Choosing Non-Violence in Writing

image from open clipart.org by studio_hades

I write all kinds of stories, but my favorite ones are where my character is presented with an opportunity for violence and rejects it.  It’s where my real life persona bleeds into my writing.  

 It’s difficult as a writer to create stories centered in nonviolence.  A death, fight, or even the threat of violence creates stakes in a work that keeps readers interested.  If no one is going to die or be harmed, then what drives investment?  

  1. Build interesting Characters.  Characters a reader wants to learn about benefit ALL works, but building a curiosity about “what will happen next” when a reader is confident the character is “safe” is crucial if you aren’t going to hold anyone’s life at gunpoint.  Readers have to invest because these your characters are funny, charming, quirky, intelligent, or determined.  
  2. Build Relationships.  Core to the soap opera genre is the “will they won’t they” “What will happen when Susie finds out?!” kind of drama. While soap operas also offer violence, often because serials have gone on soooo long, every relationship twist has been picked clean.  If you create deep complicated characters with established relationships, they you can hold interest with their interactions a long time, without ever threatening anyone’s life.
  3. Have a lot of characters.  People are social animals, and we like social interactions.  Instead of two main characters.  Have ten.  Let them have their own side plots, spread them out in your world.  Let them argue, separate, go their own ways and meet back up.  Conflicted goals and ideas can create a rat race to see who achieves their ends firsts.  Watch the “good people” get lost in less than moral means to their ends and the “bad people” gain humanity as they see all the harm created from theft x.  
  4. Add Mystery.  If people aren’t going around stabbing each other and shooting up schools, then there needs to be something else happening.  A quest, a pilgrimage, a strange ritual, or an action element that’s out of place.  Something curious or suspicious that makes readers wonder “what’s really going on?”
  5. Add Movement.  Violence is often equated with action, but it doesn’t have to be.  Dance, chases, cooking/cafes/restaurants/hotels all incorporate motion by design.  Giving the reader little actions to focus on 

Behind the Scenes: Writing “Halloween Spirit”

image from openclipart.org by bf5man

This post speaks to my personal writing process for “Halloween Spirit” and as such is contains spoilers for that work.  For a deeper understanding of the elements included or explained in this post please read my flash fiction (it’s short and free ^_^).

Zach Standfield challenged me to write a piece of flash fiction in August. One of the ideas I had was to create an elaborate detailed summoning rite that brought about the end of the world. The short work would focus on my strengths: lyric description and magic set in a modern world. It would avoid my weakness for action scenes and it side steps issues I have about over explaining or creating a finite conclusion.

I wrote two flash works for Zach (neither of which he’s seen) and they both took a grim turn resulting in the brutal murder of the female main character from outside forces she surrenders to. Waaaaay too close a metaphor for the suicidal tendencies slipping into my own head because I’m not handling stress well at work. For the record, I’m not contemplating a plan to end my life, it would be stupid to take a permanent solution for a fleeting problem. But the stress from ongoing conflicts at work is leading me to think “it would be much easier if I wasn’t around” and that was coming through too literally in my writing.

I shelved the third flash idea since I didn’t want it to morph into a 30 something female woman sacrificing herself on the boardroom floor, using the energy of her death to open a hell dimension that forces the people who mistreated her their to suffer for eternity.

Then, I had an idea for our blog. Each of us should write a Halloween themed flash for our blog. Awesome idea, except I suck at short stories and had no idea what I would write.

I thought maybe I’d lean into my fae angle and do a “Wild Hunt” style thing, but “The Most Dangerous Game” already exists. Plus, the idea took over 1,000 words to explore. If I wanted to do something new/interesting, it would take more than 1,000 words.

Next I thought “what’s my thing in the writers’ group?” My literary device is some kind of magic. This reminded me of the summoning story I‘d planned for Zach’s challenge. The problem: no Halloween tie in. So I changed the summons and instead of focusing on a cinematic summoning ritual, I focused on the holiday and hidden darkness that lingers in the fall. I played on the “Wicca” God and Goddess creation myth where the Goddess Births the God, they become lovers, and he dies on Samhain, to be birthed out again in the following Yule. I tossed in two cult classic “Wicker Man” (1973) references to hearken the reader back to a certain time and tone.

For birds gathering, I chose crows over ravens primarily to reference the figure “The Crow” (1994) and foreshadow the death elements. Also, crow mythology pegs the creatures as watchful, resourceful and often tricksters… all elements I wanted to elicit in my story. I thought about using Ravens in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, but those birds are larger, live in only specific regions, and mythologically relate back to winter.

I wrote the first 600 words in one afternoon and would have finished, but I had to stop and go to work. I reread/edited what I had so far and finished the first draft four days later. Ran everything through ProWritingAid and posted to Google Docs for the Writers’ Group to Critique. I read it out loud one last time and added it to our queue for publication.

While the creation process was painless, I’m torn on whether I like the final product. There are great single lines and ideas, but the word limit combined with the time constraint kept me from digging in to find a perfect moment. I usually only consider works done after months of review and reflection, so I figure in six months time, I’ll know what would make this story engaging.

 

Interested in reading more from Jessica Donegan?  Check out the NEWG bliz round robin exercise here with Jessica’s ending available here

Looking for more spooky stories, please consider Christopher M. Palmer’s work “The Ghost Strikes at Midnight

Question on the Hour: What place does Music have in Your Writing?

 

photo by Amanda Standfield

 

Do you listen to music when you write or is the room dead silent?  Do you use a special mix with specific songs or do you pick a genre and then let Spotify or pandora pick the playlist?  Do you prefer songs with lyrics or are you into pure instrumentals?  Can you write only with music or only in silence?

For starters, my music service of choice is Pandora.  Ever since the service came out, I loved its evocative name and the way the service introduces me to new music has always intrigued me.  Countless hours in college fiddling with the radio settings and “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” different songs, forged a lifetime bond with this service.  I keep some channels so fine tuned that some songs I like don’t play on one station, only the other.  All this personalization is perfect for writing because I can pinpoint what kind of emotion and tempo I want while I write. 

As a general starting place, I listen to pop/dance music when I write.  The fast beats encourage the words to flow fast and constant.  Most pop/dance is repetitive and uncreative (sorry), which helps me get to a state of mind without coloring my prose.  Unless as you read this you’re thinking “oh no no no, don’t phunk with my heart,” Black Eyed Peas make consistent appearances on this channel.  The best part of my dance music motif is that when I get stuck on a certain scene, I can stop writing and start an impromptu dance party!  Nothing drives progress like an endorphin hit.

That said, I have a short story I inspired by one specific song.  To write it, I looped the one song the during the whole writing process—hours of the same song, and I still find that song mysterious and inspiring.  Something about its slow start that transforms to frantic drums and ends abruptly –

For reference, while I like pop/dance just fine but they aren’t my go to genre.  Except Lady Gaga whose amazing, my music preferences just for enjoyment include hard rock, metal, alt rock, grunge, and folk.  Angry and loud or pensive and angst (but never Emo they feels are manufactured).  I like songs I can channel feelings through and release.  Problem with this kind of music is that sometimes it makes me feel too much.  The writing becomes too personal or I’m too busy wallowing in an emotion to refocus on what I meant to do.  I might occasionally listen to a folk or rock station briefly so I can capture that bit of that depth my writing, but I don’t want to live there.  Writing or reading a story that’s all brooding anger and open wounds sounds terrible and exhausting for everyone involved.

Do your music preferences match what you listen too?  If you use a writers’ playlist, what does it reveal about you as a person or as a writer?  Follow up thought: do you longer works have playlist?  What about your characters?  My favorite creation, Roxi, has a playlist and I wonder how many other authors’ creations take on a life of own through music.

Why Do You Write?

image from open clipart.org by Firkin

 

It’s a simple question, but one I’ve found a lot of writers have never asked themselves.

I write because I have stories and I want to tell them.  Compulsion pulls me through where a reasonable person may surrender.  There are days where I think “even if no one ever sees this, I need to complete it.”  That’s an internal part of writing, when an idea gets too big to hold in my head and needs to come out to the page.   There are stories of mine I’ll never seek to publish.  I “had” to write them, but that doesn’t mean they are good or meant for public consumption.  Two, even though they are fiction, just mean personal things I don’t want to share.  Others are artistic dabbles that I either think aren’t good or may be acceptable but not noteworthy enough to go through the work trying to publish.

I write because I enjoy reading but it’s rare I find an engaging story.  Arrogance at it’s finest, to think I can be more unique and captivating that those already published.  What I want is so niche it’s probably not worth creating.  If I’m looking for a gritty urban fantasy with relatable characters, attainable goals, and both good and negative parts of magic and myth running the world, there must be other people looking for that.  Urban fantasy readers can’t all be there for the romance and laughs.  Some of them must be like me looking for the substance.  American Gods exists and was a huge hit.  There are so many other directions a work like that could go that I want to see.

I write as a way for reaching out to others.  As someone shy, nervous, and concerned about other’s feelings and perspectives, there is no better way to broach difficult topics than through fiction.   It’s a lot harder to feel attacked by an idea expressed in an imaginary world than an idea that will affect people now.  Stories create space for people to say “that’s an interesting idea, could it work here?” or “I wonder if issue X is relevant now and what that looks like?”

I write because it distracts me when my anxiety is high.  To a lesser extent: I write when I’m depressed because I need something beautiful or I write when the world spins out of control because writing is all in my hands.  Most writers I know have an element of this.  They are pensive, depressed, anxious, socially awkward and writing mitigates that for them.

I write because it’s one of the few skills I have that makes me proud and leaves me feeling accomplished.  I write because I have something to say and I’m always exploring new ways to express my points.

And now you, the reader, know me better.  Tell me something about yourself.  Are you a writer?  What do you write?  If it’s fiction in nature, why write it?  If you’re a reader, what do you read and why read it?

August Submissions Roundup

We have an ongoing submissions page here.  Back because it seems like our round ups get the most comments.

 

Aug 15th 

 

Strange Constellations– Short speculative stories 3,000-7,000 words scifi-fantasy preference but will take anything that compels pays $30

 

Psycho Pomp Magazine– up to 5,000 words”The Psychopomp Magazine staff is committed to publishing original fiction that dares to redefine traditional storytelling and genre borders. While we like stories that treat the concepts of passages, transitions, and the state of being betwixt and between, we are open to all work regardless of theme. We are generally not looking for traditional realist fiction or pure hard genre.” pays $.02/a word

 

A Punk Rock Future– 350-6,000 words “We’d like to see dystopias, utopias, or something in-between; anything with a punk rock sensibility/ethos; alternative history; the promise of punk; the failure of punk; music-inspired stories; science fiction; fantasy; or horror. No matter the genre label, stories must have a speculative element.” pays $.06/ word

 

Luna Station Quarterly– 500-7,000 words scifi/fantasy with Crones as the main proganist looking for female identified authors pays $5

 

Aug 21st

 

Colp– 1,000-5,000 words anything goes with the theme “Sky is the limit” pay $5 for 2,000 words and $10 for above 2,ooo words

 

Aug 22nd

 

Three Crows Magazine– up to 4,000 words looking for weird dark fiction or gritty fantasy/scifi/horror looking for morally ambiguous decisions pays $25

 

Aug 30th

 

Qulit Magazine– prose up to 8,000 words no genre suggestions pays $100

 

 

Oklahoma Pagan Quarterly– a scary story contest with prize money for Samhain aka Halloween themed stories.  They have more details at their side

 

Apparation Lit– 1,000-5,000 words on the them of the theme of diversion speculative in nature= scifi, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, genderless fiction pays $.01 a word

 

There are a lot more submissions out there, but I cut the list down to what interested me.  Others either didn’t click with my creative muse or insulted my inherent sense of value (I’d do that, but not for the money they’re offering).  Very subjective collection, but I hope it gives others a place to start this month.  Happy writing!

The Rules of the Game

image from open clipart.org by nicubunu

 

I am the self-appointed editor of our group round robins.  Anyone who’s read our work knows I am LEAST qualified of the four of us.  ProWritingAid is the great equalizer, or at least I have to tell myself it is.

As the editor I have self-imposed rules.

 

1. Don’t change the core of other’s sections.  Whatever they wrote is what they intended and I have to work with that, not hack and slash around to change inherent meaning.  Too much change makes it “my story” instead of “our story” which runs contrary to the round robin’s goals.

 

 2. Seamless flow from one writer to the other is the goal, but I can’t change all the phrasing to be “Jessica” (or anyone else’s) style to achieve this.  It’s not right to erase someone else’s voice on a joint work to showcase another’s.

 

This worked well in our first round robin.  I used ProWritingAid first to correct grammar, style, to catch and rework repetitive phrasing, and to delete adverbs.  The major change I made was plot continuity driven.  One writer misread another’s part of the story.  Where Anges finds a dead body that writer interpreted it as Anges being the dead body.  I had to change content.  I adjusted three lines.

 

Fast forward to our second round robin project.  We used Reedsy to find a prompt.  The gist was: “Your grandmother makes pancakes for you every morning.  Your grandmother dies, but there are still pancakes the next morning.

 

This prompt was a different challenge from the last.   The first story blooms from three words/themes.  Using a specific scenario, encouraged more partnership instead of competition to “take over” the story.  This second round robin was smoother and required a lot less finessing to make it seem like one person had written the work.

 

If reworking it was simple why isn’t it posted here?

 

The “problem”: I hate my part of the story.  Not all.  I’m happy with the first three almost four paragraphs, but it goes downhill fast.  My ambitions to churn the most words and be the first to “finish” a round robin in fifteen minutes left me with a rambling sticky mess.  I do not want to publish such a poor expression of my writing.  Everything I think is weakest in my form is on display.

 

What might be worse, my closing section only drives towards a handful of endings.  I broadcasted the only natural conclusion, and that’s driving me to play with the less obvious choices to thumb my nose at myself (because I hate authority so much I’ll rebel against myself when I become the authority and isn’t that an unattractive personality quirk).

 

Help!  Do I publish and unfinished story as it stands?  Do I scrap this work as hopeless?  Do I make my changes because if I cut the last two paragraphs I could write three kinds of separate endings on my own?  Are more drastic changes to my section a benefit I gain as the person completing the editing work?  Do I have to keep everything I wrote in the spirit of the exercise and endure the cringe?  Tell me what’s a “professional” writer/editor to do in this situation with my minor conflict of interest.

Progress: What Markers Indicate Success?

image from open clipart.org by Firkin

July is one of the Camp NanoWrimo months and it’s made me reflective.  NanoWrimo is all about encouraging a person to write because a story-teller can’t do anything with an idea in their head.  They need to express their concept outside of their mind and writing is one format.

I, like Nano,  judge my success by word count.  A thousand words an hour is the bare minimum required to claim success.  If the other writers achieve a hundred or two hundred words in a blitz round robin, I want to double it.  Out pace them with verbiage, the quality of the story spun be damned.  Do all the articles and adverbs just make my writing clunky?  Do I spend too much time hammering a point?  All of it takes a back seat to the count of words I’ve crammed together.

I’m very frustrated working on my novel right now because the words are taking so long to come out.  I’ve “completed” a new third chapter.  It’s about 2,500 words and took me five hours to write.  That’s so slow for me, I never got the victory high completing story elements offers me.

I’d told a fellow writer it would take me two weeks of dedicated work to rearrange the novel.  I made those claims based off of the word count I predicted I’d add.  It’s been longer than two weeks and I’m not that far in.  I’m still asking myself questions over the new third chapter, that keep me from moving cutting the rest of my chapters open and finishing them (though I will attack the fourth chapter today no matter what).

Even Nano, knows writing is the first step to crafting a story.  November is their traditional writing month (outside of camp), but January/February focuses on the editing and publishing process.

What, besides the story idea itself, drives you to write and how do you measure your success?  How do you push through editing or slow word counts ticks?  I’m straining to think of other elements I can track that might show success.  Is there a search for emotional depth or for a “realistic” action?  Does a writer need to fall in love with their own writing and style, seeking achievement through reveling in the quality of their story development?

Opening the floor to the other writers: if word count isn’t your measure what keeps you sane in the writing process?  How do you leash your agitation at the slow pace of progress?

And anyone working through a Nano Camp run, happy typing!

Looking for a better way to count those words or encourage the words to keep coming?  Try our Bells and Whistles: Fancy Tools to Encourage Writing

Would You Rather….

image from open clipart.org by oksmith

 

Fellow writers: would you rather a reviewer tell you that the book’s story and characters were amazing but the writing quality didn’t meet expectations or that your book’s writing was mind blowing but the characters and story were cliche retreaded territory?  Follow up bonus question: are your feelings hurt by either or these critiques?

 

I’m asking because I write a lot of book reviews (check me out on Goodreads/shameless plug) and they are critical, even on books I like. I wonder like many aspiring writers might, what effects if any of my reviews have on the authors and on my ability to reach out/break into their world of publication.  Am I speaking to other readers or do authors also follow discussions on their books?  Am I closing doors by breaking a book down or am I showcasing a thoughtful and attentive mind by considering so many facets?  For me these answers break down to whether my comments are offensive and insults are often in the eye of the beholder.

 

Assuming for the moment that critical discussion on aspects of a book don’t automatically equal injury, I want to know what specific kinds of critical discussion would be fair to discuss with an author.

 

Personally, I’d rather have characters and plot that a reader falls in love with than pitch perfect writing.  Things I want to hear include: “The characters felt very real,”, “I felt like I knew everything about these characters,”, “I needed to know more,”, “I’ve never seen this kind of story explored this way.”

 

That said, I have a distinctive sing song almost poetic style in all my writing.  I have an unique “tone.”  If someone compared my writing to another person’s style, I’d be curious to read more of that person’s work and excited to meet a kindred spirit.  If someone doesn’t like my style, I get that too.  It’s heavy in description, relies on alliteration, and is simile/metaphor heavy.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

Grammatically, I know I need serious help.  Critiques to that effect can dishearten me after I’ve gone through editing that relates to correcting grammar, but it doesn’t cut me.  Either I can go back in and correct the grammatical errors (a bonus to electronic publishing), or I’ve made the error in favor of how a phrase flows or draws out a feeling fragmented instead of a full detailed thought.

 

Does it all boil down to where we as writers are insecure?  My confidence in writing style makes me believe problems in my book must be character/plot related, and therefor I’m more concerned with feedback from those quarters.  I still want the feedback.  For me there is never enough feedback or feedback that’s too harsh as long as it comes with specific examples so I can follow another’s thoughts.

 

Please give me your thoughts.  Do you fear another kind of feedback?  If someone published you would negative or mixed reviews hurt your feelings?  And how do you rate books/media?

March Calls for Submission

A little last minute, especially for the mid March deadlines, but I figured I’d offer them anyway.

 

March 15th 

 

Cenorot 2,500-6,000 words pays $.06 a word the prompt: “The year is 2025. The planet has been riddled with radiation and in an effort to sustain life the world’s leading scientists have come up with a new procedure to keep humans and animals alive. The success rate was high … until the new creatures began to show signs of rot. Genetically and physically enhanced, these monsters begin to turn on each other and their makers.”  On a personal note I really wanted to write something for this and found myself bogged down in the “how” and “why” but I’d LOVE to read this anthology.  Hoping to see good things here

 

Transmundane Press up to 6,000 words story themed with dreams, hallucinations, nightmares, and/or visions pays $5-$20 depending on length

 

Gehenna & Hinnom Books  Their magazine does rolling submissions with one window closing March 15th.  Looking for weird and cosmic fiction $30 for flash and $55 for short stories they respond in 30 business days to a query.

 

March 30th 

 

The New Mexico Review 500- 1,500 words new and emerging fiction with south western flare

 

Corpus Press Halloween stories 4,000-8,000 words scary, atmospheric, thought provoking, humorous or satirical pays $.03 a word

 

March 31st

 

Pantheon Magazine “What we want: Weird, dark fiction; slipstream; magical realism; horror. Fiction with a touch of mythic quality. We want themes based around transformations—things that are shapeshifting, things that are emerging. Make Ovid’s Metamorphoses contemporary and weird and scary. We want a wide scope of voices, cultures, and perspectives.”  1,000-2,000 words flash pays $.06 a word

 

Arachane Press no more than 2000 words to celebrate the end of WW2

 

Weird Nature Anthology 2,500-10,000 words. The title intrigued me but I couldn’t make heads or tales or what the publisher wanted.  Couldn’t even figure out an excerpt to offer.

 

April 1st

 

Paper Dog Books 1,000-5,000 words “We’re looking for works of short speculative fiction that consider the future of the internet, artificial intelligence, the mind, and robots. Give us your optimistic, fantastic, bittersweet stories of fantasy and science fiction” pays $.06 a word and attempts to respond within 60 days

 

 

 

Love, Murder, & Romance~ Christopher M. Palmer’s Ending

Part 1

 

She managed to collect herself enough to answer. “Three or four years.”

“Well, it doesn’t seem that we have much of a mystery here. She was obviously involved with him for some time and it appears he was killed in a jealous rage.” Batson was a local and he seemed to know which side his bread was buttered on. “There will be an inquest, of course, but, the way I see it, the facts are rather cut and dried.”

Beatrice dared hope that he was playing along. Surely he couldn’t be so dim as to believe that was all there was to it. She resumed dabbing her tear-filled eyes, but her sobbing subsided. “I can’t believe it. She always was his favorite and I’ve never had reason to suspect anything untoward going on between them.”

“Yes, well. I’m sorry for your loss, Lady Beatrice. I will take my leave to deal with the county authorities and you will have your obligations to handle as well. I’m truly sorry for your loss.” He rose to go.

Beatrice took his hand, but didn’t dare look him in the eye, yet. “Thank you, Constable. It’s going to be hard, but I’m heartened to hear that the family won’t be dragged through the mud with this.”

“As you say, Lady Beatrice.”

Batson really was a handsome man. Perhaps after a suitable period of mourning, she would have him over for tea.

 

End

 

Like Christopher M. Palmer’s Ending best?  Let him know in the comments below? 

Want more? See Patrick O’Kelley’s Ending or Jessica Donegan’s Ending