Fiction, Flash Fiction

FLASH FICTION: Worst of All

At the stroke of midnight, the book opened with an unapologetic pang. Pages furiously fluttering,  it stretched its spine and spread itself across the dusty sideboard.

Then it moaned, quietly at first then louder, in a mounting crescendo until it settled on a double-page spread displaying the most treacherous spell in the book.

Muttering quietly to itself, it waited impatiently to be noticed but the house remained quiet. Another urgent fluttering of pages ensued. It sounded like a swarm of bats. Still no response. Waldo, the wizard who wanders, had wandered out of the place five days ago, and was yet to return, but his apprentice was there.

Fast asleep, the boy of no more than fourteen years old dreamed self-indulgently in the next room. The book sensed him, knew him by his shallow breathing. No wizard had ever breathed like that; fast and careless. A waster of air, yet, with a keen eye for opportunity.

Losing all patience, the book closed and opened again. This time louder and faster than before. The sideboard rocked slightly with each pang; knocking a neighboring shelf in the process. Empty glass jars and bottles rang like bells. Too quiet still to wake the apprentice. Too quiet indeed.

The book flew into an urgent frenzy; opening, closing, opening, closing. Ringing the jars and bottles continuously; moaning and fluttering, and groaning, and muttering. Until the first jar broke, then a bottle, then another couple of jars.

Then the apprentice was awake. The book noticed the quickening heartbeat; relished it. It spread open on the treacherous spell again. Laying in wait like a spider in its web, the book lay innocently flat as the apprentice approached.

Confused the boy surveyed the damage. His glance went around the room but he could not find the culprit. The book made no sound. This one is slower than the others. A quiet snigger let the apprentice’s blood run cold.

“Who’s there?” he cried in a high-pitched voice. Acutely aware of his lack of magical defenses, the boy grabbed a half-burned log out of the cold fireplace.  The snigger recurred. Louder this time. “Who’s there?” shouted the boy while raising the log above his head.

“Don’t be afraid. It’s only me,” the book finally revealed itself. The apprentice stared in confusion. “Come closer,” the book squeaked. “Try a spell.”

The log dropped heavily onto the dirty floor. “The master said not to touch anything.”

“The master also said to dust…oh, what’s the harm in a little spell? I won’t tell.”

The apprentice swallowed hard. “M-maybe a dust spell?” the boy probed.

“Yes! A dust spell! Oh, you are so very clever,” cried the book.

A shy smile spread across the boy’s face. The first one since becoming Waldo’s apprentice. The book fluttered its pages again – so fast the boy couldn’t make out a single symbol on any of them.

Eventually, it landed on the same double-page spell where it had started. “That’s the one! The very best dust spell I have to offer!”

“And you won’t tell the master?”

“I won’t say a word!”

“Alright.”

The apprentice hovered his hands over the double-page spread; palms down. Imitating his master, he slowly read the curly symbols as he had been taught to do in the year he had served the wandering wizard.

Nothing happened. There was no flashing light, no sizzling sound, no whirling wind.

“I don’t think it worked,” sulked the boy. His eyes filled with salty tears as he ran his finger through the thick dust that still covered the sideboard around the book.

“Oh, I think it worked alright,” sniggered the book as it watched the apprentice dry up and shrivel, like so many before him, until only a pile of dust remained next to the sideboard.

Apprentices really are the worst of all, mused the book as it flapped closed.

When Waldo returned three weeks later to find his apprentice gone, the book did not say a word.

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 (@josiecolewrites)’, 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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Author Business, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Should you end your story with a cliffhanger?

So, you want to end your story with a cliffhanger…why is that? In this current world of social media, information overload, and big data it might seem tempting to put a flashy, attention-grabbing end to your story that leaves your reader salivating for the next book in your series and immediately follow up with: “click here to buy book 2!”

No doubt some of your readers will fall into your trap and click to buy (ka-tsching!) but how many of those readers will later feel betrayed, especially if book 2 isn’t living up to their expectations which were raised when you put that cliffhanger at the end of book 1?!

Cliffhanger Rule no. 1: Manage your readers’ expectations
Never raise expectations that cannot later be met (or exceeded). Readers who feel betrayed write fuming, 1-star reviews that say: “would give 0 stars if I could!” – or worse, result in requests for refunds. No need to learn the hard way! This one is common sense.

Cliffhanger Rule no. 2: Don’t use cliffhangers unless your story continues
The purpose of a cliffhanger ending is to keep your reader engaged. So, if you are not writing a series, or if your work is a short story, you can opt for an open ending but there needs to be a sense of resolution. Otherwise your reader will be very annoyed as you will have robbed them of their payoff and wasted their precious time. It’s like some network cancelling your favourite TV show mid-season!

Cliffhanger Rule no. 3: Avoid cliché
A good cliffhanger intrigues your reader. People go on reading your work because they want to know what happens next. Clichés are overused, familiar conventions that your reader has seen a million times. If they can guess what your cliffhanger is leading up to, your efforts are wasted. Try to work out what ending your reader is not going to see coming and see if there is a plausible way to use the unexpected scenario.

See ya next time 😉

If you have ended any of your stories with successful cliffhangers in the past, drop your link in the comment section below (I am nosy and Iike to read…a lot)! Also, in case you are a fan of Invasion, Girlboss, or The OA and will spend the rest of your life wondering how those series should have truly ended – please let’s commiserate!

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Can you write without inspiration?

Have you been bossed around enough by the fickle mistress that is inspiration? How many good writing hours have you wasted and how many self-help books have you spent your money on in the pursuit of one goal: to write (and write well) whenever you want?

I am sure that some of you out there have long reached the following conclusion: writing on schedule is impossible because writing without that spark of inspiration is impossible.

This post is designed to show you that however plausible your reasoning might be (I am sure you went through plenty of pain and experience before throwing in the towel), you’re totally wrong about this! You CAN write any time you want and you CAN write reasonably well and progress your writing project any time you sit down to write.

Now, before you launch a complaint in the comments below this post, let me elaborate on my reasoning and the circumstances, pain, and personal moments of writing experience that have led me to form this seemingly far out opinion.

In case you are not a regular reader of this blog, the first thing you need to know about me is that I have been writing fiction for just over twenty years. And in all that time I failed to do one thing: finish a full-length novel. However, I gained something more valuable than a finished piece of work in all this time (which I therefore don’t consider a waste).

I gained a detailed understanding of what it takes to finish. AND against my own expectations *drumroll* the key to finishing your project is NOT inspiration. It is NOT genius. It is grit. That ability to come back into the arena even after you have been knocked off your feet countless times and have lost plenty of fights.

The secret to finishing your novel, novella, short story, column, self-help guide (or whatever else your are dreaming of finishing one day) is the ability to sit down at your keyboard and type even when you REALLY don’t feel like doing it. But that’s not all there is to it.

There is a second part. In addition to the willingness to sit down and type, you also need to have a way of overcoming your self-doubt. Shut up the inner critic, don’t give in to ANY self-talk (not even pep talks), and make sure you have a coffee/ tea/ water to sip every time you’re in danger of giving in to your doubts.

Ultimately the secret to writing on schedule is this: all you need is one sentence you don’t hate. That’s it! Once you have that first sentence down you are more than likely to get sucked into writing a whole paragraph – sometimes even a whole scene!

Here’s how I get to that one sentence through my tried and tested writing routine (nearly 1-2 hours of writing nearly every day):

STEP 1:
Decide what I want to get done that day – minimum expectation only, so I can give kudos to myself if I exceed my target. Stacks the odds in my favour.

STEP 2:
Make a cup of herbal tea/ coffee – this is a habit I have established. It signals comfort and tells my brain: “there is nothing to be scared of, buddy.”

STEP 3:
Go to my writing space – I have a set place where I like to write and where I am used to being productive. Bottom firmly planted on my writing stool (good for my back)…tick!

STEP 4:
Open my favourite writing programme (truenovelist.com) – being familiar with the controls of my writing programme helps not distract me from the task at hand: writing!

STEP 5:
Write a rough outline to define the scope for the session – a small blurb or bullet points that detail what I am about to write will do. For me, that’s mostly scene synopses to make sure I know what should happen in the scene I am about to write (I tend to write in spurts of 1000 word scenes, or complete flash fiction one-shots).

STEP 6:
This is where I write that sentence I DON’T hate. It’s magical. Happens now almost automatically, although on some less inspired days I might still have to have 3-5 gos before it actually sticks.

There we are, a 6-step blueprint on how to initiate good quality writing any time you want (with zero reliance on that fickle mistress showing up – just don’t forget to thank her whenever she does decide to flounce into you writing space…it helps!)

See ya next time 😉

If you have found my 6-step blueprint for writing reliably of any help, please let me know in the comments section below this post. Knowing what you like to read, helps me plan more helpful content for the future. Have a good writing week!

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