From a discussion I had earlier this week, some thoughts about how to keep a flash story from growing into a full-blown short story. (Of course there are plenty of good flash stories that ignore these tips; they’re meant for people who are used to writing longer stories and are having trouble coming up with something very short.)
One problem I see a lot is that the flash is just a summary of the plot of a longer story. Sometimes it’s summarized to the extent that there’s no dialog at all. Every time you write a sentence of summary is another hint that maybe your story isn’t flash.
There’s also world-building summary. Secondary world fantasy and SF settings that need a lot of worldbuilding are hard to keep short. I keep trying anyway, and sometimes I succeed. But if you have to plunk a couple hundred words of exposition into your story for it to make sense, it’s probably not going to work for me.
Limiting the number of characters helps too. In 1000 words there isn’t a lot of room to develop multiple well-rounded characters.
If you’re really struggling to keep a flash story short, try picking a story that can be told in one scene. It has to really be one scene though, not one scene plus a ton of backstory.
I think I wrote a post a hell of a lot like this a year ago, but I don’t care.
I love my Scrivener progress bar.
That’s kind of dumb, right? It’s just a little program that keeps track of how much you need to write per day to finish your project by a certain date. It counts your words, and a little bar slowly appears, getting longer with each one, turning from red to green. Just that. Thing is though, when writing novels, it helps me out a ton. It lets me know I’m on track, and that if I just keep plugging away, this thing will eventually be done.
More importantly though, it tells me when I’m done for the day. There’s a goal, I go for it, I reach it, and boom. Done. The rest of the day I’m guilt free. Have a done my writing? Yes. Should I do more? Meh, only if I really feel like it. This takes an amazing amount of stress out of the process for me.
So here I am, thirty-thousand words into the first book of the year (I can be optimistic), and it feels pretty good. The bar is green, and if I keep it green, the stories will be finished.
No, this isn’t a post about how women make less money in publishing (I suspect that’s true, but I don’t have hard-and-fast data; if you cared, I’m sure other bloggers have written about it). This post, really, is nothing more than an observation.
Several writers publish their writing income each year. You know that dream you had as a kid about getting to school and realizing you’re naked? Yeah, I imagine publishing your income is a bit like that. I’ve seen a few men post their incomes–and to be honest, I’m not sure if every single one of them post their day-job income along with their writing income. Regardless, they post their earnings, and the vast majority of comments I see are “hey, thanks for sharing,” or “that was super-informative, thanks.”
Yesterday, a writing acquaintance posted about another writer who had posted their income (including both writing and day job). The acquaintance’s post was basically “yeah, boo-hoo, I’m so sorry you’re only making X dollars a year.” The first comments on this thread were of the “the author shouldn’t be complaining,” ilk. Two points: 1) just 20% of the author’s income comes from writing and b) the author is female.
Now, I’m not usually one to beat the sexism drum. I think it’s like anything else: if you believe the world is nothing more than one big ball of sexist fascists, well, you’re going to think everything comes down to sexism. In general, I don’t see the world that way and so my first reaction typically isn’t “well, he’s a guy, so …” or “of course that happened, she’s a woman …” Having said that, I have to say this: what in the fucking fuck. Really. A man posts his income and folks are like “thanks for sharing;” a woman posts her writing income and folks are like “quit complaining, you should be happy to make X.” I mean, come on.
So the husband and I are moving into our New Chicago Condo this week. Moving sucks for everyone, but it really sucks when you’re a book lover. Seriously, if we didn’t have books we’d have ten boxes and a few couches to move. (Okay, that’s hyperbole, but you get the idea.) We ditched a lot of books when we made the move to the Second City, and I’ve culled even more during the moving process. It’s an odd feeling. Anyone who is a book lover can attest that books are friends. Lovers, even. They keep you company on cold nights and hot vacations. They open your mind–if you let them–and allow you to see the world in new ways. The good ones stick with you long after you’ve bid them good night. The great ones keep you up all night until you’ve finished.
Going through a book collection is akin to going through old diaries. Oh, this is from my Dean Koontz phase. Oh, Tess Gerritson–I read her when I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. Brust–ah, yes, Brust–I got into him when I first moved away from classic epic fantasy. This shelf is full of books written by friends. This one includes stories written by me. The collection a visual (and a heavy, pain-in-the-ass-to-move) representation of the my journey as a person, and more recently, as a writer. Some of them are easier to part with than others. Some I’ll never give away–the Harry Potter series, my Stephen King collection (including a copy of The Stand that has been read so much it’s falling apart) (yes, I know it has a duex ex machina ending, I don’t care, I love that fucking book so much), the Wheel of Time series. But the Tess Gerritsons, some of the Dean Koontzes, the Patricia Cornwells? Those are going in the donation pile.
It turns out, I’m actually the moderator for one of the panels this weekend. That’ll be new to me. After thinking about what makes a good moderator, I’ve come up with a plan:
The panel is about gadgets and apps for writers, but a lot has been said about that already, so I’m going to change the topic to my favorite writing pen. I’ll open it up for audience questions right at the beginning, so that everyone has a chance to ask theirs. I’ll answer as much as I can myself, so the other panelists can sit back and relax. And we’ll go as long as we need to, even if we run over our time slot, because pens are more important than whatever’s in the room after us. Fun!
(It’s the Zebra Zeb Roller 2000, which is no longer made.)
Cassie Alexander is a writer, a nurse, and an all around awesome person. However, she is a bit foolhardy sometimes, like now. She just started a tumblr site called Publishing Aunt, so that people can ask her writing related questions, and get their queries critiqued. It’s brand new, so content is a bit light. Which means it’s an excellent time to rush over and bury her in questions!
So it turns out that editing is a craft, too. I don’t mean editing your own work or critiquing others–though that certainly applies, too. No, I mean editing several stories for an anthology.
This is the third year I’ve run programming for the Library at Origins Game Fair and edited the accompanying anthology. While I have certainly edited the previous editions–made suggestions, asked for changes, etc.–this year I’ve done that much more. Cut 2000 words! Your story starts here, not there! I like the story but not the structure–is there a way we can fix that?
Why is this?
Mostly, I’m feeling more comfortable in my editorial skin. I know what I want and I’m not afraid to ask for it. I respect all my authors enough to know that they are capable of making any change I request. I’ve grown as an author, too, so I see more issues with story than I did before. It’s been an enlightening and fun process.