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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Fiction, Flash Fiction, Story

FLASH FICTION: Owlternative

This week’s flash fiction is inspired by the #SwiftFicFriday – Week 72 prompt provided by the fabulous Katheryn J. Avila (Fiction Trials). 167 words. Enjoy!

The music reluctantly played – in his head. It was a soft, sweet sound; only faint but unmistakably clear. A tiny voice. It sounded like a bell made of glass.

He didn’t know what it was trying to tell him then. He still didn’t know it now. All he knew is that it seemed very important. It had been days since he’d played the piano.

“Why was the piano important again?” he asked.

“Who knows?” answered the therapist. “Tell me how you felt that day.”

“I remember…scratchiness…in my throat; all of a sudden. How it made breathing…hard. Panic and pain. Gagging. Clutching at my throat…and…I remember there being no hands…just feathers…feathers!”

He became agitated. The music swelled in his head.

“And then…?”

“More gagging. More pain. Scratching…with my feet. My feet were scratching. They weren’t even feet.”

His voice was barely a whisper.

“And then…?”

He put his hands over his ears but there were no ears…and no hands. Only feathers…and a tiny voice telling him to fly.

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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Backstory, Characters, Writing Process

What trauma to give your characters…

Nobody wants to read about happy characters. Sorry, but it’s true. Misery loves company…and stories need conflict. And once you resolve your conflict, your story is over.

So, what is the best way to create conflict that is significant enough to keep going for the full duration of your story (usually anywhere between 300 and 100,000 words)?

Ah…yes…trauma. I am currently re-working the character profile for the antagonist of my YA fantasy novel ‘Fearful Magic’ which I am planning to self-publish at the end of 2021.

The main reason being that I am slowly catching up on my world-building and character profiling deficits and there are certain aspects of John which simply no longer work.

One of those aspects is the deep-set childhood trauma which I didn’t appreciate enough in my initial outline. I did note that he is bitter about his mother leaving him when he is still young but…does this really warrant him turning into a mage-hating, relentless bounty hunter without mercy?

No, I don’t think so either. So back to the drawing board it is.

Whilst I am still sticking with the original trauma, I am going to introduce a second traumatic factor: John is a halfblood (half mage on his mother’s side, half human on his father’s).

I imagine John’s mother leaving when he was young is a first point of trauma…exacerbated by his experience of having to hide his halfblood nature from others throughout his childhood and adolescence which has made him isolated.

Finally, there is a third trauma factor – a necessity because of the environment in which the story takes place – John has been through a long and terrible war as a common soldier and now works for the Brotherhood (a human religious organisation that pretty much drives the mage-hating in the story).

John can’t trust anybody…he has never learned to empathize and grows to hate mages (going all the way back to his mother leaving him among humans to fend for himself).

Now, that sounds much more plausible already…don’t you agree?

So, in a nutshell, the most common considerations to go through when you are thinking about what trauma to give your character are as follows:

  1. Make it specific to the story – choose something that really hurts. Otherwise, you don’t end up creating a strong enough driver for the characters’ flaws and behaviour.
  2. Align the trauma with the world-building. Same as real people, characters are a product of their environment and traumatic events beyond their control. Don’t forget to traumatise your characters accordingly.
  3. Choose the right trauma for each character. They can’t all have been abandoned by their mother in their childhood. Think about how you want your characters to act and then work out what trauma would cause them to act that way.
  4. Be consistent. Once you have decided the trauma and the impact it has on your character, stick to that impact and ensure that you reference it consistently – it needs to drive your characters’ decisions and actions.

Now, go away and be horrible to your characters…I am certainly going to twist the knife on the trauma side as I continue to write my novel.

See ya next time 😉

If you have found even the slightest nugget of wisdom in this post, let me know if the comments below. Maybe you have a good method or rule of thumb to make decisions about your characters’ trauma that you would like to share?

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Fiction, Flash Fiction, Story

FLASH FICTION: A Clockwork Bride

This week’s flash fiction is inspired by the #SwiftFicFriday – Week 71 prompt provided by the fabulous Katheryn J. Avila (Fiction Trials). 292 words. Enjoy!

“My darling.”

The words belonged to a man named Gaspard. They floated to her through darkness; right on time. He came to her late at night; every night. Most importantly, he always brought the key.

Shimmering in the weak candlelight, it dangled from a silver chain around Gaspard’s neck. She shuddered with anticipation as the key turned in the lock between her collar bones with a familiar crunch. A burst of silver dust shot from the key into her system. Her gears jumped into movement. She ticked like a clock.

Gaspard watched as she slowly turned around on the bed, stretched, moved her stiff limbs, and cracked her mechanical neck.

“Welcome back, Anthea,” he growled.

“Thank you, master.”

Gaspard watched gleefully as his clockwork bride put on her make-up and danced for him. Anthea’s eyes were pinned onto Gaspard the whole time. Gaspard felt a twinge of sadness as, eventually, her movements slowed as the magic dust became used up.

“Just a little longer,” she begged as the ticks of her clockwork body became less regular and her gears were starting to catch, causing her body to twerk involuntarily.

“No. Not tonight.”

The temptation to give in to her was great. But Gaspard had to be careful. Too much of the magic could mean her escape. Anthea sank down on the floor as her legs gave way unexpectedly; her eyes still fixed on Gaspard. Only when she was sure that he had succumbed to deep sleep, did Anthea dare to push herself up from the floor.

She slowly brought herself into a standing position, hoping she hadn’t miscalculated the amount of silver residue in her system.

“Thank you master,” she said as she strangled him, never taking her eyes off the key.

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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Fiction, Flash Fiction

FLASH FICTION: A Game of Runes

The game was rigged, Cassia knew. Designed to test the strengths of the hopeless, and break the weak. No chance of success. Only thoughtful, strategic failure was an option. The game was exclusively reserved for men.

Cassia threw a glance at the present king who was stuffed into his throne at the edge of the arena. His grey skin was flabby and wrinkled. There was something unsettling about how it folded in on itself around his neck. A snow-white, wispy cloud of a beard fluttered around his chin as he took one labored breath after another. The Game Master stepped forward.

“Defeat is a skill. All future kings of Iruzar must possess it. Only he who can fail five-fold is worthy of the crown. Today we shall find King Ormont’s successor.”

Cassia flinched. There was no turning back now. She pulled the hood of her black cloak deeper into her face. The rough fabric scratched her forehead as she did her best to conceal the mark on her neck. It was the only thing that distinguished her from the male players.

The gates were closed and the Game Master spun the gyroscope of fates. For the first time, a woman had entered the arena; albeit in secret. Cassia swallowed hard as the gyroscope finally came to a standstill.

“The fates have chosen the runes! A game of runes to test those who fancy themselves the next king!”

The Game Master plucked a piece of polished peridot from a chain on his neck. He kissed it gently, then threw it up into the air. It flew high at first, then stuck; hovering above the center of the game arena. A shrill voice erupted from the glowing gem; announcing the rules of the game.

“The runes can never be moved. The runes can never be touched. The runes can never be read. Only the runes hold the answer. The players must try to win. The last to fail will die. Six players, five rounds, one survivor. One king.”

“One king!” cheered the crowd.

Cassia could feel the ground vibrate under her feet. Guilian was the first to die. He touched the runes. An accident. The searing ray of peridot light hit him right between the eyes and burned a hole into his skull.

Player two died as quickly as the first; Aurelion. Nobody would remember his name.

Round three passed in a haze. Cassia came close to deciphering the runes. A close call. The peridot ray singed her cloak as it shot out at Marcellus.

Round four passed in silence. Cassia was the first to lose. A stroke of luck!

One last round, Cassia reminded herself. She was facing only Gilbert now; a dark soul and King Ormont’s ward. The dance began a final time. Gilbert and Cassia circled the runes. One more reach, Cassia thought. As her hand went out towards the runes, Gilbert’s arm shot forward. He had been watching her. He suspected.

Cassia held her breath as her black hood was torn backwards. A collective gasp went through the crowd as the mark of womanhood sparkled in the sunlight. Cassia looked around. Even the old king had heaved himself out of his seat. Tears stung her eyes as the peridot ray rushed towards her. It hit in the centre of her chest and passed through her like glass. Cassia felt no pain.

The crowd watched in shock as the peridot ray, subverted by Cassia’s body, hit Gilbert. The mark on Cassia’s neck glowed green. She was unharmed. It was a game designed for men, after all.

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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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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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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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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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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