Monthly Archives: July 2012

Crap, I Need a Topic: Timeline Software (Or Why I’m Going Old School)

Google Image “Conspiracy Wall”. It’s like that, but with made up politics. Well . . . MORE made up politics. Here’s a bunny.

It really shouldn’t be this difficult.  Are we as writers really asking so much of software makers?  I mean, I really don’t know, because I don’t know how to code anything, but why is it we can’t just have reasonably priced software that allows us to create our own calendars, complete with freaky names for our months, odd numbers of days within them, not twelve in a year, and then organize plot events based on that unique information?

Not so many hours ago, I was working on Eleasia, taking advantage of the creative burst that can come from conquering an existential plot crisis that only thirteen years of world building can help create, when I felt the dawning of a new desire coupled with a new obstacle; timelining.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had the desire or need for such a mythical program, but it is something of a driving need this time around.  Unlike previous occasions, where it would be more convenience than anything else to be able to input my own months, days, and years to each point, this occasion comes wrapped up in the recognition that having so many events over an extreme length of time leaves me somewhat unsure of where my true beginning can be found.  I have beginnings I’ve always considered, but now I have new information to subtly weave into the fabric of the world to build an even tighter foundation than that which already exists, and while I’ve always planned to make each set of books accessible in a way that doesn’t demand that you read them in the order they’ve been released, to those loyal fans who would follow from the outset I would like not to leap so far back in time as to offer events that would, on the surface, seem completely irrelevant.  That is exactly what I think I might end up doing, however, without a visual timeline to play with.

There are always options out there, but most of them require a bit of compromise in order to enjoy, and I feel just crabby enough to not want to offer compromise for anything.  Dammit, I want the software in my brain to exist on my computer, and I want it now and better than I could possibly imagine!  Ideally, I would turn to my laptop, plug in my writing buddy Eloise (a flash drive), and open up some magical bit of software designed just for this occasion, and start injecting plot point and events as they occur to me, but, since I can’t have that, I’m resorting to a good old fashioned, low-tech solution: 3×5 note cards taped to my wall.  That’s right.  You either give me exactly what I want, or I’ll go out of my way to do things with what is quite probably an unnecessary level of effort on my part, which actually does nothing to inconvenience you at all.  That’ll show you!

You see, it isn’t enough to just know that things happen in a certain order (i.e. Gods are created > Eleasia created > Delinithiri created > Other races created > Seleäna does stuff > BLoT gets mad > Future things happen > The Present).  No, no, I set out from almost the very beginning with a specific plan in mind, and it was always meant to be something more complicated than most sane people would ever willingly allow themselves to attempt.  Building off of Jordan’s model, which shows how lives that follow divergent paths can all contribute to the same end, I decided to not only do the same thing better, but to set up concurrent life paths that intersect each other as they would in reality.  Of course this means I need to know enough about what will happen for a particular set of characters far enough in advance that anything I set up with other characters who may cross their paths doesn’t disrupt the necessary sequence of events to come.  Since I can’t use the convenience of software and computering to save space, though, this means that after I paper my wall with note cards and events, I get to dress them up with bits of colored yarn and rainbow thumbtacks like a crazy person looking for a conspiracy in their own high fantasy ramblings.  (“But I just know that given the opportunity, the King of Anovah would have poisoned the HELL out of the ambassador to Alegonfar just to start the War of Flames, regardless of what the historians say.  I never believed Sethrah was innocent!  There was a second mage on the knoll!”)

But now I have to wait, because I don’t even have note cards on hand to start building  my timeline wallpaper.  I think I’ll go play Sims Medieval and see if I can’t add to Seleäna’s story while I’m at it.

*EDIT*  I have the cards, but they’re not on the wall yet.  That is all.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

Yeah, I saw that preposition, and I said “Meh.  Let it hang out at the end of that sentence.  I need coffee.” (07/10/12)

This post brought to you by The Past, when it was written.

Just a friendly reminder:  If you haven’t purchased a copy of “Don’t Let Her In” yet, now is the time to do so!  Until this Thursday (08/02/12) you can download “Don’t Let Her In” for absolutely FREE!  That is 100% less than it usually costs!  Just enter promo-code “SA36R” into the coupon field when downloading to pay absolutely none of the pennies in your piggy bank!  Declamatory statement of excitement here!!

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Flash Fiction: The Novel

French in action? Or another lie. (Spoiler: It’s another lie.)

La petite nouvelle the French call it. Actually, they don’t. They don’t call it that at all, I just lied to you because it sounded nice. They really call it micronouvelle, and it is what most of us know as flash fiction.

But what IS flash fiction, you ask? That’s a tricky question to answer with any specificity. There are those who would say that flash fiction is any story told in no more than seventy-five words, and some might call them Nazis for it (Me, specifically. I would.), but most can generally agree that limits ranging from five hundred to one thousand words are at least popular enough to sound like the new standard. Personally, I stick to a limit of five hundred words, because I feel that extending it to a thousand may as well open the door to a full-on short story, and nobody asked for that, so keep it in your . . . brain. Guy.

As this is my blog and we’re asking me what I think on the matter, I’m going to tell you my reason for this opinion briefly. Most of it comes down to the belief that in a piece of flash you are looking at one moment in time, and not the history behind it or the consequences that follow. You, as the author, may have ideas about how events transpired, what brought the characters to where they are, and where they might go when the moment ends, but that’s not for the words written to tell.

“If my ideas don’t fit in five hundred words, though, why should I bother with flash?”

I hear you, dude speaking out of turn, and I have an answer conveniently prepared ahead of time for this very occasion. The answer is, in my opinion, because it’s easy to meander around a novel-length story until you find what you need. It’s easy to embellish a scene with more ambiance and dialogue, and to pad out the length with exposition, but this can lead to that dreaded of all quagmires; the Infodump. When you’re required to think in the briefest of terms, to convey thoughts, emotions, and/or actions in the space it usually takes your character, the professor, to give his class (and the reader) the introduction to a primer on the history of the world, you force yourself to figure out the most conservative way to keep the reader informed without losing the story for it.

“Yeah, but I still don’t–”

Don’t be obtuse, and please raise your hand. The reason it’s important to learn how to do this in flash fiction, and short stories in general, is because it has immediate benefits to your writing in other mediums. When you train yourself to pack a sentence full of information without making it the opening of A Tale of Two Cities, you spend less time digressing from the plot and action and more time keeping your reader on the edge of their seat.

To put it in edible terms, a flash piece is a lean slab of beef with all the fat trimmed off, and then more beef trimmed off so you can eat it in one bite. Which, come to think of it, would be a really bad theme for a restaurant, especially if it meant they offered you the flash fiction version of a steak dinner. But, it works really well in trying to decide what you keep in your micronouvelle.

Yes, you there. I see you raising your hand, and that’s great. Go on then, what is it?

“How do I decide what to keep? Or, for that matter, what to write?”

To be fair, that’s two questions.  I was kind of expecting only one, but I can answer both of them together, so you didn’t throw me off too much.

Deciding what you keep depends entirely on what you choose to write. If, for instance, your story is about an apple being eaten, you wouldn’t spend your precious words telling us how it came to be in a position to be eaten. Alternately, if your story is about a man’s quest for food, you might not focus on the actual eating of the apple. When I sit down to write a shorter piece, I usually focus on what I think of as “crystallizing an atmosphere”. This is to say that I decide what I want the reader to feel, and then I craft a story to capture that feeling, emotion, or mood, and anything that doesn’t contribute to that end has no place.

Now, I’ve been chided before for expressing the opinion “if it doesn’t do X, it has no business existing”, but where X could be foreshadowing or establishing patterns of behavior/objects that will later be of relevance, to me it also means anything communicating something meaningful to the reader that relates to the content of the narrative. This could be as simple as a man eating a crayon, provided (and here’s where the kicker lies:) illustrating it benefits the narrative. In the context of short stories and flash fiction, though, this is all the more inflexible as you don’t have the space-luxury (on the page, not in outer– you know what I mean) to paint a picture in both broad strokes and fine detail. You pick one, and stick with it.

There you are again with the hand.

“How do YOU write flash pieces?”

Oh! How sweet of you to ask! I shall tell you in list form.

    1. Pick an Atmosphere

It’s hard to know what kinds of words I’m going to need, or what I’m going to find most inspiring if I don’t have a mood in mind. A single prompt can become any number of stories when envisioned through different emotional filters, so I find picking that mood first makes it easier to jump into the actual writing when it comes time for it.

    1. Pick a Prompt

For me it can be all too easy to fall prey to fancy when you have no true aim at the start of your flash fiction exercise. Your brain wanders, your eyes wander, your pen wobbles and taps against the page, and you’re not really sure what you want to write, so you bounce around ideas, and in the process might come up with something with more possibility than the restrictions of flash would allow. Because of this, I like finding a definitive seed around which the story can grow, like a pearl, because normal seeds are the things that grow, and that’s not what I said the story seed does, so more like a pearl than a plant.

I like to ask someone to provide a word or phrase, and whatever is offered is what I write. I don’t ask for a selection, or rifle through dictionaries until something jumps out at me. The very first thing I get is what I make work. If you don’t have a friend you trust to give you words you’ll want to work with, try opening the dictionary to a random page, or even an online dictionary or equivalent, and use the very first word or entry your mind registers. Personally, I prefer grabbing people off the street and demanding a word or phrase not related to my releasing them.

Whatever your means, don’t balk at whatever word you end up with; consider it a challenge to write outside of your comfort zone, and a chance for literary growth.

    1. Know Your Ending

You may have your starting sentence in mind already, but before you get too enthusiastic about plunging in, figure out your ending. Not knowing the end is a perfectly viable format for writing many things, but this is definitely what leads to more plot bunnies than quick resolutions. For this reason, I always decide what my ending will be before I ever type a word. Because I can check my word count as I go, I use this to keep track of how many words I have left to reach that end, and can give enough context before the conclusion to make sure it doesn’t feel like a slap-dash afterthought, because I ran out of space. This also makes the edit process easier when you run over your limit.

    1. Trim Down to Your Limit

You don’t have to get it all right the second you start typing. As writers we’re going to edit everything, and a flash piece should not be the exception. Use the language you feel is appropriate, get to your goal in as conservative a manner as possible, but don’t curtail your creativity to the limitations of the medium. Go ahead and exceed a little bit, because the act of editing out the excess is an important part of training yourself to edit bigger pieces. You learn to recognize the descriptions that may be nice, but aren’t necessary for the scene. You may find yourself cutting single words, or re-finessing a sentence to say essentially the same thing in less space, and, hopefully, more effectively. This is probably the most helpful aspect of all the tricks used for writing and self-editing, regardless of the genre or medium.

A flash piece is like any other story, and should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, even if the story you’re telling is as short and simple as “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn” [Hemingway]. If you make sure your story contains just these three things (beginning, middle and end, not unworn baby shoes for sale) you’re well on your way to writing good flash fiction. You may find that only one or two of these steps work for you, or maybe none at all, and that’s fine. Just remember that not all methods are universally applicable, and that this is what I find works for me. If I didn’t feel they worked well, I’d print this post, crumple it up, burn it and scatter the ashes in shame for even thinking to write them out in the first place. Mostly, though, you should really give writing flash fiction a try, especially if you’re struggling in other projects.

*****

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind Monroe is a talented young upstart from the West, who enjoys stories that incorporate apples, baby shoes, and bunnies, but not at the same time. She doesn’t always drive, but when she does, it’s in a Chevy named Keith. Keith is a girl.

Adalind now hosts her own Flash Fiction Friday here on C.I., so if you found yourself inspired to try the methods above, or you already have some micronouvelles under your belt and wouldn’t mind seeing them shared with the internets at large, send your stories to FlashFictionFriday dot ci at gmail dot com, subject line “FLASH FICTION: <Story Title>”. [OFFICIAL WORDS] All submissions must be written as flash, and may not be snipped from larger pieces. Strict limit of five hundred (500) words. Please include word count in the body of your e-mail, preferably right after the title. Stories must be received by Wednesday to be considered for Friday inclusion. Please include any links to previous works, official pages, personal blogs, biographical material, or pictures of bunnies you may want linked or included at the end of your story to direct traffic back your way, or to make Adalind smile extra hard.

To read more by Adalind, you can subscribe to this’a here bloggery, follow her on Facebook, or check out her stories at Smashwords.com.

Need a prompt?  Try:  Chronicle

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Vellum

Old Book

“The unutterable name of which was synonymous with the dead . . . “

Glass shattered against the cavern wall, enhancing dull stone with a dark shine. The thick fluid made sluggish progress down the unhewn angles, which jutted and thrust themselves into the cavern with perverted geometry, and lured the eye to plumb unwholesome cracks and crevices for knowledge which man should not own, as shadows danced in lurid relief where thrown by the hissing flames arrayed around the arcane lab.

Vyssith!” The haggard sorcerer’s embittered face contorted in a mask of disgust as epithets flew from his lips in the black language of the Forgotten. “Ek reth e’l vrei k’th ctholin vagh!” The hearth flames behind him howled beyond the confines of their stony prison, black and malevolent with the echoes of his fury.

All around lay scattered the evidence of his labors, the hand-scrawled essays and meandering notes, whose logic vacillated somewhere between cosmic insight and furious incoherence, piled each upon another with the haphazard organization of a mind that sees only order within chaos. They crawled over tables and benches, congregated in alcoves, and shuffled incessantly around the glowing beakers, tubes, and alchemical objet d’arcanum that occupied the sorcerer’s cramped work space.

Hand-crafted vellum whispered beneath the wizened hand groping so unceremoniously through their number for a sheet he knew must be among them.

Theassyf kek vrei ath!”

Hidden beneath the dark leather of a blasphemous tome, the unutterable name of which was synonymous with the dead, peeked the note which he so desperately sought. Watery, bloodshot eyes perused the indecipherable scratches and bizarrely elegant swirls before finding what he needed. In a manic haze, he drifted to the table which served as his desk, and removed the antiquated quill pen from its inkwell, habit alone driving his hand to tap the tip against the well’s stained rim.

The quill’s nib scraped against the pale vellum as he scribbled in the weird language of his masters. Straightening from the desk, he listened as unheard voices slithered through his thoughts, licking at what remained of his soul with a wanton hunger. Nodding to their unspoken commands, he bent to the table, and, wetting the quill, added to the note in his own tongue.

“The formula is incomplete. Without the essence intact, the skin cannot be used to bind the Word. I must attempt again when the village is quiet and has had time to forget its loss. It will not be quality enough for The Book, but the vellum from his hide will be exceedingly fine; I will harvest it for myself.”

Setting aside the quill, the old man took up the crescent-shaped lunarium and began to sharpen it against a smooth strip of stained leather. As he approached the child’s body, stretched tight across a frame not unlike the herses used by other membrane makers, but which was larger and more sturdy than its counterparts, he began to hum an odd lullaby he remembered was sung to him when he had been about the same age.

*****

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

(Read when the mood suits.  Humor exists below.)

—–

Arbitrary decision – You occasionally get flash fiction instead of bloggery.  But that’s cool, right?  Right?  You should probably let me know.  For reals, or I’ll keep doing it and have no idea that you hate me for it, which is sad for everyone involved.  Especially the bunnies.  Think of the bunnies?

Do you have a Flash Fiction piece you’d like to see shared with the internet folks at large?  Send me your stories for Flash Fiction Friday and one (or more, if the story is UNGODLY short) lucky writer(s) will see their story featured here.

[OFFICIAL STUFF:  Please include any links to previous works, official pages, personal blogs, biographical material, or pictures of bunnies you may want linked at the end of your story to direct traffic back your way, or to make me smile extra hard.  E-mail all submissions to flashfictionfriday dot ci at gmail dot com, subject line “FLASH FICTION: <Story Title>”.  All submissions must be written as flash, and may not be snipped from larger pieces.  Strict limit of five hundred (500) words.  Please include word count in the body of your e-mail, preferably right after the title.  Stories must be received by Wednesday to be considered for Friday inclusion.]

For more weird tales and chilling prose, check me out on Smashwords.  Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook!  I promise it’s all kinds of fun.  Pretty much every kind of fun.  I mean, pretty much.

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I Write A Blog Now, Blogs Are Cool.

Hello, Audience!

Let’s imagine for the next few moments that we have assembled in a lovely little library in the English countryside.  The color pallet is warm with dark woods and natural light, accented with cool blues, rich reds, and soothing teals.  The center of the room is dominated by exquisitely comfortable chairs and couches ringed by concentric circles of shelf upon shelf packed full with books, and the air is redolent with the smell of fresh coffee and old paper.  An old Persian rug delights bare toes while protecting the polished oak floor beneath this cabal of comfort.   This is where we will meet to chat about this and that, discuss writing and life, and maybe even learn a few things about ourselves and the world around us.  Mostly, though, it’s where we’ll laugh, because other than sleeping, laughing is my favorite thing ever.

Truth time and full disclosure:  I don’t live in the English countryside, nor do I have this library, but they sure do sound nice, don’t they?  Fear not, though, for soon enough (SOON ENOUGH, DEAR READER!) I will have both these things, and then I’ll invite you all over for coffee and writer chats.  Also there should be a hearth.  Terribly romantic, the hearth.  Perhaps not entirely safe with so much paper and wood around, but it’ll be fine if you don’t insist on roasting marshmallows all the time.  Hm . . . I think that’s the first thing I need to ban in my fictitious library.  No roasting marshmallows.  Sausage should be okay, though.

So, hello and welcome!  As you may have guessed, or read somewhere, or psychically intuited (and if that’s the case, kindly refrain from hanging out in my head as that’s where I keep all my important stuff), I am a writer.  Up and coming, they would say, and they’d be well within their rights to do so.  My genres, as you’re no doubt curious to discover, are predominantly Fantasy and Horror, though I do occasionally make forays into Sci-Fi and Steampunk, or toss them all in an atom smashing Hadron Collider to see what comes out of the resultant explosion of inspiration.  At least, I hope it’s inspiration.  It smells like burnt paper and, for some reason, whiskey, so either it’s inspiration or the ghost of Ernest Hemingway is one unhappy camper.

What’s that?  Why yes, I AM a nerd, in fact.  I think that to some extent all genre writers are, whether they admit it or not, but I most certainly am.  I love the Trek and the Who (well, I mean, I also like The Who, but they’re  not who . . . the Who?  I– never mind), the Potter and the Hobbits, Lemon Demon, Wil Wheaton, Comic Con, [Day9], Felicia Day and The Guild, a little WoW, a little Repo! The Genetic Opera, The Devil’s Carnival, and Terrance Zdunich, and, guys, you guys, seriously, I love H.P. Lovecraft.  HUGE into Lovecraft.  Love . . . Lovecraft.  Yes.  Lovecraft.

This isn’t my first blog, or my first blog about writing, but the other one is . . . dumb.  Well, no, it’s not dumb.  I’ll probably actually re-post some entries here, but I got very excited about documenting the processes that go into Fantasy world-building, which is still just so awesome, but a little too specific, and I wasn’t always doing anything interesting with the world-building when I should have been writing entries about it, so it never went anywhere.  But now there’s this!  And it’s whatever I want it to be!  It will probably be about writer things, but it will probably also have nothing to do with writing, maybe simultaneously, though I suppose seeing that would depend on how many realities you’re reading the blog in, and whether two opposing topics are posted on the same day.

Yes.  I think that all looks to be in order then.  Congratulations on a successful first post, Me!  Now if you can just find it in you to post with enough regularity to keep you some followers, ah, that’s the dream!

*****

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adalind Monroe is one cool cucumber three clicks away from sending ninjas after the people who created this site for making it impossible to do what she really needs to do.  Sure, posting words to a blog is the biggest part of writing a blog, but being kicked out of an unsaved post every time she wants to insert a helpful link to her biographical page, because the ability to add a widget to do that for her is apparently too much to ask for, is so many shades of uncool, you guys.  For reals.  Fix that.

If you can find her author page, check out the links to find her published stories, or search for her directly on Smashwords.com.

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