5 Minute Fiction: Have You Got a Minute?

English: : A mirror, reflecting a vase. Españo...

English: : A mirror, reflecting a vase. Español: : Un espejo, reflejando un vasija. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I talked about how some writers struggle with the blank page that stares back at them every time they settle down to write. How the cursor sits there blinking merrily away while your mind wanders about down a pebble-lined path jauntily daydreaming about nothing in particular.

Today, I have a few more exercise to share and for your reading enjoyment a sample of a piece of “fast fiction” I wrote using the exercises and techniques I described yesterday in my article, Don’t Get Any Ideas. So without further ado, here’s another exercise for you to test out that may spark new ideas and avenues of thought never before contemplated.

Once you’ve had some practice using the 5-minute method I described yesterday, you can try your hand at the following exercise. Again, you will need an egg timer or something else to count down 5 minutes. These may be a little bit harder than what I mentioned yesterday, but could also be easier for you depending on your particular writing practice or style.

Each of the following sentences are to be used at the beginning, end or anywhere in between of whatever story comes to mind. Choose a sentence, set the timer and begin: It was a big house with two rooms. They walked away without saying a word. I laughed silently. After dinner, they went into the garden. She recognized him at once. I glanced at my watch. He put down his glass. She turned white – dead white. The little dog started barking. When he looked, it was gone.

The following short was one I wrote using the technique described above; it is only an excerpt from a longer piece. This exercise was “Write a story about the dark.”

Darkness was everywhere, so thick it was almost suffocating. He couldn’t remember when the darkness had started or why. He couldn’t remember much of anything now other than the dark. As long as he could remember, there had always been darkness. No light, no break anywhere in the unending repetition of darkness. Once in a while he would think he saw a glimpse of light far off in the distance. A mere twinkling of light, like that of a star in a darkened sky. But when he blinked the light would be gone and if he looked harder for it, he’d begin to wonder if he’d seen anything at all. Maybe the light was somewhere behind his eyes and when he blinked it was just a memory of light. Yet he could remember the sun and how bright it had been. So wonderfully warm and intense, yet it had been so long since he’d seen it that he thought maybe he’d only ever imagined it or dreamed it. He had also noticed that the dark seemed cold but he didn’t really understand cold since he didn’t actually feel cold. He couldn’t explain the dark or the feeling of being cold when he couldn’t feel it. It was quite possible, he thought, that he was just going mad.

This next sample was based on the exercise: “Write a story about a noise.” It’s also only an excerpt of a much longer piece that I was inspired to expand on at a later date.

She was afraid to go in he bathroom. Something was in there. She could see them from the corner of her eye whenever she looked in the mirror. It was crazy. She knew this. No one could be in the bathroom without her having seen them go in there. People didn’t live in mirrors and you couldn’t see reflections of things that didn’t exist.

All this ran through her mind even as she clutched a towel to her chest while cautiously approaching the open bathroom door. Never should have taken this unit without a window in the bathroom, she chided herself, taking a step closer to the door. She intended to cover the mirror. Reflections or not, she thought, if I cover the mirror whatever I saw won’t be there anymore. She knew there was a rather large flaw in this line of thinking, but she shoved it aside. Treading carefully and breathing shallowly so as not to make a noise, she quietly stepped to the bathroom threshold. She could see the mirror, but it was so dark in the room that she couldn’t make out any reflections, which as far as she was concerned was just fine by her. All she had to do now was step inside and cover the mirror with the towel she still clutched in her hands. She could hear and see nothing in the dark interior of the room, but didn’t dare turn on the light. Her eyes would immediately be drawn to the mirror and her mind shied away from even the possibility of catching a glimpse of what might be reflected there.

And that dear readers is a small example of how using 5-minute exercises can help jump-start your writing or even point you in a new direction. Hope you are able to make use of these in your own writing work.

Have you got 5 minutes to spare?

Exercises taken from the book Fast Fiction by Roberta Allen

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Don’t Get Any Ideas

English: Walk of Ideas sculpture Modern Book P...

English: Walk of Ideas sculpture Modern Book Printing Deutsch: Der moderne Buchdruck, Sculptur des Walk of Ideas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most famous and most asked question that any artist, writer, crafter, architect or other creative worker has heard, is always, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

I think it is the most over-used, blatantly boring, redundant and pointless question ever asked. It’s as though people who read, admire, live in or otherwise experience another person’s work has never had an original thought in their lives. Which by the way, is ridiculous. Where does anyone get ideas? From the same place anyone else does. Just because you’re a writer or artist or designer or whatever doesn’t grant you some magical lifeline into the mysteries of the universe where a well of ideas spring forth ripe for you to pick them out at your leisure. In a word, I think the idea of ideas is rather nuts. Everyone has ideas and the only thing that separates a creative individual from anyone else, is that the creative person holds within them the drive to DO something with their ideas and practice, practice, practice their craft.

Speaking of practice I was perusing a few blogs this afternoon and over the years I’ve seen numerous authors struggle with the dreaded phrase “writer’s block.” Personally I don’t believe writer’s block or any other ‘block’ to your creativity exist. I do believe however, that any block that you may or may not encounter only exists as a way for you, the writer, to avoid writing whatever piece you have in front of you. It isn’t that you’re lazy or that you would much prefer to do something else (all jobs have this element btw, it’s not exclusive to writers). Nor is your topic, writing or knowledge lacking in skill, interest or relevance, although there may be a bit of all of these but not in the way you may expect.

By this, I mean that there may be a part of you that really doesn’t like what you’re writing about. Maybe you started off writing about your grandpa’s antique car collection but you would rather write about grandma’s cooking recipes. Or maybe you’re writing something you feel obligated to write because you have specifically designed your blog, novel or article to be about a pre-determined topic and feel you have to “stick with your plan.” Honestly, unless you’ve received an advance or signed a contract promising this piece of writing to another party, you DO NOT have to keep writing it. If you aren’t passionate about your current writing endeavor, why are you writing it? You and your writing flourishes when you write passionately about something that moves you while also helping you grow as a writer and as an individual.

Now there is the other kind of so-called “writer’s block” when you’re sitting in front of that always dreaded and oh so intimidating, glaringly bright white computer screen and all you can think of is getting another cup of coffee and reading a book. Which is not such a bad idea. Ever heard the saying that when you’re looking for something, the harder you look the less likely you are to find it? And that if you really want to find something that you should engage in any other activity that allows your thoughts to think of something else? No? Well it really does work and it also works for writing.

However, if you have a deadline and all you can hear is the ticking of the wall clock, the growling of your empty stomach or the crunching of food by a family member or co-worker and you just HAVE to write something today, I have an exercise you can try to get those writing muscles in gear.

Several years ago I used to be a member of what was called the Writer’s Digest Book Club and it was awesome. Books I never knew existed could be found in this club, never mind bought at any local bookstore and I felt like I’d gone to writing heaven. I bought more than my fair share of writing books but I wasn’t actually doing any writing, as so often happens when you consign your dreams to remaining dreams. But I knew I would want to write “someday” and so I decided to only invest in reference books that would be available to me when I was ready to read them.

Long story short, I have in my possession a book entitled, Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes by Roberta Allen. It’s a great resource for finding and generating ideas. The concept is simple and once you’ve tried it a few times, you should no longer bemoan your imagined lack of idea generating muscles.Get yourself a simple egg timer, choose one prompt from the sample list below, set your timer for 5 minutes and start writing.

Don’t think! Just write!

Write a story about a lie. Write a story about a wish. Write a story about something that really happened. Write a story about greed. Write a story about a window. Write a story about a doorway. Write a story about water. Write a story about something that hasn’t happened yet. Write a story about a storm. Write a story about a flower, a memory, falling, money, desire, dancing, pain, a secret, air, friendship. (You get the idea…)

If words aren’t cutting it for you, find yourself some black and white photos of anyone or anything you know nothing about. All you should have before you is an image of someone or something. Write about it. Tell a story. Let the words pour forth and don’t worry about editing, grammar or anything else your ego tries to bring to your attention. You’ll have plenty of time to think about that when the timer ends. If you find you have more to say after the timer goes off, set it for another 5 minutes and keep going. Stop after this and review what you’ve written. I can almost guarantee that you will have before you a piece of writing you didn’t even know was in your thoughts. And if you’re really lucky, not only will you have gotten past any ‘block’ you may have had, but you may also have a new plot idea before you. You could also very easily use this technique to write an entire book.

The choice and the words are yours. Begin.

Genres: What’s Your Flavour?

Cover of "Magic Kingdom for Sale--Sold! (...

Cover via Amazon

Do you know what flavour your genre is? In the big, intimidating and more often than not exclusive world of publishing there are just two very basic forms of writing. Fiction and non-fiction in others words, based on real-life events or made up worlds and characters.

For each of these there are an ever-expanding list of sub-categories that never cease to change and evolve, much like the human race itself. On a simplified level non-fiction can include but is not limited to biographies, autobiographies, history, culture, love, relationships and the ever popular self-help.

Fiction has just as many varieties and categories as there are in the non-fiction world but the problem dear readers, is that in order to market your work you must know into which category your written piece falls into. If you can’t figure out what genre you’ve written or what your target audience is you will have a very difficult time marketing your work to the write publisher.

A good example of not knowing your audience or your particular flavour of genre was when several years ago I attended a writer’s group meeting at my local library. The things many of these writers didn’t know was where they fit into the world of books or how to go about discovering whether or not what they had written was had been done before. When they read their short writing samples I was shocked by how little they knew, not only about their target audience or their subject matter, but were completely oblivious to popular works in their category.

For example, an older gentleman read to the group a fight scene between a father and son that had within it a weapon they were using to teach the son discipline while strengthening their relationship as the son “came of age.” The problem was the weapon itself. The author failed to describe the weapon at all. He continued referring to it by the name he’d given it while the rest of us tried and failed to picture what it looked like. I stopped listening after only a few minutes because I could not picture the weapon mentioned, which made it impossible to imagine the scene he described. When we pointed this out to him he was confused that we would need a detail like that just to listen to a sample of his writing when his focus was on the interaction between his characters.

A second author, after reading their particular sample, made knowing your target audience paramount to writing any story regardless of genre. This author presented a story about a young brother and sister team who used their dreams to enter a magical kingdom in the woods at night. While listening, many of the other writers, including myself kept thinking that there was something extremely familiar about this story. When he finished reading, everyone thought his writing was well done, with vivid description and his dialogue wasn’t bad either. But there was just one problem. We pointed out that this story was very much like the popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. To which he replied he had never heard of this story. He was also quite adamant that this book was for young adults, but as a group we said that there would be very few, if any young adult readers who would gravitate to a story like this. When questioned, he admitted that he had never read any books for young adults or children which I felt was not only irresponsible but lazy to boot, considering that you will eventually expect other authors in your genre to read your work. Plus without knowing your competition, marketing your work will be very difficult if you don’t know what is currently popular. If you don’t know your audience, how do you expect to be heard?

When you first begin your writing endeavors you should always be very clear and honest with yourself about what you want to write about, what you’re passionate about and who you want to write for. Once you’ve determined these points, you really must read what is out there in that genre or age group so that you can get a feel for style, content and what kind of genre you want to write. For example, choosing to write a fantasy novel is all well and good, but what kind of fantasy novel? Will it be loosely based on real-world locations? Are your ideas drawn from a time or place in history? Will it be an epic fantasy world that never once mentions this world? Or will it have a link to our present time that allows readers to connect by imaging themselves crossing over into your fantasy world? If you’ve never heard of a book like that, there are several that should be available at your local library – some popular, some not so much. The ones that come to mind are: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, and Terry Brook’s, Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold!

There are a multitude of genres out there but I believe the biggest key to unlocking your success is to know your genre as well as you know the back of your hand, and then some. If you’re writing mystery and suspense, you will need to read at least one from each category that you feel your story falls into. For example in mystery, there are hard-boiled detective novels, whodunnit stories, crime novels, cat-solving mysteries (yes even cats solve mysteries), and forensics and/or csi which could then be termed crime/drama.

Below you will find authors that I have read in different genres that I feel show some of the best talent their genre can offer. What you will not find is authors I have never read nor books that I couldn’t get through even though they may have been on someone’s bestseller list or were recommended by this or that celebrity. You also will not find any romance authors here. I have read many romance over the years but that was long ago and even then they had to be historical in nature or I quickly lost interest. Nowadays, I fill my romance needs by reading stories or novels that also have a great, meaty plot and vivid characters much like what you would find in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

Authors for a variety of genres and/or age groups: Horror authors; Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Edgar Allen Poe, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, and Robert McCammon‘s earlier works. Fantasy/Sci Fi; Tracy Hickman & Margaret Weis, Terry Brooks, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R Tolkien, Barbara Hambly, Laurell K. Hamilton, Sara Douglass and Diana Gabaldon. Mystery/Suspense; Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, Kathy Reichs, and Tess Gerritson. Literary Fiction: Maeve Binchy, Jane Austen, George Orwell, Charlotte Bronte, Yan Martel & Margaret Atwood.

I hope that if it was previously missing, you are now able to better understand how to determine what genre your work of fiction may or may not fall under. For a long time, I believed that my greatest passion was to write fantasy fiction. Perhaps that is still one of them, but for now I am content to write as many non-fiction pieces as my muse cares to dictate to me. So long as my momentum doesn’t waver, I am fine with allowing my muse to pave the path I walk upon.

A Word About Editing

Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

So one of the most common mistakes many writers, authors and bloggers do when writing an article or story or what-have-you online, is that they don’t edit their own work.

I’m not singling out any one particular group, but  if you’re like me maintaining a blog because you just “have to write” then you may know what I’m talking about. By definition, bloggers and writers work alone. Unless by some miracle you sit in an office with a bunch of other people writing a blog or news article surrounded by other writers. Yet still, you’re writing alone. So when the words on the page begin to sound supremely awesome and you think you’ve just written something so fabulous you can’t believe that you actually wrote something so fabulous is the exact time when you REALLY need to slow down and breathe.

Finish your epic piece and go back and re-read it. Then read it again. I’m sure you all do this, that’s what good writers do right? Then after you’ve done that and feel satisfied, you check that yes, I’ve got the right categories listed, tags are good too and do I have the right links? Do I want those links associated with this piece? And then you come to the part when you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s everything is in place and your mouse is hovering over that easy clickable button that says PUBLISH. Just don’t do it yet!!!

I can’t count how many times I’ve done exactly these steps and felt so awesome about what I’ve just written that I start spreading the word faster than you can say “like.” I just want everyone to read my awesomeness in my published piece so much that I don’t bother triple-checking my article until later. Later being after several people have read it or seen it. And that’s when I find it. A problem with wording, or grammar or repeated words or phrases that when read as though I’m “visiting” a stranger’s blog I find errors in my “fabulous” piece of writing. Typically it’s a glaringly obvious problem that makes me feel embarrassed to no end and causes me to spend more time going over my article for a third or even fourth time checking for more errors. Which by the way, inevitably allows doubt and insecurity to creep in. And who needs that?

My solution? It’s a simple one really. One I’ve known I should do for a very long time but always forget until after I’ve made this newbie mistake for the umpteenth time. And that is, READ your article or written piece OUT LOUD. Any grammatical problems, flow of wording or any other issue that might crop up like ‘going off into left field on a tangent’ will become glaringly obvious as soon as you start reading it aloud as though you were reading a book report.

And that my friends is for me, the best way to edit anything I’ve every written. Wish me luck in remembering my own advice. I will probably need it.

Blogs & Blogging

You know, the biggest problem with writing a blog is the reality of the blog itself.

The problem, dear readers is that a blog is a form of writing that by it’s own definition is published by way of the internet. It isn’t something you write in your diary or journal and hide away in your bedroom away from prying eyes. I’m sure there are still numerous writers out there who keep a journal/diary but I am not one of them. I used to keep a diary. A place where I wrote down all my extraneous thought bubbles that floated around in my daily activities like flotsam washing up on a beach. I don’t anymore though. Not because I don’t want to write, I do, but because a long time ago I was once married to a very paranoid person who thought that diaries were something that contained secrets he really needed to know about.

The first time it happened I was too shocked to realize that he would go behind my back, seek out my diary (which by the way, was not in plain view) and then read it looking for things to pick fights with me about. As a result I didn’t know how to react or respond to such behavior. I was however, less than happy about this new and rather unpleasant development, but he assured me it wouldn’t happen again. But of course, it did. The second time it happened he changed his tactics and rather than accuse me of some imagined betrayal outright, (such as quoting what I’d written), he came at it in a very roundabout way that took me a while to realize where he’d got these wild ideas.

After that, even keeping a dream journal became an exercise in anxiety. If I write that, then what will he say? What will he accuse me of this time? Anyone reading this will wonder why I put up with it, but that’s a WHOLE other story. My point is that as a result of this very intimate betrayal of trust (something I couldn’t see or articulate at the time), my solution was to just stop writing things down. It wasn’t until after he’d gone that I realized that although I no longer kept a journal, I had somewhat maintained a dream diary. Yet another effect of ‘what came before’ I had begun recording my dreams in a sort of made up code. When I revisited the dreams I had recorded while still married to this person, I was shocked by how many months or years would pass before recording a new dream. Years not associated with him were chock full of interesting, baffling and symbolic dream imagery so seeing this from a new (now divorced) perspective showed me just how much an impact this betrayal had on my writing habits.

So my point (and I do have one). It’s like this, since my main reason for writing anything is so that ‘someday’ I will be published by an honest-to-goodness real-life publisher I thought that writing a blog would help cure me of my ongoing reluctance to write things down. I mean really, if I put something on a blog the whole point is to publish it for people to read. The only glitch I’ve discovered with this plan is that because it’s a blog and because blogs are online, I find so many numerous other things to do online that by the time I actually get around to writing a blog post, I’ve either a) forgotten what I wanted to write about; b) become so obsessed by the appearance of the blog page that I spend my time editing it; or c) spend too much time visiting other sites that several hours go by and I no longer have any desire to write anything down. (Never mind log into my blog page and actually “write” anything worth reading.)

So this blog entry is now a testament to how determined my inner muse was today to write and subsequently publish “something” TODAY.

 

The Passage – A Book Review

The Passage (The Passage, #1)The Passage by Justin Cronin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

*SPOILERS* Ha! There are no spoilers, just lots of reasons not to read this book. 😉

I can’t say I really enjoyed this book. The story was OK sort-of, but a great deal of the bulk of this massive tome was long-winded and contained a lot of extraneous information that never once helped to move the story along. I also did not care for the author‘s use of changing character viewpoints every time I started a new chapter. Neither did I enjoy all the “extra” plot “asides” that never reached any kind of resolution or clarity. (Read: boring).

Although I would like to know how the story ends and what all the big secrets are, I’m in no hurry and feel no real urgency to find out what happens by picking up the next in this series. Series? Really? I really don’t think I want to invest any more time discovering (looking for a needle in a haystack), all the promised revelations/resolutions hinted at in this book, never mind slogging through two more of them.

I never enjoy “cliffhanger” endings – never have, especially if it comes from a new author I have never read before and have yet to decide if I like them or not. I strongly believe that these types of books do not benefit from ‘sequels’ until the author is firmly established in the publishing world.

When I picked up this book I did not realize that it was an “end-of-the-world” apocalyptic story or I would never have read it. For one thing what many apocalyptic stories fail to point out is that in reality, no one would survive because everything that requires maintenance and observation in our daily world such as nuclear power plants would eventually fail and destroy the entire planet. Which makes it hard for me to ‘suspend’ my disbelief and enjoy these types of books.

In conclusion… this story HAS no conclusion and even if it does, I highly doubt I will ever seek out the answers to the multitude of unresolved “stuff” laid at my feet in this first installment.

Once I recover from getting past all the wasted hours I just spent reading this nearly 800 page volume and resume becoming part of normal waking reality, I will likely never recall in any significant detail what this book was about other than lots of dead people and weird-ass vampire BS. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

In the words of Dracula from Hotel Transylvania….

“Blah, blah-blah.”

View all my reviews