Entries tagged with “CRAFT”.
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Sun 6 Oct 2013
Posted by Karen Nelson under INSPIRATION, INTERVIEWS, Karen Nelson, PUBLISHING, REVIEWS
by Karen Nelson
I love September because I can go all month singing Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends“. (The 9/11 Tribute video is gripping.) If you slept through any of Flash Fiction Chronicles’ great articles on the writing craft, here’s a recap – and wake up!
We had some pointed advice from Jim Harrington to help us refine our writing through Word Choice (be specific!) and using Inciting Incident and Character Arc to add dimension. Jim takes apart some sample writing to really examine the nuts and bolts of a piece, and I think you’ll find more than a few ideas for improving your work.
Ever revisit a favorite book and find it, somehow, lacking? You’re not alone. In “Writing Ruined My Reading” Sara Crysl Akhtar shares her struggles with Asimov, but finds a redeeming genre that will surprise you.
Beth Lee-Browning gets us digging into our journals and discovering our own potential with “If You Build It, They Will Come“. Her highlights are worth another look. (Go ahead, I’ve already clicked on them 4 times… )
• Savor life – live with humor, joy, and passion. Use feelings as fuel for creativity and creation.
• Make something of yourself – do something, be something, make something. Be who you are and continue to strive to become who you were meant to be. Don’t be afraid to try, don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid to succeed.
• Accept yourself – be yourself, trust yourself, be childlike, own and understand your relationships, be aware and follow your instincts, be accountable, and last but not least, be kind to yourself.
• Have faith – ask for and accept help, be teachable, life is spiritual, art is spiritual and it is healing. Follow your dreams and treat them as real.
• We commune through art – when we create from the heart and not from the ego we experience a clarity of purpose and feelings of joy.
For people who like writing, authors sure love to talk! And FFC has visited with some of the best in the business. Check out these conversations with industry professionals, and gain insight on the world of publishing…
UNCOV/RD: Susan O’Neill – author of Don’t Mean Nothing
Roxanne Gay – Tiny Hardcore Press
Sumanth Prabhaker – Madras Press
Milo James Fowler – EDF’s Top Author for August
Success for one is success for all, and FFC loves to celebrate our colleagues’ success! Our own Bonnie ZoBell burst into 2013 with her collection of stories The Whack-Job Girls (Monkey Puzzle Press).
“Respect. This is the bedrock of all the stories in Bonnie Zobell’s “Whack-Job Girls.” Her characters demand it, regardless of their situation, social standing and ethos. In fact, ZoBell’s characters come across as people who would sooner hit the reader with a hammer than be pitied.” – Rumjhum K. Biswas
Linda Simone-Wastila shares her thoughts on why Elliot Sanders’ Distance was one of the finest short stories she read this year. Take a moment as she walks you through the author’s expert use of voice, tension, detail, and theme.
Circle Straight Back by Noel Sloboda just went on my must-read list… if only for the intriguing idea of selling secrets in an online auction. Don’t miss Andree Robinson-Neal’s fascinating commentary on this unusual book.
Of course, when submitting your flash piece for publication, you want it to look its best. EveryDayFiction offers these insider tips that will get you that much closer to sharing your work.
The month wound up with a little fun, in Top 10 Reasons to Write Flash Fiction. Our staff collected their favorites, but we’re still hearing from you on your best – or craziest – reasons to write flash. Leave yours in the comment section – we’d love to hear it! And now that September has ended, get ready for a fabulous Fall at Flash Fiction Chronicles!
Karen Nelson is a writer and teacher in Southwest Missouri, specializing in educational and nonfiction works. She is a staff writer for Flash Fiction Chronicles, Curriculum Coordinator for Goldminds Publishing, author of four books and numerous stories and articles, and serves on the boards of various writing and literacy organizations. When staring at a computer screen gets to be too much, Karen wanders outside to her chickens, rabbits, and miniature horse, who are always good for gaining perspective.
Mon 11 Feb 2013
Posted by Jim Harrington under advice, CRAFT, Process
by Jim Harrington
I am, but I’m getting better. First, I have a confession. It’s not my fault!!
In seventh grade, the school placed me in a remedial English class due to a scheduling conflict. Because I did so well, I was assigned to the advanced class in eighth grade. I reveled in that accomplishment for about three days. That’s how long it took me to realize I was way behind everyone else in the class. Too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what the teacher was talking about, I slogged through as best I could.
I still struggle with certain aspects of grammar. Here are some steps I took that might help readers who, like me, hold up a wooden cross whenever the word grammar appears.
Buy a style book*
It doesn’t matter which one, and you’re not going to read it cover to cover. I use it as a reference. For a while, I questioned every aspect of grammar from where that comma should go to am I supposed to capitalize the names of the seasons. I still use it from time to time. However, I find the more I write, the better I get at spotting errors.
Read for grammar, not for content
Pull a few novels off the shelf and read them for grammar and word usage, especially when looking at dialog. From a grammar standpoint, ask such questions as: Where is the punctuation placed prior to he said? If the dialog ends with a question mark, is the he capitalized? Does the question mark go inside or outside the quotation marks? Where do the quotation marks go when the dialog runs across two or more paragraphs? Why is there a comma in one sentence but not another? When looking at usage, ask why that word? To answer this, replace the word with something else to see how the flow and context change.
I need to add a caveat here. When choosing books for these exercises, select ones that were published a few years ago. Too many recent books suffer from a lack of editing. This is especially true of self-published books. Unfortunately, these authors fail to realize they are branding themselves as amateurs when they put a mistake-laden work on the market. Readers notice!
Follow online sites
There are sites online like Grammar Girl that provide insight into grammar issues. On this site, you can ask questions and sign up for a free newsletter.
Write shorter sentences
This may seem like silly advice, but I’ve read many submissions with grammar issues that could have been solved by, as John Gardner suggests, getting to the period sooner. There are times when using longer sentences helps set the tone, but incorrectly punctuated ones can create an unintended response in the reader.
Grammar counts! Many editors say they will forgive a few mistakes, but don’t usually say how many that is. Other editors simply pass on a work that doesn’t show a certain level of professionalism (i.e., poor grammar). Getting it right is important, whether it’s grammar, or plot, or overall storytelling ability. How the manuscript looks is just as important as what it has to say. Grammar errors and misspellings stick out. Don’t let your manuscript be the one the editor sets aside because of poor craftsmanship. Make it one of your writing goals for 2013 to improve your grammar skills, even if you think you know it all. How about a goal to learn one new grammar “rule” a month? Even the busiest writer should be able to accomplish that.
*Online style book links: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and GrammarBook.Com by Jane Strauss.
Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. He serves as the Flash Markets 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 his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.
Thu 20 Dec 2012
by Aliza T. Greenblatt
Flash Fiction Chronicles interviewed Dustin Adams about Every Day Fiction’s Top Story for November, “The Gift“ a thought provoking tale about the dangers of knowing and not knowing.
ATG: A few weeks ago, you mentioned in a blog post that you were reeling from the news that “The Gift ” is one of the EDF’s top stories of all time. Have you gotten used to the idea yet?
DA: Is it still up there? Wait, don’t tell me. To be honest, I had to stop checking after the first two weeks. I took a screenshot and saved it as a .jpg, immortalized. I was glad to receive notification that this story was tops for November. Guess it’s still going strong.
What’s really fun is that where normally I’d social network the news of my story’s publication, but this came out on November 2nd, which was just after Superstorm Sandy. Thus, I had no power and didn’t get to tell those I know for a few days. By then, the story had reached #1 on its own.
ATG: Was there any particular prompt or inspiration for this piece? Did you have any specific goals when writing this story?
DA: I’m a bit of a shut in. I live in the middle of nowhere, and I work from home. So when I get around people, I often wish I already knew them, that they were old friends and we could shake hands and I’d ask how they’ve been.
Specifically, while sitting in an airport, I spotted an elderly man in a wheelchair. He was all alone, and I wanted to know his story. He’d had an entire life of experiences and stories and yet there he was just sitting there alone, smacking his dry lips together waiting for whoever plopped him there to return.
If I knew him, if everyone knew everyone, there would be no stranger barrier between us, and I could have kept him company. I like to think that loneliness would disappear because we’d all know each other’s plights and we’d all have empathy for each other.
Which brings me at last to the second part of your question. My goal was to show that Jessica, the main character, had no empathy. That the gift merely gave her information, but didn’t hurt in the way it pained the other two characters. Lines like: “I’m so sorry, Phil.” I said what I thought I should. and “But why was he crying?” were supposed to accomplish this, but my feedback has been that this didn’t quite hit that mark, but that it didn’t matter. (Whew!)
ATG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?
DA: I don’t have a process per se. What I do is force myself to get up at 5AM every morning. (OK, sometimes I hit snooze once or twice.) I write every day unless I’m fighting a cold. I’m not a finesse writer, I write far more words than I submit, but I keep pounding away. Momentum is key.
ATG: Part of what I loved about this story was how just enough information was given to keep the reader comfortable, but not enough so that it ruined the mystery of the story. I think it’s safe to say that it’s the unanswered questions in this piece makes this story so captivating. Was it a struggle to find the right balance of information?
DA: One of my writing tips is to imagine dropping important information or backstory or scenery/sensory information into the story like chocolate chips. They usually take the form of a single sentence between longer paragraphs. They’re the sweet stuff. What’s a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips?
My favorite chip is, “Jean glared at me.” Phil’s recent frown (read: cookie) sets this up. My hope was that aiming these negative words toward Jessica would alert the reader, subconsciously or consciously that we’ve turned a corner story-wise and that we’re sliding into a darker tale.
I’m not sure that answered the question. Was it a struggle? Indeed. When writing, everything makes perfect sense to the author, it’s only after others read it that we learn if what we wrote works or not. I’m glad this one did.
ATG: The main character, Jessica, argues that knowing her past actions without knowing her motivations paints an incomplete picture of her. Like seeing the final scores of a close game, but not the actual match. Do you think this was an oversight by the aliens or did they design The Gift so that humanity keeps asking questions about itself?
DA: I love the sports reference! That’s exactly right. I believe the aliens have no clue. They’re so used to being in each others heads that they have no idea the damage their gift causes when given to the inexperienced.
Imagine giving a car to an Australian Bushman. We all have cars, right? He could use one. First he’d be confused, then, when accepting this gift is part of his life, gets behind the wheel and promptly crashes.
ATG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?
DA: Jennifer Campbell-Hicks (multiple EDF author) and I write one flash fiction a month, exchange with just each other, then submit. So to answer the question, I’m working on a flash. *grin*. I’m also perpetually editing my fourth novel. Before I’d written one, my plan was that the first three don’t count, and I’d submit the fourth. So far so good, but I’m afraid that’s hamstringing me into never actually finishing the darn thing. I want it to be perfect, and while I know that’s not possible, I continue to try.
I’ve got three stories here at EDF, and one elsewhere. The best place to keep up with my publications is on my blog. http://dustinadams.wordpress.com Although I don’t update it nearly as often as I’d like, the publication section is always current.
ATG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
Thank *you* for this opportunity. I want to give a quick shout out to Joseph Kaufman. Without his input, this story (and my other EDF stories) wouldn’t have been nearly as good. If anyone has a gift, it’s him.
Dustin Adams owns and runs his own Customs brokerage business. It’s an intense, mind-stimulating job that requires extraordinary focus and attention. He began writing short stories while in high school. Then for some unknown reason (video games) he stopped for a decade or so (really fun video games). Now, knocking loudly on age 40’s door, he’s writing full-on with piston engine fingers. He writes in the morning, in the dark, and has seen the sun rise several thousand times.
Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt
Mon 20 Aug 2012
by Randall Brown
Desire, it is often, perhaps too often, said drives narrative into being, and there is not only the desire of the main character to consider, but the desire of Reader, Writer, and some believe, even the Text itself. When you write very short things, you are often told what your text really wants:
“It’s begging to be a short story.”
“I’m certain this piece wants to be a prose poem.”
“What your text really is, what it’s telling you it is and you can’t hear it but I can, is that it wants to be a novel, maybe even a trilogy.”
So, yes, flash texts yearn, and I wonder, perhaps too much, what they desire and from whom they want it. What does the flash text crave from its characters, its readers, its writers? These text whisperers, the ones who hear things in my texts, would have me believe that the flash text wants to be something other than it is. I doubt it. I’m certain of the flash’s desire to be what it is, but what other yearnings burn inside that flash? Here are six guesses about what a flash text wants.
- To recreate the world in its image. At the end of ”The Oven Bird,” Frost asks “What to make of a diminished thing?” That diminished has a number of meanings, like most things in Frost’s poems, but I’m drawn to “be-little” as a possible one. It’s the world that has become little, and Frost’s implied answer, or one such answer—”You give it a poem”—might lead some readers to think that the poem itself is a diminished thing, too. I don’t think so. Was it Frost who said, “The world isn’t fallen because Eve bit an apple, but because we believe she did?” Or was it someone writing about Frost? The point is that flash believes the world isn’t captured by words, but recreated by them. Each word carries that weight of re-creation (or is that recreation?), of procreation, of the compressed big bang. It’s the world stripped of the immaterial. It wants not the world as it is but the world as it might be, if flash were in charge.
- To matter. As most tiny things do, flash knows what you might think of it, its size associated with insignificance in your mind. Flash wants you to confess this thought, that you’re like the middle school social studies teacher who desires a full page for the “A.” Flash doesn’t fill pages the way those “A” students do. Flash must find other ways to matter, to add up to something, than the word after word, the failed action after failed action, the words chasing that hard-earned resolution, hard-earned because it took page after page to get there. Flash searches for the alternative way to matter in this world. Sometimes it finds profundity in what others find nothingness; other times, it finds meaning by eschewing their desire for somethingness. Flash doesn’t fit the tired, old rubrics; it needs another vision against which it gets it value.
- To be attended to. The process of reading a longer piece is the process of forgetting, so much so that I wonder if the novel, for example, works primarily subconsciously, as much an echo as a voice. A novel’s words want to disappear from consciousness, want to take root like the archetypal images of dreams. A flash’s words demand your attention, especially those (very) tiny flashes. A flash shouts out, “Attention must be paid!” It’s later flash wants to haunt you, like a flashback, a tiny moment in the midst of the ongoing narrative, a burst of something concentrated.
- To be inhaled. Sometimes, I think flash writers oversell the long hours spent working on a flash piece, as if they feel that anything so small must be defended as “work.” Having written and published longer pieces, I don’t feel that I constructed flash the way I did the longer pieces. Flash is okay coming out as an exhale, and I read somewhere that with each inhale, we take in the molecules from everyone who has ever lived. Maybe I made that up. I can’t remember. In any case, that exhale of flash adds your own nature to the nature of all that’s ever been. Flash is okay being easy to get out of your system. Flash doesn’t want to be constructed and deconstructed, taken apart in bites. Swallow me whole, flash says. That’s the way flash came into the world, the way it’ll go out.
- To be measured by its girth. If we were to check Flash Fiction’s in-box, we’d find spam after spam for Fiction Extender pills. Too tiny? Take two of these. Girth, that “measurement around the middle of something,” might be a better measurement of flash. Its breadth! And within that breadth exists both breath and bread, something maybe important, for flash is certainly bigger than a breath and smaller than a breadbox, and the point is what? Breadth has associated with it concepts such as range, extent, scope, depth, reach. Flash won’t be taking any pills; it knows there’s more to it than meets the eye.
- To be loved. Because it’s what we all want, isn’t it?, in spite of our protestations about rejection meaning anything to us. Flash wants your big, big love, and of course it wants to deserve your love, be worthy of it, doesn’t want it given just because it wants it. Flash wants maybe then, the possibility of your big love, the potentiality of it, the hope of it. Maybe flash wants more this than flesh. Maybe flash would burn skin and leave only bone.
This article was originally posted at Flash Fiction Chronicles on March 24, 2010.
Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning flash fiction collection Mad to Live (Flume Press 2008), a collection that has been recently republished by PS Books in Philadelphia as a Deluxe Edition with “bonus tracks.” Over 300 poems, essays, and short fiction pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous literary journals and his work has received nominations for the Pushcart, O. Henry, Million Writers, and Best of Web Prizes—and has appeared in various anthologies, both here and abroad, including The Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. In December 2010, he founded and currently manages Matter Press, a community-based, non-profit literary press that publishes an online literary journal (The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts). He also is the founder of FlashFiction.Net, a nationally recognized blog with a singular mission, “To prepare writers, readers, editors, and fans for the imminent rise to power of that machine of compression, that hugest of things in the tiniest of spaces: flash fiction!”
He can be reached at http://randalldouglasbrown.blogspot.com/.
Fri 6 Jul 2012
Posted by Jim Harrington under advice, characters
by Erin Entrada Kelly
As a journalist, you often find yourself interacting with people who normally wouldn’t find their way into your social circle. A few years back I found myself interacting with such people. They were a large Southern family who lived in a sprawling farmhouse and said their prayers every night. They ate healthy home-cooked meals together at the table. Their bookshelves were lined with photo albums for every milestone event, and every album was carefully detailed and labeled. Molly’s Wedding. Gretchen’s Senior Year. Girl Scouts. Each member of the family was clean, well-dressed, articulate and mannered. The working husbands had smiling wives. Each family member spoke in the same tone and octave, like they were all raised in a daily spew of soft-spoken pleases and thank yous.
Dinner was served promptly, of course – after grace.
While the others said their prayers, I scanned the room. As someone who keeps disorderly photos in boxes and never says grace before meals, something seemed completely off about this whole scenario. Perhaps I felt guilty for those two cigarettes I pitched out of the window on my way over or for the expletives I mumbled at every red light. All I knew was this: It all seemed too … something. Too ‘perfect,’ maybe. Like I’d stepped inside an episode of the Brady Bunch. I assumed that by the end of the night we would all learn a big life lesson and exit the living room to queued music that marked the end of our episode.
But just as I found myself wondering how I’d found myself having dinner with the Cleavers, I found myself wondering something else – something that most other writers would have wondered, since we are a cynical and suspicious bunch. What’s the real story here?
After all, you and I both know that no family is perfect. And there’s a reason for that—it’s because no person is perfect. Just as I had pitched two cigarettes out the window on my way over, every person saying grace at the dinner table had their own ill-mannered ways. They just weren’t showing them to me, and I don’t blame them. I was a stranger, after all, and while some people wear their faults proudly, others keep them secreted away behind formalities.
There was more to the Cleavers’ story than meets the eye. And the same should go for the characters we write.
I once workshopped a short story about a girl who had a close friendship with her father, but felt oddly distanced from her mother. Neil Connelly, the workshop leader, shook his head and said, “Something’s not right with this dad. He’s too … perfect. Can’t he have a drink or something?”
When I re-read the story, I saw his point. I had written the father as an all-around Great Guy, worthy of his daughter’s affection. But by making him such a Great Guy, I made him one-dimensional. He was a swell everyman with no faults. In other words: He wasn’t real.
We all know Great Guys who have drinks after work or get curt with their children. We know Great Guys who have flashes of selfishness or moments of irritated frustration. It doesn’t make them any less Great, but it does make them more real.
One of the ways writers develop memorable characters is by making them three-dimensional. Sure, they can say grace at the table and wipe the corners of their mouths with crisp dinner napkins, but if they don’t kick the dog or drop an F-bomb at some point, they just become boring. Unrealistic. Not believable. And if readers don’t believe our characters, they won’t be interested in them.
As writers, we’re tempted to drive our points home because we’re afraid our readers won’t “get it.” We don’t want to give the Nice Girl any bad traits, because we want our readers to understand that she is the Nice Girl. But Nice Girls are people, too.
That day in workshop, I learned a valuable lesson: Never make your character too much of anything. Never write them as too perfect or too evil. Characters are much more interesting when they have more than one side. It’s what makes them three-dimensional. It’s what allows your readers to relate to them so well.
We all have our good manners at the table and our bad manners in the car. Let your readers see both, and your characters won’t easily be forgotten.
Erin Entrada Kelly is staff editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Her fiction has been published widely in places like Keyhole Magazine, Monkeybicycle and the Kyoto Journal. She was short-listed for the Eric Hoffer National Fiction Prize and the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel is forthcoming from HarperCollins’ Greenwillow Books. She currently works as a freelance fiction editor and is represented by the Jenks Agency. Read more at www.erinentradakelly.com. Find her on Facebook here.
Wed 20 Jun 2012
by Gay Degani
Well, dang. It’s Wednesday and something needed to show up in this spot and I forgot to double-check last night. Blame it on the Heat and the Thunder!
What a terrific game. I just hope the Thunder can come back so the series goes to seven. Nothing like great basketball to get me thinking about teamwork and how it applies to writing. The writer is the coach. The team: each member is a story element and they must work together to WIN. (Indulge me here. Everything seems like a metaphor for writing to me!)
Think about it. The coach is the one who teaches, guides, plans, shapes, and has a heart attack when all the teaching, guiding, planning, shaping doesn’t work. The team has potential, it may even have talent, but if left to their own devices, the members might play well, might even be brilliant, but going all the way, reaching for that trophy?
The big man might not let the others play because he never gives up the ball. The point guard might try to get everyone to pay attention, to work the ball around to the player with the best “look,” but maybe there’s a bumping battle for position in the key and the player misses the pass. You’ve heard it before from the master himself, Michael Jordan, ”Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” And whose job is it to bring teamwork and intelligence to the court? The coach.
So how does that apply to writing? You guessed it, the author is the coach. He or she is the person in charge, the one who makes the tough decisions, who inspires, motivates, and keeps everything on track. The starting team includes structure, language, content, theme, and characters with dialogue, setting, clarity, metaphor, and imagery coming off the bench.
The coach puts his first team on the court. The best players, but he has to switch them out when something isn’t working and he has a strong bench to do so. Maybe for one story, language is the focus–the element that never lets the author down, for another, structure, but no matter what strategy the coach decides will work, he has to count on all the elements to do their part.
I love Blake Griffin. Watched him in the NCAA championships and there was something about him that stood out (damn good basketball) and I remembered him, so when he ended up on the Clippers, I was excited. We went to a couple games and the Clippers suddenly had enough talent that we dared to hope they would be contenders, but they didn’t always play as a team. Whoever had the ball tended to shoot. There was little working around the floor and while Chris Paul and Blake Griffin might be two of the most talented players in basketball, they could not bring it in the end without the rest of the team.
The same is true in putting together a story. An author might be brilliant with words, stringing them together like easy lay-ups, but a story needs more than pretty words. It has to have meaning. It has to stir something in the reader. Occasionally, of course, an imagery-rich story might be enough, something there beneath the lines that works for many readers, but we’re talking about the long haul here, making it to the finals, to the championship. Sharp original language is like having a superb big man. You might win over fans for a few stories, but at some point, the author needs to send in the rest of the team.
Language, structure, and content need to work together and still have room for the other elements to play their part in order for a writer to produce championship work. Writing is like coaching. You can’t just put your best two players in the game and hope they can bring home the NBA Trophy while you cheer them on. You need to coach everyone on the team. You need to get each one to contribute the best version of their skills to the play.
If you saw the game last night, important plays were made by bench-warmers Nick C0llison for the Thunder and Norris Cole for the Heat. And what about Mario Chalmers? We expect to be cheering Dwyane Wade and LeBron, but Bosh? And while Russell Westbrook scored a valiant 32 points, the Thunder lost because yes, late in the game, his team ran out of gas.
So enough of this. You get the point. We writers need to consider how all the elements of a story can contribute to the overall story and while one or the other may dominate, it is the contributions from the bench that will often carry the day.
Tue 29 Nov 2011
Posted by Jim Harrington under advice
by Michelle Reale
Michelle Reale: Your new book, Darling Endangered (Brooklyn Arts Press), is a life chronicled in a fabulous, panoramic, almost kaleidoscopic way. I love the progression of these pieces. Were they written with a collection in mind, or were they originally individual pieces that came together?
Carol Guess: Let’s start with Sarah Palin! The original title of the collection was Rogue Agent Burlesque, but I changed it when Palin’s memoir Going Rogue came out. I did think of the book as a collection early on. I’m not sure it reads that way, but that’s how it was written. Over time I incorporated some older material; because I revise everything intensely the old and the new blurred together, in a good way. After some frustrating close calls with indie presses and contests I did a really productive manuscript exchange with Elizabeth Colen and Suzanne Paola, both of whom felt that the title didn’t reflect the mood of the manuscript. They suggested I change the order of the sections, grounding my readers in time with the childhood pieces. After three years of trying to place it with the old title and order, the book was picked up as soon as I sent it out with those changes. My publisher, Brooklyn Arts Press, has been fantastic. They’re doing amazing books that combine literature and art.
Michelle: These pieces are fabulously staccato—each hits a high note. Is this effect easier to achieve in short fiction pieces than it is in poetry? I am thinking here of the “room” to let an image flower ,but still have such distillation of language.
Carol: Thanks for this compliment, Michelle! Instead of actually answering this question I’ll offer up a confession. The book was written as a prose poetry collection, and the individual pieces were published as poems. But somewhat naively, I signed a contract with another publisher, Black Lawrence Press, promising not to publish a book of poems before my forthcoming poetry collection Doll Studies: Forensics appeared with them. They are such a great press, and take such risks, and I really wanted them to publish Doll Studies, and they are, in January 2012. So it seemed fine to sign the contract. Then of course Darling Endangered got picked up immediately, after three years of rejections, and I was in a bind. What we all three decided to do — me, Brooklyn Arts Press, and Black Lawrence Press — was give the book another genre heading. We called it “lyrical short fiction” or “flash fiction.” This made everyone happy, and prevented the two books from competing with each other. Ultimately, though, it reaffirmed my belief that genre boundaries are sometimes no more than a marketing tool. I’m really not interested in those boundaries when I write or read; they only come into play when I try to get published.
Michelle: How long do you work on a piece? What does the process of writing a short, lyrical piece look like form start to finish?
Carol: Everything takes me a long time. Everything! I’m a really slow person. I’m always late. It’s like I was born with a broken internal clock. So it takes me forever to write and forever to finish things and forever to organize them. With prose poems and short short fictions I work line by line. I’m obsessed with the sentence, with making each sentence perfectly musical and meaningful at once. Then, when I have a perfect line, I try to get another perfect line. Once I have a few perfect lines I move them around to see if they fit. If not, I see if they fit other lines I have lying around, or I write some new ones, or I save them for later. Rarely do I write something in one sitting or as a complete piece. I also take long breaks from writing. There’s pleasure for me when I return to it, pleasure and urgency. I like to feel passion in everything I do. For this reason I resist the idea of writing as a kind of chore. I felt that way through graduate school and I don’t want to return to that mental space.
Michelle: Who are the poets or writers of flash fiction that you admire most?
Carol: To name just a few: Harryette Mullen, Maggie Nelson, Richard Siken, Gertrude Stein, Allison Benis White. I’m eagerly awaiting new prose poetry collections from Andrew Grace and Eva Heisler. The aesthetic I admire most blends sound and sense. The aesthetic I admire least demonstrates only one of those qualities, and is usually defensive about what it lacks.
Michelle: Why the shorter form over the longer form? Because I am always asked this question I will ask you: why the short form? Why not a novel? (annoying question, isn’t it?
Carol: This isn’t an annoying question at all! For me form is often about time. In graduate school I wrote novels because I had time. As a tenured professor I spend a great deal of time teaching, yes, but also mentoring, writing rec letters, responding to email, attending committee meetings, holding office hours, taking the bus to campus and back, etc. My day job doesn’t allow for the kind of sustained attention to my own work that a novel requires (for me). So instead of not writing I decided to work in short forms. I’m glad I did; they’re fun to read, write, and teach.
Michelle: Can you give a bit of advice to those writing short, lyrical fiction? For instance, what are you mindful of when writing pieces like these?
Carol: Given the proliferation of writing programs, it’s out of vogue to say “just write.” But I find advice on writing to be a little bit silly. I mean, you do it or you don’t. You want to or you don’t want to, and there’s no harm either way. When I teach I just try to make a space for everyone to experiment with language, read a lot, and see the world more clearly. So I guess I’m resistant to giving advice to writers, beyond saying it’s important to read contemporary writers and find ways of engaging with current literary conversations.
Michelle: Are you up for a challenge? Create a short shore piece, no more than 30 words with these prompt words: cerulean, hindered, unexpected, whisper, dawn, train, glass jar.
Carol: Michelle, I am always up for a challenge! And rule breaking! I break a lot of rules! So I threw the 30-word limit out the window, literally out the window.
“If You Give Me An Ultimatum, I Will Do The Opposite Of Whatever You Ask”
Jar me awake. Break the glass around the frozen flowers. Train water to drain in unexpected corners, cerulean ceramic mermaids whispering something about cab fare and carbs. O say can the dawn’s early etc go missing. Don’t hinder my decision with hints or whistles. Whichever door I pick is door number one.
Michelle: You rebel ! That was awesome. Thanks, Carol!
Carol Guess is the author of seven books of poetry and prose, as well as three forthcoming collections:Doll Studies: Forensics, Willful Machine, and My Father In Water. She is Associate Professor of English at Western Washington University. Follow her at: www.carolguess.blogspot.com. You can purchase Darling Endangered here.
Mon 2 May 2011
Posted by Jim Harrington under advice
Among the challenges presented by writing in first person point-of -view, one of the toughest (for this writer at least) is describing the first person narrator. Offering details about your character’s age, physical appearance, and clothing is a great way to build that character, but there are only so many times he or she can walk past a mirror in a single story. I’ve looked through some of my favorite first person stories to find examples of how other writers have attacked this challenge.
Age is probably the easiest character trait to mention. In my opinion, the best way to dole out this information is in a simple declarative sentence. Sometimes writers try to bury it awkwardly in phrases like “my nine-year-old hands,” or “my experience as a forty-two -year-old.” They are working too hard and the machine of the story shows through clearly in these moments. In published stories, I usually find the narrator’s age stated directly, often right next to the age of another character, like this: “She was twenty-five. I was thirty-three” (Gaitskill, “Today I’m Yours”); “I was eight, and small for my age. Tim was seven” (Tartt, “The Ambush”); “I was eleven that summer, and my sister, Lila, was thirteen” (Swann, “Secret”). The lesson here? Don’t over-think it. If we need to know, just tell us.
Slightly more difficult is describing your character’s physical appearance (what he/she looks like or how he/she is dressed). One effective way to convey this information is by having your narrator compare himself to another character and point out the similarities, like Percy does in “Refresh, Refresh”: “Like me, my father was short and squat, a bulldog.” In other instances, you can point out differences between characters. Here’s an example from “The Conductor” by Aleksandar Hemon: “[He] was misclad in a dun short, brown pants, and an inflammable-green tie. I was a cool-dressed city boy, all denim and T-shirts…”
In special cases, you can describe your first person narrator as part of a group. Russell gives this very detailed description of a pack of wild girls in “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”: “Our pack was hirsute and sinewy and mostly brunette. We had terrible posture. We went knuckling along the wooden floor on the callused pads of our fists…” Englander employs a similar technique in “How We Avenged the Blums“: “…Greenheath was like any other town, except for its concentration of girls in ankle-length denim skirts and white-canvas Keds, and boys in sloppy Oxford shirts, with their yarmulkes hanging down as if sewn to the side of their heads.”
I hope these ideas help you give your readers a picture of your narrator without dramatizing her getting dressed in the morning!
**Note: My very sharp copy editor/husband informs me that all of these examples are in past tense! I didn’t even notice this coincidence as I was writing the column. Perhaps it’s easier to write a first person story in past tense, to add a bit of narrative distance. Or perhaps the past tense lends itself more easily to descriptive moments like these. Or perhaps this is another column all together!
Aubrey Hirsch is a native of Cleveland, Ohio. Her stories, essays and poems have appeared in literary journals both in print and online including Third Coast, Hobart,SmokeLong Quarterly, Vestal Review, The Los Angeles Review, PANK, Annalemma, and The Minnetonka Review. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she has also been honored with a nomination for the Micro Award and as a top-25 finalist in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open. Her posts appear regularly in this spot the first Monday of every month.
Thu 17 Mar 2011
By Len Hazell
What is a plot? I’ll tell what it is not.
A plot is not a story, it is not even the skeleton of a story, it is more like a coat hanger that you dangle your story from. Plot comes before setting, character or anything else and the best thing about plotlines are that you don’t have to write them because they all already exist.
There are eight of them and they all follow the same basic pattern:
- You set up a thesis
- You counter this with an antithesis
- All is resolved in a variable synthesis
- A seeks something for a purpose
- B and C places good and bad obstacles in A’s way
- A overcomes all obstacles and returns to his fulfill his destiny or defines a new destiny from the quest and embarks on this instead
- A and B are associated with opposing factions but form a bond anyway
- C and D attempt to break this bond
- A and B either escape to be together or die in the attempt causing C and D to reassess their situation
- A is tempted by B and despite the warnings of C
- B lures A in to trap
- C rescues A who either escapes with C or decides to stay with B anyway
- A is dissatisfied with life and desires something C cannot provide
- B offers this something to A on the understanding there is a heavy price to be paid
- C saves A from B and asks nothing in return other than that A learns from the experience or C is unable to save A and perhaps sacrifices themselves too
- The Love Triangle
- A is promised to B
- C desires A
- C either wins a from B, or steps aside and allows A to be with B , or kills A and then loses C
- A is formidable but has a weakness
- B plays upon A’s weakness for his own ends
- A’s weakness destroys him but not before he sees the folly of it
(The variations on the synthesis here are much more subtle as it is integral to the plot that A never looses their flaw. They can be saved from death, but not from destruction of one kind or another. Should a over come his flaw the story switches to plot 1,3 or 7 with the flaw taking the part of B or C)
- A is robbed of something by B
- B’s crime brings them no happiness
- C restores A to their rightful place and higher
- A then either forgives B, destroys B or B destroys himself out of ire
- A personifies Good, Evil or another abstract concept and sets an example
- B attempts to stop A time and time again
- A becomes stronger for the conflict
I’m sure, you will agree, all eight are easily recognizable.
There you have them, every story hangs on one or a mixture of two or more of these plot lines with a variation on the synthesis. The job of narrative is to make each of these plot lines work in new and original ways, with new settings, interesting characters and subtle twists.
Part 2 is coming on Monday: “The Quick and Easy Cheaters Guide to Writing Storylines.” Tune in to see how writing plotlines differs from storylines.
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
Mon 7 Feb 2011
As writers, we’re always looks to save a little space on the page, so I think the best metaphors are the ones that do a thousand things at once. The best way to explain this is probably by example. So here are a couple of examples of metaphors that work brilliantly:
- From Benjamin Percy’s Refresh Refresh: “a no-neck linebacker with teeth like corn kernels and hands like T-bone steaks.” That’s a lot of information and description packed into a slim 13 words. “Corn kernels” not only tells us about the size and shape of the linebacker’s teeth, but also their color. “Corn kernels” also implies something soft, like maybe his teeth are rotten. “T-bone steaks” likewise gives me a sense of size and shape, but also density and weight. It casts the linebacker’s fists as being dumb or without agency, just pieces of meat. And both together tell us a fair bit about the narrator, as well as the person he’s describing. Narrators should always use descriptions that are within the realm of their experiences. From this line, I glean that this narrator is a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy. I feel like I know a little bit about what he eats, and can extract from that some information about social standing, income, etc.
- From “Kavita Through Glass” by Emily Ishem Raboteau: “The pieces of colored glass were smooth and flattish and oblong, shaped like teardrops roughly the size of robin’s eggs.” Again, “the size of robin’s eggs” does not just tell us about the size, but also shape and texture and fragility. This image combined with “teardrops” makes me think of the color blue. “Teardrops” implies that they are translucent and glassy. It also impacts the mood of the piece, bringing in a sense of sadness.
I could go and on, but I think you get the idea. Good metaphors do a lot of work for the little space they take up on the page. The other side of this, of course, is that the least successful metaphors are the ones that do nothing. I will occasionally come upon a draft that has a line like, “It sounded like a thousand Cheerios being flung forcefully against a trampoline.” I don’t know about you, but I have absolutely no idea what that sounds like. Rather than doing the one thing that metaphor sets out to do (give me a sound image), it instead obfuscates the tenor even more. I now need another metaphor to explain the metaphor meant to explain the original sound!
So take your cues from the authors above. Never limit yourself to illuminating just one aspect of the thing you’re describing. Instead, make your metaphors work hard and save yourself some precious real estate.
Aubrey Hirsch’s work has appeared in journals such as Hobart, Third Coast, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, Annalemma and The Minnetonka Review, and in the forthcoming anthology Pittsburgh Noir (Akashic Books). Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Micro Award and honored on the short list of Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open. She currently serves as the Daehler Fellow in Creative Writing at Colorado College.
To read some of Aubrey’s current work, check out her stories in Vestal and SmokeLong as well as in Metazen’s charity e-book. You can find her online here.