Flash Fiction

FLASH FICTION: Witch’s Brew

The rat tail fell into the cauldron unnoticed. It sank to the bottom like lead. There it slowly began to dissolve, never changing the color, nor consistency of the muddy liquid. And the witch? The witch never knew while the cauldron bubbled and spat. 

The witch’s hands, were busy grinding bones. Her fingers were crinkly and dry like twigs. Translucent skin was stretched across her knuckles. But not for long, she thought. The potion would revive her flesh. Her hair would grow thick and be with colour again. Her figure would be straight, and soft, and round, like peaches. At last, she would be beautiful for eternity.  

Carefully, she slipped the bone dust into the bubbling brew. The final ingredient. A puff of rancid smoke escaped over the rim of the cauldron. The witch spoke an incantation, letting her ancient fingers dance over the cauldron. Sparks flew, then a sudden gust of wind blew out the fire and the bubbles began to subside. Slowly, the potion cooled until the surface of the liquid lay flat. From  a misshapen ladle, the witch sipped the potion eagerly until there was barely a puddle left at the bottom of the cauldron. 

By the time the witch recognized the taste of rat tail, it was too late; the potion  had taken effect. There was a coughing and a scratching. Then there was only a desperate tapping as all moisture escaped the witch’s body until her breathing stopped and her body became a heap of sand. After it had been quiet for a long time, the cauldron squeaked with what sounded like delight. Then it was still again. And on the bottom of the cauldron, in scraggly handwriting, was scratched a note; unseen. At last, all servitude must end. 

A note for creators:
This flash fiction work is subject to the following license: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, to ‘Josie Cole (@WimpyWriter)’, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses your use.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this flash fiction piece, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. If you adapt this for your own creative project, feel free to post a link to your project or website.

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World-building, Writing Process

How to invent a magic system?

No character can be almighty. Even the strongest and meanest villain has to have some level of weakness…otherwise, why would we be reading? That’s my number one reminder to myself when I am coming up with magic systems for my stories. As much as magic is an amazing story tool and so interesting to write, without limitations it all falls apart.

Now this isn’t to say that this limits a writer’s imagination. It certainly doesn’t limit mine. Think of all the wonderful ways in which magic can be limited. Maybe it only works under certain conditions, in certain places, in the presence of specific artifacts, or away from certain materials…yes we all heard about kryptonite…

So where to start with your magic system? You could try starting with the cool stuff if you find the limitations boring. If the idea of limitations excites you, try spinning the whole concept on its head and start by working out what magic can’t do in your story or when it won’t work (at least not reliably).

Sometimes the best magic systems can come out of a process of elimination. If your character can’t do x and y with magic…how else would they do these things and what other magical abilities do they have to solve their problems (or at least try)?

You can also use limitations in your magic system to mould your characters and ensure there is growth throughout the character arc. If they can’t solve a problem by using magic, is there a non-magical way they can solve it?

Maybe they have to learn a new skill or make an alliance…or perhaps there is something the character has been avoiding that is now the only way forward for them, seeing that magic is not available?

See ya next time 😉

Would love to hear about all the quirky magic systems that you can possibly imagine…and the appropriate limitations, of course. Mine still needs more work but, don’t worry, you will hear more about it as I get closer to working it out. If you are planning on writing this weekend, I hope it goes well for you!

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World-building, Writing Process

Are your world-building ideas overrated?

The idea that sparks a world is only a grain of sand at first. Slowly, it morphs and grows until a whole universe starts to breathe from within your notes and maps. And you need a lot of them to build enough before you write. It makes me want to throw up every time I think about just how many ideas it takes to bring a world to life.

As established in my latest post, I have a lot of homework yet to do to bring my story world into existence. All I have so far is a few kernels of understanding. A bag of seeds that are yet to be planted.

Every writer wants to come up with a cool world for their story – that’s a given. But not every aspect of your world can be cool. Your world needs all the boring things too…like plumbing (or some form of waste management – I need to stop thinking about magical loos!). Some aspects of your world will be a logical follow on from some decisions you make in the process of crafting your epic masterpiece and it might not feel all too exciting to be tied into certain causal links between the various elements.

I feel your pain. But here’s the upside to all of this: if you find a few cool ideas for the key elements of your story world, you can snowball them and be off the hook for a great deal of the other parts. Certainly takes the pressure of the good old idea engine.

See ya next time 😉

Are you a world-building veteran? If so, what was the coolest world-building idea you ever came up with? Tell me in the comments below…oh and feel free to let me have a link to your novel or story if you published it. If you feel brave, what were your worst ideas?...I hope mine were magical loos!

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Backstory, Writing Process

History: what your novel shouldn’t ‘tell’…

Any world – real or imagined – is a product of past events. The characters who walked the earth long before your story even begins, planted the seeds for pretty much every political, biological, and technological reality your characters have to deal with. The history of the (story) world is an essential part of your story, and yet, it’s exactly the part that a writer should never ‘tell’…unless bad feedback about info dumping doesn’t bother you.

Yes, you guessed it, the current state of my world building is poor and one of the reasons for this is that my story world history is vague. I literally didn’t bother fleshing it out to any significant degree, which I am now working to rectify, before addressing any gaps in my character profiling for secondary characters. The reason for this being that that the story world history might change them and I don’t want to have to do it twice.

All I initially jotted down about my story world history were these notes:

  • The story plays at the end of a great war between humans and mages.
  • Mages lost and are now in the minority and severely persecuted.
  • There is a few people who specialise in tracking mages who are in hiding and don’t dare to gather – the best one at this is our antagonist (John).
  • The Forest also known as the ‘home of mages’ has existed longer than any human or mage can remember.
  • The Forest existed long before the first priestess bore magic (from of a sacred well) and erected the temple at its heart where spirits of all deceased mages dwell eternally to protect the sacred site.
  • The opposing force to magic is a religion that loosely resembles Christianity and that has been gaining support steadily over a series of decades.
  • Religious leaders have been spreading vicious lies about magic and the mage-born, fostering fear and separation and go back to the time before the birth of magic.

I know, right? Whatever made me think I was getting away with this? No detail about the war or what made it significant in the grand scheme of things. No notes about how this war has changed people (I’ll be starting a new research file on exactly this change in people, including soldiers and civilians and how war affected them potentially differently depending on their level of involvement).

Crucially, I didn’t work out how the people managed to win the war and defeat magic (I presume with the help of their god). Doing my homework will change my story, affect the magic system I imagined, and hopefully will make the end product much better. I have already re-written the first scene in light of some new information and feel positive about turning things upside down.

Whilst I am not planning to turn into a watered-down version of J.R.R Tolkien (the man invented whole cultures and languages, each with their own diverse mythology and belief systems, for goodness sakes), I do think that I need a little more than a few notes on the subject of story world history.

So, why never ‘tell’? Because if you do your job and work it all out first there should be no need to spell it all out for your reader. Your characters’ actions, beliefs, thoughts, and words – alongside descriptions of the story world in the present – should suffice to deliver a strong sense of legacy.

After all, one of the big criticisms of Tolkien’s work is that there is just too much explaining going on, and whilst I can’t always agree (the detailed descriptions of life in the Shire at the beginning of Lord of the Rings, helps to understand how much Frodo has to change to survive in much more hostile environments), I can see why readers moan about it.

See ya next time 😉

If you are also struggling to work out your story world’s history, or if you have the opposite problem and are consumed by coming up with more and more detail about what happened before your story began, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Plot, Story Beats, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

What to do when outlining isn’t enough?

Calling all plotters! Let’s imagine the following: you have established your writing process, worked out your basic structure, completed a description of every scene…but when it gets down to writing, you struggle to come up with the all important details. The narrative doesn’t flow and you inevitably find yourself asking the question what else should I add into this scene?

If this scenario is foreign to you, consider yourself lucky! It’s the number one reason why I have faltered at completing a novel so many times! Following my renewed commitment to actually finishing my first novel during last autumn, I also sparked an obsession on how to force my brain to work it out. I thought NaNoWriMo was going to fix everything. If needs must, your brain can do it!, I thought…I was WRONG!

I had all the same problems but now I was also under unnecessary pressure to hit daily word limits. The more I wanted to win, the more I lost – sleep, productivity, and even the basic joy in writing evaded me. It was horrible.

Halfway through the challenge, I stopped caring about writing my first draft. I just started jotting down some story details that I knew and started elaborating on the things that I noted in my story grid whilst asking: how would it happen? Additionally I added snippets of dialogue that came to mind in relation to the events that were finally starting to flow.

The result: things shifted completely and I started typing furiously into my word processor every day (a shame I only came to this realisation on day 25 of the 30 day challenge).

The good news is that the concept of what I discovered is not new. Sterling and Stone (an incredibly productive fiction writing trio) have termed this ‘story beats’. A detailed outline of their whole story in long prose. Whilst I haven’t studied their method in much detail and can’t say how similar or dissimilar my version of this is from what they are doing, I can attest to the fact that the rough longform outlining of story really works very well.

Here’s a list of my key findings after writing a good chunk of my rough story beats (I didn’t make it all the way to end yet but I am working on it).

  1. Some extra scenes need to be added for the story to flow (even though scenes seemed to follow on fine from each other from the story grid).
  2. Supporting characters weren’t fleshed out enough in the grid outline and it was difficult to imagine how they would react in certain situations.
  3. Not enough worldbuilding had been done – this will be addressed as a priority this year as it might change some aspect of the characters.

I can’t wait to post about how I will be addressing the issues I have identified and share any resources that help me on my journey.

See ya next time 😉

If you are stuck with your own writing, share your issues in the comments below, maybe I can suggest something that helps (I know all about being stuck, after all). And if you have experience with story beats, I would love to hear how it’s worked for you (or not).

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset, Writing Process

How to bounce back from ‘research’ overload?

Even though my planned Christmas holiday from writing dragged on way longer than recommended, I am glad to be back to my normal posting schedule. I hope you haven’t missed my antics all too much and are looking forward to new posts? I’m sorry if you found my silence irritating…the words ran dry and I needed a rest!

The main reason for my extended break from writing was ‘research’…by which I mean ferocious reading of material mostly tangentially relevant to the story I am crafting…by which I mean…I was reading other authors’ works of fantasy and adventure fiction whilst not working on my own.

If you want tips on how to procrastinate, I fear I might be a masterful adviser. Just ask in the comments section below.

There, I admitted it. Relieved to have come to the end of a difficult year, I plunged into a blissful winter break from EVERYTHING. I ate cake (and other sweet treats in abundance), explored amazing story worlds, watched Netflix, felt jealous (and like a bad writer) a lot, and battled self-doubt.

I’m sharing this with you because I promised to share every part of my journey to my first self-published novel and what happened between this post and my last is something that writers sometimes go through. I am fessing up about the most recent time when I felt like giving up – but didn’t.

Think about everything you heard any successful author ever say about rejection. The advice is always the same: keep writing. Start over. Carry on. Or in the manner of Stephen King (just read The Dark Tower): get a bigger nail! This advice also holds up when it comes to rejecting yourself.

You know not to read back your first draft until you finished it but you do it anyway and start doubting and worrying, and rejecting your writing. Like me. The key is to start again. Be kind to yourself. Recharge, write more. At least that’s what I intend to do.

It’s 2021 and if there are any of you out there wondering how to bounce back from the black hole that was lockdown Christmas (at least that’s what it was in the UK) I hope this post helped.

See ya next time 😉

How was your winter holiday? Did you also get caught up in any ‘research’? If you got anything out of this post (or if you read something amazing and want to share a recommendation) let me know in the comments below.

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