by Camille Gooderham Campbell

Camille Campbell

This post first appeared at the author’s website, Copy. Edit. Proof.

We all read through filters of one sort or another.

Some filters are highly specific. There’s expert knowledge — the cop who rolls his eyes over procedural inaccuracies, the doctor who shakes her head over medical impossibilities — and there’s genre expertise — the avid science fiction fan who recognizes themes and plots that seem fresh to more general readers, the 18th century literature student who recognizes allusions and in-jokes that most other readers would miss. Without the resources to hire expensive expert consultants at every turn, there’s not much an editor can do but hope nothing too egregious slips by.

Other filters are recognizably subjective. When a dude dismisses a story as chick lit, or a “serious” reader with a preference for award winners and the literary elite dismisses a story as fluff, a subjective filter is being applied — the story is being judged in comparison to the reader’s preferences. The reverse can happen, too; a fondness for a particular theme or interest in a set of characters can cause a reader to overlook prose issues or plot holes, and even fill in gaps and ascribe depth to the material that isn’t there. Genre conventions sometimes permit and even invite elements that would, in a different context, be met with scorn.

The most subjective filters of all are, of course, filters of emotion. It’s virtually impossible to be purely objective when reading a story by a spouse, child, or dear friend. Nor is it reasonable to expect objectivity or even a rational response when reading a story that triggers some past personal trauma.

Personally, I don’t think anyone is capable of reading entirely without filters. The reading experience is a combination of what the author gives to the story and what the reader takes from it, and any time perception and interpretation and taste come into play, we’re automatically applying our filters to what we’re taking in — sometimes even to the point of not actually hearing what’s being said or absorbing what’s on the page.

The big question is where the responsibility lies for recognizing those filters.

One can’t say that the end reader “ought to” realize that s/he is reading through a complex set of preferences, biases, emotions, and possibly specialized knowledge. That’s not a reasonable demand, because the end reader (by which I mean someone who buys or borrows or is given a book to read for his/her own pleasure — the end consumer, in a reading sense; the general public) isn’t answerable to anyone for his/her reading. If I choose to pick up a random book and read it, I don’t have to justify that choice or provide a critical assessment of that book; it’s just… what I happen to be reading. We are all, sometimes, end readers and entitled to just enjoy (or, er, not enjoy) a story without having to explain ourselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, publishing professionals absolutely must recognize their personal filters and guard against them. When choosing and recommending reading material for others, it’s staggeringly important to be self-aware and to strive for an impartial, objective assessment. Particularly when it comes to rejections, for example, a responsible editor needs to make choices based on readership preferences rather than personal preferences. I’m not perfect, but I do my best, and it’s not unheard of for me to ask one of my co-editors for an additional opinion when it comes to a story that I recognize to be outside of my individual comfort zone (e.g., “guy humour” — sometimes I need to ask a male editor about those ones, because I *know* I’m just not appreciating all there is to be appreciated). I’m including professional reviewers and librarians in this category, with huge respect, both for their roles in recommending books to readers and because there’s an expectation of impartiality and having the best interests of the end reader at heart.

But what about independent book bloggers, commenters on stories at EDF, social reading enthusiasts connecting on Goodreads and LibraryThing? Somewhere between a public professional life in reading (editors, publishers, professional reviewers, librarians) and a completely private life in reading (someone who just reads for pleasure or self-edification and doesn’t talk about it), there’s a grey area of what one might call personal commentary. There’s no professional requirement or standard to start a book blog, to write a review and post it on a social reading site, to get involved in commenting on stories published online. And there’s absolutely no way that an external source could impose moral/intellectual requirements or standards on personal commentary, because it’s just that — personal. Websites can ask for courtesy and delete responses that fail to comply, block specific words earmarked as inappropriate, or hold comments for moderation until a staffer has a chance to review them for suitability, but there’s no way to make participants recognize or turn off their natural filters.

The question is, do readers engaging in personal commentary have any responsibility within themselves to recognize and/or acknowledge that there may be filters involved in their perceptions?

I don’t know.

On the one hand, I want to recognize every reader’s right to have a genuine and natural opinion without worrying about what it means or whether s/he should feel that way. On the other hand, as soon as one engages in expressing an opinion in public and to strangers, isn’t there some responsibility to balance that opinion with an acknowledgement of the factors that might influence it?

And then, I suppose that’s the funny thing about responsibility in general. You can’t make someone else take it. It has to come from within.

____________

Camille Gooderham Campbell is Managing Editor of Every Day Fiction and one third of Every Day Publishing. She has an Honours B.A. specializing in English Literature from the University of Toronto, where she was privileged to study creative writing with Professor J. Edward Chamberlin. She has also studied advertising copywriting and marketing communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

This post first appeared at FFC on August 26, 2013.

by Beth Cato

Most articles and blog posts on resolutions hit the first week of January. “Being timely” and all that. It’s silly, really. People start the year all motivated. By February or March, reality sets in. Those helpful articles on losing weight will be replaced by advertisements for chocolate.

No matter what writing goals you set, take heart! All is not lost (unless your hard drive died, in which case it IS lost, but don’t let that kill all of your motivation to write).

 1) Set a new start date.

January 1st is not the only day you can set as a start date for goals. Look at the excitement that builds for NaNoWriMo every November 1st. It’s a set date when the magic happens. Make your own magic, even if it’s May 22nd, June 2nd, or September 13th.

 2) Make your writing goals specific.

This is one goal that resolution mumbo-jumbo writers like to harp about, but it carries truth. There’s a world of difference between saying “I’m going to write this year” and “I’m going to write at least 30,000 words of short stories and keep at least two on submission at all times.” Goals are designed to keep you accountable, so if your goal is wishy-washy, it gives you too many excuses to be wishy-washy.

This is one reason I like Write 1 Sub .  It gives you a specific time span to achieve your goal: one story written and submitted each week, or one story and written and submitted each month.

 3) Reward yourself for a job well done.

Look at this bullet point on the small scale and big scale. Meet your weekly goal? Get yourself a treat–Starbucks, an evening out, a new writing journal, something. If you meet your big goal–say, finish NaNoWriMo with over 50,000 words–go big. Get yourself a new monitor, or Scrivener. Something cool, something useful. If money’s tight, make your reward an experience–a day trip or a visit to a friend or teacher you haven’t seen in forever.

It’s sometimes nice to have a deadline right before a vacation; that way you can work yourself into a frenzy, get it done, and then give your brain a break.

If you don’t make that deadline? Go home. See #1.

 4) Accept that writing time isn’t just about writing.

A writer should spend the bulk of time writing, yes, but there are other essential parts of a writing career: filing, blog posts, research, revisions, critiques (giving and receiving), industry blogs, market research, etc. I have spent whole days looking at poetry markets. I classify this as writing time. It’s something that needs to be done. It’s also something I might use as a semi-break after I do something like spend three days on a short story rough draft. Then the next day, I can proceed with revisions.

 5) Keep a writing day planner.

One of the best ways to know what you need to do is by knowing what you’ve already done. Every year I get a day planner to use for my writing. I use it to plan ahead for goals–market closures, scheduled blog posts, personal deadlines–but most importantly, I write down what I do each day. That includes places I submitted works, how many words I’ve written, what I have edited, etc.

For example, today is a lighter day of writing for me because I did errands and my son has a shorter day of school. This is what I have listed:

X – Bready or Not post: Chewy Raisin Cookies [scheduled]

– Write Chicken Soup holiday story [1100 word max]

– Blog prep

What I’m doing now is classified under blog prep, but I also went on LJ and scheduled three forthcoming posts on my blog. I have the opening of the Chicken Soup story done, but I’ll have the rough draft by the end of the day and note that word count. The Bready or Not (my weekly recipe blog) post was scheduled, and I verified that it posted, so I checked it off.

Writing can be discouraging at times, especially when it feels like you’re not making any progress. It makes me feel better to look back and see I edited so-and-so, sent off submissions, wrote a poem, and started on a new story, all in a week. If you’re just starting out, it’s great to just start by doing one writing-related thing each day.

 6) Accept that life happens.

Goals are great. Being kept accountable by a planner is great. But life is mean and nasty and crappy things happen. You get sick. The kids gets sick. Your hard drive dies. Your cat is deathly ill. There’s a horrible deadline at work. You’re on a road trip and it’s just plain not feasible to write.

There are valid reasons to not write. But if you feel that itch to tell a story, you know there are even more valid reasons to write. Take care of yourself, your family, the job that pays the bill. Then take care of your soul and tell those stories.

No matter what the day of the year it is, go back to #1. Reset your goal. Find where you saved last. Resume the journey.

_________________________

Beth Cato is the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER steampunk fantasy series from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Her website is BethCato.com and she’s on Twitter @BethCato. (Updated from original.)

 

We are thrilled to announce that Michael Mattson is the new managing editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles.

by Beth Thomas

Beth Thomas

In flash fiction, we make up our own rules. Sure, story matters. Something has to happen. Characters must develop and change and become or unbecome. But flash allows you to skirt those hard & fast rules, to pick around the edges of plot, to whisper behind plot’s back, to refuse to look plot in the eyes, and still tell a full story.

The dust on the gate, a reflection in a broken window, a little boy and his kite on a stormy beach and that hollow flapping sound, weathered gray doors hanging cockeyed and loose like they’ve taken a beating, walls that are blue and faded and full of holes like the pants you used to wear to garden. I write flash fiction because these little things matter. They are not just scene setting or transition from one event to the next, or a throwaway character description. Sometimes they can be the whole of it.

I started writing flash fiction in 2003. I had just wrapped up my MA in creative writing and was looking for a new workshop group. This is how I found the online workshop called Zoetrope, and how I discovered Flash Fiction. I joined Zoe intending to workshop some back-burner short stories that hadn’t made the cut into my master’s thesis, but was immediately drawn to the Flash wing, where story turnover was insanely high (300 stories up for workshop at any given time, with several new ones being posted every day), and where the tight-knit community passed out constant support, brilliant critiques, and sincere high-fives.

I read flashes by some of the greats—Kathy Fish and Myfanwy Collins come to mind now—and realized that there was a whole other world of writing out there. A whole other kind of story to be told and way of telling it. I realized I didn’t have to write from A to B then C to the end, and wrap everything up nice and neat. And so I tried it. I tried and failed (hitting upon every flash cliché I’m sure) and tried again.

It was in Zoetrope that I learned the art of the not-saying. The art of the cut and white space and the silence between notes and the importance of the words  themselves – not just their meaning but the sounds they make next to each other, their cadence and mouthfeel and taste.

I write flash fiction because I suck at deliberate, complicated plotting and three-act structure. I suck at writing A to B then C to the end, then having that progression of things mean something. And in writing, as in real life, I have learned through trial and error that my instincts are not necessarily to be trusted. In plotting, this leads me to long arguments with myself about what would REALLY happen. What SHOULD happen. And… Am I getting this story WRONG? I go in circles and get nowhere.

I write flash because I like to experiment. I can try something new – a new angle at an old tale, a new voice or psychic distance or structure, and if it’s terrible, I am out a few hours or days, not months or years (as with the half-done novels sitting in my Writing folder). And if it’s not terrible, then I have grown and can push elsewhere next time.

And honestly, I write flash fiction because I like writing little things that people can read without some big commitment of their time or cash. I like being able to tell people, “Look at this little thing I wrote,” and they can just click and read and 2 minutes later it’s over and they know me a little better.

____________

Beth Thomas is a writer living and working in the desert southwest. Her flash fiction is full of dust, bones, arrowheads, and thunderstorms, and has been published in dozens of online and print venues including Wigleaf, Abq Free Press, El Portal, PANK Magazine, Corium Magazine, and SmokeLong Quarterly.

 

 

by Lori Sambol Brody

Lori

Although I could write a first draft of a flash in a sort of fevered daydream, I was unable to revise that story.  I felt like my stories were chiseled in stone, and, aside from line edits, I couldn’t see how the engravings could be any different.  I would be paralyzed after workshops, knowing that my story did not quite work, but not knowing how to revise the story.

This mindset changed, however, during a writing workshop with Rachel Resnick, who writes both memoire and fiction.  All she needed to say was one word: “re-vision.”  Meaning:  re-seeing, re-invention, finding new insight in the story.  This one word was a catalyst.  If my initial writing of the story was a daydream, my re-vision of a story is lucid dreaming, where I am in control, wresting the knife away from the monster, and changing the ending.  For me, this is the most intellectual part of writing, taking my first draft and looking at it in a carnival mirror to find its potential.

In order to take a new perspective on work, I have used a number of different techniques.  (Note that I write literary flash fiction, rather than genre, but these same techniques should apply to genre fiction as well.)

I participate in a writing group.  I always have other people read the story to help in the revision process.  These readers can identify what works and does not work and what steps I need to take in revision.  While in a standard workshop, the person whose story is being workshopped usually does not have a dialogue with other participants, a more loosely structured writing group permits a back-and-forth conversation about a story.  The key is to find “your people” – the people who get your work and are not afraid to critique it.  Workshops provide another benefit:  critiquing other people’s work also develops techniques I use on my own stories – I can approach my story as if the story has been written by someone else.

I put the story down for a (long) time.  Sometimes the story is too new, too raw, for me to have another perspective on it.  In this situation, I need distance.  While some people may need days or weeks, I sometimes need months or years.  Returning to the story after the scab has healed allows me to be far more productive in revising and to have an ability to see the story in a different way – truly to re-see my story.

I highlight themes and images to draw through the story.  Symbols or themes often appear in rough drafts by mistake or through the subconscious.  In a technique I learned from Rachel Resnick, during the re-vision process, I review the text and highlight each symbol or image that stands out.  Physically highlighting in bright colors exposes themes that I may not have intended.  I then choose themes to emphasize and images to draw through the story.  In longer works, I use different color highlighters for different themes, but for flash fiction I include one theme, use a light hand in doing so, and delete words that distract from that theme.  For example, I am currently working on a piece where a seamstress in an early 1900’s New York sweatshop looks out the window and sees an exotic water bird.  In revising the story, I realized that the bird could stand for a life outside the sweatshop of which she can only dream.  In my revisions, I added some other bird imagery to the piece, embellishing a hat another seamstress puts on at quitting time with a plume, and having this same woman, ultimately, fall from the fire escape like a seagull.

I give myself permission to play with the story.  Re-vision of a story requires a different way of seeing a story, perhaps changing much of the original version.  For example, in my story about an American woman’s visit to her Turkish boyfriend’s family fish farm, the boyfriend sees her difficulties in eating a whole trout, says “You’ll make a mess of it,” and takes her plate to de-bone the fish himself.  Earlier drafts (of which I have nine on my computer) contained, however, revelation of a pregnancy (quickly jettisoned), interaction between the boyfriend, the farm’s caretaker, and the caretaker’s wife, and a flashback scene where the boyfriend chides the woman for talking to a carpet salesman.  None of these elements appear in the final version of the story.  In drafting these alternate scenes, I gave myself permission to have fun with the story, develop conversations and actions just to see what will happen, to see if gems come out of it.  If a character in one draft refuses to respond to a question, I would explore how the conversation would continue.  If a character takes one path, I would explore what happens if she takes another path.  Only in the sixth draft did I come up with the scene where the boyfriend, disgusted at her attempts to de-bone a trout, takes it from her.

The corollary of this rule is:

I give myself permission to fail.  Not all ideas I have are successful, as revealed in the ideas I discarded in the fish farm story.

I ensure that all words are essential and have resonance.  In a flash, all words – and, by extension, all dialogue and images – must be essential to the story.  I pare my piece down to the essence.  For genre stories, everything must relate to the plot, to the ultimate end of the story being told.  For literary fiction, every word must shine and sparkle and any tired metaphor must be eliminated.  I often use the same “highlighter” method to highlight words or metaphors that are cliché, and then replace them.  In addition, in flash, words and images may have to work double-time.  For example, in the original draft of a recent story, a teenage girl describes her father hitting on a woman during a camping trip: “Dad talked to Kate over the campfire.”  I highlighted this and, in re-visions, the sentence changed to “Dad told Kate his sailing stories.”  This (hopefully) conveyed not only that the narrator has heard the stories many times (and her attitude toward her father) but also that the stories were not quite truthful.

While I may never love re-vision, at least I now can take steps to make the re-vision easier and more effective.

____________

Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California.  Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, WhiskeyPaper, alice blue review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere.  She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody at at lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

 

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