Archive for March, 2011

In my writing life I keep coming across people, both face-to-face and through the Internet, who do interesting things and/or have achieved noteworthy writing success. As part of my column I thought it would be great to meet these people and get them to share their thoughts on this fiction form – Flash – that we all love. I have set ten questions for my interviewees. My first interview is with Tim Dicks, and with good reason! While many of us, definitely me, are happy if we are able to write flash pieces a few times a month at most, Tim writes one every day. Here is the interview.

I first met Tim (virtually!) in Twenty20 Journal, a magazine for fiction that is twenty words or less.  (Btw, there’ll be an interview up soon on Twenty20′s editor Benjamin C Krause, meanwhile do look around his magazine and site).   Coming back to Tim, his fiction has been published in PANK, Prick of the Spindle and Thieves Journal and blogs at Moonshot. What struck me most about his bio was: Tim Dicks writes a flash piece every day. I had to find out more!

As it turns out he does more than write flash fiction every day. In Tim’s own words, “In addition to my blog, I contribute to Uncanny Valley’s blog, and my fiction most recently appeared in Wigleaf. I started this project (Story Every Day) while engaged in the brutal, numbing process of editing a much longer manuscript as a way to get some new ideas down on paper quickly. I started knocking out short pieces, and wrote so many that I decided to start putting them up on my blog. I’m taking a break right now to finish edits on the novel, but am looking forward to getting back into the flash project, probably next week.”

RB: You write flash fiction every single day! How do you manage that? Can you tell us a bit about your flash fiction writing process?

Tim: I spend 30 minutes getting to work every day, and during the commute I try to think of a punchy central idea, some want or disappointment or discovery to build a miniature story around. With flash I want to eliminate as much narration as possible, so I try to think of actions, etc. that will convey the most relevant information about a character’s internal life. Then during a break I’ll write up a draft, and on another break I’ll return to it, and later I’ll return again, until it’s finished. I know I’m done when I go through and don’t find any words that make me cringe.

RB: What are the difficulties and advantages you face as a writer when working on flash fiction? Is flash fiction your favourite form?

Tim: The economy of flash fiction is addicting; everything the reader needs to know is there in a handful of words, and emotions are packed in tight enough to burst, and a story is opened and closed and over quickly, as a lot of stories in our real lives are. I enjoy reading a good flash piece and feeling like I just crawled into someone else’s brain and found a wild mess inside, but my favorite form is the novel. A novel is harder to successfully assemble, and to read, but I like the incredible possibility in all that space.

RB: When do you normally write flash fiction? Do you write during a break from your longer works?

Tim: I usually use short pieces as a break from a longer project I’m focusing on. At the moment I’ve stopped producing new work altogether, to focus on editing a novel, and I’ve found it’s difficult to fit time for flash in there. But when I’m rolling along on a long, focused project, it’s easy and relaxing to slip off for fifteen minutes and work on a draft of a short piece.

RB: Do you carry a scribbling pad with you for flash (and also poetry)?

Tim: I have no notebook, but I carry a phone I use to email story ideas to myself. Usually I note down half the idea and then forget the other half and end up with an unworkable mess. Sometimes in the dead of night I wake up and email myself some particular rush of image from a half-dream and try to make sense of it the next morning. Recently I woke and emailed this to myself “arm hole dice.” I think it was a note for a story about a man with a prosthetic arm he uses for storage of everyday objects, like a jacket pocket, and from which he draws dice to roll around a table when he needs to make a decision or is just bored. Anyway, obviously, it sounds crazy. I wrote a blog post for Uncanny Valley about these undeveloped snippets, here.

RB: What is your favourite time and place for writing? Give us a peek into your writerly routine.

Tim: My favorite time to write is at night, maybe between 10 and 2. I hate sleeping so I keep typing as a way to stay out of bed. I also enjoy working in afternoons, but during the work week there’s not much chance to.

RB: Which writers inspire you? If you have any short story/flash fiction writers in mind, even better.

Tim: There are a lot of great flash writers working right now—it’s easy to see them, I think, because so many online journals embrace flash—but some whose work I’ve enjoyed recently are Tia Prouhet, Ani Smith, and Laura Ellen Scott. I am probably most influenced by longer works that employ flash-type concision, though. I read Teresa Svoboda’s Pirate Talk recently, for example, and would love to write some pieces that have some of its fire. It’s a novel told entirely in dialogue, but we’re never confused as to who’s talking or what the action is. The entire thing shows incredible control and attention to sentence-level creation, and reads like a moody fantasy typed onto paper.

RB: Do you have any favourite flash fiction piece or writer in mind?

Tim: I admire writers who can produce a lot of good material regularly. J. Bradley comes to mind as a cross-genre writer who is always producing new content, on his blogs and for journals. Probably the writer of short fiction I’ve been most interested in lately is Laura Ellen Scott; her collection Curio is out from Uncanny Valley Press, and shows great variety in its weird, brief stories.

RB: What do you consider a great piece of flash fiction?

Tim: A great piece of flash tells me as much as possible while telling me as little as possible.

RB: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers (of flash fiction)?

Tim: My best advice to writers, particularly of flash, is to read as much as possible, find journals that match their aesthetic, and send out their best pieces. I also try to remind myself to not just think of small or quick ideas before I write a short piece, but to think of sprawling ideas and then figure out how to compact those into a tight space.

RB: What are you working on now?

Tim: I am at work on a few projects. I’m most excited about a novel, which will probably be called Moonshot, like my blog, and which will be a kind of literary/science fiction/adventure mess inspired by Candide. I’m almost done editing it and will be excited to move on, get back into the Story Every Day project, start a new long project, etc. I’ve also been assembling a flash collection, of new stuff and some old pieces.

_________________________

Rumjhum Biswas is a writer based in Chennai, India. She blogs at www.rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com.

by Virgie Townsend

According to everything I’ve read, the bookpocalypse is upon us and television is eating our brains. People don’t read. A 2007 Associated Press-Ipsos poll revealed that 27 percent of Americans said they hadn’t read a single book in the past year. Not even the first Harry Potter book or something like The Sheikh’s Virgin Bride.

The Association of American Publishers reported in 2010 that net sales from books dropped 1.8 percent between 2008 and 2009. Even audio books suffered.

Thus, as I sit down to write in the evenings, I sometimes wonder why I’m doing it. Perhaps books, and fiction generally, are the literary equivalent of an abacus, and I’m that old codger wandering around the supermarket trying to tally up my costs by flicking beads back and forth.

Of course, I continue to write because I enjoy it and I don’t believe that literature and literary markets are dead. I suspect that most Americans want to read and enjoy fiction, but that there’s always some other task that seems more important. Indeed, a recent TalkTalk survey in Britain found that 48 percent of the 2,000 surveyed parents reported that they were “too busy” to read bedtimes stories to their children, even though 80 percent of them agreed that doing so could be beneficial to their children’s development.

I, for one, scarcely read for enjoyment at all while in law school. Every time I picked up a non-academic text, I felt guilty.

Flash fiction is one possible answer to the reading-time commitment dilemma. Opening a flash fiction e-zine for five minutes is less daunting than picking up a huge book, yet stories of 1,000 words or fewer can be just as entertaining and challenging.

When it’s done well, flash fiction can produce profound, richly told stories. I thought about Dale Phillips’s Heartsounds for weeks after I read it, remembering my favorite images and admiring how skillfully the author detailed the protagonist’s thought process.

Over the past few months, I’ve introduced some of my friends to the genre. Several of them have told me that after reading a piece of flash fiction, they felt like they had just finished a novel. I consider that a testament to how much can be accomplished in such short stories.

Three lines of a Bill Knott poem changed the way I felt about death. The last paragraph of Lolita—181 words—had such an impact on me when I was 17 that I memorized it. Knowing the power that so few words can have, I await the day when busy people realize that they can read quality fiction at no cost to their schedules.

This post was originally published at Virgie Townsend’s website.

__________________________________

Virgie Townsend is an attorney, public relations specialist, and fiction devotee living in Colorado. Her short story “Seventeen” was rated as one of the top ten stories of the year for Every Day Fiction

I am proud to announce a new addition to our staff here at Flash Fiction Chronicles. Michelle Reale, who was our most guest judge for String-of-10 THREE, has agreed to share the editorial tasks with me here.  We will be co-editors of Flash Fiction Chronicles and hope to bring you even more about the ins- and -outs of writing flash fiction.  Michelle joins Gay Degani, Hillary Degani, and Dennis Vanvick on staff.

Michelle is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Her work has been published in a variety of venues including EyeshotPankMoon Milk ReviewSmokelong Quarterly, The Los Angeles ReviewWord Riot,Wrong Tree Review and others.  She was included in Dzanc’s Best of the Web 2010anthology.  Her fiction chapbook, Natural Habitat, was published by Burning River in 2010.   See below for links to some of Michelle’s on-line work and a link to her chapbook.

Here are some links to stories by Michelle Reale.

What Passes for Normal at SmokeLong Quarterly

Mercy at LITnIMAGE

Arbitration at Kill Author

Walk in Fire at Vagabonage Press

Maternus at Word Riot

By Sheila Newton

No matter how good a writer you may be – no matter how knowledgeable in the art, or science, of writing – it’s always good to exercise your grey cells.

So let’s waltz with the word, foxtrot with the phrase and shimmy with the sentence – get our creative muscles working.

Here’s an outline of the exercise:

***

Choose ten words and write them down, varying them in terms of look, sound etc.  Does the word intrigue you?  Does the word evoke memories?

Think, perhaps, of places, animals, birds, flowers, colours, action, beauty etc.

My 10 random words:

robin, Blackpool, bubble, apple, rueful, dread, sparkle, roar, rotate, rich

Use your chosen ten words in a piece of not more than 22 words. It doesn’t have to make perfect sense.  See the example below:

Robins roared in Blackpool, while bubblesparkled, rotating like rueful apples in a rich feeling of dread.”                                                                                  (17 words)

Then choose 10 more random words.

Here are mine:

Gorgeous, grimy, excellent, sweater, bluebird, longing, starlight, Somerset, happiness, jump

…and compose another piece of not more than 22 words.

Gorgeous bluebirds in Somerset jumped longingly into sweaters of happiness.  In grimy starlight they made excellent nests.”                                                              (17 words)

Then, using all 20 words, compose a different piece of no more than 45 words.

“Gorgeous, in her excellent sweater, she bubbled and sparkled like a Blackpool bluebird.  Robin was richrotating coins like starlit apples in a grimy barrel.  She thought ruefully of Somersetjumping with dread, though longing to roar with happiness.”   (39 words)

Now ask a friend, member of your family or writing buddy to write down twenty of their favourite words – then compose a piece of writing using your 20 given words:

Cerise, spacious, town, jittery, twinkling, iconic, dream-catcher, sturdy, crease, weather, heart-beat, place, pragmatic, whisper, dishevelled, moon, diffident, aching, squared, kite.

Jittery, in a cerisedishevelled dress, she whispered diffidently, aching for better weather.  The iconic dream-catchercreased and twinkling in its place in thespacious townsquared up to the sturdy kite in a pragmatic heart-beat - and laughed at the moon.           (41 words)

The creased dream-catcher was twinklingjittery in the moonlight.  Pragmatic as ever, in her cerisedishevelled dress, she whispered diffidently, “See that sturdykite above the spacious town market-place? It’s iconic. This weather, it’d square up to you in an aching heart-beat.”                                                                 (42 words)

***

Not only do these exercises make your brain’s juices flow, they set your imagination alight.  You may not be able to use the pieces you wrote directly into your writing, because much of it may be complete nonsense.  But ideas can flow from random words put together.

Take ‘sweaters of happiness’ for example.  What wonderful images does that conjure up for a writer.

What about ‘starlit apples in a grimy barrel’? How might that prompt a piece of writing?

‘Jittery in the moonlight’.  How does that affect you?  What creations are born in your mind from this phrase?

And what about the concept of a dream-catcher squaring up to a kite!  What wonderful poem or piece of prose could be composed from that notion.

***

So, did you rumba with your random words?  Samba with your syntax?

Memory muscle and synapses need to stay properly exercised to keep us in the creative writing game.

And flash fiction is a discipline that relies on making every word count.  In flash fiction, it’s all about the word count.

Every word has to matter.  It’s all about keeping our grey cells and white matter exercised.

So keep dancing!

Copyright© Sheila Newton

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Sheila Newton lives in the North East of England with her husband and two cats. She acquired an RGN and a degree in Education throughout her nursing and teaching careers, then in 2010, she caught the ‘creative writing bug’.  She has been accepted for publication with the small press magazine, Debut, won first prize in an ‘about writing’ competition and around 20 of her articles and short stories have been published online.  An avid reader, walker and blogger, Sheila has recently been invited to blog for North East Life online: she also blogs for a local blues/rock band.  Catch up with her on her personal blog, http://sheilanewton.blogspot.com – and her website, www.writeangleswithsheila.wordpress.com.

By Len Hazell

As we saw in my March 17 article on plotline, every plot has three parts.

  • You set up a thesis
  • You counter this with an antithesis
  • All is resolved in a variable synthesis.

The difference between a plotline and a storyline is simple:  story is more complicated than plot.

I know that sounds glib and simplistic, but basically, it is true.

Plot answers only one question.  WHAT HAPPENED?

Story answers two more.  WHY DID THIS HAPPEN? and HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

The other remaining questions “Who did this happen to?” and “When and where did this happen?” are answered in my articles on character and setting respectively.  So back to story.

Like the plot, which follows a basic cause and effect model, your story need not do so. In your story, you can play with the order of the plot, you can use time and memory to twist the order of the narrative, to confuse, mislead, and dramatize.

However, you storytelling technique MUST still follow the basic rule of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. (At least when you begin.  Once you become fully confident  and competent in your abilities, you’ll be able to  forget the rules and tell stories. Remember this is a only beginners guide.

Here is the cheat; I call it a Narrative Grid.


In the top row write in the 3 major points of the plot line you have chosen, in what ever order you want to tell that plot. Decide if you want to use flash back or other narrative devices to do this.

Do the same along the side column from top to bottom.

For the time being ignore the smaller grids in each section.

Don’t worry about characters or setting at this point simply keep in mind WHAT is happening, WHY it is happening and HOW this is coming about

In box number one write in the point where you want your story to start, the first moment of your narrative; The set up. Also here you can include a plot twist indicator, something that will be referred back to later as important to the story.

In box number nine, write the conclusion you initially wish to reach.

In Box 2 write your next story point an event that is not the direct opposite of that in box 1 but something that reverses it or interferes with it  and is influenced by the plot point in the adjacent side column.

In box three write a starting point for the bulk of the story, that combines elements of the first two boxes.

Example one*

Thesis

Plot 1

A seeks something for a purpose

Antithesis

B and C places good and bad obstacles in A’s way.

Synthesis

A overcomes all obstacles and returns to his fulfil his destiny or defines a new destiny from the quest and embarks on this instead.

Thesis

A seeks something for a purpose

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

1) Prince A is almost killed as a baby, By king B but is saved and hidden away. King B swears vengence.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

4)

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

7)

Antithesis

B and C places good and bad obstacles in A’s way

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

2) Prince A returns as a young man King B lies to him and tells him he must prove himself worth by going on a quest.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

5)

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

8)

Synthesis

A overcomes all obstacles and returns to his fulfil his destiny or defines a new destiny from the quest and embarks on this instead.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

3) Finds followers and sets out to achieve the quest

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

6)

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

9)Prince A returns and becomes the rightful king

Now in box four write a powerful reversal of box one, that also relates directly to the first plot point.

Box five is the most important pivotal pat of the grid

This story point must re-establish the story so far, provide a reversal of box 2 and box 4 and introduce either an obvious or hidden obstacle to the competition of the plot. There can also here be a reiteration of the plot twist indicator, or something maybe added to it, or even a partial resolution.

Box six involve a major change or loss by reversing part of box three and combining four and five.

Example two*

Thesis

Plot 1

A seeks something for a purpose

Antithesis

B and C places good and bad obstacles in A’s way.

Synthesis

A overcomes all obstacles and returns to his fulfil his destiny or defines a new destiny from the quest and embarks on this instead.

Thesis

A seeks something for a purpose

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

1) Prince A is almost killed as a baby, By king B but is saved and hidden away

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

4) Prince C the son of King B hides himself in the companions of Prince A feigning friendship.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

7)

Antithesis

B and C places good and bad obstacles in A’s way

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

2) Prince A returns as a young man King B lies to him and tells him he must prove himself worth by going on a quest.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

5) Prince A expounds on the quest, tells of his ultimate aim and destiny and professes his trust.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

8)

Synthesis

A overcomes all obstacles and returns to his fulfil his destiny or defines a new destiny from the quest and embarks on this instead.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

3) Finds followers and sets out to achieve the quest

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

6) The encountering of an obstacle and secret betrayal by Prince C leads to the loss of a companion who is forced to go on a quest of his own.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

9)Prince A returns and becomes the rightful king

This now brings us in to the closing sections of the story.

In box 7 indicate the beginning of the climax by a point in the story were all seems to be going well by an act of revelation or arrival, combine elements from boxes one and four to do this.

In Box eight reverse this and have everything seemingly go wrong, bring together all that has gone before and reveal anything which has still been hidden to this point, before resolving the problem.

In Box 9 decide now if the initial resolution you wrote still fits, then either expand on it or alter it and give the pay of to your plot twist.

Example three*

Thesis

Plot 1

A seeks something for a purpose

Antithesis

B and C places good and bad obstacles in A’s way.

Synthesis

A overcomes all obstacles and returns to his fulfil his destiny or defines a new destiny from the quest and embarks on this instead.

Thesis

A seeks something for a purpose

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

1) Prince A is almost killed as a baby, By king B but is saved and hidden away

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

4) Prince C the son of King B hides himself in the companions of Prince A feigning friendship.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

7)Prince C is revealed as a traitor and overcome as Prince A arrives at the place where his quest is to end.

Antithesis

B and C places good and bad obstacles in A’s way

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

2) Prince A returns as a young man King B lies to him and tells him he must prove himself worth by going on a quest.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

5) Prince A expounds on the quest, tells of his ultimate aim and destiny and professes his trust.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

8)Prince A and his companions are captured and in mortal danger, before escaping and achieving the object of the quest

Synthesis

A overcomes all obstacles and returns to his fulfil his destiny or defines a new destiny from the quest and embarks on this instead.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

3) Finds followers and sets out to achieve the quest

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

6) The encountering of an obstacle and secret betrayal by Prince C leads to the loss of a companion who is forced to go on a quest of his own.

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

9)Prince A returns in triumph kills King B after revealing the death of Prince C and becomes the rightful new king.

In these Examples you can see I have used a classic story line variously told as Jason and the Argonauts, Horus and Seth, Robin Hood etc.

Keep your basic Story Grid and once you have decided on characters and setting  go back and in each section use the small grid to do the same again, making each box a fully constructed story in it’s own right.

Example four*

Thesis

Plot 1

A seeks something for a purpose

Thesis

A seeks something for a purpose

Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Thesis King Pelias invades Thessaly Pelias invades the temple of Hera seeking Jason Hera saves Jason
Antithesis Pelias Kills the royal family Hera Tells Pelias he has the right to the city but not to her temple and those within it Hera curses Pelias that he will never be able to kill Jason, Pelius says in that case he will fool Jason instead and have someone else kill him (plot twist indicator)
Synthesis but baby Prince Jason escapes with his nurse Pelias kills Jason’s nurse anyway profaning the temple She tells  Pelias Jason will return as a man and kill him

1) Prince A is almost killed as a baby, By king B but is saved and hidden away

This done and placed along side your character and settings, you now have a comprehensive set of notes and a structure on which to build your story.

*Editor’s note:  I’m sorry.  The formatting of these forms will take me longer than I’m willing to spend to put these up at a website so that they can be downloaded.  Hopefully, Len’s explanation will be enough that you can set up a table on your own computer and customize the templates for your own use.

________________________________

Len Hazell is 46 years old from the north east of England, holds a degree in Media, and is majoring in writing for the print and broadcast media.  He has published in various magazines in the UK, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and has had several plays produced throughout England.  He is currently working on his own musical adaptation of Arsenic and old Lace which he hope to stage in 2011. Len can be contacted at Bonniefans@hotmail.com. His music is available at http://www.nuzic.net/members/2565