Hello there!

Here are some thoughts on varied topics, i hope some of them will be of interest and will prompt a response.

I’m going to be putting stuff out via Kindle Direct, which you can find by searching /  for – ‘Max Bantleman’.

Thanks for reading.

Featured post

Constructive Criticism

Improv comedy is about keeping it going.

Building on themes, changing things up with an opening to work on.

You take whatever is going on, whatever is handed to you, add to it and hand it back with a way for someone else to build on it.

Even when there is a change that stops the theme, it is a change of tracks not a cliff: things keep moving they don’t come crashing down.

That’s why improv is hard for some people and easy for others.

Some people have a natural inclination to open dialogue, to keeping things in a state where they can keep moving forward. And some people don’t.

We’re all much better these days at asking open questions rather than closed ones. The fact that we all know what that means is an indicator as to how far we’ve come in changing behaviour.

So why does this fail spectacularly with some criticism?

Sometimes the person offering the criticism believes they have a duty to demonstrate how smart they are and they feel the best way to do this is simply by listing the things that are ‘wrong’, showing that they know they are wrong. And sometimes that’s what’s required, like with copy-editing.

But when criticism is based on ideas, beliefs in themes, knowledge of more esoteric stuff like story arcing or character development, then the criticism needs to be more nuanced, more open. It needs to open things up not shut things down.

With writing we put down ideas and then refine them so they read more smoothly. We want to show that we not only have ideas but that we know how to express them in a way that keeps a reader turning the page, wanting to know more. Sometimes we use clunky grammar or awkward language. Sometimes we let repetition slip in. Sometimes we simply don’t refine it as much as we could for a million different reasons. Well, maybe not a million, but there can be a lot!

When people read our stuff we like feedback. It’s key to knowing where we are getting it right or maybe not so right.

Some people read it from a surface perspective: they look at the painting and ask themselves, ‘do I like the subject and the way it is presented? Do I get it?’

Some people read it from a more technical perspective: ‘is the composition good, are the colours appropriate, has the painting itself been well executed?’

Sometimes we mix metaphors.

So we expect feedback in different forms from different people with different skills and expectations.

When someone simply says, ‘I liked it!’ or ‘It’s not my cup of tea.’ We take that on face-value and move on, knowing that was the feedback we were expecting from that person.

When a person reads it and gives us deeper positive feedback, we listen and absorb, agreeing on some and disagreeing on other aspects.

But when the feedback simply consists of what’s wrong with no positives at all, when it’s simply a listing of faults, some technical and some opinion, with no open criticism, with no positives, we tend to just shut down.

Writers are at heart sensitive souls.

When someone criticises merely to build themselves up by showing how clever they are, they can do a lot of damage.

Constructive criticism is a thing. It’s real. Do it when you can. If you’re not sure what it is, look it up, find out and learn it.

If you’re asked to criticise or it’s your job then please remember that positive criticism is valuable. Purely negative criticism is a waste of everyone’s time and can be incredibly damaging.

The Game’s Afoot

The steam train rattled through the empty station blowing up old newspapers from un-emptied bins.

The Victorian hanging clock noisily ticked on, its iron minute-hand juddering.

Silence returned.

Grey clouds loomed. A cold gusting wind told of rain.

A fat black and white cat sat hunched under the bench-seat near the chocolate machine, watching intently.

The scurrying menace would be back. But this time the thieving vermin would not make a mockery of him.

No! This time he would win.

Thunder clapped and the rain poured down.

A twitching nose appeared from a hole in the platform.

The game was afoot!


There has been an explosion in the popularity of flash fiction.

It’s everywhere now.

Sites and publications offering outlets for fiction of 101, 121, 200, 300, 500 words are all over the internet. Social media is awash with them.

Is this a new trend in writing and publishing, a new definition of the ‘short story’?

There seem to be far fewer places / publications looking for what used to be a ‘classic short story’ length of 1,500 to 3,000 words.

Is this just my perception, my view due to my ‘echo chamber’ as the trendy kids say, or is it the way things are moving in writing?

Twitter got us all used to the short pitch in social media. There are many tweets of pics of words that cheat this, but the vast majority of tweets are still the classic short word format maybe with a pic or link.

We are used to texting far more than we used to be: another short word format.

Perhaps our attention spans are being shortened by the means we typically use to communicate?

‘But wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘reading in general is becoming more popular, the art of writing is alive and well, just look at Kindle and all the other e-book formats!’

Is that true? Is the e-book growth an addition to the published world or a substitution for ‘traditional publishing’? Are there more books or the same amount just spread out over the different formats?

Who knows and who cares!? As long as people are reading more right? That has to be good for all authors right?

One of the first things I picked up when I took an interest in publishing my writing was the sound advice, ‘know your target audience’.

So if the audience is moving away from a format I write in, then I have to take that in to consideration.

Self-publishing via e-book looks more attractive, that’s true. But so does writing more short stories of the ‘flash fiction’ variety. If I was purely concerned with the audience.

But I’m as concerned with what stories I want to tell, more so really. And for those stories, the flash fiction format isn’t what’s needed.

Brevity is good. I get that. But in the same way I fight against the urge to cut out commas as much as possible, as advised by anyone who goes near my work, I also resist the urge to simply write more flash fiction.

It’s all very distracting though.

Maybe just one more 101 word story before I concentrate on editing…

We Saw Trees

I really like trees.

There is much in this world to be inspired by and trees always do it for me.

The fact that we seem determined to consign them to memory makes me sad.

But I understand why we do it.

Here’s a brief piece (101 words) on that:

I saw the trees, I watch them fall.

I clear the ground to plant the grain.

I feed the habit of millions and starve the world.

We want what we don’t need and need what we destroy.

I am a facilitator just trying to earn a living.

Just trying to feed my family.

You pay me to destroy both our worlds so you can live in yours and I in mine.

There is nothing between us.

We cannot go back so we carry on.

We stand together past the point of no return.

You saw the trees, you watch them fall.

101 Words

‘101 Words’ publish flash fiction.

Well worth a go.

Give it a look and let me know what you think…


Flash Fiction

What is ‘Flash Fiction’?

Apart from an excuse to go, ‘ah-aaaarr!’ after saying ‘Flash’, what actually is it?

It is a growing genre.

There are many competitions online for Flash Fiction and many regular outlets both online and in paper-form, where you can submit and get it published.

There seems to be a hunger for it, both to read it and write it.

But what actually is it?

Essentially Flash Fiction seems to be short pieces of writing, varying in length from 6-1,000 words, though usually something like 101, 200 or 300 words.

It is a way to tell a story using as few words as possible.

To do this effectively you have to give enough information to illuminate the subject and the premise, but leave enough for the reader to do so that they have to fill in the blanks and use their imagination to complete the canvas.

It’s not simply about the word count.

The story still has to be there, still has to be told with characters, context and some imagery that ignites the readers imagination.

It’s no good simply lifting a paragraph (or more) from an existing piece to meet a word count.

There may be an idea, gotten from the name, that Flash Fiction is written quickly, dashed off from a spark of a story that just pops in to the writers head and that’s that. And of course sometimes this is true.

But more often than not, exactly the same as with any written piece, the writer will produce something then pore over it to make sure every word is right, that every word is serving the story, that there is no waste.

With Flash fiction this process of honing is even more important. Repetition stands out more, as does lazy use of prose and cliché. You don’t have space to waffle.

Introduce the premise, the characters and the setting with as little as can be, then leave the reader with some work to do in pulling it all together and even extrapolating their own ending.

Not only is it a satisfying thing to do for its own sake, it is a great exercise in choosing words carefully.

Here’s a 101 word story (not including the title) that is one of my efforts – it illustrates some of what I’ve been banging on about:

Last Words

Ernie grinned and cast his line in to the gently flowing river.

The Hospice had been nice, filled with wonderfully caring people, but now this was where he needed to be.

He looked over to his wife Jean, married twenty-five blissful years and this was her first time fishing. Jean smiled warmly at Ernie.

The sun shone and a cool breeze stirred the trees as Ernie recast his line.

Jean let out a laugh and a giggle as her line twitched, ‘I’ve got one Ernie!’

Ernie chuckled softly, his eyes closed as his rod slipped quietly from his hand, ‘bloody typical…’


Just read a post on a blog that made me mad.

For me it highlights a common problem in ‘how to write betterer’ pieces. It is a classic piece of nonsense dressed up as ‘insight’.

The line that did it was, ‘the difference between an amateur writer and a pro is that pros crave failure’.

We’ve all become used to the idea that failure is a learning experience. If you undertake a task with goals and you fail, you have a chance to look at how you went about it, to see where the failure came from. You can repeat the task (if needed) with the knowledge of what you should do differently to increase the chance of success.

It’s not rocket science. Unless you’re a rocket scientist.

The problem with the ‘pro’s crave failure’ BS is that it implies the failure had a hard set of goals, that the definition for success was understood by all and that the person failing got adequate feedback to be able to analyse their failure.

Writing doesn’t work like that.

Most of the time the response is silence. Which is judged as failure.

An agent doesn’t get back to you, or a publisher, or anyone who you have targeted for accepting your work. The ‘norm’ these days is, ‘if you don’t hear from us in ‘x’ time assume you have not been successful’. No feedback. No chance for analysis. Craving that would be just stupid.

But the myth in writing lingers. ‘It’s great to fail! Learn from it and you’ll be a better person!’

Well duh! Yeah, we all know that. But we need information to analyse to understand, to get better.

We need to set our own goals, to decide what constitutes success and failure for us. We need to be clear about our chances of succeeding in a world where there are so many people trying to compete, to succeed and what we are. We need to understand that there are numerous factors outside our control that determine our success and failure. Understanding all that can make it easier to accept failure and then move on.

But this bullshit about craving failure? Can we stop with that please?

What we crave (and I think that is a stupid word, sounds like a fish) is feedback.

We want to understand where we can increase our chance of success. That’s the information we want. And a lot of that comes back to determining success: how we decide when we have succeeded.

Getting a piece of work to a stage where I’m happy to send it out to people is a win for me.

The next win is getting it accepted by the people I’m targeting. If it’s not quite there yet and it needs work, needs to be changed, I can’t know that unless I’m given some direction as to the changes that are needed.

Fish though… funny.

Writing To An Outline

I have to write to an outline.

I have to define what the story is, who’s in it and what happens at the end before I start writing.

A lot of people don’t work like that.

Many’s the time I hear, ‘oh no, I just start writing and see where it takes me’.

If that work’s for you then keep doing it! What works works.

It definitely doesn’t work for me.

I get distracted by ideas. While I’m ‘just writing’ other ideas completely unrelated to the main one crash in and demand attention. There is also the ‘the next idea is better’ thing. Doubt creeps in and the next idea that comes along to rescue me from the rubbish I’m ‘free-writing’ always seems better. But then the focus shifts, the idea gets tested and found wanting and the same problem arises.

That might not make any sense, but I know what I mean. Which is another problem.

So if I don’t write to an outline I get lost in a maze of stupidity.

The outline doesn’t have to be very long, or very in-depth, but I need one. I have to start with the end in sight and the outline gives me that.

I need to know how many characters there are, what they want in the story, what they are like as people, how they interact with the other characters, what they sound like. All that comes from the outline. It may be touched upon ever so briefly, like ‘Bryn, the quiet assassin that is sent to kill Amy. Bryn is overconfident.’ That’s all I need for Bryn until I get the outline completed.

Bullet points. Headlines. Brief descriptors of people, places, scenes, direction, plot, snatches of dialogue.

Broken sentences that drive other people crazy are outline gold for me.

Then I can review the outline, see if it has what I need to tell the story. It takes a few tries to get the outline ‘done’, sometimes as many as ten passes, adding or stripping stuff until it feels right.

When the writing starts the outline is the guide, the rough idea, the pieces to the puzzle sorted in to corners, straight bits, sky, etc. Nothing more.

Once the writing starts new bits are always needed and some of the old ones get tossed out.

This process works for me with everything I write, from short-story, writing assignment, to screenplay (with some obvious structure differences) and full-blown novel idea.

Do you use an outline? If so, what depth does it have what goes in and what stays out?

Is the idea of an outline completely alien to you? How much do you have when you start writing, where is the focus for development?

Who Do You Talk To?

Writers keep getting slammed down, but they keep getting up.

They have to.

You have to.

I have to.

We have to.

We are our own support group and we can help each other when we fall.

Not that we just fall, sometimes (often!) we are pushed by those ‘other’ people who just don’t understand what we are going through, what we are trying to do (the meanies!).

They just don’t get it so they dismiss it. Or ridicule it.

Or, and this can be even worse, they try to ‘help’ by telling us how bad it is and how we can fix it… in their opinion.

I’m not talking about editing. I’m talking about the disregard people can have for the creative process, the story, what is trying to be communicated. How brutal they can be in dismissing it as not worth telling. Not worth the effort of writing never mind reading.

We get knocked down a lot.

That’s how it feels sometimes. And yeah, it can feel like a whine. But who doesn’t need a moan now and again?

The best people to talk to about it, as with any experience, are those who can empathise. That would mostly be other writers.

I have a few friends who write in one capacity or another, and we can be a good ear for each other when one of us needs to talk.

I’m in a writing group that meets every two weeks, and I can talk to people there about the challenges of writing, both at the group and over email.

Occasionally I reach out on FB or on Twitter.

If you feel the need to talk, where do you go? Who to? Have you thought about developing a network?

Walking that tightrope between the arrogant (people will want to read what I have to tell) and the crippling lack of self-confidence (but everything I write is such a load of old shite!) is a tough balancing act. It’s cool to have people around to help us keep on keeping on.

Declaring ourselves to be ‘a writer’ paints a target on our backs. From time to time, we all need someone to help us find cover.

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