Playground – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge

Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds made this challenge: This week’s challenge is not one of subject, theme, or other detail — the challenge is simply one of length. Because normally? You get 1000 words. Today? You get only 100. (I think this is technically called a “drabble.” You can call it “Bobo” for all I like.) So: Go to your online space. Post 100 words (no more!) of fiction. Link back here so we can all see it. Due by next Friday, 3/27. That’s it. I double dog dare you to do it.

Following is my answer to the challenge:

fat bobby

I cried, “Stop!” My whimper only inspired jeers and fat Bobby’s knee to dig deeper into my back.

His peanut butter breath spoke of the sandwich he swiped from me and I tried to get back. Why I was face down in the dirt, with half my hair wrapped about his filthy hand. “Say you’re sorry.”

“Let go of her.”

Suddenly he tumbled off me – cursing.

“You gonna lay in the dirt all day?”

I raised my aching head to a dirty-faced girl with skinned knuckles and a crazy ponytail studying me. “Who are you?”

“Zelda. Your new best friend.”

Writer Chick

copyright 2015

Why does fiction have to be logical when real life makes no damn sense at all?

While working on the current novel, I managed to line up a few beta readers. Total excitement. I’d never had beta readers before. What would they tell me? Would they make me cry? Would they stroke my ego. Would they love the book or hate it? Would I (in the end) acknowledge that I’m not creative after all and set up an affiliate website selling info products? Would they give me insight or would I be incited to violence. I just didn’t know.

After weeks of patiently waiting. Not really patient. Pretty much impatient. Actually very impatient. I finally heard back from one of my guys. The feed back was pretty nice but there were a few things I needed clarified, so I sent a follow up email with questions. Easy-peesey, right?

The answers were where the real nitty-gritty came out. It’s not that I disagreed with the answers, or even got upset. But they did present a problem. A major premise of the story, according to the beta, was not believable. Yikes!

So, I thought about it. I asked other people about it. I thought about it some more. I tried to come up with a way around it, because if I gave in, then well you know, rewrites.

I even had an eight part email fly back and forth between me and another reader about how it could be fixed. Oddly, I was the one playing devil’s advocate when the poor girl was fighting for my premise.

In the end, I decided the beta was right. It had to change. I had to change because you know, readers, they don’t like illogical things in their books. It’s a rule. I don’t know who wrote the rule, but I’m very sure it’s an official, carved in stone rule.

Real Life vs. Fictional Real Life

But even though I did agree with the beta it got me thinking. This rule about how fiction has to be logical. Has to be ‘believable’ when real life is anything but that. Let’s face it, real life is crazy, even on a good day. Nothing makes sense from the small (why is he driving that way?) to the huge (we’re going to war because of what?).

And examples of the illogic of life are everywhere:

  • Beautiful women married to fat ugly men
  • Pajama wearing, self-made millionaires who got rich selling ‘information’
  • James Carville and Mary Matalin
  • Animals rights activists who are against killing animals but for abortion
  • Politicians get elected for criticizing their predecessors for the exact things they do once in office
  • Reality TV
  • How Facebook apparently kills brain cells
  • Half the things you see (and can’t un-see) in emergency rooms
  • Atheists using the phrase “Oh My God”
  • Good people dying
  • Bad people getting rich
  • Chocolate cake with Diet Coke
  • Running or bicycling along high traffic roads (with plenty of exhaust)
  • Hard workers get fired
  • In America dead people vote in every election

Plot point? What plot point?

In fiction every scene, every action, and every bit of dialogue has to move the plot forward. If it doesn’t, it’s cut. But does life follow plot points? Is there some logical path that life takes that leads us to the Promised Land or our dreams or goals? Hell no. Musicians slave away at bar and top-40 gigs all to get their big breaks, while some pimply faced 13 year old becomes a sensation because of a video posted on YouTube. Life is completely unconcerned with moving the story forward. Rather it pushes in every direction possible away from forward.

But even despite all this. Despite the fact that life is truly stranger than fiction I think I understand why fiction has to make sense, has to be logical and follow through to the end. It’s because we humans have to see something resolved. We have to see somebody reach their goal. We have to see somebody get their happily ever after. I mean, let’s face it, we don’t read so we can get reality, right? We read to escape. We read so we can become someone else for a while. Live their life, which is typically much more interesting than our own. We read to immerse ourselves into a risk free adventure. We read for relief from all that ails us.

When we’re done with our mini vacation from life we can return, perhaps a little calmer, maybe even a little wiser, and ready once again to deal with all the glorious illogic of real life.

Feel free to argue, agree, or contradict me in the comments.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

Does Anyone Need a Book?

does anyone need a book?I’m a writer.  I’ve always been a writer.  I write because I need to write.  I write because I love to write.  I write because it’s who I am.

And writing, though it has its challenging moments is the fun part.  It’s the part where I get to go somewhere of my own creation.  Where I get to converse with people who were born in my imagination.  Where I can go on any kind of adventure I want.

But there is another part of writing.  The business side.  I don’t mean the freelance business side.  That’s a post for another day (or never).  I mean, the part where you sell your book.  I always feel a little funny about that whole idea.  Selling my book.  It kind of feels like selling my child.  Not that I don’t want people to read it, I definitely do – but the selling part…I don’t know, it makes me feel a bit cheap.

There is no logical explanation for this feeling.  All writers sell their books, or at least try to sell their books.  Some authors are incredibly good at doing it too.  Some authors have platforms and marketing plans and Facebook contests and millions of followers and merchandizing deals.  It’s impressive.

And I think, I need to do that.  I need to have a platform and followers, a marketing plan and I could really get down with some Scotti and Zelda  hats, tees and aprons.

But then I get hung up.  Then I have to delve into that whole marketing thing.  And marketing is a completely different animal than fiction.  I suppose there is some aspect of make-believe about it but mostly it’s about finding the people who need your book.

That’s where I get hung up.  Do you need my book?  It’s not food.  It’s not shelter.  It’s not health insurance.  It’s just a book, right?  People can live without books.  Some may not be happy about it – but it’s doable.  You could have a perfectly good life without ever reading fiction.

And even if you could make the case that somebody needs a fiction book – which clearly thousands of authors have done – the question that still remains for me is, do they need my book?

It started as a casual conversation over dinner

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend.  We drove out to a seafood place and had a proper dinner with appetisers, main courses, dessert and coffee.  It was lovely and something neither of us do that often.

Somehow we got on the topic of the book I am currently writing.  He asked me what it was about.  So I gave him the two sentence blurb.  Then he asked me to tell him the story.  I was shocked because usually my friends nod and smile, say ‘that’s nice’ and we move onto other conversation topics.  But he actually wanted me to tell him the story.

So I did.  I started out thinking I would just give him the highlights but instead I ended up telling him the story.  The entire story.  And the more I talked, the more I told the story, the more enraptured he became.  I can’t remember a time when anyone had so thoroughly hung on my every word.  The look on  his face was somewhere between joy and euphoria.  It was a-maz-ing!

I never knew that something I made up, something I imagined would bring someone joy.  Would entice another human being so much.  I wished I could bottle his reaction and the feeling I got in seeing his reaction.

We ended up staying at the restaurant until closing because he didn’t want me to stop the story.  And when I was finished he said, “I should really read. I need to read  your book when you’ve published it.”

This was even more touching because this particular friend is not a reader.  Which was one of the reasons that I was so gobsmacked that he wanted me to tell him the story.

So the point is?

I realized that people really do need books.  And that they don’t have to be informative books or books where you learn how to do something.  People need fiction.  It may not feed their bodies but it can feed their soul, or their imagination or their mind.  Or maybe just give them a very inexpensive ticket to a fun vacation where they aren’t required to leave home.

It’s so easy for writers to feel frustrated and that nobody cares about this little story they are writing.  But I think that if you could have been there and seen my friend’s face, you’d feel differently.

So people do need books.  They need your books and they need my books.  They need food for thought, for the soul, just for the fun of it.

I’m still not very good on this marketing thing and frankly it scares the hell out of me.  But at least I know that people do need books.  So that’s a start, right?

Do you need books?  What needs do books fill for you?

Copyright 2014

Is your hero always some version of you?

is your hero always some version of you?Writers are inexorably attached to their characters.  And why shouldn’t they be?  To us, they are like our children.  We create them, nurture them and watch them grow until one day they can fly on their own as full-fledged people.  Even mean, nasty and unlovable characters are cherished by the writers who create them – go figure, mother’s love and all that.

However, if you are constantly using yourself as a model for your characters you may find yourself swimming in a sea of fictional clones that do no favor for your story.

Writers are supposed to write what they know

This old chestnut has been around forever.  And was in liberal use when I was a young writer, looking for usable advice on how to improve my writing and hone my skills.  Nine times out of ten the mentor would don a solemn look and utter, “Write what you know and then the rest will follow.”  To make matters worse, I actually believed them.  I have to say, I wasted a lot of years on that one.

And I’d wager that so have many other writers that came before and after me.  It is really confusing advice, especially to a writer who is younger and has little life experience.  What could they write about then if they had to write what they knew?  Themselves of course, their life, their family, the little spats between siblings.  And who then would become the obvious hero, you guessed it, the person writing the story.

While I agree that writers write more authoritatively on subjects and experiences they know, since the advent of newspapers, textbooks, history books, libraries, search engines and social media the door to any experience, lifestyle, culture, or historical event has been wide open for writers to walk through and ‘know.’

Otherwise how could anyone have ever written a science fiction story?  Was Isaac Asimov a space traveler and robot technician?  Or a detective novel? Was Raymond Chandler a hard-boiled private detective? Or a horror story?  Did Stephen King ever live in a hotel that was possessed by evil beings and had a boiler with a mind of its own?  Is JK Rowling a wizard in disguise? Of course not.

The greatest nation on Earth

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Imagination is the greatest nation on earth.  It is the place where all new and exciting things are born.  From the greatest inventions, technological advances, art and literature.  It’s what enables a seven-year-old to have his very own battleship in his backyard, and sent man into space, and inspired a small group of men to create the first democratic republic in history.  Surely, each of us has enough to create characters that aren’t carbon copies of ourselves?

Inspiration versus duplication

While many characters and perhaps most are based on or inspired by real people it’s not about recreating a real person down to the last detail but rather taking certain characteristics, manners of speech or funny little habits and weaving that into the characters you create.

Here’s a fun little drill:  Note an admirable quality about each member of your family.  Then do the same with their flaws. Use the first name of any close friend and the last name of another friend to create a name for your character.  Then choose a location you went to or lived in at some time in your life, whether it was a vacation spot, a town you lived in, your grandmother’s neighborhood or a place you attended a convention – that’s where your character lives.  Give your now named character, all the characteristics and flaws you previously noted and voila’ you now have the beginning of a character that you can flush out.  And while you used what you knew and took that to inspire you, you end up with a unique, and probably interesting character that could never be mistaken for a clone of yourself or your Aunt Mable.

For me, creating characters is one of the best parts of writing and fun too.  And sometimes the weirder the better.  And if you think your characters are fun and interesting, chances are, so will your readers.

How do you create characters?  Any tips you’d like to offer?  Feel free.

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013

 

 

A funny thing happened on my way to the outline

outlining a novel

Okay, so a while back, I wrote a post about being a proper writer and completing an outline before jumping into the new novel.  Well, I was true to my word and I completed the outline which clocked in at 50 pages.  And it has all the bells and whistles and outline could want to have; character profiles, menus, pictures, recipes, common Cuban phrases, red herrings, manner of death, autopsy results, sub-plots and of course, a chapter by chapter summary of what happens.  Truly, a thing of beauty.  And I have to admit I was quite proud of myself for sticking to the plan committing this blueprint to paper.

And then I started writing…

Except something happened as I began to write.  Something I didn’t expect but probably should have.  The characters have refused to stick to the plan.  Now how do you like that?  After everything I’ve done for them, they are going off in different directions and saying things I didn’t want them to say and doing stuff that was not in the script.  And no matter how much I ask them to behave and try to convince them that my plan is better, they clearly have plans of their own and really it’s like herding cats.  After a while, you just realize that cats can’t be herded and you have to let nature take its course.

Surprises can be good when you’re writing

In the past my ‘process’ was to create believable and likeable characters, give them a premise and then let them figure it out.  It seemed to work well but then I would get notes on how I really should stay inside the lines and follow proper protocol on novel writing.  So, I decided I would give that a try and though I don’t regret the time spent on the outline and it will certainly help, I’m starting to see that though in-depth outlining may work for other writers that’s not really my way.  In fact, it kind of takes the fun out of it for me.

Oh, for sure, I’ll use the outline because It gives me the framework of the story and I have my clues and details noted so I don’t lose my place and can remind my characters of the direction they should be looking in.  But you know what, surprises can be good when you’re writing.  It can keep your interest high and makes you look forward to the task everyday.  Like, “gee I wonder what the girls are going to do today,” you know?  And I really believe that it doesn’t really matter how you get there, but that you get there.  And also, if I’m having fun while I write the story I don’t think it’s a leap to believe that my readers will have fun while they are reading the story.

My focus has been wrong

You know for years I’ve studied writing, writers and writing methods.  There is a ton of conventional wisdom out there and I’ve done my best to obey that.  Even to the point of forcing myself to conform to what the ‘experts’ say you must do.  Naturally, I want to succeed as a writer.  I want to be the best writer I can be and so it seemed logical to listen to those who knew, who had succeeded, whose books everybody reads.  And yet…maybe not.

The thing about conventional wisdom, in any field really, is that it once was not conventional wisdom.  It once was unheard of and a flagrant violation of the rules.  But the people brave enough to break the rules became the leaders of their fields later on.  And I’ve spent a lot of time chastising myself for breaking the rules and my biggest sins are:

  • I write a lot of fragments, not proper sentences
  • I’m in love with the use of dashes
  • I write far too much dialogue
  • My narrative and is fast and dirty
  • My character descriptions come in dribs and drabs as the story progresses
  • I’m in love with slang and use it often
  • I leave a lot of prepositions hanging
  • Adjectives are my best friends

But now I think, “So what? So what if I break the rules?  So freaking what?”  And I’ve realized that my focus has been on the mechanics of writing and that’s wrong.  Yes, mechanics are important, they make things work but they aren’t nearly as important as the message or the story.

And the truth is, the reader doesn’t give a flying leap if your i’s are dotted or your t’s are crossed.  They give a damn if your characters are real and your story is compelling.  They give a damn if you take them on a journey that makes them feel, makes them laugh or cry, makes them care.  And if that’s what my readers care about then that’s what I need to care about.  So there.

If you knock it out of the park, who cares how you did it?

Although, in the possible future, some English teacher is going to care about how you wrote the story you wrote – parse the sentences, find the symbolism and break down your brilliance and then teach it to aspiring writers – that really should have no bearing on how you approach your story.  The thing  you should be concerned about is knocking it out of the park.  Writing the very best story you can write and let nothing and nobody from deterring you from that goal.  Writers write.  That is the purest and simplest truth about writing.  And if you’re a writer that is what you should be doing.

If you need an outline, write one.  If you do better flying by the seat of your pants, then do that.  If you need to research beforehand, go ahead – but Google is always there if you don’t want to.

The rules are great and they serve as guideposts for us to help us from losing our way, but the point is the journey, not the road map you use.  Just take make the trip in the way that you can.  Who knows, if you decide to just jump in and break the rules and follow your own process you might find others following your lead.

Writer Chick

copyright 2013

 

 

 

How Understanding Copywriting Can Improve Your Fiction

improve fiction by learning copywritingA few weeks ago, I got an email from one of the blogs I subscribe to, offering a free download of a book on copywriting by one of the best copywriters ever, Eugene Schwarz.  The book is called “Breakthrough Advertising” and you can download it for free here  (although there are a lot of typos) or you can buy a hard copy at Amazon (although it’s pricey).

Anyway, I downloaded and started reading this book because aside from writing fiction, I also make my living writing copy for websites and other materials.  I mean why the heck wouldn’t I want to learn from the best?

I wasn’t even through the introduction when I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’

More information than I knew what to do with

The book is a whopping 240 pages and it is jam-packed with useful, applicable advice.  So much so that I found myself writing voluminous notes as I read.  It seemed like every other page, I had a realization about something – whether it was a mistake I made, something that was missing in my own copy, or even a way to better approach a story I just couldn’t stop having ‘aha,’ moments.  In fact, it inspired an entire train of thought that fleshed out a fiction series I’ve started.

Here’s the takeaway

It would take several pages just to summarize all of the useful information, tips, secrets, and examples Schwartz provides in his book but my biggest take away from the book was this: no matter what you write, you aren’t writing it for yourself.  You are always, always, always writing it for someone else.  You are always speaking to someone else.  You are always appealing to someone else.

And what’s more is that this is especially true for fiction.  So many writers come up with stories that they think are wonderful but then never go anywhere.  This stymies them – why are the stories being rejected, why doesn’t the publisher realize how brilliant this story is?

I’ll tell you why, it’s because it doesn’t speak to the people it serves.  As a fiction writer, the people you serve are your readers.  Your writing has to be all about them.  It has to address the problem or desire they have when they go looking for a book – if it doesn’t, they won’t finish it, and probably won’t read another story from you.  Even though fiction is largely sought out for entertainment purposes it doesn’t lessen the strength or depth of that desire.  People want entertainment, so give it to them.  But it has to be what they think is entertainment – not what you think is entertainment.  Although in some cases, it might be same.

As a writer you have to be able to step back from your own wants and desires and ask yourself, ‘What does my reader want?’  What interests my reader?  What excites my reader?  What makes my reader want to turn the next page?

If you can do that, then you will have a successful book.  If you can’t, no matter how good the writing, or how fascinating the topic is, your book will fail.

Get the book, learn a few things, and see if your writing doesn’t improve

I know that writers are constantly reading the latest book on writing technique and how-to’s that promise to make you the next best seller on Amazon, so adding yet another book to the pile may not excite you.  However, if you get nothing out of this book other than the ability to identify who your readers are and how to reach them, then I’d say it’s time well spent.

Update: A reader just informed me the free download is no longer available. You may want to check the Gutenberg Project to see if it’s available there.

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013

Ugly pies and the first draft of your novel

first draft of novelSo last weekend, I wanted something sweet.  But the cupboard was bare and the piggy bank was empty, so I had to think on it a spell.  By and by I remembered I had some blueberries in the freezer and possibly enough flour to make crust.

Gotta love the Internet because I hopped on and looked for recipes that even I couldn’t screw up – or so I thought.  Anyway…the above picture is a pretty good depiction of what I ended up with.  Well, actually it didn’t even look that good.

But as they say from my hometown, “pie is pie, and you don’t waste pie.”  So, we ate it.

Was it the best pie in the world?  Not even close.  Was it the worst pie in the world?  No.  And even though Gordon Ramsey would definitely send me home from Master Chef if I turned in a pie like that – we didn’t waste it.  And it had a very short life because it was gone in less than 24 hours.

So, what does my ugly pie have to do with a first draft?

Actually, first drafts of novels are a lot like ugly pies, because they:

  • Are less than perfect on technique
  • Are sometimes one big hot mess
  • Don’t look the way they ought to
  • Have some cracks and fissures that shouldn’t be there
  • Aren’t competition worthy
  • Are uneven and patchy

However, an ugly pie can still taste good and so can your first draft.

The thing about first drafts is that they aren’t supposed to be perfectly written works of art.  They are the beginning.  The starting point.  They are the uncensored passion you felt for the story when you got the idea.

First drafts are that rush of words that sprang from you fingers as they flew across the keyboard.  The whacky characters and crazy dialogue that bubbled out of the cracks.  The tempest that burst out of the tea pot.  The embryo of what will someday be your fully formed and matured story.

So give yourself a break – play with the recipe

To me, the whole idea of a first draft is about giving yourself permission to do anything and everything with your story.  It’s the time you can put in the scene that you know you’ll probably have to cut later.  The time when your characters get to tell too many jokes.  When your villain practically has Bugs Bunny pointing at him with the big arrow.  The broad strokes if you will.

Every writer is different.  Some outline, some don’t.  Some try to write a first draft and edit at the same time and go Cray Cray, but most don’t.  Some write several drafts and some feel they have it right on the third draft.  But it’s a process and you don’t have to rush it.  It’s your process, only you know when your pie will be perfect, but in the meantime, I say enjoy every morsel.

What’s your process?  Made any ugly pies lately?

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013

Are Your Characters on Board?

storyboard

I am a visual person and I find that using this type of cue enhances my writing.  For instance, if I want to write about a place I haven’t visited, I find pictures, movies or videos about that place and use them to ‘learn’ that location.

One of the best visual aids I’ve used when putting a story together is a character board.  I’ve always believed that before you sit down and type Chapter One you should have a firm grip on who your characters are and using character boards is an easy and effective way of doing this.

Creating a character board is simple – start by grabbing a stack of magazines and page through them, looking for your characters.  “Ah yes, that blonde in the toothpaste ad is perfect for Suzie Jones.  And that mutt chowing down on Purina is just the right sidekick for my hero, Joe.”

Clip out pictures of anything that relates to your characters – whether pictures of people, the cars they drive, the homes they live in, the bistros they frequent or the brand of poison they drink.  You don’t need to stop at pictures either, you can add ticket stubs, a favorite poem or quote, a piece of hair ribbon, whatever you feel represents the life and experiences of your characters.

Once you have collected the pictures, mementos and items you want to use, sort them by character.  You might find you have too much for some characters and not enough for others but don’t worry, the board, like your story will evolve over time.  You can add, change, or completely overhaul it whenever you feel the need.

Putting it Together

These are the general steps I follow:

  • On a large piece of poster board or bulletin board, plot out a section for each character.
  • At the top of each section, write the character’s name on a piece of paper and use that as a heading.
  • Assemble the pictures and items in a way that communicates your character to you, attaching them either with glue, tape or push pins.
  • If a character has a long lifespan in your story, use pictures and items that show her progressing in age and how her likes and dislikes change throughout her life.
  • Continue this process until you’ve got all your characters added and the entire board done.

If you have several major characters in your story, you may need two boards or one very large one—it’s your choice.  Make it as sparse or detailed as you like, it’s your character board, and the cues are for you and you alone to inspire your story and your characters.

Does it Work?

When you have finished, step back and look at your character board and ask yourself:

  • Is it a good representation of your characters?
  • Does it give you good visual cues that will facilitate your story and character development?
  • Does it make you smile because your characters now feel more alive, more real to you?

If the answer is yes, then you’re done.  If not, rework the board until it feels right to you.

Hang your completed character board over your desk or in a prominent place in your writing space where you can easily see it, while writing.  Not only will it help you keep your characters firmly in your mind, but it will also inspire you to continue writing their story and keep your characters on board.

How about you? Do you have a technique that you use to make your characters more real? Share it in the comments.

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013

Flower in my hair – Theme Friday

I was wearing a flower in my hair the night I fell in love for the first time. I, in my Audrey Hepburn yellow dress and brand new shoes. He, tall and blue-eyed – and oh-so-handsome. Everyone said I looked older than my fourteen years. And maybe I did with my french twisted hair, tucked with a yellow rose – my rouged lips and mascara’d lashes.

The big hall echoed with country songs, mumbles and shuffling feet. And I didn’t know where to put my eyes or rest my hands. What to say or how to act. So shy was I that I was there to watch as everyone else had fun. My hormones wouldn’t let me smile or feel at ease.

But there he was, hand outstretched. Smiling. “Me?” He took my hand and I floated to my feet. My lock-kneed legs followed his lead and I didn’t dare look at him or else I might die on the spot. I kept my flushed face poised to the floor. He talked and I listened. And then the dance ended.

Where did Christine’s flower lead?
What flowers are in Clancy’s hair?

People – Theme Friday

People without words
don’t hesitate to speak
Sounding vanilla –
sweet and unoffensive (but not satisfying and reminiscent of a spinster aunt)

Always doing the right thing
conveniently written out in the
right magazines and periodicals
(Good grades and good genes put them at the front of the class)
And believing their professors –
never once questioning a
word
comma
or exclamation mark

They drink up the kindness
of others (so very thirsty)
but are last
to pass it on…
And when they do, the act
lacks a fundamental ingredient (like potato salad without onions)

Perfect smiles made of
straight white teeth
And nails buffed into proper manicure
But (their) children make them
Anxious
and raise them fearful of consequence (please play nice, Johnny!)

People without words
say a lot of nothing (the kind of nothing that sounds so good unless you listen)
knowing deep-down they
have
nothing to say.

copyright 2010

Where are Christine’s people?

Clancy’s people abound…