Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Process

How to start a flash fiction story?

Writing flash fiction is not an easy feat. But picking the right opening (especially the opening line) is amongst my favourite things when it comes to crafting brief but poignant stories.

I write a new flash fiction story every week and publish it on this blog every Friday. The main challenge is fitting a middle, beginning and end into 300-500 words…which is how short my flash fiction stories are. It started out with 300 words as the limit but the muse is a fickle mistress and, when I am inspired, even 500 words don’t feel like much room to play with!

Before I start writing, I always make sure that I have decided three essential things:

A. The point of view to tell my story from.
B. The main (and only) characters…I try to stick to two max!
C. The conflict between my two characters (otherwise it’s just waffle).

Once I have all of this straight, I write a brief outline – that’s the only way I can write on demand. Feel free to skip this step if you’re a pantser (I hear ‘discovery writer‘ is a more polite term for this in the writing community nowadays).

Armed with my outline and notes, I go straight to the opening line. Yes, that’s right. I don’t give my story a title until the very end. The reason for this is that even with my outline, there is no guarantee that I will actually stick to it. I use it to ‘cheapen’ the blank page and get me typing.

The most important part in choosing an opening line is to find a hook…your first sentence should be a statement that leaves the reader with one or more questions at the end of the first sentence. This is to signal that this story is worth reading. You are making a promise to your reader. For example:

She sat on her throne; unmoved for centuries.

‘Mythless’ by Josie Cole (@josiecolewrites)
License: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Would you read the rest of this story? I hope so. The questions that most readers will probably be asking themselves after this opening line are 1. Who is ‘she’? and 2. Why has she been unmoved for centuries? See how I did that? By using this opening line, I am promising the reader that I will reveal more information about this character if he/she/they keep reading.

Now, it’s your turn! Stop reading this post and go write a flash fiction with a killer opening line.

See ya next time 😉

If this post inspires a story, let me know in the comments below. And please remember to post a link to your work, too. I would love to read it.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How do you choose the best point of view for your own narratives?

One of many questions I have about writing fiction! And while I am sure that there is no perfect answer, I also believe that there might be some different answers, depending on who you are and what you write and who your audience is.

I recently touched on this when I wrote about breaking some writing rules

The main reason why this interests me has to do with productivity. I don’t know about you, but I have very limited time to write in my busy life. So, optimising my time and getting my fiction drafts as far as possible every time I sit down to write is absolutely essential. Otherwise, how can I make my dreams come true?!

One major stumbling block on the journey to becoming a successful novelist is having to rewrite your entire draft just because you picked the wrong point of view to tell your story from in the beginning. Once you write yourself into a corner it can be pretty tough to get out of it – especially if you’re writing in first person.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi but many novels in these genres suffer from dissatisfying ‘miraculous’ solutions to problems that the protagonist can’t solve because their is no way he/she/they could have had access to the information, place, or powers needed to get out of their latest pickle.

I try not to work miracles in my stories. NOT EVER! And it’s very hard. But I also found that the better I plan (I’m a plotter, remember?) the easier it is to actually finish my stories. And isn’t that the ultimate goal for us novelists – to one day finish our novels so we can hit ‘publish’ …eventually…and without our readers feeling cheated?

The choice of which point of view you use to tell your stories is NOT arbitrary. Choose wisely. Think about what kind of story you are writing, how likely your protagonist will be able to convey all the information your audience needs so you can solve your problems in a clever, yet plausible way that doesn’t require miracles.

And don’t forget: if your are using magic to solve any problems in your story, you better not break any of your self-imposed limits and rules. Just inventing a new rule that the audience didn’t know about up to that point is cheating. Your readers won’t appreciate it.

How do I know this? Because I am a reader and I hate feeling cheated. And every time an author cheats me, I make a note of their name and never buy their books again.

See ya next time 😉

If you have experienced the pain of having to switch point of view in the middle (or close to the end) of your narrative, share your experience in the comments below. I would also love to know if you know of any clever tools (or at least aides) to help choose the right point of view from the beginning. I always love to learn new techniques.

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Fiction, Flash Fiction, Story

FLASH FICTION: Mythless

She sat on her throne; unmoved for centuries. A queen without a court. A goddess without believers. The faint echoes of worship past floated before her whilst drip after drip of rainwater fell from the ruined ceiling into a puddle at her feet. These were the forgotten lands. And she was forgotten with them.

Her eyes were made of polished glass; masterpieces. Results of a craft long dead. Almost alert, the irises shone with golden color, imitating life as they reflected the weak light of day. Thick coils of thorny growth were interwoven with the regal statue. One long arm of neglect to hold her prisoner, it seemed.

What a shame, the wanderer thought. He was young yet. Lost, cold and wet he had entered the deserted castle. Lost, cold and wet, he remained. No stories had warned him of this place. Nobody had lived to tell the tale. And so he didn’t know what cruel mistress had bid him to this one-sided audience. He never saw the golden irises follow his every move as he scouted around the throne room for a dry corner to sleep.

In the end, there was only a rasp and a venomous sting of thorns.

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, Fiction, Writing Process

Eight rules for writing fiction that you should definitely break!

Yes, yes…you’re right. There are definitely more than eight rules when it comes to writing fiction; especially in the realm of the fantasy genres (and sub-genres). But I found this article in The New Yorker (from 2013) and it strikes me that the eight rules they picked for their article are eight that I definitely break often…without breaking my stories!

In the wild west of indie publishing it might be tempting for new authors to launch into their projects thinking one of two things:

A. That you have to follow ALL the rules known to fiction authors.
OR
B. That you have to follow NONE of the rules known to fiction authors.

Neither approach has my recommendation. If you follow each and every rule you have ever heard about fiction writing, you are most likely going to end up with a stale piece of prose that will be so rigid and structured (and flat) that nobody will want to read it…unless they are a special kind of individual who likes to torment themselves!

On the other hand, if you follow none of the rules you have ever heard about fiction writing, you are most likely going to end up with a wild, unstructured beast of a story that will fail to provide any useful reference points to your readers. Your fiction will evade all tropes and genre conventions and be of use to nobody. Some rules are good! But I don’t think those are the eight rules hailed by The New Yorker…

Here are my recommendations about the eight rules mentioned in their article…which is published in the humour and cartoons section of their website (although this is not necessarily clear if you come in via google results as it’s categorised as ‘daily shouts’ rather than ‘satire’):

Show, don’t tell.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Yes we heard it many times. Show don’t tell is where it’s at. Don’t write your story like a manual for household appliances (seriously, please don’t do that)! But you can’t show everything without messing up your pacing, narrative voice, style, and general appeal. So here’s my version of this rule for the modern fiction writer of 2021: show when you can and tell when you can’t. Choose wisely.

Create three-dimensional characters.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

This one tickled me the most! The article literally advises fiction writers to avoid cliché character descriptions by telling your reader how long, wide, and girthy some hard-charging banker character is…as he drives around in his flashy sports car… oh my! You want to avoid cliché character descriptions? Write down the clichés you know of and then find innovative ways of describing the character traits to move you away from the overused descriptions.

I am not saying YOUR version of the hard-charging banker has to be a slim, unicorn riding, sugarplum fairy with delicate wings…but how about not describing the character as ‘hard-charging’ to start with? And what if your banker character was secretly uncomfortable with driving a sports car but too afraid to show it? Wouldn’t that be a lot more interesting than learning about his measurements in 3 dimensions?

Choose a point of view.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Sounds like good advice – doesn’t it? After all you don’t want to end up head hopping and confusing your readers…? Sure, but there is a problem with this rule which is why I often break it. The point of view from which your story needs to be told is not arbitrary. Depending on what information you need to convey to your readers/ characters to conclude your story, every writer who has ever written themselves into a corner without escape (I have done this many times), will have experienced what happens when you choose the wrong point of view.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi fiction but this only really works well if your protagonist has the freedom or opportunity to access every place, character, and knowledge that is essential for moving your plot past all of the crucial landmarks in your story.

Otherwise you might end up having to invent ‘magical’ phenomena, additional characters, work miracles (not very satisfying for your readers), or constantly rework your plot to get out of those pesky corners. You’re not really choosing a point of view…you are matchmaking your point of view with the story you want to tell. Work out what your story needs and learn to use the relevant point of view to your advantage…instead of to your detriment.

Give your characters motivations.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Now this is among the most problematic pieces of advice in the fiction world. You are led to believe that if you can work out what your characters(s) want(s) you can come up with a great, engaging plot for your story that will have the readers turn the pages to the very end. But have you read any of those stories that are primarily driven by characters’ wants? I have! And they bored me to tears.

One wants cupcakes. Another wants to be with somebody else’s spouse. The next wants power. It’s just what they want. But there is no reason why! I firmly believe that it’s not enough for a character to want something. Whatever it is the character strives for, he/ she/ they must need it.

Think about Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Do you think he just wants the ring? Does he just want to own it? Does he just want its power? If you need to remind yourself, go ahead, I think you’ll find that what Frodo feels in relation to the ring runs much deeper than want. Frodo needs it. The ring calls to him. He is drawn in and becomes increasingly obsessed (or possessed – you choose) by it. Giving it up is painful. Unthinkable.

Figure out what your characters need! And don’t forget that your antagonist must need something that conflicts with what your protagonist needs – otherwise they’re on the same side.

Write what you know. 

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Oh dear. Another overrated piece of fiction writing advice. Please don’t write what you know. It gets boring pretty quickly. I spent years trying to write a novel about what I know and it has resulted in some of the worst stories I have ever written! Everything you know is already so close to you that you will have difficulty writing about it in a fresh and interesting way. Instead, write what you love to read! In my case that’s YA Fantasy (mainly high fantasy).

Find what rocks your socks as a reader…and then write a story within that genre. Write a story you would love to read that is full of the type of characters, plots twists, and conventions that make you love your favourite genre. Chances are it will be well received by readers who like what you like. Be your own ideal reader. It works! Everything else can be researched.

No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader. 

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Problems getting emotional when you are writing? Me too. Does this mean that our readers can’t be moved by our writing? I hardly think so. Comments on my work suggest otherwise. I think this point was thrown into the original article to allow for some comic relief but I really don’t believe this to be valid at all – humorous intention or not.

No need to go slice onions…just have your writing read back to you to check the reader experience. A lot of the emotional response from readers comes from an element of surprise, coupled with effective foreshadowing. As a writer, make sure your works sounds right and that you have the correct setup for the emotion you wish to incite in your readers. The rest is just gimmicks!

Revize, revize, revize.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

I know this might seem like I am being contentious on purpose. But hear me out. Revising your work is a good thing! Every writer’s output needs an edit (or two, or three). What your work definitely doesn’t need, though, is a perfectionist maniac author who is so worked up over the possibility of releasing anything into the world that might feature the tiniest flaw that they never release anything at all.

All stories have flaws. A determined critic can poke holes into just about anything (just look at me picking apart The New Yorker article over here). Here’s the rule you need: write, edit, revise, proofread, then publish. Get your story into the hands of readers (at least beta ones), collect feedback and make your next story better. Write, write, write and ship!

Trust yourself.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Yes and no. If you are writing what you love to read and your story is shaping up to be the kind of book YOU would buy, chances are good that you are on the right track! But please don’t forget that the question is: does this work of fiction read like the books I love to read? Rather than: do I think the story ideas are similar to other books I have read in this genre? Trust yourself as a reader but beware of your writer-self.

You have to be honest with yourself. Is the quality of our writing comparable to the books you love to read? If the answer is no (or if you’re unsure) listen to your beta readers…by which I mean other people who love to read what you love to read. Be unemotional (I know this is hard) but don’t assume people will love your story just because it’s the right type of story. It also has to look, feel, and read like other stories in the genre and that takes a whole lot of skill. Keep learning.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this post and are curious what a story that breaks all these fiction writing rules might look like, have a look at my one-shot YA Fantasy story ‘Shadow Play’ (for free). As always, comments, feedback and further thoughts on this post are welcome. Please share in the comments.

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Fiction, Flash Fiction

FLASH FICTION: A Traveler’s Tale

The Traveler was tall and dusty. Golden particles swirled around him. Time moved slowly in his presence. His left leg dragged on the floor as he walked into the empty saloon; stiff as a broomstick. The bartender was struggling to interpret the Traveler’s facial expression. He had seen many faces but few that betrayed so little of what went on behind the surface. The eyes were young but the skin was dry and tough. Deep wrinkles ran across the Traveler’s forehead and from both sides of his nose down to his square, beardless jaw. They looked like they had been cut into his face with a blunt knife.

“Drink?”

The Traveler nodded. “Rum. Dark.”

The bartender’s hand shook as he poured two fingers worth of the best they had. He had a habit to shove the glass over to the customers across the sticky bar but something stopped him this time. Instead, he simply nodded to the Traveler who was in no hurry to reach out.

“You’ve come far?”

The Traveler’s stare was cold; hostile.

“You’re looking for a story, mate?”

The bartender was lost for words. He didn’t know whether he should agree or apologize. Neither seemed safe.

“Life’s not exciting enough in here, mate?”

The bartender retreated from the bar. With his back against the wall, he stared at the Traveler with wide, open eyes. He still couldn’t speak.

“Alright, then. Let’s tell a story, mate.”

The Traveler reached into one of the many pockets that were sewn into his tattered coat. The bartender was surprised to see that instead of a gun or knife he pulled out a titanium compass. It looked heavy and was large enough to fill the Traveler’s palm. Golden particles seemed to emanate from the compass.

“Once upon a time, a young man yearned for an adventure. He was warned of dangers…but…he didn’t listen.”

The needle of the compass began to spin, picking up maddening speed and humming like a swarm of bumblebees.

“He wanted power. The power that comes from seeing the world. He didn’t know it then but there is no power in travel…just slavery. Time is a cruel master. Can’t manipulate it. Only a one-way street. But you’ll know it soon enough, mate. You’ll see. You’ll feel it soon.”

An impossible wind was blowing around the two men. The bartender thought about crouching down on the floor but he couldn’t move. He was pinned to the wall behind him. The golden particles formed a small tornado around the compass. Then, they started to move towards the bartender.

“You’ll feel it soon.”

The particles surrounded the bartender. They swirled around his head. The bartender tried to scream but his throat was too dry. He could only stare in horror as the particles forced their way through his nostrils and windpipe. He could feel them buzzing within his aching lungs. The Traveler watched emotionlessly as the bartender combusted into a cloud of gold particles. Then, he finally reached for the rum.

“Have a good trip, mate.” he mumbled.

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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Book Shelf, Fiction, Worthless Waffle

Should you re-read fiction books? (Reread Tag)

For once, I have spent my weekend well and, as a result, I am all written out! So I decided to go easy on myself and try a tag instead of an original post. I came across this particular one on Zeezee with Books and thought I would chime in with my own recommendations. The Reread Tag was created by Brianna at Brianna’s Books and Randomness and I will be forever grateful to her for coming up with this.

The tag raises a very important question for me: should you re-read fiction books? Is it more than a simple, guilty pleasure? Or it is it perfectly pointless? I am using the tag to explore this question in light of the fiction books I would happily re-read (and in light of those I’d happily bin).

Here goes:

A childhood favourite that you could read 100 times and still love
My pick for the first category is by now a well-known, modern classic: The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman was the first full-length novel I ever read. I was 9 and it took me a year! And even after all the years that have passed since I read it, I continue to want to re-read it and find new and exciting details in this magical tale. This story made me want to be a writer. It will stay with me all my life.

Northern Lights
by Philip Pullman
(His Dark Materials, Book 1)

A book you DNF’d but would be willing to give a second chance to
I know this revelation might shock some of you given my obsession with magic and witchcraft which drives pretty much all my writing. But for some reason my first encounter with this series wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I was a student at University and bought a frayed copy of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness in an Oxfam charity shop. I took it back to my grubby accommodation, had it sit on my bedside table for 3 months, read the first few chapters, felt that a witch and a vampire attending a yoga class together wasn’t my thing and then donated it back to the same charity shop where I had originally bought it. Luckily the very excellent TV show got me back into the story and now I am totally hooked on the boxset.

A Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness
(All Souls, Book 1)

A newer favorite you would reread
I first heard about Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell from the Richard and Judy Book Club. I know this will mean nothing to my international friends, but here in the UK, Richard and Judy are kind of a big deal and their book recommendations sell millions of copies. Another big reason for why I bought this book was a discussion of this on the radio and the story sounded so incredibly interesting that I simply couldn’t help myself. But as is often the case with books that are hyped up in the media, I had a hard time matching my actual reading experience with my imagined reading experience. Also, the episodic nature of the individual chapters kind of threw me as this was not among the things that the media zoomed in on. However, as much as reading this book felt like a chore the first time around, I can now appreciate it differently. In retrospect, all the tenuous little links between chapters that were so well brought out in the movie, really stand out. Re-reading this book is a real joy and I have done this twice so far with re-read number three firmly scheduled for 2021.

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell

A book you hated and never want to read again
So there are those books that need more than one chance…and there are others where even one chance feels overly generous. The Ship by Antonia Honeywell definitely falls into the latter category, in my view. What a shame! I bought a copy of this book completely cold and with great excitement. The reviews on the cover were just what I hoped for in a book of dystopian fiction. The subject matter was right up my street, the characters were strong and interesting. So where did it all fall apart? For me, it was the plot. The setup made a great promise that was never kept. Once people made it onto the ship, they were all overcome by ennui (and so was I). People did what people do…on a ship at the end of the world. They fight, they have sex, they have poor judgement. When the final twist FINALLY came, I was ready to throw this book into the nearest bonfire. Ended up donating it to a charity book sale at work. Good riddance!

The Ship
by Antonia Honeywell

A classic you read in school but want to try again
Based on the movie, Dead Poets Society by Nancy H. Kleinbaum is easily the best book I ever had to read for school…and as somebody who loved reading (even for school)…that’s saying a lot! If you have never read it, you must! Even if it’s just for a glimpse of what creative people get out of their creative activities. To me, this book/ movie holds the key to understanding why people create. It perfectly demonstrates the way in which the act of creation opens a portal into another world through which an artist, writer, performer, etc. can escape their dreary existence at least for a small amount of time. This story shows how art makes life bearable and how unbearable life would be without it. A beautiful movie made into a beautiful book.

Dead Poets Society
by Nancy H. Kleinbaum
Screenplay: Tom Schulman

An author you would reread anything from
Gosh, you guys…what a question! Surprisingly, the answer to this was really easy for me. The author from whom I would happily re-read anything (and whose new books I would buy without hesitation and without even reading the blurb) is the wonderfully imaginative artist-author Audrey Niffenegger. Her books are dark, complex, rich in detail and imagination and they might not be for everybody. In the case of The Time Traveler’s Wife, the story can feel convoluted and confusing. But if you are willing to trust the author, and follow the trail of breadcrumbs that are so cleverly strewn throughout the book, you will find yourself in the middle of a wonderful, eccentric adventure that will make you laugh, shudder, question, and bawl your eyes out at times. The strongest writer of magical realism I have ever encountered.

A series you want to reread for the fun of it
Call me a soppy old traditionalist, but when it comes to epic fantasy, I am all in favour of studying and re-reading the works of the uncontested master of the genre. These books blew my away years before the movies were ever announced. Reading this series was like being soaked in mystical cultures, languages, believes, and adventures. I can’t think of another series I would re-read for the pure joy of reading. With so much detail, there is always more to learn and explore. The next time I have time to disappear into a series (this usually only happens around Christmas) this will be top of my list. Always a pleasure!

Lord of the Rings
(3-Book-Collection)
by J.R.R. Tolkien

A book you’ve read but want to listen to the audiobook
I am a massive fan of audio books – just not when it comes to fiction. I love learning new things when listening to non-fiction self-help books on Audible (the audio book subscription service of my choice) whilst ridding my house of cobwebs, dust, and grime (or whilst folding the laundry)…adulting sucks! Interestingly, I don’t find it easy to listen to fiction. This is mainly because I often don’t like the readers. Unless it’s read by the author (Neil Gaiman has an amazing voice), Stephen Fry, or at least has a narrator whose voice matches the mood of the story, I am generally not interested. So I can’t really tell you which of the books I already read would be among my audio book choices as it tends to be either or. So let me recommend my favourite fiction audio book from my audible collection. It’s Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman…read by Neil Gaiman…6 hrs and 50 minutes well-spent.

Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman
Narrated by Neil Gaiman

So, where does this leave us? Is there a point to re-reading fiction? I hope that we have all reached the same conclusion by now. Re-reading fiction books has its merits…as long as you pick the right books to re-read. The list is different for everybody but if you know why you loved a book or why it changed you/ your life, you can go back and re-read the same book countless times and still never cease to learn from it.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this tag, and decide to try this on your own blog or website, please remember to link back to this post. Reading other people’s answers to these questions is more than half the fun of the Reread Tag. Happy reading to any of you who might take me up on any of my recommendations and don’t be too shy to respond to any of them in the comments below.

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Flash Fiction

FLASH FICTION: Tea for Eternity

The future envisioned them. All six. Young girls; short and stocky. Unremarkable to say the least. Lost in the world, they were too ordinary to fit in. Too ordinary to stand out. They were invisible creatures, even to themselves. Hardly alive, hardly dead. Only the future knew their destiny. To the present, these girls were bone dry. The past hadn’t seen much of them, yet, but she would in good time.

“More tea?”

The present rolled her eyes, setting her empty china cup down on its saucer.

“Your skill to anticipate is exhausting. I don’t know why you even bother to ask. Don’t you know the answer?”

“I do.” replied the future, whilst filling the cup half full. “I even know exactly how many sips you will be taking from this half empty cup before you change your mind.”

The present let out a heavy sigh. Her gaze wandered over to her older sister now. No point arguing with the younger.

“I don’t know how you can bear it! Tea for eternity at this very table.”

“Oh I am not paying attention to that. All I need to know is right here in my memories.” She briefly tapped her left temple before taking up her needlework again.

“Ugh! Neither of you are even here! Your minds are elsewhere. It’s only me stuck drinking this mud!”

“Earl Grey.” the future chimed. “Would you like another blend for the next pot?”

“You haven’t complained about the tea before.” the past added unhelpfully, exacerbating the present’s dark mood.

“Enough! The both of you! I am sick of your tea. And what is your obsession with these boring girls?”

The future smiled. “You leave the future to me. All in good time.”

“One day you’ll see.” the past agreed.

In a wild rage, the present grabbed her cup with the intention to smash it against the wall but the future was already ahead of her.

“Release my arm!”

“In a few minutes when you are calm again.”

And so the hours passed. Each one worth a year in the human world. The present raged twice every hour but the future always anticipated and the past always remembered. Together the past and the future watched the girls grow up and, one day, they were all gone from view.

“What happened to the girls?” the present remarked one day in a calm moment.

“I don’t remember.” admitted the future. Her eyes were gazing at a young soldier. His future was sad.

“They died.” determined the past.

“And what happened before they died? Did they lead remarkable lives? Did they change?”

The past looked up from her needlework. Over the rim of her glasses, she shot a dark glance at her younger sister.

“You could have seen for yourself if you were patient enough.”

The future nodded. “More tea?”

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 appropriatecredit, 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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Fiction, Flash Fiction

Does flash fiction improve your novel writing?

This might seem like a silly question. But hang on, don’t click away just yet. Even though it might be difficult to see a direct relationship between short-form and long-form fiction, the key skills required to be successful in both worlds may be more similar than you thought.

No matter how long or short a story is, at the end of the day, it needs to be well thought out and have an appropriate amount if content. Of course a piece of flash fiction (or micro fiction) will require much less content than a novel. What matters is your ability to come up with the correct amount of content (by which I mean story events or plot) on a reliable basis. That’s the first important skill you need to have to succeed as fiction writer irrespective of word count.

The second skill you need is the ability to create a story arc to guide your reader through the narrative. No matter how long or short your story is, it will need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end…and depending on the type of story you write, it might require a twist (I definitely like a good twist). Flash fiction is an excellent practice ground for learning how to create clear and interesting story arcs. This skill is easily transferable to long-form fiction.

The third key skill you can hone as a flash fiction writer and later use to further your novel writing career is learning how to create a narrative voice. Given the extreme brevity of flash fiction, there is often little scope to introduce, nor describe, your character(s). Learning how to write in a character’s voice helps work around those limitations. Your reader can gain a lot from how a character expresses him/her/them -selves and as much as this helps save words in the realm of flash fiction, once you cross over into the realm of long-form fiction, you are likely to find this useful in avoiding overly descriptive (i.e. boring) narrative sections and info dumps that nobody wants to read.

So, there you have it. Three good reasons to start writing flash fiction immediately. I, for one, have committed to writing one piece of flash fiction per week to hone my own skills whilst I am continuing to work on my debut novel which I am hoping to self-publish at the end of 2021. I will publish my flash fiction on this blog once a week so if you’re interested in following my progress as I attempt to upskill and try some new things, keep an eye out for Friday posts.

See ya next time 😉

If you found this post helpful, are poised to try out some flash fiction, have no idea what I’m talking about, or absolutely can’t see the point of flash fiction, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Story, Structure, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Can you ‘doodle’ your story in 4 simple steps?

We have already discussed the pros and cons of having an outline (or map) to help with closing plot holes, ensuring you have the right number of characters for your story, and that there are enough scenes to tell a satisfying story.

What we haven’t talked about is how to start the outline. I know how intimidating a blank page can be when your story is nothing but a vague series of snippets in your head.

To help overcome this initial anxiety, some people like morning pages. Others keep a notebook and write down bit over time until there is enough material to pull it all together. Unfortunately, neither of these methods has ever been of much help to me.

If you have had similar experiences, you might want to try the doodle method. And it goes like this:

1. Start with a blank sheet of paper (I did mine with the doodle feature in Evernote but you don’t have to be fancy). Take any pen and write ‘story doodle’ at the top of the paper.

2. That’s a good way to cheapen it up a little and reduce anxiety of ruining the page. Expect it to look terrible. Don’t pressure yourself to make this pretty! That’s very important.

3. The put the working title (if you have one) of your novel onto the centre of your paper and draw a bubble around it. Then identify the main themes of your story and write them spaced out around the centre bubble. Draw bubbles around each of these too and connect them to the centre bubble. I like to include a bubble for ‘characters’ but this can be done separately if you prefer.

4. Now start filling in information around each bubble and connect your notes with relevant bubbles (connect notes to several bubbles if applicable.

When you finish you should have something like this:

Story Doodle for the fantasy novel ‘Fearful Magic’ by Josie Cole (@WimpyWriter)

Tadaa! Your first draft outline is complete. This one took about 20 minutes, so perfect if you don’t have much time for your writing. I use my story doodle as a point of reference to help with populating my story grid and character profiles…and when I’m stuck.

See you next time 😉

If you try a story doodle or have a similar (or maybe even better) method to get a story outline started, please share your experience in the comments section below this post. I would love to hear from you.

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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

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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Author Business, Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

The trouble with consistent writing…

Those of you who read this blog regularly (you have my eternal gratitude) will have noticed that I have some difficulty keeping up with my posting schedule. My novel writing has suffered just as much. What you might not know is that I am desperately looking for ways to improve this.

If you are a fellow writer who is always looking for ways to discipline yourself to put one word next to another and build an unshakable writing habit in the process, I expect that you will have come across various methods that supposedly help writers write consistently.

Here are a few of my personal faves:

  1. The 8 minute writing habit
  2. The pomodoro method
  3. Morning pages/ free-writing
  4. NaNoWriMo

These are all great and in some cases really work, but if you are a terrible procrastinator (like me) you might struggle to implement any of these techniques…or at least fail to so consistently…which kind of defeats the point.

If you are as frustrated about this as I am, the following nugget of wisdom might help soothe the pain: the writing part is not the problem. It’s the sitting down part you might have the problem with.

If you have kids (or a busy job…or both), you will know all too well how hard it is to find quiet time…and how it feels to try and write in the ungodly hours of the morning (or at night) whilst feeling exhausted…with a brain that is utterly devoid of any decent ideas.

Then comes the weekend or the quiet weekday morning when your kids are in school and you just can’t seem to get the starting energy required to light your creative fire. You kind of can’t be bothered to actually write, even though conditions are close to ideal.

If this scenario looks familiar you, you don’t need a method to help you write consistently. You need a method to wake up your brain (ideally the pre-frontal cortex) and learn to take advantage of any moment of motivation energy, no matter how brief…spoiler alert…these only last a few seconds.

In case you’re intrigued, the 5 Second Rule is my recommended method for any writer looking to tame their busy brain. I am no master at this yet but find that just by catching a good moment here and there I am becoming more consistent…and more motivated already.

See ya next time 😉

If you have previously heard about the 5 Second Rule, are hearing about it for the first time, or think this is all of no use whatsoever, don’t be shy and let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Backstory, Writing Process

What do you need to know about your antagonist?

We are all pretty clear on the concept that knowing your characters is key. And we are all usually very excited to get to know our protagonists. But what about the villain of the story? Is the antagonist worth knowing?

I would argue, yes! The antagonist often isn’t the most pleasant of characters but there is most likely a reason why they are the way they are and act the way they do. As a writer, it’s crucial that you know this…even if you never share the backstory of your villain with your reader…after all you don’t want to chance the info-dump alarm going off.

So, how best to get to know your antagonist? What do you need to know about him/her/they? I find free-writing can really help with this. Meet the antagonist of my current project (Fearful Magic)…don’t worry, just backstory, no spoilers!

Name: John

Age: early 30s

Occupation: witch hunter

Serves: the Bishop Benedict III

Bio: John’ s mother leaves the family when he is only 4 years old. Nobody wants to speak about her or tell him where she went. John grows up rebellious and angry. He develops a short temper. At the dawn of a Holy War (known as the Great War) against magic, John runs away from home at the age of 16 to escape being married off to an affluent but unattractive Duke’s daughter. To survive, he works as a sell sword / bounty hunter and is soon enlisted as a soldier to serve the Holy Church in it’s fight against the mage-folk. John is luckier than others as he seems to have a natural ability to anticipate magic strikes, traps, and defences and often escapes battles with little more than a few scratches whilst fellow soldiers are burnt, maimed, and killed around him. The trauma of war haunts his dreams even after the last battle is fought. Most men he gets to know die. John enters the service of the Bishop at the end of the Great War. His mission is to find and bring to justice every remaining mage-born in the land.

See ya next time 😉

If you have found this article helpful, have your antagonist’s backstory all figured out, or don’t know where to start, share your views in the comments below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How do you get around info-dumping?

One of the more mysterious questions to come across as a writer: why is info-dumping so hard to avoid? Despite my best efforts, I still way too often come across it in my drafts during editing…even though I set out to write with the firm intention not to info-dump…every time!

Oh and by the way, it doesn’t seem to matter how well (or badly) my story is researched. The urge to overpopulate my writing with meaningless detail that no reader will appreciate simply seems ingrained in me.

Whilst I can easily spot info-dumping as a reader (or with my editor hat on), it seems that my unruly writer-self is simply oblivious to it whilst writing is in progress. So annoying!

So, on this occasion I don’t have any advice for you readers out there but I sure hope that somebody more experienced than me might read this and have some useful advice for me on my long and tiring journey.

See ya next time 😉

If you have any good ideas or even success stories to share around how to get rid of (or at least reign in) the pesky habit of info-dumping in novels, short stories, or any other works of fiction, please let me know in the comments below.

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Scenes, Writing Process

How do you write your first draft?

If award winning author Joyce Carol Oates is to be believed, the answer to this question is: quickly! Write quickly and carelessly. Get it all out of your head and onto the page. Then revise as many times as it takes to realise your vision in a way that let’s your audience understand (and enjoy) it.

‘Write with the door closed.’ comes the advice from Stephen King who believes in total lockdown for your first draft and full disclosure for all following drafts. Write it all down first then start showing it to people as you revise and hope that some nuggets of wisdom will shake you out of your writing stupor, and overcome your already inflated writer’s ego so you can write a story somebody actually wants to read.

I have written many first, second, and even third (and fourth) drafts…but never a final one. Most likely that’s due to my inner critic who never sleeps and always has plenty to say. I also never write fast. So, this time around I am taking the advice of the masters. I am writing my first draft and I am going to write it as fast as I can and force myself not to re-read a single scene until all scenes have been drafted. Then I am going to take a break, read, catch-up on all the Netflix shows I missed whilst in my writing stupor. After a few weeks, I’ll pick up my first draft and start turning it into a second.

In this spirit, I decided that the best way to get me to write fast is to participate in #NanoWriMo. It’s unlikely that 50,000 words will be enough words to cover my first draft but if I get to 50,000 by the end of November, I’ll have written 50,000 more words than I would have written if I let me inner critic nag away at me. As far as I can tell, the secret to first draft writing is just to start and worry about the quality later.

The first scene of my debut novel ‘Fearful Magic’ is already written and whilst I can’t guarantee that it will exist in the final published version, here is a sneak peak into my rough writing (pre-any editing)…for those of you who want to know if I am really sticking to what I am saying in this blog post.

See ya next time 😉

If you have a better idea for first draft writing, agree/ disagree with the advice I have used for my current first draft, love/ hate or have other strong feelings about my first draft scene, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Structure, Writing Process

How do you choose which scenes to write?

It’s fun to come up with scenes – isn’t it? I don’t know how you feel about this statement but I would have vehemently started shaking my head if anybody had said this to me a few months ago. Working out what should happen in each scene and deciding which scenes to write and which scenes to cut from my outline used to be my kryptonite!

Luckily this changed recently when I discovered the story grid by Shawn Coyne (a tool for editing books that can also be used to help writers – provided they like to plan ahead). If this has piqued your interested, I have good news: Shawn lets you download the spreadsheet template for free from his website!

Whilst the template is really helpful for working out much of the plot and how it spreads across your scenes, including values, objectives, characters, the passing of time in your story (and much more), In my opinion there is a crucial bit missing – the why!

I found it really hard to populate a detailed template without having first understood what the function of each scene needs to be to make the story make sense (and keep things interesting). So, I made a little modification to the template as per the following excerpt which shows the first two scenes in my #NaNoWriMo 2020 story/ debut novel ‘Fearful Magic’ (yay! title-reveal!) as they currently appear on my #preptober story grid.

SCENEWORD COUNTSCENE PURPOSESTORY EVENT
1tbcIntroduce the protagonist and make the reader care for her.Elaine is going about her daily chores when she senses a bird being shot with an arrow. She goes outside to see the bird fall into the back garden of the house she calls home. Her ‘mother’ witnesses this event and flies into a wild panic. She urges Elaine to leave but Elaine refuses to go anywhere without an explanation. She goes to hide in the root cellar under the house when they hear a knock on the door.
2tbcConfirm the danger is real and demonstrate Elaine’s magic powers, showing she is not in control of these powers.The hunters arrive at the house, looking for their bird. They become suspicious when they discover multiple footprints in the snow and discover Elaine in the root cellar. They threaten Elaine’s ‘mother’ to force Elaine to disclose the whereabouts of a mage whom the hunters are after. Elaine unwittingly unleashes her deadly powers, then blacks out.

This way, I have an overview of the function of each scene, can see if the story events (or plot points) fulfil the scenes’ purpose and tweak (or cut) scenes if they don’t live up to their purpose.

I hope this little insight into my #preptober work has wet your appetite for this brand new fantasy story. I will be excited to share more about my writing process throughout November as I will be aiming to complete my first draft during #NaNoWriMo!

See ya next time 😉

Let me know if you are also participating in #NaNoWriMo this year (and what your #preptober prep looks like) by leaving a reply in the comments below.

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Plot, Structure, Writing Process

Write scenes – not chapters!

Before you bite my head off for the contentious title of this post – let me explain. There is actually a really important distinction between a scene and a chapter which I only recently understood and it changed my outlook on writing.

A scene is a sequence of story actions taken by characters within your story. A chapter is a collection of scenes. How many scenes go into a chapter is mostly an arbitrary decision by the writer/ editor/ publisher.

If you bear this in mind, it becomes easy to see why writing in chapters might cause problems for a writer. How can you divvy up scenes into chapters when you haven’t written those scenes first and don’t know how many words are in each of them? Chapters are there for the reader. But for a writer, scenes are your friends.

Following this logic, I am committed to writing all of my stories in scenes and it’s working wonders for coming up with the right sequence of events as it becomes easy to see where there might be gaps in the plot.

See ya next time 😉

If you are also a fan of writing in scenes rather than chapters or if writing in chapters works better for you, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Structure

Can you write a story without a map?

Definitely! There is nothing more satisfying than writing out into the blue with inspiration dictating the way as you go. Unfortunately this doesn’t work for me. It just seems to lead me to more unfinished drafts as I eventually end up writing myself into a corner with no plausible way out.

So back to plotting it is. For this, my first ever full-length novel, I am using the story grid (a tool that was originally developed for editing books) by Shawn Coyne as an outlining device. Look out or new posts to find out how I adapt this for my own purposes – one step at a time.

See ya next time! 😉

If you you can appreciate the joys (and horrors) of being a plotter (…or a pantser), consider leaving a comment blow.

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Writing Process

Do you need a writing process?

As a child, I knew how to build things. With a little help from my friends, I built castles out of sand, Lego and wooden blocks. I baked mud cakes in all shapes and sizes. I drove and repaired miniature race cars and didn’t let anybody tell me that I was doing things wrong. My imagination was the limit and my imagination was boundless.

I don’t remember when I lost that ability to decide on an approach and follow through (regardless of criticism) but I know it was recent. All of a sudden, the opinion of others seems to matter and the buffet of possibility exudes a rotten smell. I have spent the better part of 5 years trying to write a complete novel. Without success. All because I struggle to make decisions about what to write and how to write it. I have started (and stopped) more projects than I care to remember.

Today, I finally see a way forward: a process! With the right, repeatable process, I am sure I can write a complete novel. So, regardless of criticism, I am officially deciding this process will see me through to the end of my writing adventure and help me make decisions. No backsies!

See ya next time! 😉

If you struggle with decision making as much as I do, or have developed your own writing process, consider leaving a comment below.

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