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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

I belong to a writer’s group where we gather once a month to critique one another’s works and once a month to just write.

I know I can be rather harsh when it comes to critiquing other people’s writing (and don’t mind harsh critiques on my work – all the ghods know I need it!), so I’ve wracked my brain for ways to soften the blow and better explain what I mean.

I accidentally hit on food.

Yeah, it surprised me, but it works.  A story is a lot like a recipe.  So I started making the foods that I used to critique a story.

One person is writing a memoir about his time as a Vietnam Vet. His story is firm and meaty and a little bit juicy, but kind of dry. When I made my first bacon apple pie, it was a lot like that. It needed more juice, more spices, a touch less meat, and a firmer crust, just like his story, so when I tried to tell him kindly he needed to juice it up with more emotions and spice it up with more personal heart, and maybe bring in some raisins for that unexpected delight, kind of like that bacon apple pie. I think he sort of got where I was going, but not really.

So I baked that bacon apple pie two ways – the way his story was currently written, and the way I’d tweaked it to make the pie something divinely delicious.

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Once everyone had eaten some of each pie, they knew exactly what I meant.

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The next time we critiqued his tale, it was much improved.

And then there was the sweet little flash fic critique that was nicely written but normal and predictable. I suggested it get something to twitch it up to unexpected, like watermelon pie. Everyone knows pie, and everyone knows a nice cream pie, but watermelon?

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Delightful, sweet, exactly what people expected until they bit into it and then – watermelon!

Haven’t read the rewrite yet, but I am anticipating it!

Now, I have to figure out how to deconstruct a lovely sushi platter so all the parts are there, but nothing is connected. There’s a story that has everything it needs to be good, but it’s all in pieces that need to be pulled together into not just a pretty platter, but an exquisite dish that is beautiful as well as delicious. I think he can do it.

And there’s this dense novel that has the most gorgeous language and use of words but it’s hard to digest and not to everyone’s taste.  It’s a fruitcake that’s all fruit, and hardly any cake – no glaze, no rum, some nuts.  I have to make both the fruitcake as written and the fruitcake it could be.

I’ve said I have to give this dense darling some time before I can fully critique it.

The food correlation won’t work with every story, but I think it does help make the critique clear and gives the author some direction without me trying to put words in their mouth.

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Last night I dreamt of dimetrodons. My story has stegosaurs in it, not dimetrodons.

Is my brain trying to tell me something?

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There’s a writing game I play by myself. I suppose it could be played with others, but I’ve never encountered anyone who wanted to play the game with me. Perhaps that’s because the game has evolved as a solo player game, but I bet if others were to start this game as a group endeavor, it would lend itself well to multiple players.

The game started as an accident, an idle moment sometime in the 80’s, when I was trapped in a hospital with precious little to do but fret. All I had were the contents of my purse with which to occupy myself. In it was a crazy quilt scarf (long worn out), a bag full of stones I’d been collecting because they felt – sentient, a deck of flash cards, a notebook, and pens. In rummaging through it and inventorying what was in there, I spread out the scarf, the bag of stones spilled across it, and the deck of cards was loose and some of the cards landed near the stones in a way that caught my attention.

See, I collected the stones because each one felt sentient to me, as if each contained an entire universe within itself. I’d imagined continents, climates, people, animals, plants, cities, and civilizations for each stone. The deck of cards was a language learning deck of flash cards, so it had people, animals, and objects depicted each by itself on the card.

When it all spilled across my lap on the scarf as it did, it seemed as if I’d created a galaxy. The stones were the places, the scarf was the galactic alliances and barriers, and the cards provided the resources for the stories.

Upon that I built a storytelling game – and any game that creates stories can be used to write stories.

I traded the scarf for a crazy quilt, added new stones to my bag, and ditched the flashcards for a handmade deck of cards more suitable to storytelling.

I made the cards from blank 3×5 index cards. I glued pictures I cut out of magazines on the cards and “laminated” them with packing tape to preserve them. When I couldn’t find magazine pictures of what I wanted (or needed), I drew it myself on the index card and “laminated” it. Over time, I built up a nice deck of different people, animals, things, landscapes, skyscapes, places, and “mood” pieces.

The stones ceased to be stones only, and I added beads, crystals, acorns, marbles, and other small natural objects to be used as stones. Each one was a unique world with its own history. One stone was Teruk, with its warriors and desert peoples, another was Anamee with its lost colony and the natives who preyed upon and befriended the colonists, and so on.

The quilt’s patches formed zones of atmosphere and alliances, and when it landed after being tossed onto a flat surface, the wrinkles and folds added dimension to the “galaxy”.

To make the game, collect the pieces. Buy or make a crazy quilt top or scarf – something thin that will create folds and hills and valleys when tossed randomly and have a random patchwork of topography. Fill a small drawstring bag like hte ones used for party favors or wedding favors with stones, beads, seeds, and tiny tokens.  Make a deck of cards with people, animals, things, landscapes, skyscapes, places, and “mood” pieces – cut out of magazines or hand drawn or printed off the internet, and laminate them for durability – now that laminating devices are common, you don’t have to use packing tape as I once did.

For the actual play:  toss the crazy quilt top/scarf (small will do for portability, a crib sized one for playing at home or with others) onto a flat surface. Don’t smooth it out or straighten any folds.

Reach into your bag of worlds and take up a small handful – no more than 10. Toss them across the quilt. Don’t pick up any stones that land off the quilt.

Pull out your deck of cards, shuffle them until it feels like you’ve shuffled enough. Starting at the most distant corner of the quilt, start laying the cards face up by each stone, working in a spiraling circle towards the center most stone – which is the world in which the story will take place.  That center stone gets 5 cards. Once all the stones on the quilt have a card, put 2 cards by any stones that landed off the quilt.

Now, the story will begin with the center stone.  The other stones can be actual worlds, or locations in the center stone’s world – they are places the main character may visit during the story. The cards are the resources that go into the story – characters, events, motives. The outlying cards are hidden or surprise resources that may or may not come into play, but still shadows what happens in the story. The quilt provides moods, alliances, treacheries, obstacles and assistance.

Study the lay of the quilt and the cards, and start building the story.

Back in the day, before computers were so accessible and before digital cameras, I used to either just do this to pass the time or recorded what I saw on cassette tape to transcribe later and see if it made a real story. Now that digital cameras, computers, cellphones, and tablets exist, I can take a snap of the toss, and then type in assorted stories to suit the toss. This has provided my NaNoWriMo inspiration every year.

I named this game Dream Bones because playing it is sort of like tossing dice (bones) and the cards and quilt make stories (dreams).

 

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Mind, I do belong to a writer’s group, and they are very nice people. Some are published, most aren’t anywhere near ready to publish. That kind of inspired me to get off my lazy tush and start submitting some of my own fiction.

I’ve spent way too many years writing NaNovels and short stories off of pinterest prompts and doing nothing with them. They’ve languished on floppies and flash drives.

So, even though the people in this writing group don’t really understand what I write (they write crime novels and autobiographies and modernized Bible stories), they do their best for me. They’ve helped. I hope I’ve also helped them.

Being part of this group has solidified for me what I really want in a writer’s group, though.

And here it is:

A) gets together to WRITE (write ins, word wars, 1 day writing retreats, observation journaling, word challenges, writing games, first lines, flash fiction…). Part of each meeting is actively writing together, or the actively writing together is done once a month, with the other 3 meetings consisting of critiques, classes, guest speakers, progress reports, marketing tips, and other writer-related activities.

B) has progress reports (charts, accountability, swag*).

C) does reading swaps for critiquing (not only or always group critiques – that takes too long, especially at novel lengths).

D) encourages writing any length, any medium, any genre.

E) holds writing “classes” (character creation, journaling, lexicon work, sentence and paragraph creation, world building, set design, themes, plots…).

F) has local author guest speakers.

G) pairs writing partners for in-depth support and help.

H) meets weekly (monthly is just too slow, especially if you miss a meeting).

I) actively assists with marketing because so many authors are self-publishing now.

J) gives publication parties – for any length and any medium (maybe works with a bookstore on this when it’s novel length, and includes book sales and signing?).

Thus, a meeting would be spent:

1) 15 minutes of timed writing
2) 15 – 30 minutes discussion of critiques given
3) 15 minutes of progress reports
4) 30 minute “class” or guest speaker
5) 15 minutes marketing shares
6) 15 – 30 minutes socializing

Total meeting length – 2 – 2.5 hours.

(My minimum requirements are A), C), D), E), G), H), I), and J).)

*Swag could consist of stickers, badges, pencils, pens, plot ninjas, muse figures, plot bunnies, mini notebooks, flash drives, buttons, clappers, small packets of nuts or dried fruit snacks, small packets of tea (or cocoa, or mini bottles of booze, if the group is old enough…), themed magnets, bumper stickers, key fobs, post its, index cards, lip balm, hand lotion, literary bandages, writing related ink stamps, paper clips, book marks, and so on,most come from trashy treasures stores like Dillon Imports or MG Novelty or Oriental Trading Company. Stickers, buttons, and badges can be made on a printer and use a button making machine.

I like buttons and button making, but that’s probably because I have a button making machine. If I had a color printer, I’d probably be more into sticker making. Badges – well, those could be stickers or buttons or even computer badges to put on one’s website, not necessarily fabric badges to sew on.

Am I asking too much?

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Plot Bunny

I was going through some recent journals and discovered a rather large fragment of story I’d started. It has no title. But I did some world building, set up a clandestine subculture, gave it a lengthy history, developed a few conflicts and tossed a couple of characters in to sink or swim in slightly ahead of modern times.

Of course, that future has to change some because of current history. But all it means is going much more clandestine that I’d originally written and adds a couple of new conflicts.

The group is sort of like the Amish, and they are treated as such by the world at large, but unlike the Amish, they did not eschew technology, they embraced it and secretly contribute to it under fake names and profiles.

They are a metamorphic alien species trying to find their way back home, trapped on Earth for centuries and hoping for technology to advance enough to build them a way back home. Assuming there is a home to return to.

I’ve also noticed that I use Earth to hold an awful lot of stranded aliens. Each one is different, and each group deals with their temporary exile in their own unique ways. Oddly enough, very few of them actually deal with humans or integrate into any Earth societies. I think the one that mixed with humans the most was the one where I used Atlantis to explain their arrival, existence, and disappearance.

So, this is yet another aliens-stranded-on-Earth story, in a tie when they are still stranded and with little to no hope of leaving. They have to decide if they will be content with remaining isolated like the Amish or perhaps like the Appalachian Mountain folk, or integrate into wider society. If they even can integrate into broader society. They’ve moved from middle Europe to take up a place in the American Midwest. So, we shall see where this story goes, because I have no end for it, yet.

And now that I’ve realized that I have this theme running through a group of my stories, maybe I’ll write a story where they encounter one another, or at least one group will meet another, and maybe they’ll help one another….or not.

Who knows?

But it’s an interesting Plot Bunny.

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Westerns

A western takes place in post-Civil War America up to maybe WWI and may extend back to as early as the “Old West” during exploration – say 1800, is located mostly west of the Mississippi and usually involves horses and guns. The best westerns are about character as much as plot.

Optional, not always necessary, are sheriffs, deputies, marshalls, saloons, drunks, barroom brawls, bullies, gamblers, whore houses, piano players, cattle, cattle rustlers, cattle drives, cattle ranches, politics, outlaws, Indians, settlers, wagon trains, small lawless towns, town gossips, and school marms. I always include food. Oddly, churches rarely play a part. This gives me some interesting scope.

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I know I’m supposed to be working on the Sylvan Acres story, but I have this short story that I want to submit to the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Contest (I missed the deadline to submit, so still haven’t submitted anything anywhere – 6/13/17). I wrote the zero draft and the first revision already, so the story is “technically” done, but I needed to do a bit of research to make sure what I wrote was at least plausible.
I am surprised at the number of ways law enforcement and local governments will infiltrate and sabotage amusement parks. And yes, what I learned about the ways and reasons people would sabotage an amusement park means what I wrote is plausible and actually rather mundane. My imagination let me down. I am rewriting it as a much stronger story now with a much more nefarious sabotage scheme and more sinister reasons for sabotage.
I should be done in a couple of days at most.
I haven’t forgotten about the Sylvan Acres story, I am working on it – fleshing out some characters, mapping both the gated community and the city it’s located in, ordering the events that I postulated in the zero draft, adding in some more drama in the form of some teens, and developing the oversight committee (“developers” and “HOA” to the humans, and “mad scientists” “nutcases” and “Council of Integration” to the paranormals).

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