Relative Surprises…

Another Friday, another Flash Fiction attempt…

lion

The trouble with family research, Chloe though, was that one was never sure what might turn up.

Her mother had always hinted at grandeur amidst the distant past and Chloe had put this down to wishful thinking. All of us would prefer to think of ourselves as the descendants of nobility, say, than the mere great-great grandchildren of peasants?

Well, grandeur was certainly there she thought as she read the microfiche record. Treason, lechery, theft, corruption and gambling addictions appeared to mark out a long line of her ancestors.

Being related to Royalty was no picnic, that’s for sure.

 

 

Picture courtesy of wikipedia.

 

 

How to Write Flash Fiction

Flash fiction, just like any kind of fiction, uses this process for narrative.

Flash fiction, just like any kind of fiction, uses this process for narrative.

I am a self-styled expert in many things… educating myself via the internet, for one thing and how to conduct endless research on different dieting and fitness methods without ever actually applying them consistently to self for another thing.

It seems that a lot of people type “how to” type queries into search engines (no kidding, Sherlock) and  therefore, from time to time, I decide to write a “how to” post in a bid for online popularity. How to make an art skill out of procrastination would be my real area of expertise, but seeing as you are currently (and very kindly)  reading my blog I’m going to label you an expert procrastinator without any need whatsoever of my help in that area so how to write flash fiction it is…

Flash fiction can be anything from 140 characters a la Twitter up to 1,000 words according to wikipedia, but there is no real prescribed limit. Aesop’s Fables can be thought of as flash fiction, according to the wonderful wiki, so very short stories are nothing new at all. If you want to write flash fiction (and there are many websites which welcome regular contributions, including this one and this one), here is how to start:

  1. A story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Very obvious yes, but the beginning should scene set (exposition), the middle describe a mini climax (rising action and falling action) and the end bring it all together.
  2. The end does not need to tie up all loose ends; it could leave the reader thinking – and wanting more.
  3. Sometimes, the first line is enough to think up in the first place without a clear idea of where the story is going. Take for example – ‘Molly’s latest boyfriend hadn’t specified at the beginning that he was a volunteer traffic warden and it was beginning to become a problem.‘ There are a lot of places you could go with this one line – the problems of being a volunteer traffic warden, or how to get rid of a dull boyfriend in murderous ways, for example.
  4. Excess words don’t have a place in flash fiction – you will need to ensure you have plenty of words to use so you can contrast descriptions, adjectives and adverbs, and then discard what you don’t need.
  5. It’s easier to write flash fiction if you write it all out, then check the word count and then start to pare back the words. Visualise the overall length at the beginning to help guide you – I’ve been writing 100-word flash fiction for seven months now and I know it is roughly three short paragraphs (six or seven sentences), whereas 500 words is about a page and half of A4.

As an added bonus, once you hone your skills on flash fiction they translate to other areas of your life. Writing a CV/resume? Think of the ‘why you want this job’ bit as the opportunity of flash fiction starring you*. Writing a synopsis of your fictional masterpiece? Flash fiction skills give you the discipline of condensing words into small amounts. Writing a presentation – flash fiction helps you sum up your story in a dynamic way etc etc.

 

*I take no responsibility if you carry out this bit of advice and your employers subsequently decide you have played fast and loose with ‘fiction’. 

 

 

Words, Words, Wonderful Words (and a commendation)

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Amidst the chaos that is my in-box a wee gem surfaced this week, telling me I’d been commended in a short story competition.

The Federation of Writers in Scotland ran a competition some months ago and I entered the flash fiction class. The competition was looking for a 500-word short story, which, as I’m used to 100-word stories through the weekly Friday Flash Fiction challenge I set myself, felt like a NOVEL.

Anyway, I hummed and hah-ed and then entered anyway. I’m sharing the results below and I hope you like it…

 

WORDS, WORDS, WONDERFUL WORDS

Nathan Crutchlow prided himself on his verbosity. Words were his stock in trade after all, so why shouldn’t there be so many of them? Those oh so plentiful words buzzed around in his head and they needed an outlet – they deserved to be written down, lovingly crafted into the sentences, paragraphs and pages he adored creating.

Nathan’s wordiness had stilted his initial progress. His first approaches to agents had met with flat refusals. After a while he had sought out further explanation for their reluctance to consider what he considered his works of art. What could possibly be wrong with his wonderful words?

One of London’s kinder and more patient agents explained eventually.

They’re just too long,” she said. “I read your covering letter where you referenced the length of your manuscript – 200,000 words, for heaven’s sake! The modern-day reader does not want to read a book that long.”

Nathan listened, and then discounted her advice. The modern-day readers of the time (1970s) he felt, should not be patronised by London agents determined to determine their word count for them. Surely, the modern reader was only awaiting words of which only Nathan could conjure up in his own inimitable way? They were eager to be intoxicated by the exuberance of his verbosity, he was sure…

He stuck to his wordy principles. His eventual signing by a more individualistic agent led to publication of a series of fantasy novels. The 900-page books gained a select following and Nathan achieved cult status.

From time to time, he muttered to himself – wondering afresh at his lack of ability to sell millions of novels. There had been talk in the mid-1990s of turning his first book into a film. Hollywood was mentioned and flights to Los Angeles were days away from being booked, but it all came to naught.

Nathan reverted to rejoicing in his small but select following. His fans were the type to seek him out at the smaller book festivals having travelled from Sweden, or the far flung corners of the US.

Once, he overheard one of them discussing his books with a friend. “It took me a year to read y’know, but it was worth it in the end. I feel like I’m an ultra-reader now. Everyone else does 5ks and half-marathons, but I’ve done the Marathon des Sables.”

He thought it was a compliment.

And then in the midst of online research (or procrastination, depending on your view point), he’d stumbled across the notion of flash fiction. He found websites where stories were limited to a mere 500 words. Another 30 minutes later and he had uncovered fiction which took place within 100 words.

What on earth..?

Nathan’s fingers twitched. The words rattling around in his brain slowed to a stop, as the inner editor finally made his appearance.

Nathan picked up the phone and called his agent.

Daryl,” he roared down the phone. “I’ve seen the light! Tell me, do I have a Twitter account?”

 

 

 

 

Keep Calm and Carry On…

Don't sweat the small stuff...

Don’t sweat the small stuff…

I publish Friday Flash fiction stories on a weekly basis – it’s great discipline and often a brain break from writing about bathrooms, display cabinets and more. Anyway, today’s effort is more of a bit of reflection. And 90% true. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of the two scenarios described actually happened…

 

Weesht! A good Scots word is weesht. It means – be quiet, stop whining, calm down or all three.

The things I have to weesht about today are: jumping three miles into the air with rage when I realised hubbie had left tissues in the pair of jeans I have just washed; and screaming like a banshee at the poor call centre employee who just had the misfortune to ring me.

First world problems don’t you reckon? Perspective is a wonderful thing and I prescribe a little perusal of world news as the antidote.

 

 

If you too would like to join the 100-word Friday Flash Fiction challenge, please feel free to visit Friday Flash Fiction set up by publisher Gordon Lawrie and the Friday Flash Fiction wordpress blog.

How to Write a Synopsis

Writing - pretty straightforward, hmm?

Writing – pretty straightforward, hmm?

Synopsis – now there is a word guaranteed to strike fear into any writer’s heart, but it’s a sadly necessary task if you want to sell your book to anyone.

I’m not just talking agents (and more on this tricky subject at a later date, once I’ve figured out the foolproof way to get yourself an agent*), but selling your book online, selling your story to potential readers and even summing it up in 140 characters a la Twitter needs the knowledge of what is important and what can be left out.

The synopsis is where you sell what you have written because presumably someone somewhere thinks – gosh, that sounds worth reading. Or filming, if a script is what you’ve lovingly crafted over the last few months in a daydream about Hollywood fame and fortune.

Of course, this being the online world I could hop around various amazing websites and online resources for writers and plagarise their wisdom on the words for synopsis (what is the plural of the wretched word, btw: synopsises? Synopsi?), but I decided to bravely WRITE THIS BY MYSELF.

So, if you too are struggling with synopsis angst and agonising about how on earth you cram your 80,000+ word novel into a mere 500 words, read on…

1. It is easier to start with a very short synopsis – say, 100 words. A very short synopsis forces you to write only the very, very bare bones of your story. Then you fill it up to make up the 400-word shortfall.

2. If a kind friend has already read your book for you, ask them to sum it up in a few sentences or bullet points. Because you know your characters and your plot inside out, it’s too easy for you to get side-tracked.

3. Start with an exciting sentence – This is the story of housewife Marcia Evans, for example, might sound better as – Marcia Evans’ life has gone tits up ever since her mad, marauding husband abandoned her on the moon**.

4. You can bring in all the main characters for a synopsis, but you don’t need to include everyone – nor every plot line.

5. You need to put in what happens at the end. It is tempting to write a synopsis as if it’s a book blurb – but a book blurb can’t give away the end of a book (or no-one would buy the book). A synopsis for an agent needs to show a well-thought out story with a credible ending.

6. Try not to ramble in a bid to cram too much info in – ‘Marcia, who is startlingly beautiful but has never thought of herself as so and sometimes struggles with eating disorders, married the marauding madman in a fit of spontaneity, for which she was renowned whilst living in a commune in the far north of Scotland…’ loses impact. ‘Marcia’s short-lived marriage to the madman took place during a period of regrettable spontaneity’ doesn’t.

7. Do proof read. If this is the first (and perhaps only) thing to be read, then proper spelling and grammar is a must for good first impressions.

8. And finally – an offer. If you are struggling with your synopsis and you want a second opinion from a complete stranger, then I am happy to offer my t’uppence worth. You can send your synopsis through to the contact details on this site up until 31 July. I can’t guarantee a fast turnaround, nor an expert opinion but sometimes the rank outsider view helps.

 

 

*It’s really, really easy. So long as you are famous and/or already a best-selling author. Bitter? Not much…

**I am always, always going to love alliteration and place it everywhere I can. And also, can you feel a plot coming on…?

 

Picture thanks to wikipedia.

Travel Broadens the Mind

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Time travelling was not all it was cracked up to be, Maureen mused to herself.

She hadn’t worked out precision in her century wanderings, so instead of landing up as the Roman emperor’s wife, say, she’d ended up as an early Christian awaiting feeding to the lions.

Still, practice makes perfect she thought to herself as the Regency rake made his way towards her. Modern day man hadn’t come up to her requirements so she thought she’d try her luck 200 years back or so.

“And you are…?” she asked. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know,” he winked.

Oops.

 

Another Friday Flash Fiction challenge… If anyone is interested, you can contribute your own flash fiction challenges to the fridayflashfiction website, and the fridayflashfiction blog. In addition, there is a competition for flash fiction at dragonplume, where you write either fantasy, romance or historical fiction. My attempt above was an effort to combine the three.

Picture thanks to wikipedia.

Back Blogging!

back blogging

Oh hello! It’s been a while and I’ve sorely missed the company of you my fellow bloggers and those other dear people who once upon a time signed up here to keep up to date with moi…

I am back in the world of blogging for myself as well as others, which means lots of self-indulgent nonsense… And regular self-indulgent nonsense seeing as I make a living these days by writing regular blog posts and articles for other people and preaching the benefits of writing such items on a regular basis. You know the old saying of the cobbler whose children are always the worst shod, or that so many people teach what they want to learn…? Both sayings apply to me; time to start taking one’s own advice.

Anyway, for those who have managed to bear with me so far (muchos gracias), here is a quick re-cap of the last four months:

1. I have revised and edited my book numerous times – as per the advice of professional writing experts, and those kind people who have read the book for me. Despite snivelling and crying as I did it (awwww, I loved the bit where the teenagers got drunk and then changed themselves into cats to see what that would be like), I have cut out a lot of the dross.

2. I have met up with a publisher on a regular basis and taken on board all of his excellent advice.

3. I have written a synopsis several times (and there is excellent advice about how to write a synopsis here).

4. And I have approached agents. Here I would like to offer up lots of little-known help and advice – agent such and such, for example, really loves submissions which use the comic sans font, whilst agent other such and such goes wild for proposals which reach her in-box on a Tuesday at 11.16am precisely. If only! My only advice for writers approaching agents is – the first rejection stings, the subsequent ones, not so much.

5. I have had enormous fun contributing on a regular basis to Friday Flash Fiction (a website for 100-word stories), and also the Friday flash fiction blog site.  These websites welcomes regular contributions and I promise you writing 100-word stories is brilliant fun and brilliant discipline.

Anyway, a final development has been the creation of a proper professional website – jetcomms, a partnership with another professional blogger, and from this we are hoping to generate more writing and PR work. Here’s hoping…

How To Deal With Rejection… Part 1

Chocolate is the best answer to how to cope with rejection.

Chocolate is the best answer to how to cope with rejection.

The astute amongst you may have noticed my absence from the blogosphere of late. I set myself up with a regular feature which was not that challenging to do – a regular 100-word flash fiction story published every Friday – and yet still I managed to skive off my (self-imposed) blogging duties…

Tsk. I suffered from something many people may identify with. When writing is the way you are earning your crust, anything that involves writing which doesn’t mean a payment at the end of it becomes a terrible chore.

The Christmas Card Fiasco

Witness, for example, dear friends the length of time it took me to write my Christmas cards this year. Despite the fact that I repeatedly vow that this will be the year those cards are completed on 1 December – or an announcement is made via Facebook that this year I am contributing a designated amount to charity and all Christmas greetings will be of the electronic, no-cost, no send variety – it took me until the last minute (today) to write actual cards and send them. Hey ho…

Part 2 of the writing aversion explanation – I naively thought myself immune from rejection. Years of job applications and many months of applying for freelancing jobs with middling success I foolishly thought to have created a rhino-like skin for myself. Rejection, I declared loudly and proudly, bring it on and I can scrunch up that little ball of ego dent, fling it behind me and emerge unscathed. I am writer, hear me ROAR…

Rejection? It’s To Be Expected

Yes indeedy, those were my thoughts. Three agent rejections of The Book later… Now, as all writers will know rejection is to be expected; indeed one might be a tad suspicious if the first novel writing attempt was welcomed with open arms. Dear lady, we at Dodgy Agents Ltd love your book – now just sign here, here and here and please do no expect to see any royalties ever or any kind of payback whatsoever. That kind of thing.

But, but, but. It still stings… I have taken to chanting myself a mantra of “One down, 26 to go. Two down, 25 to go, three down, 24 to go”*, etc etc. And then if that doesn’t work out, well the self-publishing route has worked out well for some. But it would indeed be foolish to think of the self-publishing route as the road to riches or even fame. Two or three marvellous exceptions (oh god, I’m going to have to name drop Ms 50 Shades of Grey here aren’t I? On a more positive note, there is Hugh Howey and the entirely fabulous Wool) do not prove the success of self-publishing, but it is still an option.

Sometimes, you need to go back and look at the original goals of your ambitions. I, like many people, said I wanted to write a book. I did not necessarily specify I wanted to publish a book – and for people to then buy said book, and indeed buy it in their thousands. No, no, the original goal was merely to write a book. Mission accomplished, hmm?

But Happily Publishing Still Does Happen…

On the plus side (and it is always good to cope with rejection by looking at other areas of your life), there has been a very welcome development in another project I got involved in. I started up a discussion on LinkedIn writers and editors group, encouraging people to contribute a regular flash fiction story of 100 words every Friday – the Friday flash fiction challenge.

The good people of the LinkedIn writers and editors group responded with gusto and this discussion thread has been running now since 27 September. Every Friday, there are new contributions. With almost 300 posts though, it was getting somewhat unwieldy so one contributor, Russell Conover, suggested a WordPress site for everyone to contribute to. That site is now up and running – feel free to take a look.

Content marketing is said to make publishers of everyone. The world wide web may well have its issues (loss of privacy, social media addiction, health and well-being problems associated with sitting in front of computers for too long, the ease in which our governments and large corporates can spy on us etc) but sometimes the loveliness of the internet just gives me a glow. Here is a group that started on LinkedIn, that grew and grew and that now publishes its stories on a regular basis. We are mini novelists one and all.

 

*Based on a rejection threshold of 27.

All I Have in My Life is Flash Fiction

A more accurate pic would of course be fingers on a keyboard...

A more accurate pic would of course be fingers on a keyboard…

It’s true dear reader. Some weeks ago I hit on the idea of a regular Friday Flash Fiction challenge to give me regular material – and I’ve now forgotten how to do all the irregular material.

What to write about on a Wednesday, I pondered to myself a couple of days ago. And Saturday scribblings, what might they involve? Monday meanderings too, it would be unfair to dismiss this day just because it doesn’t begin with an ‘F’ and therefore doesn’t meet the alliteration criteria.

In my defence, dear reader, life has been rather busy of late. Much scribbling on many subjects has been done, leaving me a little jittery at the end of the day and in serious need of time away from the laptop. “Urgh,” my poor fried brain sighs to itself, “no more blasted writing for goodness sakes! Reading only, and reading of the loveliest, lightest of topics* must ensue, perhaps adding the odd sprinkling of lovely Prosecco and a teensiest bit of reality TV via Strictly Come Dancing.”

This week’s offering needs some explanation. I started up a flash fiction discussion thread on LinkedIn several weeks ago and it is still running. This was my response to a 100-word piece someone contributed which used ‘thread’ in a different, but clever way…

The Trouble with Fridays

Aunty Em agreed with her niece; Fridays were indeed difficult and blasted bobbins running out were a pain in the neck.

Is it time to start a new thread, dearest Jane?” she asked, “you may be right you know. This one has run its course.”

The two of them nodded sagely. From outside the house, though a rustling was heard.

The FFC friends stood at the door. “We have more threads for you,” they told the twosome. “Can we carry on?”

*OK, I may have said I can only read the loveliest and lightest of topics these days, but one book I read recently which I absolutely loved was Gordon Lawrie’s Four Old Geezers and a Valkyrie. It’s gorgeous and I really recommend it.

The Many Adventures of Flash Fiction Writers

So, some weeks ago, I started writing flash fiction on a regular basis. Mainly, it gave me a regular topic to blog about it. Always a bonus, as when you start out on blogging you usually fire off blogs left, right and centre at the beginning of your online life. Two months down the line and you get to the stage where you can’t bear to switch on your computer, so racked with guilt are you over your failure to write, entertain or annoy the masses.

I hit on a regular topic idea and heaved a sigh of relief. Heaven, I thought to myself, I have at least one thing I can blog about once a week. Folks may read it, folks may not, fellow bloggers may like or comment… or they may not notice. But my conscience will be squared. Hey, I signed up to this blogging deal, which meant writing when there is theoretically nothing to write about, and doing something on a REGULAR BASIS.

LinkedIn Flash Fiction Challenge

Actually, those preceding two paragraphs friends? I wandered off on a tangent. My main point is – at the same time as starting a regular Friday flash fiction post, I also started a flash fiction challenge on LinkedIn, asking fellow writers and editors to contribute to a 100-word flash fiction piece on a Friday as a kind of relaxing way of switching off.

It proved to be incredibly popular – lots of people joined in, lots of people contributed on a regular basis and I really enjoyed everything that I read. It takes talent and skill to write a 100-word story, and people also made their contributions topical. One lady chose to plagarise existing stories in a really witty way, another person went for plays, whilst several people opted for seasonal themes such as Halloween.

Publish, Publish, Publish

Three weeks in and people on LinkedIn started suggesting I take it further. One person said a website, another dreamt up a book of flash fiction stories for charity, another individual gathered together most of the stories for me and in general people seemed willing to sign over their permission for stories to be published. (I thank you).

So watch this space. It looks as if a Friday Flash Fiction challenge website may well appear. Here is what I hope. We post up lots of stories, which people like and then hundreds, if not thousands, of people all over the world start to contribute…

And now for this week’s Friday Flash Fiction challenge:

The Glamour of Writing

In her youth, Jenny had imagined the life of a writer as glamorous.

As she scribbled out her endless short stories which detailed the adventures of a teenager not dissimilar to Jenny, she imagined a grown-up writer’s life to be more or less the same. She would wait for the muse to strike and she would write about whatever took her fancy.

And get paid for it.

Alas, reality had since bit. Writing jobs often involved creating thousands of words about display cabinets or toner cartridges. And getting paid more than a pittance was the exception and not the norm.