advice


by Jeremy Szal

Jeremy Szal2

Obviously, not every story is suitable for podcasting. Some of the best tales ever penned may fall flat when translated over to the world of audio. In saying that, there are some things you can improve on, not just for a podcast, but for your writing overall. Here are five tips that should help you inch your way up and out of Dante’s nine circles of Hell, otherwise known as the slush pile.

Tip #1: Brevity

We’re talking short stories, so obviously you can’t afford to be lavish and extravagant, filling your paragraphs with endless descriptions of your character down to the shape of her skull. Don’t confuse this with length. I’ve seen flash fiction less condescended and more convoluted than some novelettes. It’s all about quick strikes to the yarbles, not slow, sluggish punches. Your short story can be touching the lengthy side, but it can still be moving at an incredible pace, not bogged down by weighty language and fluffy and mushy dialogue. Don’t try to squeeze a long story into a tiny one—you’ll just damage the material in the process. Instead, choose your words carefully. Give your work as much depth as you can without spilling overboard.

Tip #2: Don’t Play it Safe

As a writer, you’ll be bound to upset people with your fiction (I’ve received hate mail in the past). It’s inevitable. Writing is not an activity for people who value security. Worrying about what other people may think of the fiction you write (or what genre, for that matter) should not be your primary concern. In fact, it shouldn’t even come into the equation.

Don’t let political correctness censor or dampen your artistic integrity. At the same time, don’t go out of your way to upset or offend anyone, because you can sniff those stories out from the other side of the galaxy. But I do encourage authors to push the envelope and see what they can accomplish without fear of upsetting a blogger. Don’t be afraid to write from an alien perspective with a truly warped view of the human race. Don’t shy away from killing off or maiming your characters. Don’t restrain yourself from creating moral gravity or making your protagonist commit atrocities. I want to see more people take more risks and see what they can cook up. Don’t be afraid to shake up the recipe a bit and experiment. (Note I will not be held accountable if your kitchen goes up in flames.)

One only needs to look at the work of Mark Lawrence and his ground-breaking series The Broken Empire. Jorg, the first-person protagonist, is a complete and utter psychopath, depraved and sadistic. But this allows him to provide this world with a monumental amount of complexity and depth. It gives us stunning, darkly poetic prose that’s fresh, gritty and laugh-out-loud hilarious at times. The books pull no punches and don’t allow themselves to shy away from the raw brutality of life. That’s the fearless writing that I want to see. The journey may be difficult, but the reward is ever so bitter sweet. And better yet, it lingers in the throat for a very long time.

Tip #3: Solid Prose

This is just as important and perhaps is the most significant when it comes to podcasting fiction. You need spectacular yet recognizable language. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Traditional storytelling mechanics are always favored above semi-pretentious experimental approaches that your English teacher fawned over. Listeners are not interested in listening to long, lavish paragraphs of nothing, however beautiful they may be. And while we’re at it: a big no to phonetics. Anthony Burgess may have been able to do it in A Clockwork Orange, but it doesn’t mean that you can. You’ll tie the narrator’s tongue in a knot. Stick with the basics of good storytelling and compelling prose as opposed to trying to push the English language to new and unfortunate places. If you feel the need to do that, then I invite you to grow a mustache and march down to the nearest café with a rusty typewriter in hand, charging one coffee per poem.

Oh, and while we’re at it: no 2nd person. I mean this. Seriously. Just don’t.

Tip #4: Strong Character-driven Stories

This is a winner every time. Stories where the characters are the main driving force are compelling and reinvigorating, especially when it comes to science fiction. Fleshed out and captivating characters can make the most absurd of worlds seem real and ground the reader in the most bizarre of alien planets. It allows us to have a connection to this world we otherwise might not have had. It’s one of the reasons why the omnipresent perspective is so rarely seen in science fiction and fantasy. People want to be drawn into these worlds, and a well-written character is the conduit.

At the same time, make sure there’s a plot as well. If your character is a war veteran and a psychopath living in an overcrowded city ruled by self-righteous alien dictators, he can’t very well be plodding around his apartment, drinking herbal tea and staring out the window, contemplating philosophy and his life. No, he’d be out in the rain-drenched streets, looking for trouble. Except trouble finds him. Strong characters and a robust story go hand-in-hand. Take advantage of his. Let the character guide the reader through the world. Whether it’s in 1st person, 3rd, or even switching from multiple perspectives (I rarely recommend this, because in a short story, especially in a podcast, this can be very jarring and confusing. If you fairy dance the point of view like a ballet dancer on hot coals, then you’ll lose the narrator and the listener), seat us behind the character’s eyes and let the plot unfold.

Tip #5: A Good Podcast Narrator

Unfortunately, this one is out of your control for the most part. But a brilliant narrator can make all the difference in a story. It’s all about marrying the right person to the right narrative. Some narrators are better suited to doing gritty, visceral fiction from the perspective of a hardboiled war veteran who frequently doles out harsh curses. Others may find their place combining strong character voice and multi-layered dialogue. Some work best when reading beautiful prose and tight, evocative language. There are several things to take into consideration, and finding the best narrator for your story can be tough nut to crack. There’s no definite answer. I always read the story with a narrator style in mind, then try and match it up with the best suitor.

I cannot stress how important this is. The right podcaster can either bring a story to life in all its glory, or kill it off and leave it half buried in the mud.

Bonus Tip: No Polemical/message Fiction

In journalism, one should never let the truth get in the way of a good story. In fiction, one should never let a message get in the way of a good story. This might be obvious, but if you’re going to pen a story, the point of it should be to tell a story. Not provide a ham-fisted political argument that damns anyone and everyone except [insert random perspective here]. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or can’t work with themes and topical subjects. 99.99979% of fiction does, but they interweave the fine threads of themes and issues into the story. It’s fine if a story has a message, especially if it doesn’t drag down the story along with it. But straight up, undiluted “messages” told in the form of a story? Nope.

Listeners want to be thrilled by your exquisite command of the English language, your deft ability to juggle character and plot, your meticulous crafting of alternative worlds and your down-to-earth dialogue and the believable characters who voice them. They don’t want to listen to a political/religious sermon as they drive to work or be told how evil a group of people are or have some “fact” hammered into them through explicit, preachy dialogue. If they wanted that, they’d pick up a newspaper or go to Tumblr. Podcasts aren’t the place to push an agenda. Again, this doesn’t mean don’t work with themes or controversial topics. By all means: do so! But no story’s existence should be to stuff an opinion down the throats’ of listeners.

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Jeremy Szal is the assistant editor for Hugo award winning science-fiction podcast StarShipSofa. He has worked with many best-selling, award-winning authors, such as Peter Watts, Robin Hobb, Ian Watson, Adrian Tchaikovsky and more, helping to bring their work to life in audio. He is also a writer, having sold more than twenty-five short stories and nonfiction publications to various magazines, anthologies and journals. He has also received an Honourable Mention from Writers of the Future, and his short story Heart of Steel, published at Every Day Fiction was nominated for the 2014 Parsec Award. Find him on Twitter @jeremyszal or at http://jeremyszal.wordpress.com/

by Dino Laserbeam

Many writers don’t understand what flash fiction is. It’s not just an extra-short short story; it’s not just a scene—it’s something else entirely. It gives the reader a glimpse into a world or a character, and most of the time, that glimpse is layered into details put forth in very few words.

Because of its short form, flash fiction is home to many twist endings: an extra something to make up for lack of length. Most of the time, it’s done terribly wrong.

Tip #1. Know that twist endings are not a requirement for flash fiction.

It’s a common misconception that flash fiction and microfiction require surprises at the end in order to be satisfying to the reader. This definitely isn’t true. Flash fiction can tell a complete story about real, developed characters without a twist ending. There can be open-ended endings; clean, precise endings; happy or sad endings. And there can also be twist endings. In order to be successful, there doesn’t have to be a twist: there just has to be an ending of some sort. This is a big part of what distinguishes flash fiction from vignettes, which are merely scenes.

Tip #2. Avoid punch lines for the sake of punch lines.

People love to be clever. One way they can do that is by ending a story with not only a twist, but also a joke. Something you as the reader didn’t see coming, and something that might make you chuckle. If you’re telling a story to friends (or an audience during a stand-up routine), this is great. If you’re writing flash fiction, it’s not—not if the punch line is the only thing the story has going for it. Too often, writers sacrifice plot and/or character in the name of cleverness. Just because you’ve done something amusing at the end of a story doesn’t make up for the fact that the characters are underdeveloped, or the plot either doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t make sense, or has giant holes in it. Don’t get me wrong: if you can tell a joke at the end of a great story with true-to-life characters, good for you. Great, in fact. But if you miss out on the other things, it becomes obvious the punch line was the entire point. That might be a clever anecdote, but it’s not a good piece of flash fiction.

Tip #3. Remember point of view.

If something is a surprise to the reader, it ought to be a surprise to the POV character; otherwise, it just rings untrue. It reads as the author withholding information for effect, and it feels like a gimmick.

Tip #4. Don’t be too misleading.

Dropping false clues can be okay, but not when they’re outright lies. Readers are people, too. They don’t like to be messed with. It feels like deception because it is deception. And if you’ve done your job well as a writer and gotten the reader invested, they probably won’t be too happy about the lie. A true and well-planned surprise can be pulled off without leading the reader on emotionally.

Tip #5. People may not want to read your story more than once.

There’s a chance, if readers enjoy the story, and especially if they are surprised by the ending, they might go back and read it again: looking for clues, wondering what they missed, etc. However, beyond that, twist endings are mostly a one-off. Once the reveal’s been made, readers can really never get the same thing out of the story as they did the first time they read it.

Just remember, flash fiction is in many ways the same as any other length story: it requires real characters in an interesting plot with some sort of conclusion. You have far less words to make that happen, but a twist ending is not a good easy out.

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Dino Laserbeam is the Editor-in-Chief of freeze frame fiction, a quarterly digital flash fiction publication. With a master’s degree in mechanical and nuclear engineering, Dino is now starting work toward a PhD, writing flash fiction and short stories whenever possible.

 

by Rohini Gupta

Rohini Gupta

So, there you are, trying to write another flash fiction story. You have written hundreds of them—surely it is easy? It’s not easy. It’s not difficult either. The best way I can describe it is—strange.

It’s like waiting for sleep to come. Some nights you are overwhelmed and lost in seconds, on others you count early morning bird calls and try not to look at the clock yet again.

Neither sleep nor story will come to heel on demand. They are, in fact, impervious to demands.

The best you can do is tidy up a bit, clear the clutter, make some space in your mind, and hope the weather is right. The mind needs to remain as blank as the page, but it’s an exciting blankness into which an idea can come softly, shyly, tiptoeing on silent feet, lingering in the dark, just out of sight.

A story is a wild animal, like the delicate footprints in Ted Hughes’s The Thought Fox poem. All you can do is wait patiently for it to emerge.

That is what I love about flash fiction—the risk. Never knowing what lurks in the thought forest until it comes out into the white sunlight of the page. Till then you can only guess, and whatever you guess will be way off the mark.

What will it be?

Which genre?

What voice?

Whose viewpoint?

Which words will come pouring out like a crowd of jostling, unruly children?

Who knows? And that is the beauty of it.

You will never know beforehand but one thing is certain.

It will surprise you. It will not be what you expect, barely even in the range of what you can imagine.

There is nothing small about flash fiction except the word count. In the tiny playpen of 1000 words or less, lies a universe of infinite possibility. With flash, and with short stories, every day is a new adventure. The longer forms of writing may not take you so close to the edge. Flash leaves you gasping in the rarefied air, with nothing but a crumbling cliff under your feet. That is the beauty, the sheer breathless risk of it, the dizzying jump off that ledge into depths unknown.

As you teeter at the edge, something will spark. A memory, an image, a character. From the mist, ghostly forms will come. Let them take you.

Fall.

Go ahead, let go. You won’t fall in the same place twice. You won’t even fall in the same world twice.

And, there is usually a story at the end of it.

So, that is what I like most about flash fiction—living dangerously, never knowing the face of that stranger in the deep shadows—your next story.

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Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai, with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book. Her blog is at http://wordskies.wordpress.com.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

Happy 2015! Wait … we still have one 2014 loose end to tie: the Month in Review! In case you were tied up in wrapping paper or long lines, we want to give you a recap of the many bundles of joy our writers offered last month that you might have missed.

Mary-Jane Holmes got us into the spirit with one swan (as compared to seven) and shared how this lovely, creative, random, and original creature can develop into the best flash you’ve ever created. While we might have hoped for six geese to go along with Mary-Jane’s swan, Julie Duffy’s “A Funny Thing” did provide six delightful tips on how to craft a good comedic write. Or was it humor? Go check it out and decide for yourself.

We had no pear trees either but were treated to a peach of a list of flash fiction markets that each offered treasures of their own. Hopefully in between your holiday dinners and gift-giving you had time to write and these markets anxiously await your work. However, if you’re still agonizing over what you got down on that napkin between courses, know that you aren’t alone: James Claffey shared his thoughts on writing flash fiction and you might be re-inspired by his colorful explanation of his relationship to the genre. But if, like those ten lords rumored to have been jumping around for part of last month, you are leaping to submit your collection of flash fiction, check out the ten interview snippets from Bonnie ZoBell, who got the inside scoop on what some flash fiction editors and publishers say about story order. On the other hand, if you’re a few stories short of a collection, why not consider submitting one story to the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology? Jim Harrington got the particulars from editor Tara L. Masih, who shared that these anthologies collect the best and most innovative stories in a given year.

Some of the best gifts you’ll find in FFC are Susan Tepper’s UNCOV/rd pieces. Be sure to check out December’s offering with Harvey Araton, because it will be the last. Don’t worry — Susan will be back this year with something new, but in the meantime, enjoy her conversation with a journalist-author-who-writes-about-a-journalist.

And speaking of newspapers, Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s piece on inspiration was inspired by a recipe in the New York Times. Well, more to the point: the NYT recipe inspired a story and the whole experience inspired the piece. Get it? As Sarah said, inspiration comes from anywhere and you are sure to ponder the sources of your own as you read her December offering.

As our 2014 clock tick-tocked its way to a close, Aliza Greenblatt took a moment to introduce us to the EDF November top author, Angela Hui, whose story Birthday Girl got rave reviews. Before we close the book on 2014 and send our eleven pipers and twelve drummers back to the band, end your year with a laugh: Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s EDF Archive selection is a great topper from Samantha Memi.

Thank you for making 2014 a great year and we hope you’ll join us for more in flash fiction for 2015!

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Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

 

by Kaye Linden

Kaye Linden

1. Small frame: up to 1500 words. Microfiction is under 250 words.
2. Slice of life stories. The writer takes the big picture and focuses on one angle only.
3. A striking title. Title is the first hook.
4. The first few lines must setup the story. This is the reader’s orientation to the story.
5. The protagonist desires something and this desire must reach its peak by the first third of the story.
6. Kaye’s six C’s rule: Character, Craves something, Cannot have it, Conflict and Consequences, Change.
7. One scene demonstrating the consequences of desire thwarted.
8. Compression of plot, action, dialogue, events and the number and development of characters.
9. Minimalism is what flash is about. The number of characters must be limited to two, three maximum. The choice of characters in flash is about advancement of the story, not for any other reason.
10. There must be a change in the reader’s perception or in the story itself. (Compressed arc)
11. Focus on the arc or narrative line of the piece and establish one strong story line only.
12. Give the story a sense of meaning. What does it really matter if Tom meets Martha?
13. At the end of the story, something must have changed, become understood, resolved.
14. Throw away one word at a time and see how it affects the story. Cut to 100 words initially to find the essence of your story and expand by a few hundred words at a time.
15. What is your storyline in 10 words or less?
16. Begin in Medias Res, in the middle of things. Cut the back-story and dive into the middle of an event.
17. Myths and tales make great stuff for a very short story.
18. Interesting surprises are not mandatory but they provide satisfaction for the reader.
19. Re-invent the cliché: e.g. avoid clichés at all costs.
20. Flash has its own rhythm: shape of words, constructions, phrases, sentences that give flash its pacing.
21. Maintain balance in sentence structure and phrases: short balanced with long, for example.
22. Constriction of time and space demands immediacy and a sense of urgency.
23. Setting and crowds play a character.
24. Ask “what if?” What if John took the left pathway in the woods instead of the right?
25. Ask the question: What is this story really about? Maintain that question throughout the piece and focus the story line on the answer. Whose story is it? Stay with that person’s story.
26. Consider cutting the story, if it feels vague or rambles. Relook at the story line. Is there more than one story there? Keep it consistently that person’s story. Plan of action: always consider cutting your final piece by twenty percent. Cut unessential adverbs and unnecessary adjectives.
27. Cut, organize, add and polish. (The four keys to revision.)
28. Does the writing sound awkward? Relook at tense consistency or point of view. Point of view and tense choices change a story. Try rewriting a paragraph with a different one.
29. The ticking clock─works every time. The pressure to finish in time, defuse the bomb in time, to rescue the girl before she’s murdered etc.
30. Don’t underestimate your reader. Write for the intelligent reader. Do not trick them or offer a stale, clichéd ending that they have seen over and over again. e.g. The butler did it.
31. Each new word or sentence must move the story line forward. Words circle out from a dense story core of meaning and image to a satisfactory ending. Pay attention to the paragraph format and where you place a new paragraph─it is an indication of another step forward in the plot or story.
29. Each word must count and weigh heavy with meaning or imagery. Use concrete details and not generalizations. Instead of “He needed money to eat.” Try: “He lived in a back alley and unless he found a few dollars, he’d go hungry again today.”
32. Substitute concrete detail woven throughout the narrative or demonstrate by action.
33. Dialogue has an important place in flash. Even just one line embedded in a narrative will work. Limit most tags to “said.” Keep dialogue tags simple.
34. Keep events in chronological order, no matter how insignificant the action. “She jumped into the car but wiped the mud off her shoes first.” “She wiped the mud off her shoes and jumped into the car.” Stimulus then response
35. Flash consists of the unsaid, the unwritten, reading between the lines, a hint, a tiny signpost, a suggestion. The reader fills in the emotional/story gaps.
36. Flash lends itself well to experimentation (fixed forms etc.) because you can try any playful writing in a short piece. There’s not a lot of time or emotions invested.
37. Read, read, read shorts and borrow the methods and techniques that work for the major writers.

A few notes about prose poetry:
1. Poetry is not defined by its length, but this is one parameter that helps define flash.
2. Poetry is about language and poetic device such as similes, alliteration, assonance, forms and line breaks.
3. Language in flash is concise and intense as well, but does not flow into poetic device, forms such as villanelles or sonnets. However, one can experiment with tight forms in flash.
4. Flash carries a story line. Poetry does not need to.
5. In poetry, words are emphasized by where they are placed in the line ─ end of line, beginning of line, at line breaks etc.
6. Poetry is partially defined by its line breaks. Flash is not.
7. Narrative poetry and flash fiction can overlap.
8. In poetry, description can be a technique in and of itself and offers an overall image for the reader. In flash, the description must advance the narrative.
9. Poetry does not necessarily have a plot. Flash does, even though it can be compressed.
10. When a reader picks up poetry, he has a different set of expectations than when he/she reads flash fiction. He expects to read a story in a flash piece.
11. Prose poetry usually features full sentences and no forced line breaks. The difference between prose poetry and micro-fiction is up for discussion—generally, prose poetry concentrates more precise attention on language. It’s less narrative than micro-fiction, and asks readers to make larger jumps than micro-fiction might demand.

READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD.

You will hear mistakes, rhythm, pacing, tense and point of view shifts.

Above all, have fun. Kaye Linden

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Kaye Linden is an RN with an MFA in fiction writing and is currently enrolled in a second MFA program where she will specialize in short fiction and prose poetry. She is past editor and short fiction editor of the Bacopa Literary Review, current assistant editor for Soundings Review and short fiction teacher at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. Her prolific works are widely published. Kaye’s forty tale magic realism collection about Australia, Tales from Ma’s Watering Hole, her science fiction novel Prasanga and her latest tiny story collection Ten Thousand Miles from Home are available on all store fronts. Please visit Kaye at www.kayelinden.com.

 

 

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