Tag Archives: Caffeinated Inspiration

The Ravages of Time (and Egomaniacal Writers)

tardises

I still call myself a “Time Lord” (“Time Lady” when I’m being accurate with another fan), but I no longer call myself Whovian. And the period of time when I did call myself such was very small.

Mostly I blame Steven Moffat.

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Pictured: The Face of Evil, collapsing under the weight of its own ego.

He wound us up with episodes like Silence in the Library, and Blink, which single-handedly (together) convinced us that his takeover as head writer would herald an age of darkness (in the good way), and Gothic horror.  You know, like that episode written by Neil Gaiman.

doctorswife2

The Doctor’s Something-Or-Other.  Wife.  That’s it.  (But which is what?!)

Instead, we got darkness (in the sad way), and a horrifying dismissal of all pre-established lore in the Whoverse, including things he, himself, established in the episodes he wrote under Russell T. Davies. And all of it executed in such a short-sighted infantile fashion — why, the first three seasons under his reign played out more like the convoluted fever dreams of a child-fan than an accomplished, professional writer. I actually accused him (though not to his face, because we’ve never met — and ONLY because we’ve never met) of using his own childhood fan fiction (complete with hand-decorated giant binder) as the basis for every episode he wrote.

Back Camera

And this is just what he wrote in third grade!  He really is a genius.

Every episode was an extreme; going from “How’s your tea?” to “WE’RE LITERALLY ALL DYING RIGHT THIS SECOND!” and back down to “What do you suppose you’ll wear for dinner?” by the end, you were either exhausted, or completely disengaged when the credits rolled. And, where before you could track the progress of tension through an entire season (with peaks and valleys for each episode), a Moffat season told you in the beginning what the Big Bad would be (or at least what to look out for), and then spent very little time laying actual groundwork for it. His energy went into packing a season’s-worth of excitement into a single episode. Every episode. And everything was wrapped up by the end in a tidy little ribbon. I’m sorry, Steven Moffat, but there are only so many times you can threaten me with the Doctor’s “super-for-reals-this-time-you-guys” death before I stop caring about it, or any danger you try to make me believe he’s in.

Seriously. You’ve proven he’s basically invulnerable and he’s never going to die, so it doesn’t matter what kind of danger he’s in. Yawnsville all the way.

Defeating the Silence

Because, honestly, it was never about whether or not he COULD die. It was about our emotional connection with him in the moment.

With Russel T. Davies and David Tenant we cared that enough damage to his body meant he wouldn’t be Ten anymore, because the Doctor spent so long being desperately afraid of it.  He dreaded this thing — this prophesied thing– so much, he fought as hard against its inevitability as he fought against anything threatening the universe. He went out of his way to put an end to it, to fight what he thought was it. Avoiding the “end of his song” consumed him. So when it finally came and it wasn’t even the apocalyptic scenario he’d spent so much time and energy fighting, we all cared.  Our stomachs plummeted with his when we all realized what it meant.

A lot of that came from within. The Tenth Doctor wanted to remain the Tenth Doctor. It wasn’t the idea that the Doctor was dying and would never live again that made us cry so hard; it was the fact that he so desperately didn’t want to go, and that he had no choice. We mourned that Doctor, because we also knew it was inevitable and unstoppable, because we spent a season fighting his demons with him, and we saw it catch him anyway. He’d cheated regeneration once! But that window had well and truly passed.  There was no way out, and we all knew it.  We spent a whole episode saying goodbye to everyone he loved — everyone we loved — with him.
And then we all cried our hardest when the regeneration finally came.

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When Ten arrived, he taught us that the Doctor is always the Doctor, no matter which Doctor he happened to be at the time. But when he left, he taught us that the Doctor dies every time he’s born again.

All of this mattered, because they took the time to connect us to the moment, and that moment was telegraphed through time with the beating of two hearts heard as drums in the Master’s mind, and four innocent knocks on a simple radiation-proof glass door, specifically so that moment would punch us in the collective gut.

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And it worked.

But, in the Moffat seasons I see episodes that establish an enemy as being the single worst thing to ever happen ( … to exposition). Because that’s how we learn how terrible they are. Not through reactions, or behavior, or casual mention in any moment before, but exclusively in the episode in which they’re meant to be a threat, and exclusively in the Doctor reciting a galactic Wikipedia entry about the threat.  All of time and space to pull from (all the 50+ years of history), and even if the enemy is brought in from the past, there’s a mountain of exposition to contextualize the encounter just for that episode, because it has no greater impact on the rest of the season more often than not.

That is, if it’s not one of the Big Three.

I see convoluted plots attempting to blow our minds with the level of their creativity, but it all means so little to me. It’s all so much “look at what I’ve built!” that I’ve mostly written it out of the lore in my head; it was too damn awful to acknowledge.

River Song

Pictured: As much context per moment as I felt from Moffat’s writing.

 

The final Matt Smith season saw improvement, and a lot of that came from the fact that Moffat was no longer the lead writing name on EVERY of the episodes. Other writers were allowed to take the lead for different episodes, and it got so much better.

Though for me, sadly, it did not improve enough.

For now, when I see promotional pictures, or even something as iconic and once-beloved an image as the TARDIS … I just scroll past. I want nothing to do with it.

The same three enemies recycled endlessly. Dalek, Cybermen, The Master. Dalek, Cybermen, The Master. Eventually, they’re all meaningless; the punchlines of jokes people stopped telling a long time ago.  We don’t believe you when you say they’re defeated.  It worked in the beginning, because we legitimately weren’t expecting them.  Now we know they’ll always be there, so there’s no point pretending they’re gone, even for a minute.

Everything about the show is meaningless for me, now. They don’t give me time or a reason to care about anyone or anything in that universe, anymore. And what reason they do provide, they give through exposition, informing me why I’m SUPPOSED to care, instead of giving me the opportunity to want to care.

I made myself watch the first Capaldi season, as I made myself sit through the terrible Matt Smith seasons (terrible for Moffat, not for Matt), but I finally had to give up.

There’s only so much that love of the Davies years can overcome, and I have gone well past that limit, already. I’ve been clinging to the love of something already gone, and the hope for something that can never be under this Moffat regime, and, as with any relationship with people who have grown too different, there eventually comes a day when you have to admit that what you loved and what you cling to are no longer the same, and it’s time to let it go.

I used to be a Whovian, and for Nine and Ten, I shall quietly remain a fan, but my love ends there. As, sadly, does any last trace of interest in the show.

 

—-

Adalind Monroe is a writer in the Pacific Northwest who is very sorry to end on such a sad, sad note, but it couldn’t be helped.  If you made it this far, she rewards you with a sleepy puppy sticking his tongue out.

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The Internet’s Terrible Twos

I think the internet is growing up.

I know what you’re thinking, but listen.

When I was younger — when most of us, in fact, were younger– the internet didn’t know what it was. WE didn’t know what it was. It was like “Here. Here is this thing I have. In fact, here is everything. I don’t know what to do with it, but I have it, and now so do you.”

We all found our little corners, and if we couldn’t find a corner we had the freedom to build one for ourselves.

It was a magical and lawless time, as I’ve said before.

Wild Wild AOL

Yeah, like that.

During this period, the internet was a thought form, an entity yet to be.  It was like the early days of Earth, before the primordial ooze glooped out its first amoebas.

Today, it is the first complex organism to not only discover dry land, but to discover it has the ability to walk on it without dying.

Primordial Mind Blown

Phil told him he would live, but Roger had to see it for himself.

Or, to put it a different (some might say “better”) way, it is a toddler discovering that the world exists, independent of itself, and that, despite this, people outside its immediate experience can still have the same thoughts and feelings it has, and this blows its fucking mind.

astonished-baby

OMG, YOU LIKE ELMO??

Are you really that surprised other people put your thoughts to words? Like, are you seriously having a “mind blown” moment? Do you know what words like “amazing” and “astonishing” even mean? You should, you have Google in you.

Google - Astonished

Yet every time you use them, you diminish their impact, because so often what you call “astonishing” and “amazing” is so obvious, matter-of-fact, everyday, and, frankly, common-sensical that I’m left wondering if the tumblr post you shared was actually amazing for you, or if you linked the wrong post and didn’t realize it.

Either you have no idea how to use these words accurately, or, like a child first becoming aware that the world around them is more than a hologram of their own devising, you really are unbelievably astonished by someone describing with words what you, yourself, have thought.

Michael Cera

Is it?  But is it, though? Or does it make a normal amount of sense.

See, I’m baffled, because I thought we were all pretty well aware of the fact that, while we do live separate lives with our own individual perspectives, we are still experiencing the same events, more or less, and often that means we have similar thoughts. Most people — I should say, at this point, “grown ups” for the sake of the analogy– nod and agree when someone else says something they were thinking, or had previously thought.

“Yes, my thoughts exactly.”

But you. You, Baby Internet, you scream like Criss Angel just descended from the heavens and delivered you the puppy you saw at the adoption fair a week ago. (HOW DID HE FUCKING KNOW?!) You drop your jaw to the floor and a small nuclear explosion consumes everything in a three mile radius from the force and velocity with which you add the message to your social media post.

Introvert Problems

Internet. It’s only Michael Cera. We all know he’s awkward, sweetie. Shhh. Everyone wants the food they see on TV; it’s why advertising works.  Lots of people are socially awkward and introverted (which are not the same thing, but may go together); you are not alone, no matter how much you enjoy being so.  This isn’t quite Cave Johnson talking about combustible lemons, here; I really don’t think we need POTAToS levels of enthusiasm to show our agreement.

But this is a lesson you will learn in time, Internet. You finally have context for all the words and stories and images we flooded you with at your inception, and you can’t help but scream your wonder at the world around you.

I know.

I understand.

That’s why I want you to enjoy this while you can, because we’re going to get really sick of your shit when you hit puberty, and I can’t guarantee we won’t find a way to ground you.

—-

Adalind Monroe is a writer from the Pacific Northwest with a serious flea problem, right now.  You guys don’t even understand.  Combustible lemons are a serious option.

You can read some of her short stories linked in the nav menu above, but none of them have explosions.  Yet.

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Such Sweet Sorrow

She hated her handwriting. The letters collided with one another in an awkward script that was neither cursive nor print, but she supposed it would have to do; the words had needed to be written. Her chest ached a little as she read them over, again and again. The realization they spelled out was one she’d left buried beneath so many years and too much distance, but it burned now with a decade’s stored energy of denial, and filled her with an ineffable longing that welcomed detached numbness’ slow tide.

Each word was chosen with care, written as though she spoke to him, but intended for herself. He would never read it, of course – no one would. She could claim she wanted to avoid disrupting his life with unpleasant memories or complicated emotions, but the truth was she feared what he would say in the astronomically unlikely event of his response; even no response was better than knowing he felt the same. At least in ignorance she could hide in the warm glow of what was without any distress over what still could be.

The box was prepared, simple, but durable, with a sturdy clasp at the front just big enough for an equally sturdy lock. She couldn’t bring herself to burn the words she’d taken such pains to find, but there were no other eyes qualified to read them, so the only logical conclusion she could reach was to lock them away and bury their prison. It wasn’t so different from what she’d done with the emotions before they brought the words, but now the words were out and it was no longer in her own heart they’d be trapped. That was enough, that was all she needed to carry on. It had to be.

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly with the gravity of her secret. As soon as it was locked away, she could allow herself to forget, and by forgetting perhaps even heal. For the last time, she read the inelegant script of her own hand, and poured her aching heart into each word.

“I don’t know why, but I thought of you. And I don’t know what difference it would have made at the time to have understood my own feelings when we were still oceans apart . . . but it’s clear today that what I felt was love.

“You disappeared, and that was fair given I did the same, and I still don’t know if it was something I said, or something you decided on your own, but if there ever comes a day in some distant future where you look back and smile and wonder where I’ve gone, you know where to find me. My door is always open.

“I could spend the rest of my life waiting for you, but that wouldn’t be fair to anyone. So, instead I wish you well. I wish you happiness and love, and the greatest possible future life has to offer. I wish you laughter and smiles and the fulfillment of all your heart’s desires. I’ll look back on our time with a smile and not regret what never was or never will be.

“I know now it was love, but I suppose all things have their end.”

Signed with a quote and nothing more, addressed to no one with no date, the anonymous confession was delicately folded and placed inside the simple, but durable, box, through which sturdy clasp was latched an equally sturdy lock, all of which was gently nestled in the moist earth of a hole freshly dug. She knew the tree beneath which her words would always sleep, and offered it her thanks for the silent watch it would keep as the knot around her heart finally loosed its grip.

As each shovelful of dark soil fell upon the growing mound of her last regret, the missive’s final words echoed through her mind, an unfinished mantra and invitation to a future that would never be.

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,

That I shall bid you good night . . . .

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When did __________ become _________er than _________?: A Rant.

Propaganda you think is hilariously insightful and appropriate to your life right now.

If you came here today expecting or hoping to find a post related to writing and/or MadLIBS, I’m very sorry to disappoint you, but an issue has come up.  And that issue is how we as women seem so happy to attack each other based on appearance.  Yes, there’s definitely a certain amount contributed to this issue by men, but I’m not talking about men.  I’m talking about how women all over the internet, Facebook especially, though probably also Tumblr and Twitter (though I don’t know those sites well enough to say for sure), will link the above picture and chortle with all their male and female friends about how curves are what define a woman as real, and no skinny woman in that picture is attractive in the least, and “Look at how malnourished they are!”, and “Oh, I can’t date skinny women; I’m too afraid I’ll snap their little chicken bones!”, and “C’mon!  Eat a burger!  Amirite?!”

They’re also perfectly justified in having the opinion that curves are beautiful, so don’t think I’m angrily turning around and saying “You’re all wrong, and shut up!”  There are just as many curvy women I find unappealing as skinny, because I have opinions like anyone else, and we’re all welcome to share them.  It’s when opinion starts crossing over into personal attack territory that I really start to protest.

When did it become okay for us to attack each other based on how much fat we do or don’t have? Why is this the last frontier in the fight for protection against discrimination?  And why is it women doing it to other women?  (Note: I don’t accept “cattiness” as an answer.  It is an excuse to allow bad behavior to continue, rather than taking responsibility for being petty.)

I would like to believe that this meme is not intentionally breeding pettiness in women, but how many times have you seen responses to this picture praising “real women” for having curves, or outright insulting women who don’t have “enough”?  This is a problem, people!  ALL women are REAL women, regardless of how anorexic or overweight they appear to someone else, and the more time we as women spend degrading each other over something as trivial as the virtues of pronounced hips vs. pronounced ribs, the less time we spend supporting each other. Don’t try to tell me that this isn’t degrading, either, because by using terms like “real women” and “when did X become sexier than X” you rob the subject in question of something intrinsic, something you have no place to say they lack. To make this more personal, though, since phrases like “the subject in question” sounds so clinical and distant; what you’re doing is personally telling another woman “You’re not a real woman.  Period.”  When you say that, you rob them of the value you appoint to “real women”, placing them lower in your opinion for no better reason than you dislike how they look. You rob them, in your own opinion, of the ability to appeal to someone sexually, judging and criticizing them for falling short of your preferences.  Sound familiar to anyone?

There’s a link to vintage ads floating around, all of which claimed at the time to help women put on weight because that’s how you “get dates”. (There’s even one in there for men.)  This has been spread (at times) in the same spirit as the picture above, to re-establish and support the idea that bigger doesn’t mean less beautiful, a message that in and of itself is not the problem, because there is a need to teach our women, young and old, that beauty isn’t the number you wear, and that’s good.  The problem with the vintage ads is that they were written by mad men playing on the socially accepted idea at the time that a woman’s goals should be to get married and support her husband from the home, so don’t drive away those eager young men, Olive Oil; get some meat on those bones!  Putting a positive interpretation on scare tactics used to manipulate women into fitting this ideal dictated by a small portion of society (not to say that only a small portion shared this view, but that a small portion was in control of what was said about it to the public) doesn’t change the fact that the original sentiment was wrong.

This picture may not come from the same male-centric standpoint, but that makes it far worse, because this actually could have been put together by a woman, a woman with more curves than the classic beauties portrayed (and let us also remember that a size 14 in Marilyn’s day was closer to a modern 10, which, by today’s standards is considered small.  Yes, clothing stores will call them “medium”, and when feeling surly “large”, but when your size 10 friend tells you she’s too fat, you quickly reassure her in your most “I’m fighting the urge to hurl your skinny ass out the window” voice that she is, indeed, quite thin.).  But, a woman may have sat at her computer, snatching up pictures of skinny women she felt embodied the modern interpretation of “skinny is beautiful” while emphasizing how malnourished they look (which is unfair as well, since many women now judged for being “too skinny” are at the target weight for their frames and body types), and then compared them to women from a different era that she felt embodied her personal beauty aesthetic to claim that her version of beauty was better.  Now, really, there are only two options as to the gender of the person who originally put this together, and when you break it down it’s the presentation of the opinion that’s the real problem, but just the knowledge that there’s a 50% chance a woman began disseminating this breaks my heart a little.

I don’t argue against spreading images that build you up – we all need a little lesson in self love now and then -, but there are ways to do it that don’t disparage another individual or group of individuals.  Most of us seem to think this is okay because “big girls” had to put up with this, so now it’s their turn to have a say.  The same attacks larger women, some of whom can’t lose the weight, have faced for not being what modern magazines tell us is the height of beauty (just as vintage magazines told us skinny was then what plus size is now) are perpetrated against smaller women, some of whom can’t -GAIN- the weight, often by the very same women who suffered similar attacks in the first place, and many people nod their heads and say “Well, it’s about time.”  But what I think really needs to be asked is “How does disparaging the appearance of other women fix what’s wrong with society’s image of beauty?”  It’s not the fault of the skinny women pictured that the shift in aesthetic happened, so why are you targeting them?

(Spoiler: I do not think that word means what you think it means.)

If you can’t make out everything in the image there, it’s a different set of thin women and the same set of pin-up girls, only this time it’s a Demotivational Poster that says “LETS BE FAIR.” (Which needs an apostrophe in “let’s”, but that’s unimportant.)  And below that:  “It didn’t.”  But that isn’t really fair, either, is it?  The better argument isn’t that skinny never replaced curvaceous as beautiful.  There is no improving an argument that can be reduced, at its most fundamental level, to “Skinny isn’t hot, curvy is.”  You’re fighting a battle of opinions, and lashing out at women who have done you absolutely no harm.  You don’t even know these women, but you’re willing to point the finger and say “No, I’m pretty, not you.”  This sounds an awful lot like playground bullying, to me.

See, we don’t approve of domestic violence and abuse for obvious reasons, but in addition to the physical, mental, and emotional damage it causes to the victims, it can also create new abusers; that (usually correct) theory about bullies in the schools lashing out because of abusive home lives?  Yeah, that one.  Are we no better than school yard bullies with alcoholic parents? This “skinny women vs. curvy women” debate divides us. You can look at it from any angle you want and try to reason away how the debate is not a bad thing, but the fact is that it divides us as women and fosters an environment of judgement. Is that really what we need to do to each other?

Prithee, councilor! Recount to me the time wherein THIS did attain more praise for that most delicious of sinful delights, which may only be bespoke away from the delicate blooms which do so vex us, than that appearance which even now wouldst fair cause my heart and loin to stir as one? In faith! Was it so long ago?

No, ribald gentleman of the past, t’were not so long ago.

How often have you, or someone you know, complained that the “Reubinesque” figure was the height of beauty and never should have been changed? I bet few also address the fact that it was the height of beauty at a time where a more generous figure was proof of wealth and good health, of the luxury of life that meant they weren’t slaving away, just scraping by to get enough food to survive the next week, and sometimes just the next day. Given what modern Western society provides, that same generous figure is now usually evidence of someone just scraping by to get enough food to survive the next week, because the cheapest food is also the least healthy.  Many people also perceive a lethargy and lack of personal care that is decidedly unappealing, regardless of how true it is.

The opinions regarding beauty change with the society sharing them for a reason, and even though we face a lot of grief and struggle against the fashion industry with their Twiggy-esque models, and magazines telling us to lose all the weight, I think you’ll find that the overwhelming majority find healthy to be height of beauty.  It’s healthy,  in whatever form that takes for the individual, that appeals.

Even if that form is factory standard and comes with Cyclopes-style visor eyes, or Unsettlingly Similar To Your High School Ex-girlfriend face.

I think what upsets me the most about the original image is that so many women glom onto it and wave it like a victory flag while they shout from the rooftops “Yes!  Yes!  Curvy is better than what Hollywood tells us is beautiful!  When will you all learn that this is what REAL women look like?!”

But what about this?

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Let me type that out for you again.  “Real women are curvy.  Real women are also slender, muscular, chubby, skinny, voluptuous, gangly, and shapely.  We’re all real.  We’re all women.  Deal with it!”

Instead of waving your validation banner around, why don’t you grab onto THIS image and make IT viral.  At least then you’ll be helping your fellow woman realize that fitting just one imposed ideal of beauty isn’t what defines her as a woman, and it isn’t what makes her beautiful.

This is my friend, Rachel.

Pictured: A beautiful, strong woman.

Rachel is beautiful.  She is the perfect illustration of a beautiful woman being beautiful in herself, not because she’s curvy, not because she’s skinny, but because she’s strong.  I think this speaks louder than any picture I could have searched for, and if anything THIS should be a banner around which we as women rally.  We CAN do it.  Whatever “it” is, we can do it, but we need our sisters to keep us strong.

Support each other, because we are our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our grandmothers, our nieces, our aunts, and our cousins.  We are every woman who has come before us, and every woman who will come after us.  And that should mean something.  Make it mean something.

And I’m spent. I want Kahlua in my coffee and a big ol’ Amy snuggle.  Y’all bitches be trippin’.

We’ll return you to your regularly scheduled literature lesson sprinkled liberally with humor on Wednesday.  Or maybe Wednesday will be a MadLIB to make up for today.  WHO KNOWS!  (I bet it’s a MadLIB.)

—–

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalnd Monroe is not a militant femi-nazi, but she does get tired of seeing visual and verbal attacks against a woman’s appearance or physique hidden behind the intention of raising the self-esteem of another group, especially when it’s another group of women.  She would like all of her sisters to please at least TRY to remember that ALL women ARE REAL women, regardless of your visual preferences, and that you don’t get to decide what does or doesn’t qualify them as being “real”.

When she’s not rant-paging about sisterhood, you can find her a-tick-a-typing away on genre fiction, or blog posts about the process of writing, and probably bunnies.

Read “Don’t Let Her In”.  It’s creepy and free.

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The Escape [Pt 1]

A commotion outside intruded upon the fragile order Madame Tirenn forced upon her young wards.  Several stories below, in the barren courtyard between the orphanage and the old money lender’s, came shouting and the clash of sword upon cobblestone.  For a moment Madame Tirenn attempted to keep the children in their seats, but as the sound of battle grew more heated, her own curiosity conquered her protestations, and she joined the children at the window.

Anafyn’s heart leaped.  Not an eye in the room could tear itself away from the action; all backs were to her.  She could not have asked for a better chance than this.  Thanking the gods, as breathless in mind as she felt in body, she backed away from the long row of windows captivating her peers and inched toward the door.  If the gods were truly on her side, then this room would not be the only one distracted by the clamor in the courtyard and she could make good on the escape she had planned a million times and more.  That none of her meticulous plots had involved what sounded like it must be the heart of war itself only told her she needed to be more inventive.

The room gasped and cried out in shock collectively as a shaft of ice pierced the long arm of the money lender’s L-shaped accommodations directly across the way.  Fyn lifted a brow in surprise, turned on her heel, and bolted down the corridor. A child fleeing danger should be no surprise, right?  A lone child in an orphanage having the presence of mind to run away from danger should be able to get away, shouldn’t she?

Though panic gripped her heart, it lent urgency to her flight and forced her onward and onward, faster and faster, as fast as her well-toned legs could carry her.  She had prepared for this day, training in the courtyard and anywhere else she could without being questioned for unusual exuberance, readying herself for the day when she could finally free herself from the constant fear of being “adopted” out to “nice” men who, by all rights, should have been married, but weren’t.  The whispers about what these men wanted with girls her age were enough feed a lifetime of nightmares, but she wasn’t content to hope for the best and wait for her time to come; she was a girl of action.  Speedy action.  Wheeling through the deserted halls of Gao’aine Priory action.

In her dreams, it took an eternity to reach the Priory’s entrance where her new life waited to be claimed, and for some reason reality had decided to play by the rules of her dream lands.  What she knew had to only be two minutes stretched out before her with a timelessness that spoke of eternities unrealized, which gasped and gaped at her heels.  She whimpered at the thought, tears springing to her eyes as she finally lay eyes upon her prize.  If she could just reach the doors, she could be free!

Spurred on with the desperate hope that no obstacle now defeat her, she pushed herself into a savage sprint down the Priory’s longest hall.

The doors exploded before her without resistance when she crashed through them at full force, but as the blinding light of day robbed her of sight, something else robbed her of momentum.  She should have flown down the Priory steps and into the street.  Instead, she collided with something solid enough to knock the air from her lungs.  Before tear-slicked eyes could blink themselves right, she felt two strong arms wrap themselves around her, and before her feet left the ground, she found the breath to give voice to the scream of the damned.

[To be continued . . . ]

—–

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

Welcome back!  The best motivation to get me writing again was hating that the last thing I put up was fanfic.  No matter how well received, that’s not what I want to be known for.  I want to be known for the above (but only if you like it).  Well, okay, even if you don’t, because at least then if you don’t like it you really don’t like what I love to write, and that’s valid.

Someday I may edit this further, but I doubt it.  Enjoy it for what it is, and welcome back to Flash Fiction Friday and my new layout!  I even have pages up there to such things as my short stories and where you can download them, and a compilation of all the Flash Fiction I have and will post on the blog for easy access.  And rules!  For Flash Fiction submission so I don’t have to keep adding it down here!  (In case you’re wondering: E-mail me your stories if you have them at CaffeinatedInspiration [at] gmail [dot] com, subject FLASH FICTION <Story Title>.  1000 words or less.  Go check the specs and get back to me.)

Also, in the mean time, I published my second short story, The Last Tower.  You might like it.  You know, if you’re a fan of the human condition and have any kind of soul.  It’s a short glimpse of the end of the world.  You know, the kind of thing everyone can connect with on every level.  Trust me, this is bedtime story material.  I would know, I dreamed it.

Speaking of dreaming, I need a nap before I head out to piano and the best Not-My-Birthday dinner ever with a woman who will absolutely end my life if I fall asleep before or during then, but after now.  (It’s her violence that keeps our love fresh and exciting.  You should try it.)

So, I hope you enjoyed the flash, and I hope you hate me for ending it on a cliffhanger.  I really, passionately hope you want to strangle me to within an inch of my life, and only that far because actually killing me would mean you never find out what happens next.  But I want you to hold on to that anger and let it simmer.  That’s it.  Stew in it and tell me all the horrible things you would do if I didn’t hold the conclusion in my wicked little brain.  That’s what the comment box is for, so have at it!  I’ll sleep easy knowing you’re out there, waiting for me.  Gosh I love you guys.

G’night everybody!

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Consequences

Whose child was this anyway?  She had been given nothing but sass and disrespect from the girl from the moment they met.  Unprovoked harassment from the snot-nosed little brat greeted any and all who entered the child’s radius, and she had reached the breaking point.  After losing Vorstag to what she could only call pretentiousness and jealousy, and learning the truth about Farkas and the Companions’ inner Circle, she had taken all she

Please shut up.

could possibly take.

“I’ll fight anyone,” she heard the child say.  “I don’t care if they are my elders!”

She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

With a cry of pain and surprise, the child reeled away from her fist.  She knew it was wrong, but it was so very satisfying to give the girl a mighty wallop.  The vendors in the market square gasped and called or help as the sobbing child fled in terror.  Within seconds she was surrounded by city guards and disenfranchised soldiers looking for any excuse to fight and win the Jarl’s favor.  There would be no call for surrender this time, only blood.

In a flash she was armed, the air singing like a malachite bell as her elven axe-blade sailed through; one soldier of fortune off to Sovngarde.

Lydia, loyal housecarl and dearest friend, jumped into the fray without hesitation and drew several guards away from her.  Together they would go down in a blaze of infamy and disgrace with the name of the last Dragonborn staining the proud history of Whiterun and Skyrim forever; a fittingly ignoble way to die.

Two guards fell by her blade, their blood mixing with the first drops of rain falling from a bleak and hopeless sky.  But, quick as she was, strong as she was, alive as she was, she was not without injury.  Though Lydia was holding up far better than she, there was no way they could reach the city gates alive.  Spinning on the spot, she found a guard at her back and struck out.  She didn’t see the fourth approach, or feel the blade slip through a gap beneath her cuirass, but knew her luck had run out when her body crumpled to the ground in a useless heap.

The last thing she saw as the world began to fade, was Lydia valiantly and vainly fending off yet more city guardsmen as they swarmed the market square.

Goodbye, my friend . . . .

She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

“Did you hear me?”  The child’s voice was grating, but a smile began to spread across her lips as the knot in her belly slowly unwound itself from the stone of anger that had been growing.  Without another word, she turned away from the little snipe and looked to Lydia.

“Your smile concerns me,” Lydia said, shifting uncomfortably.

She continued to smile her disconcertingly pleasant smile, and headed back home for a nice hot meal and sleep in a real bed.  Perhaps she would next imagine Vorstag’s face before being eaten by a dragon.  Yes, Vorstag eaten by a dragon, now that would bring true bliss.

——–

AUTHOR THINGS:

Another Skyrim short!  Hurrah!

Mumble mumble something about Flash Fiction Friday.  Let me know if you have a short you’d like to see featured on Friday and we’ll work something out maybe.  It’ll be great!

I am so darn sleephungry right now, it’s not even cool.  I’m going to drink some coffee and sleep for fifteen minutes and trick my body into welcoming awakeness and then do more writerly things, probably.  Also food.  If the ol’ brain kicks in, that is.  And eating.

If you haven’t taken the time to download and love “Don’t Let Her In“, then no worries!  It’s still FREE!  Go get you some, girl!

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The Retriever’s Body

Full Moon by Otávio Brito

“With a grim nod, he took the lead, carefully negotiating the rocky, mountainous terrain with the skill of a man who had moved more than a few bodies before that night.”

The assassin lay dead at her feet.  She had chosen the main roads specifically to avoid Ilhavin’s Retrievers, but they grew more bold with his deepening desperation.  If she hadn’t been desperate herself, she never would have set out at night in the first place.  She nudged the body with the toe of her boot, noting the complex Anovan leatherwork decorating what was otherwise simple attire, and frowned; he was expanding into the Eastern kingdoms.

Layen a’Ciah siawyn ne’kaieth tha li a’Rhune liatha,” she murmured, making the sign of the gods before kissing the thumb she had tucked into a loose fist.

“Why would you bless one of his agents,” Temur asked, settling his weight on one hip to the creaking accompaniment of his armor.  Temur refused to use Ilhavin’s name, out of spite he said, but she suspected it was superstitious fear that saying it would attract the powerful Bright Lord’s attention.

“Every soul deserves Ciah’s blessing in Rhune’s embrace,” she said, bending to rummage through the Retriever’s hidden pockets.  “However misguided we may think they are,” she continued to Temur’s disapproving grunt, “every soul deserves a blessing.”

She found the note she knew the Retriever would carry, and tucked it into a similar pocket hidden in her own vest, but made a show of confiscating the man’s coin purse and small valuables.  She could feel Temur’s eyes at her back, the mercenary’s gaze appraising.  Given his lack of comment, she figured she had guessed correctly; always search the body for more coin.  If she hadn’t, he would have, and the last thing she needed was a man like Temur having too much information.

“Help me move him,” she said, shifting to take up the dead man’s feet.

Wordlessly, Temur complied, his unspoken question hovering between them in the gloom.

“To the river.”

With a grim nod, he took the lead, carefully negotiating the rocky, mountainous terrain with the skill of a man who had moved more than a few bodies before that night.

Silence stretched as they made their way to the violent current of the Nimareth river, its black water churning white against hidden boulders and jagged rocks too stubborn to be worn smooth by the river’s eternal passage; by the time the Retriever’s body was found it would be unrecognizable — that is if the body was ever found.  They gave the body a great heave at the precipitous ledge several spans above the river.  She watched it disappear with a distant splash.

“I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure it out,” Temur said at great length.  “Who would send a sneaksword like that after a woman like you?”

“Politics,” she said, her gaze still locked on the dark, rushing river below.  “It’s just politics.  He wasn’t the first sneaksword to find me, and he won’t be the last.”

—–

AUTHOR’S SAY STUFF SECTION:

Flash Fiction Friday!  Hurrah!

If YOU have a flash fiction story you’d like to share with the untamed wilds of the internets, then send us a message at FlashFictionFriday.ci(at)gmail.com (the “[dot]ci” is very important, so don’t overlook it).  Submissions should be 500 words or less, but we’re willing to accept up to 1000.  Please make subject line “FLASH FICTION: <Story Title>”. All submissions must be written as flash, and may not be snipped from larger pieces. 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.

Please feel free to click your way to happiness by following the blog, the Twitter, and/or the Facebook, and DEFINITELY check out “Don’t Let Her In”, still free for your Kindle, iPad, Nook, and e-reader devices of choice exclusively through Smashwords.com.

Keep an eye out for “The Last Tower”, a surreal post-apocalyptic look at the last stronghold of humanity as it faces sun-scorched oblivion, due on Smashwords in September!

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Here’s a Question: How Perfect is “Too Perfect” for Characters or Races in Fiction?

I don’t recommend using this method for writing your fiction, but I can’t really stop you, you rebel.

I tried asking this just earlier today, and was very nearly stoned to death by another writer who felt that the question was so old and over-asked that the answer should be part of the automatic mindset a writer gets the first time they decide to write, like a new writer benefits package complete with FAQ and club pin, but if it’s really asked often enough to be an “old meme”, as they put it, then doesn’t that mean there are people who still want to know? There are always new writers, new reasons to ask the same questions, and I don’t think it’s very fair to slam the book on a topic simply because you, as an individual, have found the answer that works for you.

It’s obvious,” they said. “Give them flaws.” But is it really that obvious? For some of you, you might be nodding your head yes, and saying “Of course it’s that obvious,” but we’d never be in danger of encountering Mary Sues, Gary Stus, and Paragons if it was really that obvious to everyone.

A Mary Sue/Gary Stu, for those who may not know, is defined as a character lacking flaws that give dimension and credibility, and is frequently a paper-thin “wish-fulfillment” character for the author, allowing them to imagine that they are the ones having these adventures. When you see the term, it’s most often because you’re reading about fan fiction, but this doesn’t mean it hasn’t appeared in traditionally published fiction, either. Bella Swan, for instance, from the supremely popular Twilight Saga (as if you needed the reminder), could be called a Mary Sue. Though we’re not given specific details about her appearance, we are led to believe she’s both beautiful and popular, but for no obvious reason. She doesn’t participate in any meaningful school activities, but remains the center of attention at school so long as it serves the author’s interest, which is usually until Edward shows up, or is mentioned, or thought about, or missing. But this isn’t about my opinion of Stephanie Meyer and her Frankenstein’s Monster of a series, it’s about characterization! (And she has none! ZING!)*

Pictured: Character depth.

Now, Mary Sue and Gary Stu are the two-dimensional trope extremes of flawless fictional characters, and sometimes they can be easily avoided by adding a simple flaw here and there, but what if you’re writing a legendary hero in an epic fantasy? Say, Heracles. (Go on, say it. “HerAAAAACKles.” It’s fun, right?) Good. Now that we’ve got that out of our systems, our new story revolves around a Greek character named Heracles. He is the son of the king of the gods, but also half human! Is this a flaw? Well, that all depends on how you treat him. If his being half human diminishes his strength, allows him to be killed like any mortal, denies him the ability to ascend to Olympus, or lack all the rhythm it takes to win the ladies through the power of dance, then yes; you have yourself a successful flaw. If, however, being half human just means he’s not a god, but really he’s mostly a god, then you don’t have a flaw at all. What you have is a Paragon.

A Paragon is a peerless example of perfection, and when it comes to writing characters, a Paragon is often a two-dimensional protagonist who can never be defeated. No, not even by the evil Dark Lord of Evil, who has also never been defeated. When it’s obvious the Paragon will always win, there’s no reason to believe there’s any risk involved in the adventure. This is a problem when you want the reader to feel the tension when you give your protagonist obstacles to overcome. Paragons don’t struggle with obstacles, they explode through them and smell fantastic and don’t need to change their clothes ever, because they never get dirty or sweat. That might be great if you’re living in a romance novel where making naughty after a battle would be kinda gross if the protagonist wasn’t a Need No Shower kind of guy, but most of us aren’t romance ingenues, so, in my opinion this is a problem, because it disengages the reader from the character they should care for the most.

But what if we’re not talking about a single character as being flawless. What if we’re talking about an entire race of Paragons? What if we’re talking about . . . elves? Ooooo, mystical, shiny, immortal elves! Well, let’s rewind a bit here. Odds are we’re not talking about the kind of elves that can be described as “wee folk”, who mess about at night making shoes and cookies. We’re probably talking about Tolkienian styled elves, and that’s a problem, too. Tolkien’s elves were far from perfect. On the surface, in The Lord of the Rings specifically, it can appear that the elves embody a kind of perfection. They are immortal, beautiful, magical, in tune with nature, highly skilled warriors, healers, and mediators, but beneath that, many of them suffer from blinding pride. You need look no further than The Silmarillion for proof of the dangers this elven pride can produce.

In many instances Tolkien illustrated that anyone can become corrupted, no matter how innocent or impervious they may seem, from Frodo to Galadriel, yet in modern interpretations of the tall, beautiful, immortal elves what we see are facsimiles painted in perfection. These elves are the upholders of all that is good and moral (according to the author’s perspective), they are the stewards of nature, and they represent the highest moral judgment, all while being beautiful and ageless as everyone and everything else around them is flawed and probably horribly disfigured. Tolkien’s elves live on in our collective memory because of their depth, but when taken as a blank template, they lack any of the elements that make them worth remembering.

I think this quest for depth is what people are trying to address when they ask about perfection. They’re not looking for a chorus of “There’s no such thing as perfection,” a phrase that can mean “so just write whatever you want, and hang the opinions of everyone else”, or it can mean “so no one will believe it if you write it”. Either way, it’s one of the least helpful phrases I can think to offer in response to any question about the subject. I think one of the things we’re really asking here is “How close to ‘perfection’ can I write a character or race before the reader stops connecting with them?” and I think part of the answer comes down to both defining what “perfect” means to us as individuals (part of the “there is no perfection/utopia because no one can agree” argument) and defining what we consider to be the plausible flaws that bring a character or race away from the brink of perfection. It doesn’t have to be a huge flaw like “was blinded six weeks ago and is struggling to cope”, it doesn’t have to create a Damaged Character like “witnessed the death of parents and became obsessed with bats and vigilantism” , it just has to be believable for the character in their situation, like “extreme aversion to the color yellow, which happens to be the favorite color of the love interest”.

For me, a character expressing the idea of “perfection” is one that is no longer in need of personal growth. They are at the apex of development, and have no room for improvement. Where a Mary Sue or Gary Stu lacks flaws, the “perfect” character, the Paragon, lacks the ability to change. Regardless in what manner change would manifest, the absence of change makes a flat, boring, and sometimes very annoying character. What we want to see when we follow a character’s journey is growth. We want to see them change over time, to be effected by the events and people around them. Frodo’s shift from the happy homebody Hobbit of the Shire to the haunted soul who sails away with elves to Valinor. Luke Skywalker’s change from the naïve young mechanic on Tatooine to the self-assured Last of the Jedi, capable of putting a stop to his father and the Emperor. Rand al’Thor’s descent into madness via unrelenting harassment from shrewish women on all sides. This is what we want to see! Well, maybe not the last one so much. But what we don’t want to see is Heracles sweeping peril from his doorstep with a yawn before sitting down to a nice cup of ambrosia. We don’t want to see the Doctor and his companions walk away unscathed every time something threatens all life on Earth. We don’t want to see Dr. House show up to work with a smile and a bounce in his step, tenderly see to the patient and their family, and solve every mystery with sensitivity and as little conflict as possible before he skips home, whistling, to spend a happy, but uneventful evening with his family. That’s just not House, and love him or hate him, he’s memorable because of all his flaws.

So go ahead and make a character people hate, but make them hate him/her for their flaws and not the lack thereof.

—–

*Example of personal opinion. No looking to start a fight between Twilight supporters and non-supporters, so focus on the topic, not the zing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind Monroe is a wildly successful novelist in her head, trying to get the world to catch up by producing quality blog posts and unbelievable feats of fictional daring do. She enjoys Chinese food and short walks on the beach. Actually, she prefers sitting on the beach; the sand is too hot for her sensitive baby feet.

Don't Let Her In (Cover)

If you enjoy her writing and want to experience the magic that is character growth in action, download “Don’t Let Her In”, a weird fiction tale that will chill the willies right out of you and replace them with more different willies. Worse willies. The williest of willies. Also, it’s free, damn you. FREE!

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Why Do We Read?

Pictured: An avid reader.

Maybe the first question I should ask is “Why do we stop reading?”

There’s a problem here. Do you see it? Here, I’ll help you find it: When you stop reading, you don’t SOLVE problems, you CREATE problems, problems you can’t even see coming, because you’ve put on blinders to keep out all the other voices, voices that could teach you things, voices that tell you what to avoid. And yet, this is a thing that many writers have done. Do you see how this might be a problem for you? No? Then how about this: As a writer, when you decide to stop reading, it’s like thinking you’ve figured out the key to never having body odor again is to stop showering.

Take me, for instance. No, I didn’t stop showering.  But, I know I’m not the only writer to have stopped reading the work of others in an attempt to keep the ol’ brain pallet clean of outside influences. The problem with that, however, is that the avid reader I was when I was a child, the reader who couldn’t put down a pencil and stop writing to save her life (despite also not being able to finish any story she started writing), became a shriveled up old hermit lady grumbling in some forgotten recess of my mind while the writer in me starved. The world builder and imaginist thrived well enough, but in the years I wasn’t reading (yes, years), I also wasn’t being very productive, either.

It seems to me that for some reason we think it’s okay for an artist to be influenced by other artists, to have artists producing similar work considered to be part of a movement, but when speaking of writers doing the same, we’re either derivative or “the next <famous author of the same genre>”. Yet H.P. Lovecraft quite openly borrowed from his peers, writing what he called his “Poe pieces” and his “Dunsany pieces” (better known as his Macabre stories [approximately 1905–1920], and his Dream Cycle stories [approximately 1920–1927] respectively). Though he perhaps perfected his unique voice when telling the stories in his Cthulhu Mythos (approximately 1925—1935), it was not for this decade alone that he’s remembered as being one of the greats, or as having a distinctly unique way of telling stories. So why are we so afraid of the influence other writers might have over our work?

Photo courtesy of MiiraT

Pictured: Derivative work.
“I’ll get you, my pretty, and influence all you writing by making you emulate my own!”

Because we’re afraid of that blasphemous term “derivative”. Some of us don’t want to hear that a reader is reminded of Harry Potter, or of Issac Asimov, or of The Last Unicorn, but we don’t really have any control over what a reader’s exposure and experience will impose on the writing once it’s left the carefully crafted shelter of our minds, and limiting our own exposure to these sources only ensures that we’ll be completely incapable of identifying them, and thus incapable of removing or modifying them to avoid the inevitable comparisons.

Writer, teacher, and editor Lori L. Lake once wrote about two aspiring writers she had in a creative writing course who came in with a partially written fantasy story each. During a critique session where the class read sections of each writers’ work, it was expressed that they found their work was “derivative, repetitive, boring, and that it had already been done, re-done, and over-done.” They were crushed by what was news to them. These two aspiring writers had no clue they’d told stories as old as storytelling itself, as neither had read, nor had any exposure to fantasy stories prior to their own forays into the genre. “They spent a lot of time imagining worlds with evil dark lords,” Ms. Lake wrote, “and creating characters who may as well have been Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.” But, when you spend no time acquainting yourself with what already exists, this is exactly the sort of obstacle you face.

But what if you just don’t have the time to read? What if you’re a busy playwright with three murder mysteries on the line, and a three hour tragedy in the works and you can barely find the time to work on those, let alone find time to read someone else’s stuff! To this imaginary and not at all real person I spoke to last night about this very thing, I think Mr. Stephen King has something to say to you.

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

Yes, that was a smack down from one of the masters of modern horror. If you don’t have time to read,

Pictured: Writer tools.

you don’t have time to write. The same five minutes you snatch here and there to scribble on your note pad could be given occasionally to reading a few pages of a book. It’s harder to write while you eat lunch than it is to read, and that right there is pretty compelling as far as arguments go.

But what about these “tools”? Well, our tools are words, aren’t they? When an artist wants to improve their craft, they study the masters. When a writer wants to improve their craft, they read.

Consider this the next time you’re thinking about not opening a book: How, exactly, do you know what a well written story looks like if you’ve stopped exposing yourself to them? It’s easy to decide that most of the books published these days are rubbish, but do you even know why you think that? Have you sat down to really look at what you dislike? Is it the way the characters are written? The sentence length? The sentence structure? How can you avoid the things you hate reading if you aren’t sure what they are? You need to be a critical reader.

A critical reader is one who can analyze the prose in a way that opens up opportunities to learn new methods that might improve their own writing, and methods they might prefer to keep away from entirely. The successful writer is a critical reader. See, it’s not all about reading your favorite authors and saying “Golly gee, if I just use more metaphors about clouds, I’ll be a better writer!” Sometimes it’s about picking up a book by someone you can’t stand and pin-pointing all the little things that make them so difficult to enjoy. It’s not enough to say you hate the short protagonist, though; you have to really take a hard look at what you’re writing and ask yourself if you’ve been doing the same thing, and then correcting it.

In addition to asking yourself what a writer has done that you really enjoyed and practicing those methods, there are a couple of exercises that can help you grow both in your craft and as a critical reader. The first is to take a passage from an author you like and rewrite it with a new focus. Keep true to the events and plot, but change what is meaningful to the reader. The second exercise is to take a passage from an author you dislike and change it into something you wish they’d written. Personally, I think the second exercise is the more helpful, as it forces you to really focus on the methods the original author used to convey the ideas first, and then apply what you think to be better, all the while trying to consciously avoid what you disliked in the first place.

There’s a particular Australian fantasy author whom I personally cannot read. We’ll call her “Terrible”. I made it about six pages into Terrible’s first book in a series before I had to stop myself from setting it on fire. Now, Terrible hadn’t been doing well for herself at any point in those six pages, so she was already on literary probation, but when she used the word “doomed” in three consecutive paragraphs to convey the exact same concept with little to no variation, I threw the book across the room. What did I learn? Other than the fact that Australia needs more writers to challenge her and paperbacks have far too much wind resistance, I learned that repetition without variation infuriates me, and that I think Terrible stole the manuscript from an exceptionally talented five year old before slapping her own name on it.  I learned that the opposite of prose I enjoy is the sort that reuses words that really stand out at the same time it picks words that stand out, and reuses them.

By contrast, two of my favorite authors taught me not only that I can love a story written in first person, but one of them also reminded me that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination, and that it’s okay to take your time getting there.

Pictured: Not winning.

Writers have a responsibility to themselves and to the readers they hope to garner to always keep perfecting their craft. You’ll hear time and again from various sources that there are no new stories, that every story there is to tell has already been told a million times. That sentiment isn’t wrong. When you choose not to educate yourself on the methods used for telling that age old story, you shoot yourself in the foot before you even join the race. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to run a race with a shot-through foot, but winning is pretty difficult.  Mostly you end up passed out on the ground from blood loss just a few yards away from the starting line. Professional athletes call this a “disadvantage”. You put yourself at a similar disadvantage when you decide that reading is only going to distract you, or influence your style beyond your control. I argue that not reading limits your resources, inspiration, and that very same control you think you have in spades, but have diminished through ignorance.

So go on and read already!  What are you waiting for?!

—–

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind Monroe is an uppity little kick in the pants with a heart of gold who only wants to help you get a jump start on reading to expand your horizons by offering her Lovecraftian short “Don’t Let Her In” for FREE.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

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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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