Five Things You Learn from #NaNoWriMo

Emma Baird on NaNoWriMoWhat do you learn about yourself if you decide to embark on a fool-hardy challenge such as committing to writing 50,000 words in a month?

Yes, folks I’m the sort who over-promises and under-delivers to herself all the time. What does November lack, I pondered, what with the part-time job going through its busiest month of the year, my freelance clients all ramping up the work they need and TV not helping by adding distractions to my life such as the premiere of Outlaw King* on Netflix and The Little Drummer Girl on the BBC?

Obviously, I should add writing a rom-com novel to the month’s to-do list, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

But NaNoWriMo has surprised me. Forcing yourself in front of your laptop every day as a blank page blinks at you and your fingers hover above the keyboard refusing to do anything has proved enlightening.

Here’s what I’ve got from the experience so far:

  1. A sense of perspective. Forcing yourself to write 2,000 plus words every single day makes my day job, copy writing, seem a dawdle. What, you want 500 words for your blog? Is that all? Easy-peasy.
  2. You have to tell your inner editor to jog on. Nothing to see here, dear. Come back some other time and tweak that sentence, copy and paste or add in the correct punctuation but at this moment in time YOU ARE NOT WELCOME.
  3. The inner editor isn’t invited but the inner geek pushes her to one side. The dashboard on the official NaNoWriMo website throws up figures that change every day. How many words you’ve written, numbers needed to finish on time, average length of each writing session etc. And if there’s anything I love, it’s personal data. The NaNoWriMo dashboard has just joined the Fitbit one as things I spend too long swooning over.
  4. The value of plotting. As anyone who has read my previous books can attest, I prefer throwing things at a book and seeing if they stick to working out what MIGHT happen in advance. This time I’ve outlined every chapter and am now a convert. Plot outlines work! Who knew?
  5. Abandon all social life all ye who enter here. Yup, that kind of writing schedule takes over your life. From taking your laptop on trains as you commute, to knocking back invites, switching the TV off at night and turning down offers to test out the offerings at a gastro-pub in Glasgow, my life is deadly dull. Temporarily, I hope. Otherwise, I’m not going to make a convincing writer in the future if I have no interesting life experiences to draw on.

And the biggest revelation of all? I’ve fallen back in love with writing. I’m head over heels. Before this, I was plodding my way through re-writing a book I’ve never liked. Ye gods, it was tedious. I’ve been forced to abandon it, and now switching on the laptop every day to fire off 2,000 words or so never feels like a chore. I look forward to it and at the end of every session, I know I can keep going if I want. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s heady.

It’s still early days. By week three, I’ll probably reach the bit where I hate the book, think it’s the worst thing anyone has ever had the misfortune to write or read and wish my characters would just sort themselves out with no help from me.

In the meantime, chapter 10 beckons…

#amwriting #nanowrimo

*I was forced to commit Netflix infidelity for the first time to watch the film but blimey it’s immense, ladies and gentlemen. The scenery will blow your socks off. 

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Dating in the 90s

Like anything else, dating is subject to change over the years.

If you dated in the 1960s, like my mum, you’d do a lot of dancing mainly because it gave people a legit excuse to touch each other. Ditto dates to the cinema, which offered darkness as a cover for all kinds of shenanigans.

Thanks to an unfortunate predilection for the bad boys, I did a lot of dating in the 80s, 90s and noughties before stumbling on my husband in 2008 (praise be!). When I wrote Artists Town, which is sent in the early 1990s, it took me back down memory lane and the days of dating pre-mobile phones and the internet.

In those days, dear Millennials and Gen Z readers, here’s what we put up with…

  1. In the 80s, answer machines were only just coming in, so if someone wasn’t in their house you had to phone them a lot while your fevered imagination conjured up scenarios of said guy out with Dread Other Girl.
  2. Most people had landlines—one per house. Phoning your beau often meant getting past his mother. Excruciating, especially when said bad boy made her lie on his behalf, and you heard him in the room whispering that she was to tell you he was out/ill/dead.
  3. No-one Google stalked anyone before going out with them. All you had to go on was what they told you—or their reputation. (The badder, the better worked for me.)
  4. And no Google stalking a person meant their dodgy political views came as a nasty surprise six dates in.
  5. Swipe right/left took place in real life. You’d go to a party or a disco and eye up the girls/boys and see them doing the same back—no, no, not in a million years, wouldn’t touch her with my mate’s, okay if I don’t find anyone else by the end of the night, andYES.
  6. You were able to hang up on people. In theory that’s possible now, but that misses out on the satisfaction of slamming down a phone, leaving the other person listening to the pips. Bad boy enthusiasts needed to do that a lot.
  7. If you grew up in a small town, as I did, no-one owned up to gayness. They just left and headed for the big cities where more open-minded folks lived.
  8. To Netflix and chill, you had to go to Blockbuster’s and pick up a VHS tape or DVD. And if you wanted to watch a series together, YOU HAD TO WAIT A WEEK BETWEEN EACH EPISODE!*
  9. Dates meant punctuality. Without a mobile phone, letting someone know you were going to be late wasn’t an option.
  10. If you wanted nude pictures of your guy or girl, you took them with a Polaroid camera—an instant snap, which cut out the embarrassment of taking your film to be developed in Boots.

The good thing about that last point is that revenge porn wasn’t that much of a thing in ye olden days. Your disgruntled ex could only share the picture afterwards with his mates, instead of putting them online where millions could admire your tush, bush and boobs. If he wanted to send it to Readers Wives, that would involve putting the picture in an envelope, addressing it, buying a stamp and posting it—rather than clicking two buttons.

Artists Town is available here and here. Pic thanks to anime90210 on deviant art

 

 

*I know. I saw all 92 episodes of Mad Men in two months earlier this year, I look back at those days and wonder how I coped.

Kindle sample page of Artists Town by Emma Baird

No-one has ever punched anyone for me before…

Artists Town – book one of the Artist Books series – is out now. Set in the early 1990s, the story explores friendship, first love and the secrets we keep. Here’s a small extract…

a powder compact and make-up brushOutside the front of the shop, Daisy burst into laughter, the effort of it causing her to double up, hands on thighs.

“I can’t believe you punched that security guy! You nutter,” she stuttered, the words coming out in fits and bursts. Then, “No-one’s ever hit anyone for me before.”

Katrina smiled at that.

“Shall I give my cousin a call?” She pointed at their bikes. “Mebbe you shouldn’t cycle back. He can bring the work van. We can put the bikes in there.”

Daisy agreed, relieved at the prospect of not having to cycle back but dismayed at the thought of Katrina’s gorgeous cousin seeing her. She could feel sweat drying on her body, and she knew her face was scarlet.

Katrina must have seen something in her face. She held out a powder compact and a lip gloss. “Here you go. Put a bit of this on.”

“Where did you get that?” Daisy asked. The makeup looked suspiciously new, packaging still in place.

Taking her bike from where it lay against the wall, Katrina looked back at her and grinned.

“I nicked them when I took the sweets.”

Artists Town is available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

 

 

Another chapter of something I’m working on at present. It’s set about twenty-five years ago, as you might realise from the smoking reference…

“Do you know when he’s coming?”

Alfie observed her as he asked the question. In a moment of weakness earlier that week, Katrina had told him she’d had a postcard from Mick, and that he was coming to London.

It was the first time she’d ever mentioned a guy, and Alfie had stilled the second his name left her lips. He stopped what he was doing—the ever-necessary sweeping up of chopped-off hair—and looked at her.

“Who’s Mick?”

About to reply, Katrina paused. She recognised the tone. It was the sound of someone asking something they thought was crucial, and Katrina couldn’t stand the thought of anyone knowing too much about her. Her secrets were her own. If she wasn’t prepared to share how she felt about Mick with Daisy, she certainly wasn’t sitting down to a confidential with Alfie.

She bent to the floor with the dustpan and brush. “He’s this old friend from back home. Nowheresville, remember?”

When she had started at Chevelure Chic last year, Alfie had cosied up to her straight away. The salon was miles apart from Dulcie’s, the hairdressers where she’d started her apprenticeship at the age of sixteen. There weren’t pensioners’ specials for a start, where little old ladies could come in and get their hair washed and set for less than the price of one of the glossy magazines that littered the low-slung coffee tables of Chevelure Chic’s waiting room.

No, this salon catered for what Daisy called “famouses”, the rich, the great and the good of London came here to be pampered and flattered. It had taken Katrina one or two tries to get the flattering bit right, but a few terse words from Chevelure Chic’s owner had done the trick. Nowadays, she simpered with the rest of them.

Alfie, one of only two young male apprentices, waited for her outside the salon after her first day.

“Want a fag?” He held out a packet of Marlborough Lights.

Katrina wrinkled her nose up. “No. I only smoke menthols.” She hadn’t expected him to produce those too, but he did so.

“Where are you from, love?” Alfie was a Londoner through and through. She thought his accent ugly, too harsh for someone so young. He was about her age, she guessed, and slight, another contradiction to the voice.

Like everyone who worked in the salon, he took advantage of the freebies on offer, and his hair was incredible—thick, dark and shaved in at the sides, with the top of it artfully curled and hanging forward on his face.

His hair was the best-looking bit of him. The rest Katrina didn’t care for, not when the vision of perfect maleness she held in her head was tall, blonde and blue-eyed.

“A wee place in Scotland. You’ll no’ have heard of it.” She lit the cigarette and held it to her mouth. Moving on was something Katrina was experienced at. The best way to get through it was to keep talk of where you’d come from before to a minimum.

“I might have done.”

“You won’t,” she said flatly. The denial was a waste of time anyway. When she came in the next day, he smiled at her triumphantly.

“Kirkcudbright! I bribed Michelle to let me check your records to see where you’d worked before.”

He pronounced it the way all English people did. Kirk-cud-bright.

She poked her tongue out. “It’s Cur-coo-bree, smart arse. And up yours.”

“Want to go for a drink after work?”
“No.”

Nevertheless, she did go out with him a week later. In the company of the other young hairdressers, admittedly, but out. After a while, she began to like his company. He was sarcastic, and he did a great impression of the boss, Rick Javeson. Alfie didn’t push her either, seemingly content to have her to talk to, the two of them bitching about their boss and colleagues.

“I dunno when he’s coming,” she said now. Katrina and Alfie stood outside, in the narrow alleyway that ran by the side of the premises, taking a fag break. It was now a regular routine where one of them smoked a Marlborough Light, and the other a Menthol. Rick didn’t allow smoking in the salon, although his richest clients could do it while they waited for their highlights to take.

“You should meet him.” Again, she was careful, making sure she didn’t sound excited. Allowing Alfie this contact with her past life was a biggie, and the hand behind her back crossed its fingers he would say no.

“Alright then,” Alfie said, blowing out a stream of smoke into the frosty air. “Someone needs to show the country bumpkin the big smoke.”

“He’s not a country bumpkin,” Katrina said. “Not anymore. He’s been working in Edinburgh for months. He’s used to big cities.”

Alfie rolled his eyes, dropping the butt of his cigarette to the ground and grinding it out with his heel. “I went there a couple of years ago. It’s tiny.”

She argued with him about that. She couldn’t contradict the tininess of Edinburgh as he kept coming up with facts, the size of London’s population compared to Scotland’s capital, and where the seat of the UK’s power lay. But it wasn’t all about size, was it? At that, she faced him and deliberately looked him up and down. Alfie was self-conscious about his height.

“Cow,” he said, and walked off. Another feature of their relationship was trading insults that sometimes went too far. She’d make him a cup of coffee (black, three sugars) in the afternoon, and they’d be friends again by closing time.

Later, as she made her way back to the Walkers house via the noisy, crowded Tube and the pavements that you shared with hundreds of others, Katrina allowed herself one of the daydreams that had appeared in her head ever since the postcard had arrived.

In this particular one, Mick told her the telly thing was an excuse. He’d come to London, he told her seriously, watching her as carefully as Alfie had watched her earlier.

Will you marry me, Katrina? I now know that you are the –

She stopped the thought. It might only be a daydream, but even thinking that way seemed stupid; the kind of thing Daisy would probably do. “I’m no’ Daisy,” she said it out loud, and those around her in the Tube carriage drew back in alarm. Speaking to yourself was a well-known nutter alert, the horror being that the self-speaker might then address you.

She got out at Highgate, surging out of the station with the thousands of other people. There was the beggar who always tried to catch her eye. This time, she smiled at him and dug in her bag for the loose change that always fell out of her purse.

“God bless ye, ye wee sweetheart!”

Aye, of course, he was drunk. And yes, he had to be Scottish.

To her surprise, she spotted Daisy, waving frantically at the top of Archway Road. Her mouth was open and her eyes round. She waved both hands and then held both fingers out, pointing at the spaces next to her.

Katrina blinked, her eyes closing and opening as if to confirm what was in front of her. On one side, Daisy’s dad. On the other, Mick.

©Emma Baird 2017

The Power of the Postcard

“Look what I’ve got!”

Daisy’s face was triumphant. She waved the postcard in front of Katrina’s face.

“It’s from Mick!”

No way on this earth would Katrina ever take that postcard from her hand. Even though she wanted to. Daisy knew this, which was why she dangled the card, wafting it in front of Katrina, that annoying half-smile on her face. Theirs was a relationship that depended on the to and fro of power. Postcard drifts up to Katrina’s nose, the advantage. Away, the ball back in Daisy’s court.

Debbie had come into the kitchen. She snatched the postcard from Daisy and handed it over to Katrina.

“Here, you go. Take no notice of my cow of a daughter.”

Debbie and Daisy’s relationship never ceased to surprise Katrina. Her own mother was a mystery to her, a weird, unknown quantity who smoked, watched TV, spoke seldom and rarely expressed an opinion. Since she’d moved down south and in with Daisy, her mother Debbie and brother Toby, Katrina’s mum had been in touch twice.

Aye, Mum. Full of loving concern, right?

I do not care. She said this over and over.

Mick’s postcard was something else. He wrote me a postcard! She hugged the thought to herself, skipping up the stairs to her room. The Walkers lived in a big house. They kept telling her it wasn’t, but for fuck’s sakes, this place had four bedrooms! And a dining room. A kitchen with a table in it, so they could all sit around it and eat! It smelled permanently of lavender, thanks to the potpourri Debbie littered in every room.

Aye, posh. Right enough.

“Catty, I’m coming to London!”

When she’d got to the age of thirteen, Katrina had hit upon the idea of people calling her Kit-Kat. Why not? Mick never listened. He’d called her Catty from the first time he’d met her when she was twelve, and he was fifteen.

His mum, Morag, was an old schoolfriend of her mum’s who ran the local hotel, the Star Tavern. When they’d left Katrina’s dad, Morag had taken them in for a while, giving them a free room in the hotel. Katrina’s first sight of Mick came the day after they moved in.

She heard voices downstairs, a whispered conversation where one party sounded aggrieved.

“They’ve nowhere else tae go, Mick. Think of it as a good deed. Jesus wants you for a sunbeam, aye?” At that, Morag laughed, the sound of it dark and dirty. Her words made Katrina uncomfortable. She and her mum were or had been, Jehovah’s witnesses. Morag’s words held a mocking edge to them.

Katrina made her way slowly downstairs, treading heavily so that they heard her coming. Stood in the doorway to the lounge bar, Morag grinned at her.

“Wee Katrina! D’ye want some chips, or are you down here on the scrounge for vodka?”

That deep, dirty laugh again. Morag had said a few things along those lines since Katrina and her ma had moved in.

“No thanks, Morag, but your vodka needs replaced. The bottle’s just aboot empty.”

Morag started at that, ducking back behind the archway and checking the optics behind her. When she came back, she looked at Katrina differently, appraisingly. She hadn’t expected a smart mouth or the bossiness.

But any thoughts of Morag vanished. A second figure had materialised, taking up space beside Morag. Katrina fell in love. It had to be love, right? Her stomach flipped over, the blood rushed to her face warming it uncomfortably, and her legs appeared to be glued to the spot.

Mick was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen. He was taller than Morag, though he shared her blonde hair and blue eyes. His hair was a lighter blonde than his mother’s, and the ends of it touched his shoulders.

Katrina hadn’t known many men with long hair—Jehovah’s Witnesses tended to favour conservative hairstyles—but this was the best hairstyle she’d ever seen, she decided. A little mousse and some scrunch drying would make it perfect. The thought of being allowed to run her hands through that hair made her shiver.

“I’ll order him to let me do it,” the thought leapt into her mind. “I’ll just go into his room with my mousse and tell him he has to let me style his hair.”

Two days later, she did as she’d promised herself. Mick had returned from catering college, his beautiful blonde hair greasy and messy after having spent its day covered by a bandana.

Katrina knocked on his door. Her hand shook as she held it out, so she knocked extra hard. There was no answer. She knocked again.

Mick opened the door and peered around it. “What d’ye want?” He glared at her.

“I’m gonnae do your hair,” she announced, pushing past him into the room so he couldn’t shut the door on her.

His room was covered in posters, film posters in the main and the odd band she didn’t recognise, though given her upbringing that was no surprise. It smelled different too, antiperspirant layered over sweat and something else, something sharp and salty.

Mick ran a hand through his hair. He looked flustered and irritated.

“What’s wrong wi’ ma hair?”

“I can make you look like a film star,” she said and watched various emotions chase their way across his face: irritation, calculation, want…

Who didnae fancy the thought of resembling a film star?

“Aye, alright then.”

The postcard she held now showed the statue Greyfriars Bobby, the wee dog that had sat next to his master’s grave in Edinburgh for years. Flipping it over, Katrina read the words again.

“Catty, I’m coming to London!”

The next bit said words that were surprising and at the same time, not so. “I might be going on the telly!”

Hadn’t she told him years ago that she’d make him look like a star? Here was the proof she was right. Wee Katrina Allan, forecaster of people’s careers and fortunes.

This being Mick, your typical lad, the postcard lacked any further detail. Like, when he was coming. All it said was, “Maybe I can come and stay with you? Mick x’.”

Katrina hadn’t written anything much to Mick over the years, the odd birthday card, and a good luck card when he moved to Edinburgh to take up that sous chef position at the fancy-pants restaurant. She never put a kiss, too frightened he’d see it and think she was coming on too strong.

Of their own accord, her fingers moved to the cross after his name, tracing the tiny lines of it.

There was a soft knock on her door. “Can I come in?”

To be honest, Katrina was astonished Daisy had managed to hold off barging her way into Katrina’s room this long.

“Aye. If you must.”

Daisy’s eyes sparkled, and she clapped her hands a few times as she came in, like some kind of demented clown.

“Mick’s coming to London! My mum says he can stay here, by the way!”

She sat down on the bed beside Katrina. The Walkers had given Katrina their spare room and told her to do with it as she wanted. Katrina had bought herself some cushions and posters, and a noticeboard. Mick’s postcard was about to have pride of place there.

Daisy’s offer on behalf of Debbie irritated and gratified Katrina at the same time. They’d read the postcard and discussed it! On the other hand, the thrill of Mick coming to London and being able to stay here…

And then on the other, other hand… bloody Daisy, knowing that Mick meant so much to her when she’d never so much as admitted anything.

“Who says I want him to?” she said. “He’ll be a bad influence on Toby.”

Toby was Daisy’s little brother, and Katrina was very fond of him.

Daisy rolled her eyes. “What, and you’re not?”

It was a fair point. Only the other week, Katrina had brought the thirteen-year-old Toby a porn mag, saying his boys-only school kept the boys in ignorance of what women looked like. Possession of the said magazine increased Toby’s popularity at school ten-fold.

“You can tell me,” Daisy wheedled now. “Dead exciting, isn’t it? Mick coming here? What do you think he’s going to do on TV? Be a presenter, or maybe he’s an actor and has been one all along. How exciting!”

She didn’t need answers, Katrina reckoned. This stream of consciousness questions thing was something Daisy did all the time. Mick was yet another of those distractions the Walker family loved.

Something that took their mind off the fact that their husband/father was in prison.

Katrina leant back, letting her elbow support her. Daisy was still sat upright, and she turned her face so that she could look directly at her.

“Say thanks to your ma.”

“For what?” Daisy smiled. The to and fro of power.

“For saying Mick can stay here. That’s awfy nice of her. I’ll write to him and say that it’s okay.” Sometimes, you just had to give in to Daisy.

Daisy beamed, triumphant. “Good-o!”

Her face changed, comedic acting at its finest as something appeared to dawn on her.

“But we don’t have any other spare rooms! Where’s Mick going to sleep?”

©Emma Baird 2017

 

How to Self-Publish…

If it looks like a book...

If it looks like a book…

OK, OK – this one is a bit of a misnomer in a blatant attempt to try and get more search engine hits. I am, in reality, a brazen, attention-seeking hussy who will stop at nothing in my quest to make the world sit up and notice.

(I should have called this post how to self-publicise, rather than publish really.)

Anyway, I am jolly excited today because publication of my own book is indeed imminent. It would be foolish to name a date, but the moment of holding a hard copy of Katie and the Deelans in my hands creeps ever closer. Excitement reigns in the highheelsandpinkglitter household.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

There’s a saying about press & PR (it being dead an’ all) that companies or brands are no longer content trying to get published, they are publishers in themselves and the same can apply to writers. Why bother with the faff that is agent-hunting [cue: different submission versions required for each, plus the wait for replies, plus the generic rejection emails] when you can cut to the chase AND not have to hand over a fair whack of your sales?

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Really, the title of this post is – why self-publish? There’s an excellent guide here as to the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Naturally, as it suits my purposes (and my efforts with traditional publishing have so far yielded a big fat zilch) I’ve chosen to focus on the drawbacks of traditional publishing (and thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for this info):

Traditional Publishing Drawbacks

It’s slow: It takes somewhere between 9-18 months for a book to be released once it is submitted to a publisher, an infinity in the digital world.

It’s unfair: Publishers take the lion’s share of royalties, usually 85-92%. That means most authors earn about a buck per book, or less. Publishers hog roughly 70% of electronic royalties, for a product that has almost no production or distribution costs.

It’s outdated: They are not social-media savvy; they may have powerful inroads to traditional media, like TV and print magazines, but those things are increasingly irrelevant to book sales.

It’s ineffective: They do not give most authors a very big marketing push, or sometimes any marketing push at all.

It’s short-lived: Most authors’ books will be in bookstores for a few weeks and then get pulled from the shelves when they don’t sell very well, leaving it entirely up to Amazon sales. This begs the question: why not just use Amazon?

It’s not cost-effective: The vast majority of authors don’t make any real bankable money on their books.

Thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for the above info.

My own route to self-publishing goes like this… Write a book. Phew – that’s the difficult bit over and done with, hmm? Ah no. Re-write book once. Re-write book twice (this time stripping out a lot of excess stuff, even though it made me want to cry).

Use social media. I found a publisher through LinkedIn, specifically the small and perfectly formed Comely Bank Publishing, a publishing firm aimed at creating opportunities for Scottish-based authors.

CBP’s modus operandi is:

Comely Bank Publishing aims to create opportunities for local Edinburgh-area authors to publish works of interest using twenty-first century publishing options, including ebooks and print on demand.

We genuinely believe that too many authors are failing to have their works published because publishers and publishing agents have become too cautious, grasping at poorer-quality work simply because it carries the name of an established author or a bankable name such as a sports star, and that the future of literature can only be saved if bright new talent is nurtured as it used to be.

[There are specific resources on this site designed to help new authors think about some of the issues surrounding publishing.]

Thirdly, find a professional proof-reader. I looked through elance. I work on elance so seeing it from the other side was interesting and enlightening (and I also picked up some tips for how to structure my proposals from now on).

And next? Well, next is apply the changes from the proof-reader, make a cover design decision and then… PUBLISH. And flippin’ self-promote like mad.

 

Additional image thanks to wikipedia. Mywritingblog.com available here.

 

 

How to Write Flash Fiction

Flash fiction, just like any kind of fiction, uses this process for narrative.

Flash fiction, just like any kind of fiction, uses this process for narrative.

I am a self-styled expert in many things… educating myself via the internet, for one thing and how to conduct endless research on different dieting and fitness methods without ever actually applying them consistently to self for another thing.

It seems that a lot of people type “how to” type queries into search engines (no kidding, Sherlock) and  therefore, from time to time, I decide to write a “how to” post in a bid for online popularity. How to make an art skill out of procrastination would be my real area of expertise, but seeing as you are currently (and very kindly)  reading my blog I’m going to label you an expert procrastinator without any need whatsoever of my help in that area so how to write flash fiction it is…

Flash fiction can be anything from 140 characters a la Twitter up to 1,000 words according to wikipedia, but there is no real prescribed limit. Aesop’s Fables can be thought of as flash fiction, according to the wonderful wiki, so very short stories are nothing new at all. If you want to write flash fiction (and there are many websites which welcome regular contributions, including this one and this one), here is how to start:

  1. A story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Very obvious yes, but the beginning should scene set (exposition), the middle describe a mini climax (rising action and falling action) and the end bring it all together.
  2. The end does not need to tie up all loose ends; it could leave the reader thinking – and wanting more.
  3. Sometimes, the first line is enough to think up in the first place without a clear idea of where the story is going. Take for example – ‘Molly’s latest boyfriend hadn’t specified at the beginning that he was a volunteer traffic warden and it was beginning to become a problem.‘ There are a lot of places you could go with this one line – the problems of being a volunteer traffic warden, or how to get rid of a dull boyfriend in murderous ways, for example.
  4. Excess words don’t have a place in flash fiction – you will need to ensure you have plenty of words to use so you can contrast descriptions, adjectives and adverbs, and then discard what you don’t need.
  5. It’s easier to write flash fiction if you write it all out, then check the word count and then start to pare back the words. Visualise the overall length at the beginning to help guide you – I’ve been writing 100-word flash fiction for seven months now and I know it is roughly three short paragraphs (six or seven sentences), whereas 500 words is about a page and half of A4.

As an added bonus, once you hone your skills on flash fiction they translate to other areas of your life. Writing a CV/resume? Think of the ‘why you want this job’ bit as the opportunity of flash fiction starring you*. Writing a synopsis of your fictional masterpiece? Flash fiction skills give you the discipline of condensing words into small amounts. Writing a presentation – flash fiction helps you sum up your story in a dynamic way etc etc.

 

*I take no responsibility if you carry out this bit of advice and your employers subsequently decide you have played fast and loose with ‘fiction’.