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Writing

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…

https://101words.org/last-words/

 

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…’

Failure

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.

Collection of Short Stories

A collection of short stories from Jacci Gooding, a writer that attends Banbury Writers’ Café.

Go take a look and if it is the sort of thing you like… buy it!

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jacci’s stories out later this year.

 

Dialogue

Dialogue should do a lot of things.

Not all at the same time, though more than one at once is a real win.

Dialogue is a really good tool: it’s not just chat between characters.

Be wary of banter dragging on!

What sort of things should dialogue do?

It should reveal something about the character speaking.

It should tell us something about the character within story, the plot-line, how it will advance, what the expectations for that character are.

It can explain things through exposition.

It should advance the story.

It has to be true to the character speaking it.

Dialogue is best when it feels natural, like the spoken word, with some imperfections, half-thoughts and interruptions thrown in.

That’s a lot of stuff!

How do we make dialogue achieve all or some of that?

For me, this is where the great advice of ‘just write bad stuff’ really comes in to its own.

I find that dialogue never comes out fully formed with the first words on the page. I write sketchily, getting ideas out, playing around and let it just sit there taking up the space it needs to until I can come back and make it better.

Most often we’ll know what we want to get across in a piece of dialogue, prompted by the action of the story. We’ll know what the character is feeling, how they are thinking, what they want to achieve by saying what we’re going to get them to say. Start with that. Get out the guts of it, the intent, the bare content.

Get the dialogue working as an exchange. Get the other character/s in the scene contributing, reacting and stating their case, getting across what they want. Start the conversation on the page.

Revealing something about character is done through how they would react in context of the scene, driven by their background and goals. Their personality, education, physical and emotional state will all affect the way they speak and what they want to say. What are they trying to achieve with their dialogue?

Does the dialogue need to tell us where we are going with the story? Is it a character explaining something to the reader as well as stating something in context of the story?

We can get a feel for how people speak by listening to them. That sounds bloody obvious I know. But a lot of the time we’re busy trying to pick up on the message within the spoken word and don’t really listen to the way it’s spoken. As writers we can learn a lot about writing by listening.

We can learn from people in the world around us or from people on the page, screen, stage and radio. Learn from other writers. Why wouldn’t we?

And remember: write bad stuff! Never expect it to be perfect as soon as it hits the page.

Just get the ideas out, write down what you want to convey from that character at that place in the story. Just get the ideas down on the page.

Going back and sharpening dialogue is one of the best parts of rewriting.

In editing it can be less fun, as you rewrite, hone, tinker, refine and then decide that whole chunks need to go.

But that’s in the future. For now, just start the conversation on the page.

Banbury Writers’ Café

The ‘Banbury Writers’ Café’ wordpress site is up and running.

If you’re anywhere near Banbury and fancy joining a writers’ group, we’d love to meet you!

https://banburywriterscafe.wordpress.com/

 

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