Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stepping Stones – A Micro-Story

As a writing exercise, I've started writing very, very short stories (yes, micro-stories) as exercises. Generally, I use a picture as inspiration. It's a lot of fun and it keeps my brain agile. These days, my ever-shrinking gray cells could use a little more agility.

The goal of a micro-story is to write a complete story in 200 words or less. I recommend all writers do this. Just find a picture or object to inspire you and write away! Just remember to keep it within a predefined limit, e.g. 200 words. This not only gets the creative juices flowing, but it means you have to work at editing, too, which is another skill writers really need to develop.

So, in lieu of a blog about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything writing, I'm including a micro-story.

Hope you enjoy it!

Stepping Stones


"You have a ghost?" Willie asked his aunt, striving for a tone of disbelief strong enough to register on the recorder in his pocket.

His elderly aunt's gaze drifted to the patio door. "A ghost?"

"You said a ghost is moving your paving stones?"

"Oh. That ghost. Well, did you see the path?"

"I came in from the patio." He stifled his irritation.

"Then you must have seen—the man in the stones," she clarified. "The man who disappeared almost forty years ago. He moves the stones."

"He's back?" Willie glanced around, momentarily confused.

She got up and opened the door, moving out to the patio. "His ghost. I straighten that path every evening. But come morning, well, you saw it."

"His ghost moves the rocks?" He had her, now. They'd declare her non compos mentis. He'd move in, sell a few priceless antiques, and his bookie would finally lay off. He chuckled. "What—you think he's buried in your path and his ghost is moving the rocks to mark his grave?"

"Of course not." His aunt pulled out a gun. "I buried him a good thirty yards away and started that rumor of a ghost—in case someone decided to dig. They'd naturally dig where the 'ghost' indicated and find nothing. Until now."

His carp-like mouth worked soundlessly.

She sighed and pulled the trigger. "You should have paid your bookie."


Friday, September 18, 2009

Surprise, Surprise

Birthday Delight

So I probably should have written this closer to the actual date of my birthday, but whatever. I'm doing the best I can what with overtime and travel required for my monumentally unimportant day job required to actually pay the bills while I rush forward toward eternal fame and glory as a writer… Er, well, something like that.

Anyway—I got a Kindle for my birthday! Some of you may be scratching your head and wondering what the heck that is and other may already be guffawing. It's one of those e-reader devices that is shaped like a paperback you accidentally ran over and flattened to about ¼" thick. Now, yes, at first glance it does seem like a terrible waste of money. But I've been comparing devices and it finally reached the point at which it made sense to me.

I am always leery of recommending devices to other folks and there is certainly been a great deal of press already about the Kindle, but I haven't actually seen others mention the reasons why this purchase made sense to me at this point in time. There are certainly pros and cons to any decision like this. And I wish Amazon had not removed the MicroSD slot, but it still works.

Why The Kindle Works For Me

  • First, of course, there's the easy-on-the eyes display which really is like reading a piece of paper instead of a computer screen. And as my eyes are getting old, I can increase the font size (that was the first thing I did) so reading is much, much easier for me.
  • I have a secret passion for pulp fiction—particularly Victorian and turn-of-the-century ghost stories. And I found several terrific places to download FREE—yes, that's FREE—novels and short stories to my Kindle! So now, instead of paying
    outrageous prices for this fiction and enriching publishers (assuming I can even find copies) for novels that are out of copyright so the publisher really is just scooping up gravy—I can get these books for free! I figure I've already downloaded enough hard-to-find books to almost pay for the cost of the Kindle.
  • I've developed allergies to just about everything: dust, mold, mildew, and a lot of things that seem to collect on books. Not that I don't still buy books and read them. It's just that I'm already finding that reading on the Kindle is a much more pleasant experience. No sneezing. No itchy fingers.
  • I don't have to break the spine of paperbacks in order to keep them open to read. I hate doing that, but I can't manage to read a book without doing that.
  • A lot of my books are crumbling from age and falling apart. I hate to replace them (again—assuming if I can even find them) only to have them deteriorate again. Now, I can buy an e-book, back it up on my computer, and know that it is not going to crumble and fall apart on me.
  • I can get my magazine subscriptions for Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock's mystery magazines, and even Analog!
  • Better yet, I can get my books that I need for work—like the Microsoft Active Directory books—and have multiple books on my Kindle when I travel without packing a second suitcase to bring with me.
  • I have a bunch of e-books that I've never had a way of reading, except on the computer, and after spending 10 hours or so on the computer for work, the last thing I want to do is spend any more time looking at a computer screen. This way, I can look at a Kindle's screen, instead. J
  • Our house doesn't have room for any more books. And I love re-reading my books, so chances of me getting rid of books is very slim. Now—I can get all of those classics I've always wanted to read but didn't have room for—and get them for free!

Wish List

  • I've never been able to find all of Virginia Coffman's books. I wish someone would issue her books, as well as the old Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt books as e-books. Now those, I'd buy.
  • I hope they also start issuing more of the older books, like those written from around 1910 through 1980, as e-books. There are so many that I'd love to read, but just don't have room for.

Enough about the Kindle.

Notes About Writing

This shouldn't be all about the Kindle. I've actually been working hard on writing and working with other writers, as well. One thing I ran into recently is the art of making the unreal, real. In reading another writer's work, I found myself thrown out of the story because of the incorporation of a character's action that was so insane that I just couldn't believe it.

When I asked the writer about it, she indicated she had done the research quite well, thank you, and there was one police case where that exact same thing happened. Well, maybe so, but here's the thing. It was stupid when the police did it in that one real case. It was worse when a writer used it and presented it as a normal thing the police always do.

Now we all love to read about the weird and wacky things that happen in real life. But when you use them in fiction, you already have one level of abstraction from reality. So anything you include in your book has to be presented in a realer-than-real way.

So, if you want to include a really wacky thing—even if it did occur in real life—you have to give the characters a better reason/justification/motivation than a "that's just normal".

Let me give you an example. This isn't from the other writer—I don't want to embarrass anyone.

Let's say you've read in the news about a rape case where the policewoman made the victim stand on her head to keep any possible "evidence" from leaking away to it could be preserved until they could collect it. (And believe me—this writer's "normal police action" was equally bizarre.)

If you want to do this for some strange reason, then you can't have the policewoman just say "this is normal police procedure to preserve the evidence." Because it isn't. Police don't routinely do that. So you have to have the policewoman give a really, really good reason for this. Maybe something like, "I realize this is an unusual request and you've already been through a lot, but if you could please stand on your head until the medical staff arrive, I would appreciate it and it might help us find the man who did this to you."

You see the difference? It doesn't take a lot more explanation—but it takes some.

Don't just have your characters do bizarre things—even if you know people who did those same things in real life—unless you give a really good explanation. And most of the time, it is sufficient for the character just to acknowledge that she knows it is a bizarre or weird thing, but she needs to do it anyway. That's all it takes.

It makes all the difference between accepting fiction as real, or tossing a book away because it strains your ability to believe the unbelievable.