Entries tagged with “CRAFT”.
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Fri 3 Jul 2015
Posted by Michael Mattson under advice, characters
by April Bradley
Lately, I’ve been focusing on an aspect of character development in my own work that I’ve noticed in stories that catch my attention, especially in flash fiction: revealing character through embodied movement. A character’s lifelike qualities emerge vividly out of how she occupies the narrative space. The brevity and compression of flash allows writers to experiment with form and structure with few constraints. In respect to embodied movement, as with any aspect of fiction, the writing and the words carry more freight. One of the more memorable examples is Ron Carlson’s “The Great Open Mouth Anti-Sadness.” The whole piece is a wonderful work of characterization, yearning, emotion, and movement in a confined space:
He worked one dress shoe off with the other, and then held it on a toe as long as he could. The air cooled his arch perfectly, and he thought that: perfect. Evaporation was such a stunning feature of life on earth. Water rises into the air. Now he opened his mouth and then a little wider than was comfortable. 
Another is Kathy Fish’s lovely “Tenderoni” from Smokelong Quarterly, where a young woman watches her boyfriend figure out how to move a dead kitten off the road:
My boyfriend and I grab our bikes and pedal across town for a parade which has probably been cancelled anyway. Ahead, Mark’s skinny calves pump, his day glo rain poncho flaps behind him like a flag. He stops and gets off the bike and I catch up to him.
“Oh, damn,” I say. “A kitty.”
“It looks sort of lumpy,” he says. There’s a drop of rain holding on to the tip of his nose and steam rising from his shoulders. “We should move it.”
We know nothing about this couples’ ages, not much about how they look, or exactly where they are. It’s raining, they want to see a parade, they ride bicycles. One likes to smoke, one wears glasses. They are tender with one another. Readers feel like they share something intimate and significant with these people. Most of what we learn about them is from how they move and act and in what they say to one another.
Characters move through space and display physical characteristics, emotional expressions, and psychological states. They also convey their intellect, sexuality, humor, mood, opinions, trauma, and the status of their relationships. How a character conducts herself in the story tells us more than a description. We typically take advantage of dialogue as an opportunity for subtext, but movement can enrich characterization without having to rely on explication. When we show how a character emotes, for example, the disparity between their inner lives and their exterior responses contribute to tension and conflict. Nancy Stohlman in The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories cleverly borrows most everything the story needs with a one-word title, “Samson” and writes twenty-one more words of precise movement and dialogue:
“Don’t worry, we’ll both do it,” Delilah said, reaching for the hair clippers on the counter next to the lice shampoo.” 
How a character or reader changes and transforms over time in the narrative space has something to do with embodiment and movement, even if there is little to no embodiment and/or restricted movement. They are enabled to act in some way. A character’s movement also influences how time dilates and constricts, speeds up and slows down. This is how character movement can regulate pacing and momentum.
In “Abbreviated Glossary” Gay Degani uses concise, stark sentences to convey an emotionally charged story in 150 words that takes place over eight months:
His lips disappear between his teeth when I break the news. He says he’s not ready—no diapers for him—but I know he is. I’ll do the hard part. I promise.
My fingers knead the curve of my belly. Dev slips an arm around my waist and grins at his boss. Proud papa.
Amelia Gray in “House Heart” tells the story of how a couple lures a woman to their home and traps her in the ductwork. For one woman, her whole world becomes the visible interior of the house and how she dwells in it with her husband and this new, determined presence. For another woman, her space is confined to the interior of a house and the spaces she creates:
We licked each other’s faces, listening to the girl above us. At that moment, she was learning that she could crawl on her hands and knees in he main passage, but that in the smaller lines, she would have to slide on her belly, arms outstretched, pulling herself forward.
Eventually, everyone’s focus narrows to the interior where violations of hospitality play out.
Character development through movement is another way for our characters to gain more presence, mass, and substance. A young, recently injured gymnast is going to move very differently than his older brother who is a former heavyweight class wrestler and makes glass for a living. There are also characters we cannot help but remember always, not so much for the way they look but for their presence and how they bear themselves in a story.
 Carlson, Robert. “Great Open Mouth Anti-Sadness.” Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories. Ed. James Thomas & Robert Shapard. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 62-63.
 Fish, Kathy. “Tenderoni” Smokelong Quarterly. Issue 28. October 2, 2008 Accessed June 13, 2015. http://www.smokelong.com/flash/kathyfish22.asp
 Stohlman, Nancy. “Samson.” The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories. Magill SA, Australia: A Pure Slush Book, 2014, 86.
 Degani, Gay. “Abbreviated Glossary.” Melusine, or Woman in the 21st Century. Accessed June 13, 2015. http://www.melusine21cent.com/mag/node/251
 Gray, Amelia. “House Heart.” Gunshot: Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. 16.
April Bradley is a native of Goodlettsville, Tennessee and lives with her family on the Connecticut shoreline. Her fiction and creative nonfiction has or will appear in Thrice Fiction, Narratively, Southern Women’s Review, Hermeneutic Chaos and other publications. April serves as the Senior Assistant Editor for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine.
Thu 8 May 2014
by Gay Degani
“There are two ways to become a better writer, in general: write a lot, and read a lot. There are no other steps.” – Leo Babauta
So often new writers (and experienced ones too) find themselves hanging out by the refrigerator, flipping through television channels, or cleaning out closets, all because they don’t know what to write or if they’ve starte
d, where to take their stories. Eventually most find a way to break through, but I want to suggest something less fattening than eating ice cream and more useful than Wheel of Fortune. Although I admit these two things might lead to an idea, and I know cleaning closets worked for Eminem, but choosing to study a story you admire is more likely to get your head filled with ideas and ways to make them work than anything else.
Back when I was teaching, I discovered a somewhat old-fashioned essay by Mortimer J. Adler in English 1A textbooks called “How to Mark a Book.” At first I thought students would be put off by the author’s style, yet reading it for the first time, I knew I had to assign it. Adler offers one of the most essential tools for learning: how to have a conversation with the author of any text. Not only did I have to make sure the kids in my class used this tool to learn to write, but I would need to incorporate it into my own discipline.
What Adler professes is that reading must be active, not passive and the best way to do that is to read with a pencil in hand, and underlining key ideas, scribbling questions and thoughts in the margins, using a “star, asterisk, or other doo-dad” to return to paragraphs for rereading, numbering sequences, circling phrases, and using white spaces to outline. He claims that by marking a book a reader becomes an alert participant, his thought processes are triggered, and his ability to remember reinforced.
It’s obvious that marking a book helps students to study, prepare for tests, and carry what they’ve learned with them longer, but how did this help me as a writer? How does it help you?
Writing a story whether flash or longer can be a daunting task. We wonder when we sit down at the keyboard how other writers do it day after day, piece after piece. Adler’s essay gives a way to discover how to find out, how to have a conversation with the author of something we admire.
He teaches us not to deconstruct in the literary analysis kind of way, but in the “how did he/she do that” kind of way.
Let me repeat Adler’s three reasons to question a text.
- Staying alert
Normally when we read—especially the first time through—we read for the story, taking in language and meaning as we do so. This is most often done passively for pleasure, but as students of writing, we need to go back with all our faculties engaged with a pencil or pen in hand, circling this image, that phrase, underlining words that suggest a theme. asking ourselves, how did the author paint that picture, how do I know this character is angry, why do I feel like crying? Questioning “why and how” helps writers to understand what choices the author has used to put us into the story. We need to be alert to do this.
When we are alert to everything in the text, we are thinking, asking questions, wondering. We notice specific words and realize how an old man “shambling” is different from an old man “strolling.” How we can picture exactly a pine or a palm when those specific words are used instead of “tree.” Also more complex issues are untangled. Why do we know one character is conflicted and another one is unaware? We are forced to look at dialogue, adjectives, subtle hints that build to an awareness of state of mind. When we read for pleasure, we may notice these things, but when we underline them, put an asterisk next to a paragraph, and go back through, puzzling and studying, we are engaged in learning.
Memory is reinforced when we are questioning a text. Because we are alert and writing things down, outlining the structure, exploring the dialog, we are aware that these are things we want to remember and the act of engagement boosts memory. Next time we are trying to convey a character in just a few words because the word count is 100 or 500 or 1000, we will remember that word choice is essential, that every word used MUST convey some meaning and consequently, we are less likely to settle on first thoughts. We will remember our pleasure at discovering how another writer stirred us and we will want to create that emotion in our own readers.
In her book, Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose calls this “close reading.” She says this changed for her when one of her high school teachers asked the class to compare the theme of blindness in Oedipus Rex and King Lear. “We were supposed to go through the two tragedies and circle every reference to eyes, light, darkness, and vision.” (p. 4) Of the experience she says, “I felt as if I were engaged in some intimate communication with the writer, as if the ghosts of Sophocles and Shakespeare had been waiting patiently all those centuries for a bookish sixteen-year-old to come along and find them.” (p. 5)
Mortimer Adler and Francine Prose have helped me become a better writer by suggesting I turn to the stories I love and examine them more closely, that I become an active participant in reading rather than a passive one, assuming with this mindset, I will better absorb the skills needed to write. Some of that, of course, eventually does happen, but why wait? That carton of rocky road will still be in the freezer tomorrow and the television isn’t going anywhere.
Gay Degani has published fiction on-line and in print including her short collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place. She’s had three stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her novel, What Came Before, is live in serialized format at Every Day Novels. It’s also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
Sun 6 Oct 2013
Posted by Jim Harrington under INSPIRATION, INTERVIEWS, PUBLISHING, REVIEWS
Comments Off on What You Missed in September
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