Wednesday, 25 March 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 11: “Time Is Short”

2015 WORD COUNT = 15480 words



Times are changing.

Technology is shrinking our world and people have a lot more to do. Time is becoming a precious commodity.

Gone are the days when you could find yourself sat down in the evening, bored out of your mind; nothing to watch on any of the four TV channels, you didn’t own a Spectrum or a Commodore and it was raining cats and dogs outside. Back then this could lead you to picking up a good book and spending the next few hours just getting stuck into a whole new world.

Nowadays we have video games, 50,000 TV channels (+TiVo), longer work hours and many more responsibilities. It’s a lot harder to find any time you can justify on just sitting down and reading that latest 500 page novel. I mean, it could be months before you get to the end. And that’s if it’s a one off. What about getting through a trilogy or a fourteen book saga. Since my son was born my wife has barely had time to read any of the James Patterson books I constantly buy her.

So what other option is there?

When your time is short then it makes sense that the fiction you read be short too.



First off, you can’t go wrong with a good short story collection. You can dip in and out and will probably finish a whole story during your lunch break. Instead of waiting for several months before you get to the satisfying resolution, you can have it daily.

There are many short story collections out there but I highly recommend any of the ones written by Stephen King. Although regularly depicted as a horror writer, there is so much more to his stories and no better show case than the following collections:








Of course, if short fiction is still too much then there is always flash fiction. Stories so short you’ll be done in about five or ten minutes. And if it’s really good flash fiction then you’ll feel like you’ve just had an entire meal in one mouthful.

Obviously the sites I normally promote are more about taking part in the writing (and for some of you that might be the next step). But there are some out there that will give you that quick fix, that story with an edge, a five minute tale that’ll stay with you the rest of the day.

Let me divulge:

Paragraph Planet publishes a 75 word story every day and has done since 2008. Stories don’t get much shorter.

Angry Hourglass publish their weekly winner each Wednesday in the Hump day Quickie. These have a max word count of 360.

Daily Science Fiction publish a sci-fi or fantasy story a day at no more than 1500 words.

Quaterreads are a little different to the others in that you need to pay to read. But it is only $0.25 a 
story and, if you enjoy it enough, what better way to let the hard working author know?

Wattpad has a lot of authors posting chapter by chapter releases of their novels, yet they also have a lot of great short stories to browse through.

Of course you might not want to begin a new world every time you find five spare minutes. What if you enjoy characters so much that you want to see them again and again?


Episodic fiction is a growing trend. It’s like watching your favourite TV show with new content updated on a regular basis. I myself am currently working on a project called FRACTURED DAWN which has 1500 word ‘chapters’ being released every other Friday (I’m hoping to go weekly).

And I’m starting to look at other projects and wondering if they might be better in this episodic formula. Sure, there are still projects I’d like to see on a bookshelf one day as a fully-fledged novel, but I have a lot of little ideas that will never see the light of day if I wanted everything to end up that way. Perhaps, at this early stage in my career, this format will work better and get more stuff out there for people to enjoy.

An example of this episodic process being done well is Betsy Streeter’s NEPTUNE ROAD series. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday Betsy posts brand new tiny episodes of this fantastic ongoing series both on her website and on Wattpad (there’s also a paperback collection available). It follows a great cast of characters trying to get by on the planet Neptune. I’m currently up to episode 125 at the moment but don’t let that number put you off. A couple of lunch breaks and you’ll be all caught up.
So is bite size the future? I’m starting to think it is, at least on a publishing front. A lot of people will continue trying to read that epic novel come rain or shine. Others will give up and ditch reading as non-essential in this hectic world of ours.

But right there in the middle is a new breed of reader, one that wants to get in, be entertained, and get out before the next thing flashes before their eyes. And if people want to read that kind of thing then some of us are going to need to write that kind of thing.

Let me know of any other places to go where short and flash is the prominent feature. And I highly recommend visiting the sites listed above. There is some great material out there for you to find.

See you in seven.



Wednesday, 18 March 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 10: “All Roads Lead To Ankh-Morpork”


2015 WORD COUNT = 13064 words


Sometimes bad news can have a silver lining. While the act itself can be something unwanted and the cause of sadness, deep down a part of us knows that it’s all better now.

So it is with the sad passing of Sir Terry Pratchett last Thursday. While his family, friends and fans all mourn him in their own way, we must be grateful that his ordeal with ‘That Embuggerance’ is over and he can finally rest.



While Pratchett wrote many things over the years, his greatest achievement and biggest body of work belongs in the Discworld. A hilarious ode to the greatest of fantasy worlds, the Discworld not only pokes fun at the tropes of so many fantastical stories but also holds a mirror up to our world.

With forty novels set in the magically flat world (that resides on the backs of four elephants who stand on the shell of mighty A’Tuin the turtle) the Discworld books contain every ingredient required of a fantasy world; wars, cities, trolls, swords, magic and so much more. But, while most epic fantasy stories are filled with mighty sorcerers and heroic knights, the Discworld is instead filled with somewhat more colourful characters from the other end of the spectrum (all eight colours of it!). While I wouldn’t use the term ‘realistic’, I guess it’s just nice to see characters react differently when fighting evil – like running away.


My trundle into the mind of Pratchett took three separate attempts.

The first was back in 1997 when I was nearing the end of my second year of college. My girlfriend’s friend lent me a copy of Good Omens, a book Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman. People tell me how good this book is all the time but, unfortunately, I’ll have to take their word for it. You see, I never even opened the book and, several months later, handed it back unread.

Flash forward a few years to 2000. After giving up on my education I was working full time in my local Video Shop. My manager started a conversation one day about the Discworld books he’d read years previous and I built up a little interest. They whole premise sounded like something I could really enjoy so I looked a little more into it. That was when I found I was already twenty four books behind, enough for me to walk away from such a mammoth undertaking.

Another three years passed and one day I found myself stood in a Tesco store looking at a copy of Night Watch for £3.73.  The series I thought was intimidating at twenty four books was now at twenty nine. I figured that if I didn’t start there and then I probably never would. Plus I was powering through books during that period of my life so I saw the entirety of the Discworld series as a rather appetising meal. Not wanting to miss a bargain I thought it best to grab Night Watch for the future and then went about getting myself of The Colour of Magic a few days later.

And I never looked back.



Rincewind’s adventures with Twoflower and the Luggage had me hooked by page ten. I enjoyed the comedy and language, both of which Pratchett excelled at. I powered through the book but was incredibly shocked to find myself at a literal cliff-hanger (or, more accurately, an ‘edge of the world’ hanger). At the first opportunity I went back to my nearest bookshop (which was a 40 minutes bus ride away!) and purchased The Light Fantastic. And Equal Rites. And Mort. Well, Waterstones had a 3 for 2 sale on.

And so my collection grew. Birthdays and Christmases added more and I carried on with the regular six month releases of the later books through the exceedingly good Tesco price point.

Despite how much I enjoyed them, I never rushed through the books. Instead I took my time, coming back to Discworld when someone else’s novel had left me unfulfilled. I knew where I was when walking the streets of Ankh-Morpork or paying a visit to Lancre. It was safe and relaxing, fun to visit; my literature holiday destination of choice.


The books fall into one of four sets; Rincewind and the Wizards of Unseen University, Granny Weatherwax and the Witches of Lancre, the caps lock talking Death, and, my personal favourite, Ankh-Morpork and the City Watch. Ever since Guards! Guards! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the adventures of Samuel Vimes as both law and order have been dragged, kicking and screaming, back to the streets of the biggest city in the Discworld. In fact, Vimes is my all-time favourite character in the series (hence why my middle name is Samuel).

There really is something for everyone. Other than the first two books, there are no real sequels. Sure, if you read the lot then you can see the characters grow, and, like the Marvel universe, there’s a lot of character crossover. But I think you can really start anywhere.

Something I’m really looking forward to is handing the books down to my son when he’s old enough (and quashed his need to bend covers!). I hope that he finds the same enjoyment as I have and finds his own favourite character.


I still have a little way to go towards, what I now know, is the end. Yesterday I finished Monstrous Regiment, a brilliant story that’s like Mulan on steroids mixed with a little Joan of Arc. I gave it five stars and it is probably going to make my top five.

I’ll be sad when I eventually turn the last page on the series but there are two glimmering lights of hope.


A couple of years ago Pratchett joined forces with sci-fi author Stephen Baxter to write a novel called The Long Earth. The tale of multiple worlds sat side by side, it tells of what happens when mankind no longer has to fight for space and can expand indefinitely. It sounds epic and is the start of a five book series of which the fourth is due for release this June. I’m hoping they planned the final book and that Baxter wraps it all up as I expect Pratchett would wish.

As for the Discworld? Well, sources say that his daughter, Rhianna Pratchett, will carry the torch and continue the stories of what is a truly amazing world. I look forward to seeing what she does with it.


I never met Pratchett and he never had any idea who I am. But, for the last twelve years, his stories have made me laugh and for that alone I’m extremely grateful.

“DON'T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”

Well said, sir. Well said.

See you in seven.



Wednesday, 11 March 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 09: “Starting A Story Bible”


2015 WORD COUNT = 12548 words

I’m now three weeks into my episodic fantasy series, FRACTURED DAWN, and I’m starting to get into the groove. Things are starting to take shape for the readers with plenty of questions to court their intrigue. I hope as I get further into it, that people have the same anticipation for more FRACTURED DAWN as they have with their favourite TV shows. I guess only time will tell.



BIG WORLD

Currently I’m working off of my NaNoWriMo 2014 draft and a pile of notes but, if things go to plan, then this world is going to get very big.

Overall I’m hoping for it to be an ongoing series, one without ending (much like The Walking Dead graphic novels or your favourite daytime soap). With this in mind I realised that a couple of note books wouldn’t cut it. I needed something bigger.

It’s not just going to be about world building to allow me to write the story. I’ll need something to have at hand much like a reference book, like an encyclopaedia . . . like a wiki.



GENESIS

Today I have started work on the FRACTURED DAWN story bible. I’ve never put together anything this before (as most of my work is stuck at first draft, I’ve not required one yet) so I’m both excited and nervous.

The idea is to build an overlapping word document containing everything I’ve written and everything around it. And, like a wiki, it will be filled with hyperlinks to navigate around the world and its people.


CONTENTS

So far I’ve entered in what has been written so far; a couple of characters, the town of Bridgewood, and the guide for the first three episodes. Over the weekend I’m going to start filling in the details about where I’m headed and who else will be showing up. I have a lot of info to mine what with the first draft, my notes, and all the planning I did for the early fantasy novels I now intend to cannibalise.

I’ve learnt a few new techniques on MS Word too, with bookmarks and linked contents pages (I love geeking out on MS Office).

I hope that, in the long run, this bible helps make for a better story with more consistency between episodes. While it feels small now with only a handful of characters and two settings, it will grow into something epic, just as long as I keep at it and keep track of it.


I hope you guys are enjoying the project so far. I have three episodes up at the moment. If you haven’t read them yet and have spent this post wondering what the heck I’m rambling on about then dawdle over here and see what you think. I’d very much appreciate any and all feedback because, until I know what other people think, I’m just writing in a vacuum.

See you in seven.



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 08: “A Flash In The Pan”


2015 WORD COUNT = 10072 words


Flash Fiction is the art of conveying a story within a very tight word budget.

Some of the best Flash Fiction authors I know are able to include a beginning, a middle, and an ending (as well as character development and plot resolution) in just 200 words.

It’s a hell of a skill to pull off a great piece of Flash Fiction. I’m not dissing authors that write in different forms but, whether you're writing interlinked short stories, bookshelf busting novels or a collection of poetry, each style has a set of rules to make it work.


There are two three things I love about the Flash Fiction contests I take part in. First is the consistency. I may fall behind on the bigger stuff but there is at least one piece of Flash Fiction produced every week, without fail.

Next are the prompts themselves. Whether it's photos, story elements or key words, these forced elements constantly push me outside my comfort zone. A year ago I would have laughed if you’d even suggested I might one day write a comedy set around the Declaration of Independence (AMERICA CAN WAIT) or a dark drama centring on spousal abuse (THE CLIMB). And yet I’ve done this and more. I’ve shed my need to write only supernatural sci-fi fantasy and tried other things, things my own mother might even consider ‘real writing’ (just kidding mum). Sure, I mostly stick to these genres because that’s what I love but now I can think a little more outside the box.

But the one thing that makes me happiest with these 200 or 300 word stories is that sense of completion. I struggled for years with not getting to the end of novels or short stories. With my almost non-existent attention span and constant supply of new ideas I have a lot of beginnings and not much else. But Flash Fiction had minute word counts and deadlines; one afternoon to imagine, plan, write and edit a story. And when you’ve posted it, that’s it. All done. Finished. Final.

Or is it?


You see, one of the greatest things a Flash Fiction writer can do is paint a bigger world between the gaps in their story, to hint at something larger, something their story is just a snap shot of.

But what if I’ve written a story and want to explore more. Well there are two ways forward; one is to write other stories set in the same world. The other is to rewrite the story without that word count constraint. Now there’s the argument that it might be that constraint that made the story work in the first place; no room to blabber on, every word counts and leaving stuff open to the readers imagination.

I’ve thought about this on several occasions but I’ve always walked away. If the story is a complete package at 200 then surely I should let it be, right? Will they lose their strengths if I stretch them out? Or can I use some of them as first drafts or outlines for something bigger?

Let’s be clear; I’m not planning on turning 100 flash fiction stories into 100,000 word novels. Believe me; some of my stories just won’t work in any format.

But some might just. Here’s an example.

My January 23rd Flash! Fiction entry, INTO THE WATER is set in a world where the elderly aren’t left to grow old and become a burden to the state. Instead, on a citizens 65th birthday, they line up on the beaches before wading out into our nations surrounding waters where they are gifted to some truly horrific creatures that lie in wait (think Lovecraft) almost like a ritual sacrifice.

It came in at 197 words and barely contained any of this in a clear way. Should I count this story as a failure and leave it behind or was it a novella born in a Flash Fiction body? Perhaps we have a girl who doesn’t agree with this, even though her country has carried out this ritual for hundreds of years. Maybe she tries to hide her grandmother from the authorities. Perhaps there’s something bigger going on behind the scenes and things aren’t what they seem. Or what about if she goes into the water after her grandmother and takes on these creatures of legend?

It could go several ways and I’d like to try. Of course I’m also someone who said George Lucas should leave the trilogy alone so I’d be a little bit of a hypocrite going back on previous ‘finished’ material.

What do you guys think? Should completed stories be left as they are or is there room to expand them? Have any of you had success which a short story made large?  

See you in seven.