Monday, 30 April 2012

Want to write a short fantasy story?

Well, me too.

Last week, the lovely Fictionista Stacy Bennett-Hoyt made me aware of a Fantasy Writing Contest which looks fantastic.  Great prizes, great flexibility.


Just one problem.

It involves writing a fantasy and it involves writing a short story.  Now, it's not long since I blogged about the challenge of writing short.  It's still a nut I haven't cracked.  I'm carefully mapping out my Little Red Riding Hood short but I know what is happening.   It's turning  into a novel.

Shit.

Happily, Faith Boughan has written an article to tell me where I might be going wrong.  I highly recommend reading the article but in summary, I'm:

  • Not remembering that a short story audience is different from a mega novel audience.  They want pace and immediacy, not epic grandeur. 
  • Trying to cram in too much plot (GUILTY).
  • Trying to cram in too many characters (GUILTY)
  • Trying to cram in too much description (GUILTY)
  • Trying to cram in too much world building (GUILTY). 
Now, the first of these isn't too big a deal for me because I don't try to be epic but the other four, yes. Guilty as charged damn it. 

If I'm writing flash fiction I know can fit in one character, at most two.  I know I can only manage one twist.  And the tight word count strips away all but the bare essentials where description is concerned. I've seen writers build entire fantasy universes in just one hundred words.  

Those writers appreciate one important fact:

Readers possess imaginations.  They can fill in the gaps. 
They might even like doing it.



Now. 

A challenge lies before me.  Can I learn those lessons and apply them diligently when I have more words to play with? 

Can I build a word - and tight, pacy story - with the luxury of 8,000 words to play with? 

I don't know.  But here are three things that will help me:
  • Reading more short stories.  Simple eh?  It's true.  I'm good at flash fiction because I've read and written a lot of flash fiction. I've a sense of what works and what doesn't.
  • Taking a sub plot.  I have novels.  Can I steal a minor character and a sub plot and turn it into a short?
  • Giving myself limits. I strongly believe that nothing stimulates creativity like limits.  The harder the prompt, the tighter the word count, the more inventive my stories are.  If the scope is wide, I will make it narrow.  
What helps you?  I need all the help I can get! 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Thinking in Spiders Not Lists

Generally speaking, I'd call myself a pantser.  I've tried a number of prescriptive outlining methods and for me, they don't work.  I don't enjoy them and they don't pull out the right bits.  I find them, inflexible, rigid and dull.

Sadly, the fact of the matter is, if I want to actually finish a novel or even just a story, I need some sort of outline.  If I don't, without fail I run out of steam one third of the way in.

So what do I do?

I scribble. 

There might be a more technical term. Brainstorming?  Freewriting?  I jot down my ideas like I'm having a conversation with my notebook.  Something like this...

CINDERELLA

Ball + 3 brothers. 
     x 2 war heroes?
    1 bastard.
Quite close.  Family bankrupted by boys' mother, one must marry well.  Oldest is steward for estate, loves it but has to toe line with evil stepmother to keep eye on boys.

And so it goes on in that vein.  Notes of ideas, crossed out and rewritten until I have an idea of who the main protagonists are. 

Then what?

Then this.  A diagram featuring my hero and heroine with random scribbles surrounding them. Back story, physical features, characteristics, all sorts.  Here's the one for my Red Riding Hood story - note some are crossed out.  I'm still thinking, still playing with ideas.



I've written notes for other characters, plot ideas, drivers. 

Then what?

A visual storyboard, that's what.  Here's my pinterest board for my Red Riding Hood story:

Red Riding Hood

I'm a strongly visual person, so having a visual storyboard really helps me to clarify my thinking.  Next up?

Character sheet.  But not the excel sheet type.  I've tried excel sheets but in my world, excel and writing are not a happy mix.  Not even when I make the cells pretty colours.  No.  It's back to the notebook again:




I have an image now of what Tabitha (my heroine) looks like.  I'm building  a character around that and I'm thinking about:
  • Her back story and drivers
  • Her physical characteristics
  • What she does when she's nervous or angry
  • Her fatal flaws
  • The things she cares about
Next I will do the same for Rafe, my hero.

Lastly, I will scrawl out the main plot points.  I know they will end up together - but in what circumstances?  What do they both need to be free of or to learn in order to be happy?  How will I force them to achieve that?

And then I write, though chances are by this point I will have written a page or even a chapter or two already. I'm impatient, what can I say?

What about you?  How do you plot? Outline?  Write?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Ragnarok read by Michael Clift


I have just launched my very own youtube channel, with excerpts of my flash fiction being read by lovely people.  This is a film of Ragnarok being read by poet and musician, Michael Clift.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Abscond

This little story was an entry in the Tuesday Tales contest back in February.  It won an honorable mention. The prompt was the image to the left and a word: abscond.

It isn't the best thing I have ever written but it gave me the opportunity to explore a theme that interests me - aspects of religion (christianity this time) which merge into mythology.  This story, as you might gather, references the Garden of Eden and Eve's fall.



Abscond

Their intimacy was glorious, perfect in its innocence.  Love radiated from them like a dying sun, blooming on their bare skin, dripping from their damp hair.  Love for each other, love for Him.

Perfect, obedient love.

Paradise, some called it.

The serpent coiled around one spike leaved tree, curling, crushing.  Waiting. 

She would walk this way soon, the woman.  A flicker of movement would catch her eye.  Arrested, she would turn.  Reach out a hand.  Take, bite.  Know.

Flushed with knowledge, ripe with forbidden wisdom.  Ready.

The man would fear, but he would follow.   Abscond.

Make their choice.
 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

#SatSunTails.... Have No Regrets

I found the prompts for this week's #SatSunTails quite poignant - just where I'm at at the moment, thinking about life, work, balances and dreams. When I wrote the story, it was with real emotion and it must have shown because it won this this week's competition (YEAY!).

The prompts where this image and this phrase (word limit 150 words):

 “my/your/their/our aging iridescent dreams”
My hope is that when I am old and sitting by a duck pond, I feel alive.  Beautifully and gloriously alive.  No more than that.

Have No Regrets

Sunlight on water.  I throw a stone and watch it fragment, scatter into flecks of gold.  Fairy treasure, I think.  Or I would have thought that once.  I would have seen dryads in the trees, heard whispers on the wind.

Looking down I see my mother’s hands where mine once where.  Broad, capable, worn by life.  Red palms, blunt nails.  Caring hands, working hands.  I loved my mother’s hands but I don’t love mine.

Splash.

A child’s shout breaks my reverie.  He drags an old stick from the water, laughs for the sheer pleasure of it.  It’s a sword in his hand; he’s a knight, a soldier.

I smile. 

Dreams.  Fantasies.  Truth

They don’t age, not really.  I see the gold on the water once more, iridescent.  It’s an enchantment cast by the Lady of the Lake.  And I?  I’m a sorceress.  A queen. 

Myself again.

Leaning back on the bench I laugh.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

On Owning Yourself

In my other life, I just did a course on leadership style and preferences.  We were asked to choose four values each from a number of pink laminated cards on the table. 

This was HARD.  Just four?

Here is what I chose:

  • Respect (to me this included human rights and self worth)
  • Knowledge / Discovery / Insight
  • Responsibility (to me this included personal honesty)
  • Justice / Social Order

Then we did a Myers Briggs thingummy.  As it transpires I am an ENTP: "Energetic, bash, witty, original, ENTPs love being with people, discussing, arguing and taking part to the full."  Ok, I can live with that.

One famous ENTP - we have a lot in common

We had a lovely chat about congruenceCongruence - is your behaviour, how you lead and manage and the environment in which you are working in sync with your values?  Are you in tune with yourself?

And it got me thinking.

If this applies to leadership and management, and if it applies to personal life and relationships - does it apply to writing too?

I think it does.

You read a lot about writers 'finding their voice'.  I think that writers who have the strongest voices are not just skilled, they are congruent.  Their writing is in sync with their values. When I look at my two completed novels and think about the themes they explore they are to do with:

  • Self acceptance / Self worth
  • Respecting other people 
  • Taking personal responsibility
  • Personal honesty
  • Justice 

In the books which I didn't complete these themes didn't exist.  I was trying to write for a specific market, trying to think about what Harlequin would want or what might sell as a Nocturne Bite.  My writing wasn't merely unskilled, it was superficial. Even incongruent.  I wasn't pulling deep enough inside myself.

Now, that isn't to say that you can't write for those lines (or any market) and be congruent. Of course you can.  It just involves bringing all the elements together and that's an art I haven't yet mastered.

But my writing has become more authentic and my voice has grown stronger.  More and more I believe in what I write and it feels a little like transforming from being Pinocchio into a real boy. Or girl.  Whatever.

Thinking about that makes me happy.

And people, Alexander the Great was an ENTP.  I'm going to ruuuuuuuule the known world. Then die a sot.

But unlike Alexander, I don't use Sun In on my hair.

Want to know your preferences? You can take the test!

Monday, 16 April 2012

10 things to do Before I Die

The more I open myself up to opportunity, the more my horizons open.

I get ideas.

I get inspiration.

I stop telling myself "can't" or "one day" and say "can" and "take one step".  I allow myself to daydream. Hell I deliberately daydream.  I purposefully daydream.  I go out of my way to daydream.  And the more I do, the more I want to do. 

So without further ado, a dynamic list.  10 things I want to do before I die (assuming fate gives me a good innings and decent health). 

The Rules: all things on the list need to be within my control - not dependent on someone else.  So no holding my grandchild in my arms, seeing my daughter do X, Y and Z sort of things on this list.  That's her life.  This is mine. 

1. Get a story published.  Not even necessarily a book, just a story.  I think this is achievable.

2. Write a book inspired by Greek mythological women.  It's in me, I've started it. I  think it will be THE book for me. So much so that I even designed a fantasy cover!



3. Write a short story.  A good one.

4. Turn a cartwheel

5. Learn how to draw Like Wot They Do in graphic novels.

6. Produce a series of artworks / photographs inspired by my writing.  I've already started this and didn't even know that that is what I'm doing. 

7. Learn a language or three.  Preferably a dead one.  Classical Greek would be nice. I made a start on this and gave up in the decade of giving up and getting lost AKA my twenties.  One day I will start again.

8.Get clear of debt.  All debt. Be financially indebted to noone and nothing.



 9. Go somewhere really snowy to see the Northern lightsThis place would be nice.



10. Transform something, or someone for the better.  This relates to my other life.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

On adulthood and happiness

Earlier today I was reading Rachel Brown's great post on approaching adulthood.  It got me thinking.  The Future is a topic under much discussion in our house at the moment, the big question for all three of us being where does it lie?  I say all three, in fact I mean two.  My four year is quite clear on where she's going:

Me: "What do you want to do? What makes you happiest?"

C: "I like doing everything."

And it's almost true.  She does whatever makes her happy and what ever she is doing makes her happy, because generally speaking, she's disposed to be pleased.  She's never bored.

 Serendipity has a funny way of littering life with signposts.  This week a new twitter friend points me in the direction of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Smiling his way through adulthood


Another friend posted this quote by John Lennon on facebook:

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
(I bet he wasn't 5 when he told them that) 

And Rachel referenced it too.  Lastly, there is a quote that I return to again and again which is attributed to Howard Thurman:

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

It's a simple choice really.  Work out what makes you come alive and then do it.  Be happy.  Let serendipity play a part in your life, listen to your gut.



18 months ago or so, I drew a diagram of my perfect day aided by the lovely Michelle Woodall.  I lived by the sea.  I had a room of my own full of books and a comfortable chair.  I rose early and wrote.  I worked in the afternoon helping people to do what I do in my other life.


I imagined that it would take me years to achieve this goal.  Twenty years perhaps.

It won't. Or at least it needn't.  That life is right within my grasp if I don't let myself be sidetracked.  If I give myself five years, almost anything is possible.  

I set myself five years to write a book. I've written two books in two years.

So here's my challenge.  I give myself five years to transition from the current state of affairs to the mix I truly want to have: being a mummy, being a writer, being someone who helps others deliver.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

When you wish.... fairies appear

This week the woods are full of bluebells.  I love this time of year... it as though the White Witch is gone and Narnia is in bloom.  Magical.  So magical, in fact, that we stumbled into a crowd of dancing fairies and with a wave of a wand, my daughter was transformed.  The bluebell fairies kindly agreed to let her try a few different styles before she settled on pink dragonfly wings.

This images are dedicated to the Once Upon a Time flash fiction contest - for inspiring me to think about fairies! 





Thursday, 12 April 2012

Real men wear Red Heels

Having finished my first draft of Boundless as the Sea, I'm dabbling.  I could be rewriting Merely Players, or starting on Ernestina's story but I'm not.  I want to do something different.

  
Wanna dance?
So April is all about fairy tales.  I have entered the Once Upon an Unexpected Fairy Tale contest and I'm working on a set of three short historical romances based on Cinderella, Little Red  Riding Hood and the Princess and the Pea.

My setting for these is 1815. Lots to love about 1815. Wellington's victory at Waterloo. Masquerades at Vauxhall. The waltz has swept the land and is being danced at Almack's (well maybe 1816, it's not entirely clear).

But men don't wear red.

Really.

This is the era of Beau Brummel. Elegant black or at best dark blue with gold button.  Snowy white cravats.  Mr Darcy eat your heart out but I WANT RED. Because my Little Red Riding Hood is a fella.

Regency heroes are elegant to the point of dullness.  Damn it! I want a man in brocade and high heels.  I want a man bewigged and winking with jewels.  I want a pre-Regency Georgian hero.

Nothing says HERO like red heels
For me, the epitome of 18th century glamour is Georgette Heyer's the Duke of Avon. Red high heels shoes, powder and patches and more jewellery than you can shake a stick at.  Was he effeminate? Not a bit of it.  Because ladies and gentlemen, a real man can wear red high heels and damn it, he's still a man.

So I have to think.  For so many reasons 1815 is the era for my stories, but I want my hero in red. I want him with diamond studs in his heels.  That's my kind of hero.





Sleeping Beauty Undone: an Unexpected Fairy Tale


I'm a big fan of the fabulous Anna Meade over at Yearning for Wonderland.  This April she has teamed up with the equally fabulous SJI Holliday to create a fabulous new flash fiction contest with truly awesome prizes

Our challenge: to write an unexpected fairy tale.

Our word limit: 350 words. 

Twitter hashtag: #ouatwriting 

And here I go.... *plunges in*


True Love's Kiss the Spell Shall Break

The rusty sign swung outside, creaking.  An obscure picture, some sort of wheel.  

“Spinning,” Emmie’s pa muttered.  “Wool on your fingers... a real craft.”  The room stank of cider and self pity, crushed cans leaning crazily against his broken chair. He was nostalgic now; within an hour he’d be violent. 

Time to get out.

Dragging her cloak around her shoulders, she left.

It was just like every other home in Thorn, the shanty town that had sprung up in the shadow of the grief-stricken palace. 

Fairies.  Emmie hated fairies.  Trouble causing, princess stealing, lumps of vile magic.  Witches were at least human.  You knew where you were with a witch. Trapped in an oven, probably.

Her Pa had been a big man, red faced and loud.  Singing, always singing as the wheel spun. A master spinner.  Top of his game.  Larger than life. 

Before Maleficent and the curse.  Before every spinning wheel burned.

Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t see the horse until it was nearly too late.

“Watch out!” The rider sprang down, face white with anger. Or fear. Hard to tell.  “Damn you, do you have a death wish?”

God, he was beautiful.  Rich too, with a silk tunic and skin like only royalty have.  Clear and fine, not sun bronzed, not rough.

“Yes,” she said.  “Yes I do.”

That shut him up.  He stared at her.  “You don’t mean that.”

Emmie laughed.  “Don’t I?”

Looping the reins over his arm, he held out his hand.  “Walk with me?”

“Is that a royal command your highness?”  Acid in her voice, bitterness.

He threw her an odd glance.  “If you like.”

They walked for hours.  Walked through Thorn and into the forest, past streams, through glades.

Past a golden haired girl, singing. 

The Prince didn’t even glance at her.

The next day they found Emmie’s pa dead, choked on his own vomit.  But when they looked for Emmie she was gone. Last seen on the back of a white charger, smiling.

That night sleep settled across Thorn, across the Palace.  Eternal sleep, never disturbed. 

Not even by a kiss. 

Source: google.co.za via Meg on Pinterest


Enough about me - check out the other contestants! The standard in this contest is insanely cry - there are stories which will make you cry, laugh, be struck with horror and feel all warm and glowy inside.  Don't stop here... read on!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

#TuesdayTales: the Negatives


The delight of winning a flash fiction contest never palls! This week I won the #TuesdayTales contest judged by @sammyjwebb and hosted by Stevie McCoy (@theglitterlady)

The prompts were, as always, one word and one image and the word limit: 100 words. The contrast of monochrome and colour reminded me instantly of that wonderful moment in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps from a dull grey Kansas into the wonderful, technicolor world of Oz.  A moment of genius in the world of cinema. 

Now, imagine that the world really was all shades of grey.  Imagine that colour beckoned... could you resist?  Could you?  


The word prompt: Affable


The Negatives


The Wizard of Oz was her favourite film. It was for all the Negatives. Trapped in a monochrome universe they could only dream of that world of vivid colour. Taste verdant emerald, touch vivid purple.

“Don’t even think it.” Her mother shook her head, grey tears snaking down white cheeks.  “Your father...Please, I can’t lose you too.”

Still she watched, hands pressed to the portal.  Still she dreamed. Watched films beamed from The Other World.

“Come...” The voice came in a dream, kindly, almost affable.  “Come to me.”

“Daddy?”

She left a grey rose on her black pillow.

“Goodbye Mom.” 

Monday, 9 April 2012

The art of writing small (but not too small)

I have just finished the first draft of my work in progress, Boundless as the Sea.  Okay, not a work in progress now so much as a work-awaiting-revision but there you go.

WHOOO!

Big pat on the back, now moving swiftly on.  In his truly marvellous part-memoir part-text book, On Writing, Stephen King recommends putting your manuscript away in a drawer and then revisiting a few weeks later.  That helps you to read it with a fresh pair of eyes.  I completely agree.

So I have a few weeks - what now?

Do I move straight on to the third novel in my trilogy, the story of Ernestina?  I think not.  That needs more planning, more outlining, more preparation.  I fancy a bit of a change.  And what I fancy writing is a short story - or a novella.



This isn't the first time I've dipped my toe in the water of a novella.  I have tried beforeNocturne Bite anyone? #Fail.  Harlequin Historical Undone? #Fail. 

I can write flash fiction. 

I can write a novel. 


Why can't I write anything in between?

Here's what I've learned from writing flash fiction:

1. Have a story arc but...


2.  Write tight.  

In microfiction or flash fiction you're dealing with 100 words.  At best 300 words.  You have time to set the scene, have one twist and then complete.  In that space you need to be visceral, immediate, intense.  All senses need to be invoked.

I can do that in 100 words... 200.... even 300...  longer than that and I get sloppy.  I have adjectives to play with, back story to pop in.  Before I know it, I'm two thirds through a full length novel.  And my novels are long.  Boundless as the Sea is nearing 110K words - 100K words too long for Avon.  Nearly 40K words too long for Harlequin. 

You see why it is a Work-in-Revision.

But back to the novella.  

Thanks to the ownership of my beloved kindle I have been reading a lot more novellas.  I like them.  Done well they are a bite-size but fulfilling chunk of fiction.  The prose equivalent of a Twirl bar, the perfect accompaniment to a long, hot soak in the bath.  Yum!

Typically 15K - 20K words, here is where they differ from a novel.

1. Immediacy.  A novella is immediate.  There is no time for a slow burn - the heroine and heroine need to be flung together from the get go.

2. Intensity.  There is no time for digression, or for dilly dallying with secondary characters.  A novella requires a sharp focus - usually on the two protagonists.

3. Time frame.  You can't span years.  Your novella needs to take place in a rapid time line, from first sight to completion.

But:

4. You still need a structure through which your characters experience conflict and find resolution.

5. You still need back story.  Your character has to be believable and rich.  The world well conceived.

Where does this leave me?

With chapter one of a bloody novel that's where.

So back to the drawing board.  In  an effort to escape my own verbosity I'm going to start at the end.  That's right.   I'm going to write the final chapter and work back from there.  A new approach - let's see how it works!

Any hints or tips for writing short?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Lucky 7 Meme



The lovely Lena Corazon has tagged me as one of her Lucky 7 to share a snippet from my work in progress.  This meme is winding its way around a bunch of authors you know, enabling us all to have a peek at the work of people all around us.  Take a look at Lena's  work - she's shared 7 sentences from page 77 of PATH TO THE PEACOCK THRONE, her WIP.

Here is mine:

7 lines from page 77 of Boundless as the Sea

Odd, to stab a man like a side of beef.   Not as easy as it looked.   The man staggered, his hands on Cranbourne’s shoulders.  He stepped back, let him fall.  Left the knife where it was.  

“Hey!”  Cranbourne’s voice was harsh, broken like a stage whisper.  That would be the punch to the throat he had endured earlier.  The fourth man glanced back, saw his fallen comrades.  He made a good decision, and ran.

Cranbourne watched him go.  There was no heart in him for a chase, not with blood crusting his mouth and bruises stiffening every muscle in his body.
And now who to pick?  Here are my seven tags:

@AndreaWalpole

@katherinelbone

@JoannaShupe

@Matttdillon

@bullishink

@ruanna3

@MartinTracey1


And here's what they have to do:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP

2. Go to line 7

3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.

4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

#SatSunTails Win! A Fairytale Ending


YEAY! Another #SatSunTails win -  I've been so pleased with the microfictions I've been submitting for this contest (run by Rebecca Clare Smith).  I think the standard is really high from all the entrants so it means a lot to win two weeks in a row.

I have a bit of a fascination with tales that could lie behind fairytales, with the untold stories.  The prompts this week gave me the chance to write to that theme.  This is the hidden story of Sleeping Beauty - the one that never gets told.

This week's prompts:

“skeletal fingers and a crystalline thread”

A FAIRYTALE ENDING

Had she been a princess it might have been different. Not that princesses didn't have their own troubles, but given the choice between hopeless poverty or sleeping for one hundred years, Ethel knew she would be snoring faster than you could say, 'Burn every spinning wheel in the land.'

A whole industry gone thanks to Maleficent's curse and with it Ethel's livelihood.

She was too old to retrain. Too set in her ways. In her dreams she spun crystalline threads through her skeletal fingers, heard the hum of the wheel as hunger ate her belly and rain dripped through the roof she couldn't afford to mend.

She stared into the rushing river water seeking rubbish to salvage.

CRACK.

The sky split, danced with colour. She fell forward, water streaming over her face.

Three days later the guards dragged a tiny bloated corpse from the river.

"Heard that the princess is safe?"

"Aye, saw the fireworks."