Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Flaming Metaphors

And so chapter 2 begins. Picking the opening piece was difficult. It had to be what I considered one of the better pieces, for one. I read a lot of anthologies, and much like the first line, or first paragraph of a novel, the first story has to be a good one. It sets the tone. Open on a stinker and you have to work hard to get the reader back on board, you're making life harder for yourself.

So I thought I would open simply. I really like the imagery in Fire and Eternity, and you can just take it for that. For me painting a picture. Or you could take it for the metaphor it is (or, more accurately 'was', at the time of writing).

There's a hint of phoenix myth in there too, whenever I write about flames and wings there always will be. The phoenix myth, and the differences between the Eastern and Western iterations of the myth, makes such sweet metaphor. And I do love my metaphors, the obvious ones and the less so. Which again, makes it a good pick: Here Be Metaphors, you have been warned. ;)

Something else I've been thinking about recently, since a piece of mine was rejected for being too much imagery and not enough story, is the importance of narrative and 'beginning, middle and end' in micro-fiction. Fire and Eternity is a scene, an image, not so much a story, although there is a story there. It is an 'end', although it could equally well be a 'middle', or even the 'beginning' of something...

And that's precisely one of the things I love about micro (or flash) fiction. It's right there in my profile, I'm looking to create seeds, I'm looking to hint at the greater story, to tell a story that is thousands of words long in just a thousand words or less. And it might be a different story in different people's heads (which is awesome).

The next Missing Piece is much more story. It has a beginning, middle and end. Although as with every story, something came before, and things will come after. However, it has more narrative, and character development. It is a very recent piece, where F&E is much older. It should set a nice contrast to Fire and Eternity, in more ways than one.

In the meantime, there's another piece of mine, Worship, over on Ink, Sweat and Tears as part of their Twelve Days of Christmas. Again, this one is more of a scene, and definitely a metaphor (or an allegory, you choose ;) ). Enjoy.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Finding Lost Things

But what shall I talk about with no story to launch the discussion off!?

As I was publishing (blogging?) most of the first chapter of Missing Pieces I already had the rest written. So my week would go something like: post/edit/commentary/blog/edit/post and so on. Since for the past few weeks I've been writing the next chapter this quite chilled pace has been disrupted. It's been post/write/edit/write/write/write/write/write and so on. So my SF blog and other endeavours fall by the wayside a little.

I don't mind. I love writing. That's kind of the point. I don't mind if I never do this for money (although, you know...), I mostly want to tell stories. That does of course mean I want people to read my work, and like it... I want to tell the stories to someone. The larger the audience, the better... one day, maybe.

In the meantime. I'll just keep myself and my friends entertained. =)

So I'm just about to start publishing the next chapter of Missing Pieces. It's about half written, a little more than, which makes it different to the first chapter which was pretty much finished when I started. I'm also picking the order in which they're published, instead of the first chapter which was in the order they were written (except for a couple of festive concessions). There's a really good mix (I think), of genres and lengths and styles. There's some more fanciful, playful pieces, some serious fantasy, some heavy SF... it's gonna be fun. ;D

One of the things that (hopefully) you'll see coming through in the later half of this chapter is a major influence on my life... Roald Dahl. I read all of the kids' books when I was younger, but I'm just now reading some of his adult stories, some of his Unexpected Tales. I can't believe I managed to do a creative writing degree and was never made to read these. They are, for the most part, so well handled; the characterisation, pacing and plot development are superb. And taking the obvious twist, nodding at it and passing it by... is brilliant. If you like short fiction, you should read them.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Writing Nightmares

Ambiguity is always fun in writing. Getting the balance right is hard though.

Make it too obvious, give too much away and the reader is left feeling disappointed. Make it too obscure, and the reader is left confused.

Of course, this also depends on what you are trying to achieve. Do you want it unclear, or do you want it resolved, but with an edge of uncertainty. I mean, once the beast is slain, do you want it unclear as to whether the beast really killed everyone or if it was one of the protagonists... or do you want the beast slain, but a flash of something dark in one of the protagonist's eyes, the beast lives on in them?

Hmm... that wasn't entirely clear was it. It may be even harder to write about writing ambiguously than the ambiguous writing itself.

So in This Bedtime Story are Audrey's devils real, or are they just night terrors she has conjured up over missing her father? Obviously, I like the weird, so I'd like to think their is more to this world than most of us get to experience. If you know my writing you'll probably er on the side of the weird being the truth. But then, maybe those are just the nightmares of a child with imagination, the early stages of a writer like me.

I tend to try for the less obvious edge of ambiguity. I guess I'd rather leave someone confused than disappointed. Certainly in the past I know I've left people more in a state of WTF than I might have intended. But I would rather credit readers with intelligence than think they need everything spelled out to them.

There is danger in overworking it too. Less so in micro-fiction maybe. The X-Files, for example, was better when it was just It's aliens! No it's the government! when it carried on a few seasons with aliens/ government/ aliens/ government/ aliens/ government ad nauseum, I got a bit bored.

Ideally, obviously, you want to hit that sweet spot. Where the reader thinks they know what the truth is, but there is still a delicious edge of what if?, a splash of maybe.

There's a distinction to be made between ambiguity and suspense too. Or maybe a demonstration of symbiosis. And I think I've really been talking about something between the two. Because ambiguity covers a whole lot more than just a suspenseful ending and a lingering sense of unfinished business, although it is a great tool for that kind of effect.

Sometimes, ambiguity can just be bad or unclear writing. But when it is intentional and controlled I think it is something brilliant and interesting. Ambiguity is the opening of a discussion between the reader and the writer. What do you think is happening here?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Strangers and Pitfalls

I've never really been able to write comedy, any more than the odd moment of humour at least. This Pit is probably one of my most comical pieces, which says it all really. I hope you find humour in the bizarre... ;)

One thing that commonly suffers in micro-fiction is character description. Shorter shorter fiction will always have certain restrictions, which is why you have to work hard to evoke a sense of what you are conveying, and let the reader's imagination work hard too. With characters I often try and convey a sense of personality rather than physicality, I think that is probably the more important aspect to convey. People will often have their own, different ideas of what a character in a book will look like, but the personality is the key: it is (for the most part) what makes them who they are.

So it's probably odd that a stranger who has less than half a story and no name gets more description than most of my other characters.

"He had unruly dark hair, stubble and a tan trench coat. He looked like a TV detective."

Odder still that I describe a stereotype, and then confirm that stereotype. But it is (I hope) an instant image. Whether you picture the pulp detective from a book jacket, or a Columbo type figure, you still have a picture. The words have done their job.

This Most Unfrabjous Day and This Alien Land both go into physical descriptions. For the former it helps establish the characters, the chalk and cheese partners and the physical state of Barry, which is a mirror of is decaying mental state; in the latter the first half of the story is character (or creature) description, because that is the story...

I think one of the ways flash fiction falls into the cracks between prose and poetry is that, in a very poetic way, they are often trying to capture and evoke a single image or feeling, a snapshot of something, real or otherwise. They try and pin something down so that it can be released fluttering and free inside your mind. But flash fiction is a scene or a snapshot, something captured from something larger; for me fiction should be synonymous with story - micro-fiction is a story in miniature to me, a glimpse of narrative, one or two steps of a larger journey.

Of course there are many arguments to be had in all directions as to what exactly constitutes poetry and what constitutes prose. And what separates the two, or even if they need be separate... It is in this no man's land, this fertile wasteland, that flash-fiction falls.