiction, The Battered Suitcase, Paradigm, and 10Flash.

DJbarbernewpicBetween the pets, work, voluteering at the animal shelter, quiet time with wife, I still want more time to write. Finding time in an ever-shortening day! It isn’t easy. 

 I’m not a fan of TV and so evening is my window of opportunity to scribble a paragraph or three.
For anyone who is serious about writing, you know how it is–the phone, the dog whining at the door, a doorbell, the buzzer on the dryer! One must get up and answer those calls!–oh, the ocassional call of nature, too.
But evening does progress to night. Again, let us forget Jay Leno, the sitcoms, the CSI’s and get busy writing! In fact there’s more than enough time if you choose to make writing an important aspect of your life.
2009 has been a most successful year for me. Some three dozen acceptances/publications. When I am focused, I can be very successful, but when my attention is drawn away–my weakness being football–my writing suffers. And so I ask: Are you sitting on the couch watching banalities? Playing the Wii?–iPhoning games and texting your friend in the next room?–or are you at the keyboard pounding out the final draft of that fantasy flash?
Look, I’m no Stephen King, I’m probably not nearly as good as most reading this. However, I make the Time–and so should you. If you really love writing–do it!
So stop the play and get back to writing. I promise you won’t miss very much–and you might even finish that novel.
DJ Barber writes stories, flash, poems, and novels. He was born in the northeast and lives in the northwest. When not writing he has a wife and two dogs that keep him busy.  He has been published online at Every Day Fiction, Moon Drenched Fables, Tales From the Moonlit Path, Big Pulp, Every Day Poets, and Everyday Weirdness.

In Print. DJ has been published by Darker Intentions Press, Odyssey Magazine, has a short story in the anthology, Damned in Dixie, and has a flash in the Best of Every Day Fiction 2008.

DJ would like to remind everyone that even a broken clock is right twice a day.  He blogs at Canyons of Gray.