CRAFT


by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

I began writing fiction in January of 2007. In October of 2008, I created a blog where I posted a quote and then wrote about what the quote meant to me as a writer. Honestly, the daily posts were intended for myself. They were a way to force me to think about each quote and how it might change my writing. If people reading my comments gained from them, so much the better. I’m going to post a few of these as I wrote them—even if feel differently now. Feel free to agree, or disagree, or add your own take on the quote and what I said. Here’s today’s article.

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Fugedaboudit (first published 2/15/10)

Forget symbolism, forget literary theory, put aside your desire to be anthologized. Tell the most authentic story you can, with as much attention and sensitivity to life as you can muster. — Randall Silvis Write to Connect With Readers. [The Writer, January 2010]

It’s all about the story.

Beginning writers, and those somewhat beyond the beginning stage, struggle to find their writing voice. Sometimes the struggle is such that the writer stops writing. In other cases, writers attempt to copy voices from novels and short stories they like. My guess is this doesn’t work out very well. Understanding how a writer writes and being inside the writers head when he does are two separate things.

I don’t remember struggling with voice. I probably did. It’s always been about the story with me. If a piece failed, it wasn’t because of the voice. No, it was because I wasn’t invested enough in what happened to the character to be able to write the tale.

I like today’s quote. Why? Because it tells it like it is. Forget about similes and metaphors. Forget about writing “fancy” prose. Forget about getting published and being famous. Just write the story. If the writing is good and true to the characters, the rest will take care of itself.

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Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

 

By Gila Green

Gila Green

An abbreviated version of this post first appeared at WOW-Women on Writing.

I have great news for flash writers. There’s no reason why you cannot write character-driven flash fiction. You do have time to create a compelling character. The catch is that you can only create one really undeniably forceful character, so you need to do it well. Briefly, character-driven fiction is popular and fun to read and write. It focuses on the emotions and inner conflict of the protagonist vs. an action-packed plot that dominates the story. Really great writing contains both, but many writers need to strengthen one or the other.

Character-driven flash fiction is different from all other forms of character-driven fiction in two ways. The first is that your heroine can have only one compelling goal (hint: it’s usually a character’s need to go towards something or to go away from something).

This leads us to the second major difference: all of your compelling character’s qualities must be there to back up this need only.

For example, if the main goal of your seventeen-year-old heroine is to get herself thrown out of school, so that she can hop a bus to see her boyfriend, you must make sure she is interesting (read: we care if she achieves her goal or not), flawed (i.e., she cannot be totally justified in her desires) and that your entire focus is on her one defining moment. You don’t have time to explain why her boyfriend moved, why her mother forbids her to skip school, how they met or their future hopes.

You do have time to write about the moment her best friend pretends to faint, so that she can offer to get a nurse and slip off to the bus stop only to be met by her raging father/to see her handicapped boyfriend in the arms of another girl/to get hit by the bus/ choose the wrong bus and end up saving someone’s life/return to the classroom and confess that she cannot lie to her favorite teacher. I could go on, but you get the idea.

You’re wasting time describing her hair and eye color and favorite cake decorating hobby. You’re on the right track if you tell us that she’s never been able to pull off a prank (or the opposite, that she’s known as an untrustworthy prankster), or that she has a neatly packed suitcase of clothes hidden in the bushes by the bus stop (or you guessed it, the opposite, she plans on taking nothing but her favorite pen knife along for the ride).

Do you see the difference? In a novel or short story you’d have plenty of time for a physical description, but for character-driven flash, physical description is only important if it supports her main goal or her defining moment. If she’s so thin that she can slip out the window, or so heavy that the only way out of the room is the front door, then yes, put it in. Otherwise, delete it.

Most of all, if you are enjoying every minute of writing about this character, there is an excellent chance your readers will, too.

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Canadian Gila Green moved to Israel in 1994. Her novel King of the Class was released in April 2013 by NON Publishing, Vancouver. Her stories and articles appear in tens of literary magazines in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Israel, UK and Hong Kong. Her collection, White Zion, is a finalist for the Doris Bakwin Award and her work has been short-listed for WordSmitten’s TenTen Fiction Contest, the Walrus Literary Award, the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award and the Ha’aretz Short Fiction Award. She’s been teaching fiction on the WOW-Women on Writing site since 2009. Her next classes in Flash Fiction and Literary Devices begin January 12. Please visit: www.gilagreenwrites.com

 

by Mark Budman

Mark Budman

In a quote often misattributed to Mark Twain, the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter.” As applied to flash fiction writers, the masters of compressed work, that probably means we have too much time on our hands. Our letters/stories are short (but not necessarily sweet) and to the point. We don’t mince words. We are looking for redundancies, imperfections and dead waste that get in the way, and cut them off like a surgeon or a sculptor.

I didn’t know that when I started to write flash. I foolishly thought that a shorter fiction requires less time. Don’t you need to hit fewer keys on the keyboard to write short? And most people are always short on time.

It was too late when I realized my mistake. I already fell in love with the genre. I loved it so much that I just had to start my own magazine of flash fiction, Vestal Review. We didn’t have an overabundance of magazines specializing in flash at the time. In fact, to my knowledge, we had none back in 2000.

It seems to me that a cliché is the number one enemy of a writer. We must say something that hasn’t been said before, and do it in a new way. While conventional writers can afford to go on and on, we, the flash fiction writers, have to know that we must stop before any of our colleagues do.

Dorothy Parker once said: “Katharine Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.” While limited in the number of words, we still can’t be like Katharine Hepburn in Dorothy’s Parker interpretation. We still should strive for our gamut of emotions to run at least from A to Y. Let the writers of the longer works work on their Zees.

Actually, to me, limitations are enhancing creativity rather than constraining it. The mind finds ingenious solutions that the writers of longer fiction might overlook. Flash writers are the enemies of fat. While fat could taste delicious to some, lean muscles are more effective.

To me, flash fiction is both a stepping stone to great longer works and an exciting genre on its own.

Read this story for the example of consecutive halving of the number of words in each part. The plot stays the same, but the effect changes dramatically.

This is a great illustration of what flash fiction is about. Word and sentence compression is a lean, muscular and energetic writing device. That’s why I write this way.

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Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in such magazines as Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Turnrow, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, Short Fiction(UK), and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel, My Life at First Try. was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton. He is at work on his novel about Lenin running for the president of the United States. Read more at his website http://markbudman.net.

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

 Sarah AkhtarThere’s a lot of disdain these days for traditional publishing. Unknown writers look at the odds, and then at the alternatives, and are increasingly tempted to self-publish.

There are plenty of springy-looking platforms to leap off of. Anyone willing to invest a little money and a lot of time can start marketing their own work.

Should you bite that apple?

What’s so great about brick and mortar publishers, anyway?

Web-based publishers have cut overhead to the bone and many of them are marvelous. They’ve created a reader’s paradise. Even the cheapest paperbacks are largely unaffordable to people on limited budgets. But an e-book can be less expensive than a cup of coffee from the corner deli.

And web-based writers’ groups help fledgling authors build supportive audiences and markets for their work. You can be in the midst of a thriving artistic community no matter where you live.

But one of the fruits of a healthy community is a sort of self-censorship. It’s not dishonesty, but rather the desire not to wound. If we all said everything we thought, with absolute truth, all the time, life would become unbearable.

And writers’ circles or critique groups tend to form around people of similar levels of achievement. Everyone’s growing together. And everyone hopes for success, for themselves and their colleagues. There’s a powerful fellowship of encouragement.

This Eden needs a serpent.

I have never joyfully welcomed the email saying “there’s a slight problem with your story.” Seriously. Would I have sent it in if I thought it wasn’t ready?

It took me well over a year to skip the mental hyper-ventilating and get straight to revising, whenever a rewrite request arrived. I can still feel my head lowering mutinously as I read any criticism of my work.

But most of the editors I’ve worked with have helped me strengthen my own voice. Sometimes I don’t accede to every single suggestion, but I have never declined to revise a story, when requested.

That was a mistake in only one instance, but I knew at the time I was going for publication rather than the purity of my artistic vision, so to speak. So I take full responsibility for that.

Your mastery of craft is constantly growing. I’m pretty confident in my own gifts, now, but even so, it startles me to see how a beginning story from a couple of months ago, say, will seem awfully lacking today. I’ll need to rework those first few paragraphs before I can go any further.

When you self-publish, you have few brakes on that giddy road towards becoming a fine author. There’s an enticing tidbit that people like to munch on—the lists of successful authors showing how many times clueless agents and publishers turned them down, before they signed their first book contract.

Yes, it is true that genius is not always recognized in a timely way by the minions born to serve it. It’s true that very fine writers are rejected every day, and that self-publishing can be a midwife to works that truly deserve to see the light of day.

It can also make a name for you that you might wish you could escape, later. Maybe you’ve got great potential now but you’re not quite there yet. Maybe in a year or two or five, undaunted by rejection, you’ll have found that remarkable voice you always knew was inside.

Or maybe you published before you should have, and you had a brief exciting moment of seeing your stuff offered on Amazon, with wonderful reviews by everyone you know, and you never got any better than you were at that moment.

Don’t just believe the people who like you, and care about you, and want you to succeed. Think about why some of those people who’d love to have discovered the next new great talent are saying you’re not ready yet.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, 365tomorrows and Perihelion SF Magazine.

 by Cameron Filas

Cameron_Filas

If you’re like many writers, revision can be an enjoyable yet tedious process. The worst part is that sometimes even after countless revisions, nail biting, and hair pulling, your finished product gets rejected.

This often isn’t something you can control. Maybe it wasn’t a good fit for that publication. Perhaps the editor was just in a bad mood after spilling their coffee in their lap. Or, maybe you overlooked some things in the revision process that cost you the acceptance.

Many editors are usually forgiving if your work has a few grammar or spelling mistakes. We’re human after all. There are more damning things however, which are in your control to correct before submitting your writing.

So what is the solution? It’s simple, and probably something you’ve got on your desk right now: sticky notes!

How can a thin, probably colorful piece of paper with some adhesive on one end help you? Use it to become your own critic and workshop buddy.

Here’s what you do: take a pad of sticky notes and grab a pen; then, taking care to write legibly, jot down some bullet point questions for yourself. These should be things that perhaps you’ve received feedback about in rejection letters, or know are vital to any good piece. Here are some examples:

  • All five senses?
  • Good dialogue?
  • Main character growth/development?
  • Clear beginning, middle, end?
  • Holes in story?
  • Is there a twist?
  • Does it flow?
  • Did I read it aloud?

These questions should be geared specifically towards you. Be honest about your weaknesses and flaws as a writer, we all have some. Some other great reminders include: “Wait a day!”—if you’re one of those people that doesn’t give yourself a breather before revising a new piece—and, of course, the pivotal “So what? Who cares?”—which most editors will ask themselves after having read your work.

Does your story matter? Is it a linear plot with cut-and-paste characters that don’t serve a purpose? By writing the tough questions down for yourself now, you have a much better chance at making sure your work is as complete and satisfactory for potential readers as possible.

Once you have made your personalized sticky note (or several if you have big handwriting or lots of questions), slap that sucker somewhere you will see it every time you write and revise. You can tape it flat against your desk, so you’re forced to look at it as you type, or you can stick it to your desk lamp and use it as needed.

You don’t even have to use sticky notes if you don’t want to! Feel free to type yourself a note on the computer, tattoo it onto your arm, or frame and hang it over your printer. The important thing here is that you are honest about which reminders you need to improve your writing. Revision isn’t always fun, but you can make the process much more rewarding by challenging yourself with the hard questions that editors will ask of your work.

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Cameron Filas is an avid reader and novice author of short fiction and other various work. Though he has enjoyed writing from a very young age, he has only recently begun a serious pursuit of the craft. Cameron lives in Mesa, AZ, with his girlfriend, a dog, and a demon cat who he is pretty sure is plotting to kill him. You can visit his corner of the web at cameronfilas.wordpress.com.

 

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