If there were a Writer's Constitution with a Bill of Writes included, the first amendment of that Bill would be Show Don't Tell. Every writer's how to book, every creative writing teacher, and every critique session ever held in coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, bookstores, front rooms, Facebook, and on park benches included that exhortation. So, yes, "Show Don't Tell" is a critical piece of writing advice and quite possibly one of the top three Writer's Ten Commandments. (Don't tell I'm mixing a metaphor. I know what I am doing.) But it drives us to ignore a critical part of almost every story more than three words long, exposition.
Exposition, that dirty ten letter word for telling, has its place in a writer's toolbox. Exposition provides important, need to know information on character background and relationships, plot setup, settings, transitions, and any bit of information that is necessary to the story but not critical to plot or character arc. Sometimes the reader must know something and writing an active scene slows the story or interferes with the action or just makes the story too freakishly long for the market. That is when you can use a brief bit of exposition and then move on with your story.
There are, of course, good and bad ways to use exposition.
You can use exposition while the character is doing something. John slipped the lock picks into the keyhole and searched for the tumblers. He felt a moment's thrill, a brief erection. Mary taught him the art of lockpicking when he was fifteen, helping him break into the neighbor's house to steal a fifth of Johnny Walker Red before she gave him his first ever blowjob on the carpet behind the bar. That exposition reveals how Johnny began a life of crime, and why he likes to pick locks.
You can include exposition in dialog, and most readers will not even notice. It is bad to write an "As you already know, John" conversations where two characters explain things that they already know. It is a sort of sub commandment that information spoken by Marry must be as new to John as was lockpicking at fifteen.
Exposition can be used to answer a question you create in the mind of the reader. John opened Mary's underwear drawer and removed a forty-five colt peacemaker wrapped in an oily red thong. Now, with a little exposition, you can explain why Marry hides a pistol in her panty drawer.
Sometimes You Must Tell. When you do, remember that exposition is like a fulcrum for the lever used to move the moon. It must be brief, and it must be placed at the perfect point to move your story along. Exposition in the wrong place or that is out of proportion to the lever will not do the job.
Microfiction is a brief, disciplined fiction form found under assumed names as "flash fiction, micro fiction, micro narrative, micro-story, postcard fiction, short short, short short story, sudden fiction" (Sustana). Weighing in at 750 words or less, it requires not just a few words, but exact words.
Micro-Fiction is prose, not poetry with or without a rhyme. It must have a beginning, middle, and end with rising tension, climax and denouement.
Micro-Fiction is not a vignette. The reality that vignette is often used to describe micro-fiction leads to more than a little confusion. To clear up any confusion a definition found at Vine Leaves Literary Journal makes it clear why a vignette is not microfiction. "A Vignette is what you call a snapshot in words. It differs from flash fiction or a short story in that its aim doesn’t lie within the traditional realms of structure or plot. Instead, the vignette focuses on one element, mood, character, setting, object, or if you’re clever, a unique and smooth blend of them all." (Vignette Writing Tips) So, if a piece of Micro-fiction does not have the traditional elements of the story, it may be a vignette, but it is not micro-fiction.
Finally, if micro-fiction is good, it is like sixty seconds of the best sex you ever had in your life. You have the beginning (foreplay), rising action (stimulation) leading to "climax," followed by denouement (after-glow). Get it wrong, and meh.
In the "The Essentials of Micro-Fiction" by Camille Renshaw of PIF Magazine, the absolute essentials of Micro-fiction are length and form, editing and re-editing, and soul-stirring language. (Renshaw) The first draft will never, ever make it across the line. The careful search for the just the right words makes a piece of Flash fiction and is critical when putting all of those critical elements into the story.
I wrote my first microfiction, an experiment in the form, titled “My Secret Hippy Life.” (250 words) It was fun but will need considerable editing.
Renshaw, Camille. "The Essentials of Micro-Fiction." Pif Magazine. PIF Magazine, 1 June 1998. Web. 20 Sept. 2014. <http://www.pifmagazine.com/1998/06/the-essentials-of-microfiction/>.
Sustana, Catherine. "What Is Flash Fiction, Anyway?" About Entertainment. About.com, 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014. <http://shortstories.about.com/od/Flash/a/What-Is-Flash-Fiction.htm>.
"Vignette Writing Tips." Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Vine Leaves Press, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2014. <http://www.vineleavesliteraryjournal.com/vignette-writing-tips.html>
I have always passed through cycles of highs and lows. They are not linked with light, being sad is not caused by SAD. They are not consistently synchronized to stress or another stimulus. In my mind, I see these swings in mood like a Sine wave, not perfectly synchronized, but an ever-shifting landscape of mood that lasts two to four weeks per cycle.
When my cycle is high I have more energy, more drive, and a tendency to bolt from idea to project like an unruly horse. I have immense energy to do things and difficulty sticking to a project for the long run to finish it. In a down cycle, my drive changes to a drag, and as if someone hooked a chain from the belt loop in the center of my back to a 1955 bottle green Ford Custom. It is easier to stick to a single project, but dragging that Ford leaves me am hyper critical of everything because to my eyes all words carry the brown odor of crap.
I deal with the depression cycle by setting goals. I submit at least one new short story a week and write 1666 words per day on a project. I keep a long list of projects, their point in the development cycle, and what comes next.
I do not let myself wallow. I write every day, even where all the words are brown.
After looking at my body of work, one thing that came to mind was that I rarely create assholes.
I am not talking about villains, the antagonist in a piece of fiction whose job it is to make the protagonists life a living hell. I can do villains. What I do not write are characters who are simply not nice people, who are dicks, or assholes.
These people have to fill a place in the story, an important place. But their spot is not your classic buddy or sidekick. They are often sources of information, partners of necessity, experts with attitudes. Creating one requires the writer to work out some of their bad traits and the core of their relationship with the protagonist in advance.
It is possible to look at characters in fiction and see how these things work.
Take Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, in the stories, saw a crime as a puzzle, and after he kicked his cocaine habit his investigations were really what gave him a high. As a human, he was distant, even to his closest friend Watson. Thanks to Holmes private dicks who are outright dickish are a sort of tradition if not a subgenre of detective fiction.
Harrison Ford's Hahn Solo is a classic asshole. Initially, he is selfish, self-interested, jerk. He changes by the end of the first movie by choosing to come to the aid of his friend, something I considered a minor violation of his basic character. He retained just enough of his dickish charm through the original movies, to keep him from becoming a classic hero. Actually, I preferred him as a dick motivated by self-interest.
More recently, Ironman has actually taken the self-absorbed arrogant dick and made him a real hero, which Robert Downey Jr. played to the hilt. Another Asshole in this mold is Hugh Laurie's "House," who is often a manipulative, arrogant, tin pot god in the hospital, that people ca not help but like.
What "Ironman" and "House" show me about assholes and dicks is that there must be a core of charm, wit, intelligence, and courage to make these characters workable. A stupid, cowardly asshole or a bully who blunders through the world doesn't cut it. The best dicks and assholes in fiction are characters we admire, that we are attracted to, even if we hate ourselves for doing it.
The big push today is Rabbit Hole, then Jungian Gate.
I've been doing this for a while, but keeping it secret. Decided to today to make it public. Nobody reads it anyway. This is my tool to keep myself on task. These are the projects at the top of my list. Today, Rabbit Hole came first. For the rest of the day I will be working Jungian Gate, Serpent's Kiss, and maybe Useless.
- Jungian Gate - Editing Grammar Check and Prepare to Submit to DAW
- Serpent's Kiss - Rewriting and shortening
- Useless - Editing
- Clockwerk Führer (Novella) - Snowflake outline
- Rabbit Hole - Submit to Uncanny DONE
- Do the Scrivener Tutorial
- The Idea Pusher Rewrite
Rabbit Hole - Grammar Check - Last Read - Submit to http://uncannymag.com/2014/09/11/uncanny-is-open-to-submissions/
- Grammar Check
- Wrote Submission Letter.
- Edited and Submitted Rabbit Hole to Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction.
The Jungian Gate
- Edited Spell-checked first draft.
A good writer's group is like that spoon full of sugar that Marry Poppins keeps singing about.
Attended the Mysterious Galaxy writer's group meeting last night at Coco's Diner on Balboa. They took my story apart in detail, and I loved every second of it. They pointed out what was wrong with my story and how to fix it.
Better, I received a challenged to write a short story with spare prose. Something that violates my normal author's voice. So I read "Hills Like White Elephants" by Steinbeck, found an image to set the scene (See Below) , and now I am planning the story and the characters. Something about time travel.
I often considered writing a Web Serial or a Blovel. Joan Albright is a woman who has written one.
The first installation of Silas Merryweather's tale is fast paced, with interesting characters. The real treat for me is the world building. She reveals only a bit of a fascinating world where the story calls home. It is well worth following.
A Web Serial by Joan Albright
He clung to his tiny skiff as a particularly strong gust of wind tried to blow him right into the cloudless grey sky. The bell-shaped sail billowed out behind him, lifting the oversized bowl that made up the body of the skiff until it was nearly level with the end of its tether. Silas wrapped his arms tightly around the bronze shiprail, waiting it out.
“You’re such a chicken, Silas Merryweather,” Windy called over the stiff breeze. She too gripped the shiprail, but unlike Silas she was outside the wooden chainskiff. Her trousered legs and leather-booted feet floated behind her, weightless. A few locks of black hair stuck out from her aviator’s cap and blew wildly about, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Have you really been doing this for a whole year?”
“Just hurry,” Silas pleaded, trying to tug the collar of his fleece-lined jacket tighter and hold onto the rail at the same time. He wished the jacket would buckle all the way up under his chin, like Windy’s. She didn’t seem cold at all. “Helio tower says there’s a storm coming in tonight.”
Submitting work is hit or miss. Keeping track of all it in my head is just too much to ask with all the stories, protagonists, antagonists, supporting roles, plots, counterplots, revolutions, and outright mayhem that is part of writing fiction. I could do it with a spreadsheet, as is used by many writers, but I want to try to keep the bookkeeping hours to a minimum. Since I am working on a shoestring tied to a prayer, finding something that is free is high on my priorities.
While looking for a market for my story "Prima Donna in Clockwork" I stumbled over the blog "Author Alden." While perusing Author Alden's lists of websites that offer Market listings, I saw lists of submission trackers: Sonar3, Writer Planner, The Writer's Database and The Grinder.
Sonar 3 is a freeware from Spacejock Software, written and managed by Simon Haynes. Mr. Haynes writes many good programs for writers. Sonar 3 allows a writer to enter information on markets and track submissions.
Writer Planner is a web-based free tracker. This site does everything Sonar 3 does plus has market listings available to members. Like Sonar 3, it is free and easy to use. So I keep it fresh in my mind, I have it set up on a tab in Outlook and Chrome.
Writer's Database is a free tracker. Like Writer Planner, it has market listings and allows reminders.
The Grinder is a new site in Beta Test. It keeps statistics of submissions. It is not as full featured as the others here.
At the moment, I am using all three and over the next few months I will decide which one works best for me.
This magazine is not yet open to submissions, but it bears watching.
Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Ficiton
Yard Dog Press is a new Market I found via a link by Cj Cherryh on Facebook.
They are not accepting submissions at the moment, but they are worth watching.