Entries tagged with “Jim Harrington”.

by Karen NelsonKaren Nelson Outdoor

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.



by Jim Harringtonjimharrington2

The inciting incident is the event that causes the protagonist to act. In a police procedural, a crime is committed—usually a murder. Once the crime takes place, the detective’s goal is to find the criminal and bring the person to justice. In a romance novel, the inciting incident may be a desire to learn more about someone based on a chance encounter. In a suspense story, someone threatens to do something that will cause great harm. The protagonist’s goal is to stop the person. In a literary story, a woman faces a life after divorce. The inciting incident may be the signing of the final papers ending her marriage. In each of these examples, a character is required to act. Well, I suppose they don’t have to, but then where’s the story?

In a flash story, the inciting incident often takes place before the piece begins. Here’s an example…

The Robber’s Fiancee

by Jim Harrington

First published in Static Movement

Dressed in a jogging suit, her hair damp from the shower, Inocencia sits on the sofa in her parents’ guest house and lays her head on Javier’s bare shoulder.

“I thought you loved me,” she says.

“I do,” Javier replies.

“Clareta says she heard you telling your friends you would have the drugs for the party Saturday night.” A purple­tipped finger traces a vein on his leg.

“Am I going to this party, or just my father’s drugs?”

Javier sits her up and turns her to face him. “Of course, you’re coming to the party.”

“There may not be a party,” she says.

“What do you mean?”

Javier turns at the sound of the door opening. Inocencia’s father enters, followed by two men each twice Javier’s size.

“Did you think I wouldn’t tell Daddy?”

What is the inciting incident in “The Robber’s Fiancee?” It’s an event that happens prior to this scene. Figured it out yet? It’s Inocencia’s conversation with Clareta. That’s the event that causes Inocencia to confront Javier.  It’s important to know what causes your main character to act in order to understand what the story is about and where it should start. As I stated above, in flash, this inciting incident often occurs before the reader is invited to join in. If the event happens within the story, it should take place as soon as possible, preferably in the opening paragraph. The word limitations imposed by flash don’t allow for a long build­up.

Character arc is something else editors look for in a story. They want a tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end. One where a character changes is some way. Is there a character arc in “The Robber’s Fiancee?” Does the story have a beginning, middle and end?

I submit all of these elements are part of the overall story but many aspects are left for the reader to discern. After all, flash is a shared happening between the writer and the reader. Right? Unlike a novel or short story, the author doesn’t have the time (i.e., word count) to spoon feed the reader every detail of a story.

Here’s how I see “The Robber’s Fiancee.”

The beginning: Javier and Inocencia are a couple in love with plans to marry.  They’re spending some alone­time in her parents’ guest house.  The middle: Inocencia and Clareta have a conversation that makes Inocencia doubt Javier’s love. She tells her father what’s about to happen.  The end: Inocencia confronts Javier and the father shows up to address the situation.

In my scenario, the beginning and middle happen before the reader joins in. The fact the couple is in love is implied by the title. The opening places them alone in the guest house and infers they may have made love—she’s had a shower, his shoulder and leg are bare. Or maybe they recently returned from jogging or playing tennis. I leave that detail for the reader to decide. The specific activity isn’t important to the story.  The conversation with Clareta is mentioned in the story. It’s important to do so because this is what causes a change in Inocencia. After hearing what Clareta has to say, Inocencia begins to doubt Javier’s love and decides to let her father know what’s going on as a way to get revenge. The reader isn’t a direct part of either of these conversations and doesn’t need to be. Why include boring conversations? Why not get right to the action—in media res, as I’ve seen suggested many times?

So is this a complete story? In my mind, yes. All of the elements of a beginning, a middle and an end are contained in the tale. Part of the challenge of writing flash is to provide only those pieces of information needed for the reader to be a partner in how the story turns out. And it’s okay in many instances if readers come to different conclusions. What happens to Javier in the end? Does the father present him with a pair of cement boots to test in the ocean? Does he order Javier beaten? Does Javier talk his way out of the situation? I leave that to the reader to decided. This is not a technique that is specific to this story. Have you ever read “The Lady or The Tiger” by Frank Stockton?

Now go back and read a piece of flash that you didn’t consider to be a complete story and see if there are pieces of the puzzle the author left for you, the reader, to discover on your own. I bet they’re there if you look closely.


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

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2I read a story a few weeks ago that contained the sentence, “He wished he owned a dog.” This may not be the exact sentence, but it’s close enough. I stopped reading when I got there and thought, what a waste.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the author chose the exact right words. I bet not, though.

Why did I think the sentence a waste? The word dog bothered me. Wouldn’t the reader learn more about the character by naming a specific breed of dog? Sure, I know the character likes dogs, as opposed to cats, or goldfish, or parakeets, but why not go for more? Why not write, “He wished he owned a pit bull.” Now, my curiosity is piqued, and I want to continue reading to find out why he wants a pit bull. Of course, the impact of the breed choice depends on the context. Here’s an example.

Shea’s head rose above those of his classmates, like a lone skyscraper hovering over a notched cityscape. He ambled from his classroom to other activities, tilted to one side, his shoulder rubbing against the wall. Mrs. Kelly, his sixth grade teacher, barked at Shea to stand straight. The kids, especially Kevin, teased Shea. Kevin went farther than that. Today, as Kevin approached on the playground, Shea wished he owned a dog.

Okay, there’s the setup. Now, what about the end phrase of that last sentence?

Shea wished he owned a dog. This sounds like Shea is looking for something to distract him from the approaching Kevin. It’s neither positive nor negative in my mind, and tells me little about Shea (other than his pet preference as noted above).

Shea wished he owned a pit bull. Now, I wonder, does Shea want a pit bull for protection? Does he want to train the dog to attack Kevin? Or does Shea think a pit bull will scare Kevin away? Is that all Shea wants? I have an insight into Shea that I want to learn more about. Why a pit bull?

Shea wished he owned a pomeranian. Maybe Shea wants a companion to sit with him in the corner of his room at home. Maybe he wants a small dog he can control, as opposed to Kevin whom Shea can’t. Maybe Shea has more sinister ideas for the dog. Maybe he simply wants an unquestioning friend who will accept him as he is, unlike his school mates. As a reader, I want to know more.

Here’s an example of a wasted verb.

Sara walked toward the street corner. Lots of people walk. What makes Sara different from everyone else walking on the street? If she isn’t, why should the reader care?

Sara struggled to reach the street corner. Why? What happened? Was she shot? Did she trip? Over a body? Is there a strong wind blowing her off balance? Does the wind equate to something else happening in her life? Is she carrying something that’s heavy and/or awkward? Again, a simple change of verb elevates the action and brings the reader into the story.

Being specific in word choice is essential in writing flash. Choose words, especially nouns and verbs, that do more than fill space. Don’t say he wants a dog. Let the reader know what breed of dog. Don’t say she drives a car (or truck, or motorcycle). Be specific. An elderly female driving a Ford Focus provides the reader with a different perspective on the character than an elderly woman who zooms into a parking lot driving a Corvette. With flash, the writer has a limited number of words to work with. Don’t waste them.

Here’s a challenge if you dare attempt it. Select one or two sentences from a story you’re currently working on and underline all the verbs and nouns. Now change them to words that are vibrant and challenging to the reader. Use words like struggled instead of walked and pit bull instead of dog. When you’re done, feel free to share the original sentence and the improved one in the comments section. WARNING: Don’t change words for the sake of change. Change words because they improve the reading experience.


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

jimharrington2by Jim Harrington

It’s impossible to throw a rock into the Internet and not have it bounced off an article explaining why an author needs a platform.

Here’s an example from Why a Writing Platform is a Must: 13 Ways to Build Yours by Pearl Luke:

 Having a writing platform means that you have an audience, and that you have some vehicle in place to reach that audience when you have books to sell. This platform is as important to those not yet published as it is to established writers.

Before an agent or publisher considers signing you, he or she will do a Google search on your name to see how often it comes up. Publishers can’t afford to do all your promotion for you. They want some assurance that you will be able to help create a buzz about your book. They want you to help sell your books.

According to Chuck Sambuchino in his Create Your Writer Platform, the most common building blocks of a platform include the following (list truncated, emphasis mine):

  • A website and/or blog with a large readership
  • An e-newsletter and/or mailing list with a large number of subscribers/recipients
  • Article/column writing (or correspondent involvement) for the media—preferably for larger outlets and outlets within the writer’s specialty
  • Guest contributions to successful websites, blogs, and periodicals
  • An impressive social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, and the like)
  • Membership in organizations that support the successes of their own

And then I read this by Jane Friedman in a post at Writer Unboxed.

 As far as trends go, the idea of building a platform has been around for at least five or six years now, if not longer. Unfortunately, as time has passed, I’m not sure the discussions surrounding platform—or the common wisdom that gets spread—is any better than it was in 2007, and social media as both marketing tool and creative tool has greatly complicated matters.

I’ll make a bold statement right here that I don’t think I’ve made before.

If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing.

Here’s another article by Ms. Friedman on author platform.

So is this woman crazy? Is she attempting to undermine writers? I don’t believe so. Think about it. The number of writers who publish the first book they write is infinitesimal. Many write three or four before an agent or publisher thinks it’s worth publishing. It takes time to write this much, time that for many fiction writers is scarce. Most, even some who have a number of publications, have full-time jobs and/or families demanding their attention.

For the writer, building a platform means participating in writing groups, posting on a personal website or blog, updating a Facebook status, tweeting, going to conferences, and so on. None of these activities help in getting the book finished. If anything, they detract from it.

The first job of any author, and the effort that should consume the most time, is finishing the book. Am I suggesting you move to a cabin in Vermont for three years and eat berries and rabbit stew? Of course not, but be selective in what you do. A writing group is a must. Someone else needs to read your work to help find the weak spots. Attending a conference once a year is a good way to meet authors and publishers interested in your chosen genre. Joining a professional association does the same. On the other hand, a personal blog that hasn’t been updated in two years because the author is too busy (or has lost interest) doesn’t do anything to promote you or your work. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. At the point that your outside activities detract from the work of writing your book, you’ve gone too far.

But I plan to self-publish, you say. Okay, at some point you’ll need to ramp up your social media activities. However, you still have to finish the book.

Chuck Wendig, in DROP THE PEN, GRAB A HAMMER: BUILDING THE WRITER’S PLATFORM, puts things into perspective when he says:

 Here’s the thing: a writer without a platform can still get published if he has a kick-ass book, but a writer with a great platform isn’t likely to get published if his book is better off being dragged out behind the barn and shot in the head.

What do you think? I’d especially like to see comments from any publishers or agents who read this. For a new author looking for their first publication, is an author platform important? And for you writers who believe it is, remember that one of the suggested ways to build your audience is to write guest posts for your favorite blog. *wink* *wink*


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

by Jim Harrington jimharrington2

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