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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World-building, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How to explain magic in a story?

Magic is a tricky thing to explain. If you’re not careful you end up saying too little, leaving your reader wondering what the rules around your magic system really are.

Other times, you might be tempted to info dump all the ins and outs of how the magic in your story works…running the risk of boring your readers to tears. How can you find the right balance?

While I can’t say that I have a definitive solution, the best way I have found to explain magic is to only provide the minimum amount of detail your reader needs to understand the limits and opportunities of the magic system you have created.

For example, in my recent flash fiction story ‘A Clockwork Bride‘ all of the rules of the magic system are simply explained by mentioning three specific aspects:

1. Magic requires the use of a key (vehicle) – this step is optional

2. The key contains magic silver dust that gets gradually used up by the clockwork body (limitation)

3. Every time the key is used, some magic dust residue remains within the clockwork body (opportunity)

To sum it up, bringing your magic system to life with clarity and in a way that engages and intrigues your reader may not be a piece of cake but it’s certainly possible.

Keep it simple, be selective in what information you need to share and let your characters do the rest. Their reactions and use of the magic is key to your reader’s understanding. Don’t info dump!

See ya next time 😉

If you are struggling to explain your magic system, are prone to info dumping or have an even better idea how to successfully explain magic in your stories, share your thoughts in the comments below! If you have a story that demonstrates your approach, feel free to post a link to it!

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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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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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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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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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Plot, Story, Story Arc, Structure, Writing Process

How to know when your book is finished?

Even though this will drive you all crazy, I will have to say it anyway: a story should only be as long as it needs to be. That’s it. The end, see you next time…ah but wait! Didn’t I say this post was about how you know when a story is finished? Well, I suppose, every writer sooner or later comes to a point in their story where they have to ask themselves: to end or not to end?…THAT is the question!

And it’s not always obvious…even to the most seasoned of writers! For one, anybody here ever read The Green Mile by Stephen King? No? Then you better get on it! It’s a great book…apart from the lengthy waffle at the end of the book that goes well past where I felt it should have ended. No obligation for anybody here to agree with me, but if you have read it, I would be curious if you came away with the same feeling…that the book could have come to a close much sooner than it did.

So, every time I write a story, I try to start with the end in mind…even if I only have a vague idea. Because at least it will help me not to overshoot my goal. Easy to say if you’re a plotter (which I am). Although, I think that even for the pantsers among us at least a grain of an idea as to where the story should end could be of benefit.

My flash fiction writing (although I only started this recently) is already paying off in this arena. First of all, I am getting to finish a lot more stories which means that I am getting some practice recognising the natural finish point. And secondly, I am learning to fit my story into a specific word count (I try to keep my flash fiction around 300 words). So when I write longer, I can better gauge how many words I need to write to finish the story.

If I reach the word count for my story and my planned ending hasn’t happened yet, I know I have too much waffle and too little action in my story. If my planned ending happens far from the planned word count, I have a good indicator that my story lacks detail and might be too jumpy or sudden and I can go back and insert more scenes to give the reader more information about the characters and the world.

My writing style is very action driven and I sometimes lack the patience to describe much of the world, places, and characters in my story. Writing long is a real challenge for me but getting to a pacey first draft and then revising to make sure I have enough material for the story I want to write is a good strategy for me.

See ya next time 😉

If you recognise any of your own issues in this post, have trouble finishing a story in time for your planned ending, have a good reason not to want to plan the ending of your stories, or are so good at ending your stories perfectly that your books are a shining beacon of hope to the rest of us, please share your views in the comments below.

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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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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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Plot, Story Beats, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

What to do when outlining isn’t enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya next time 😉

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

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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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Genre, Worthless Waffle

Is fantasy really a genre?

I hear your collective gasp! How is this even a question?! Where have you been all these Tolkien and Game of Thrones filled Cinema/ TV evenings over the last erm…19 years?!

I have been glued to the screens of course! Read all the books and have properly geeked out! But every time I tried to write my own fantasy stories they kind of came up short. I never really knew what to write about…and that’s because of what I know now:

Fantasy is not a genre in itself…it’s a component of genre.

To be precise, it’s actually an indicator for how much a reader should prepare to suspend their disbelief when reading the story. Whether they should expect a romance, action adventure, coming of age etc. aside from the fantasy stuff is really down to other essential genre components. It appears that genre is not a thing…it’s a construct.

The term fantasy alone is not enough to describe your genre and tell your reader what your work is about. Check out the genre clover by Shawn Coyne to see what helped me better understand fantasy and its relationship with genre.

See ya next time 😉

If you found this article helpful, thoroughly disagree or have no idea what all this has to do with a clover, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Plot, Scenes, Structure, Writing Process

Is it OK to stray from your outline?

A prime question among writers! If you are a dedicated plotter (like me), you will appreciate the many upsides to having a detailed outline for your novel, short-story, work of non-fiction (or whatever else you are writing). You will know the feeling of sitting down to write with a good idea of what events, characters, scenery, etc. you need to put on the page and therefore be able give the finger (or two) to any #creativeblock that may be waiting in the wings to derail your progress – most days.

Then there are those writers (and if you are one of these, I am profusely jealous) who like to fly by the seat of their pants, discovering the story, characters, events, and scenery as they go. ‘Pantsers’ hate outlining and I get why. If you are not a plotter this post is not for you. This is for the writers who struggle to write without a map – welcome friends!

Eight scenes into my #NaNoWriMo project (Fearful Magic), I am not surprised to find that the scenes I have down so far are not the same eight scenes that fill spaces one to eight on my story grid outline. Creativity just works it’s magic that way. Once my fingers start flying over the keyboard, the unexpected happens and I let it…gladly.

First draft writing is not science. It’s a dark art. It’s perfectly fine to stray from your outline, especially during the writing of the first draft which is really about finding the right tone for the work and building the framework upon which to improve upon later. The only important thing is to make sure that you meet the key milestones of your story. So, a lose following of your outline is absolutely OK. I would say, it’s essential to ensure that you don’t get fed up with your story before it’s written.

There is always more to discover and you will never be able to come up with all the scenes up front. Does this mean outlining is a waste of time. NO! Of course not! The outline is there to get you writing. Once the writing is happening, do as you will. Once you don your editor hat you can amend your outline where necessary, then re-read, revise, re-think all aspects of your first draft…until your vision comes to life.

See ya next time 😉

If you have trouble following your outline, get frustrated with your creativity taking you down unexpected paths and alleys, or haven’t cracked this outlining thing at all, leave a reply in the comments below and share your experience.

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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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Writing Process

How do you get from an idea to a novel?

The writer’s brain is a curious place. Clutter everywhere! Bits and pieces of information float through the ‘air’, echoey voices of half-baked, faceless characters repeat hollow words in the darkness. Or maybe that’s just me…?

If you’re a writer who is living in less of a Sherlock Holmesian mind palace, I salute you! This is the type of post where I can really only describe how it works for me and you can totally ignore this and merrily walk through the well-groomed park of your own imagination. Enjoy!

My writing process doesn’t start with a scene, nor with a character. It often starts with a vivid, slow-moving mental image:

Snowflakes slowly drift by a window. A black bird (pierced by an arrow) falls from the sky. Here. That’s how my current #story began – as a passing thought. #amwriting

@wimpywriter

To go from this to a novel-length story is a BIG ask. This is where the plotting kicks in. I examine the image in my mind for weeks (and months) and start to spin out the story, characters, scenes, etc. from there by asking questions such as:

  • Why is the bird significant?
  • Who is watching the bird?
  • Why is the season (winter) significant?
  • Does it have to be snowing?

I start answering these questions in my (very rough) story notes and move through my writing process from there.

See ya next time 😉

If you’re intrigued by my method, have something similar (or even better) to share, or think this is just overkill, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Writing Process

How do you start a novel (in notes)?

So, here we get into debate territory. Popular opinion rules that there are many ways to start a novel. And that’s absolutely true. The following are only a few examples of the different options available:

1. You could start at the beginning, end, or middle of your story (if you already have a rough idea) note down key events and work out what setting, characters, etc. you need later.

2. You could start with a character profile (not even necessarily the protagonist) and then work the story/ setting out from there.

3. You could decide just to write random scenes and discover the story, setting, characters, etc. as you write.

I have tried all of these approaches (and a few others) and none of them have worked for me. The only method that has so far proven successful is a brainstorm of notes where I don’t need to worry about any of the above options.

Try it: start a document and note down whatever comes into your head – be it character traits, descriptions, a part of a scene, a short speech, notes about the world/ setting, or anything else you can possibly imagine. You might be surprised how much of the word-vomit will later jog your brain about pretty much any aspect of your novel. Even a picture can work!

See ya next time. 😉

If you have tested any of these (or the many other) methods to write a novel, share your experience in the comments. We are all learning!

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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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