Microfiction Friday: “The Dark”

The Dark

They say the dark is oppressive, that it carries fear and danger.

Not when the dark is your friend, I say. Not when the dark hides the dangers. The dark has been my friend since the day I was born.

The sound of feet and we all moved, we all pushed and crawled deeper into the dark. The sound of a voice and that crawl became a sprinting brawl — the dark was about to end.

A heaving body next to me, all breath and sweat and fear. There were no words. There could be no words, the dark was about to end.

An iron rattle, and a creaking, and the dark was shattered by that demon we all feared, by the light. The world disappeared behind that light, behind that which made us blind and helpless.

Words, then, from that body next to me, “No! Not me!”

I cracked an eye and saw the shape we all so feared, saw the huge silhouette with reaching hands.

That body next to me continued to scream, even as it was pulled away by those hands. I don’t know why, but I stood. I stood and kicked at the silhouette. I came only to its waist, but still I kicked. Still I tried to stop the disappearance of yet one more of us from the dark.

One of those hated hands lashed out, sent me reeling. I stumbled and fell. I don’t know if my tears were for the screaming voice I had not been able to save, or for myself. All I knew was that I would be next. All I knew was that, after eight years in the dark, I would be next.

{The basic concept was 300 words, based on the line “the kids in the dark”}

Microfiction Fri…err, Monday

Late post today, and there weren’t any saved up in my Drafts section…  I didn’t feel like coming up with an actual “topic,” so I took a song lyric for inspiration and threw together a flashfiction piece instead:

Someone Else’s Skin

Every movement was awkward and uncomfortable. Nothing felt right, nothing felt like it should. I stared and studied throughout my morning routine, but the face in the mirror stayed a stranger. It was close to my own, but not close enough.

More minutes, and more routine, and my clothes didn’t fit right. They hung and they clung, in all the wrong places. They were clothes for someone else…for that face I saw in the mirror.

The face that wasn’t me.

Time in the car gave more time to wonder, and to fear. Who the hell was I?

I stepped through a door, then, and strange faces smiled and called greetings. Faces I didn’t know, in a place I didn’t recognize. Dread grew and I feared I had lost everything.

The wrong face, the wrong clothes…the only thing that felt the same was me, but a me that was shrunken and hidden. I was a beaten thing, I realized, hiding from harm and danger. And from loss.

I was right, I had lost everything. Everything but me.

To wear someone else’s skin, to be someone else… Was I hiding, or had I finally surrendered? Had I finally accepted “better than nothing”?

Was I the stranger, and that stranger’s skin the real truth?

A return greeting for all those strange faces — a smile, even — and the answer began to terrify me.

Time Is Everything

IMG_0163IWSG Question o’ the Month: What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

Ahem.

This might take a while — you got a week or so?

Honestly, I’ve stepped in pretty much every pit there is on that writing journey. Every single one.

To keep this post somewhat reasonable and readable, rather than a long rant on all the shit I did wrong — and still do wrong, for that matter — I’m going to focus on the writing side and forget that such a thing as the “business side” actually exists.

Which is…err…one of those pitfalls. Okay strike that paragraph above, here is some business advice: do NOT neglect the business/financial side of things! There are very good reasons why more experienced (jaded? cynical?) writers tell new and aspiring entrants into the field “don’t quit your day job.” It’s not disparaging, it’s not paranoid or reflexive, it is legitimately earned knowledge. Day jobs come with nice little perks like insurance and regular paychecks. Writing comes with deadlines and slow paying clients and that wonderful feeling of being nickel-and-dimed to death pretty much every day.

Okay, enough of that. If you’re reading this as an aspiring writer, just do yourself a favor and Google the crap out of the freelance writing topic, and read those pieces that point out the reality of the business, as well as the traps ahead. If you’re getting into the longform writing game, spend an equal amount of time and effort learning how novelists actually make money — and trust me, it’s nothing even remotely close to what you see on TV (or even read in stories). There’s a lot of crap in the sausage-making behind the writing business that no one really likes to talk about…

Phew, now I can talk about the writing pitfalls.

Probably the biggest pitfall I can think of, and the best advice I can give in respect to it, is to not shortchange yourself on time. Don’t write to some artificial schedule, don’t put arbitrary limits on how long various tasks should take. Until you’re working on about your fifth novel (a number which does include those early “trunk” stories we all have), you have absolutely zero idea as to just how long things should take. If you write to some early, artificial schedule, you will inevitably cut corners, and your story will suffer for that. Yes, you need goals and some kind of timeline, but those are tools that should serve and help the story, not the other way around.

To start the process, take what time you need to prepare your story-ground first: conception, research, backstory, character depth & detail, plotting, planning, etc… For my current sci-fi series, that early prep time amounts to roughly three months per story. Now, I will admit to going in for a bit of overkill there, but the time and depth of that early prep really does help me to understand and explore the story in ways I otherwise wouldn’t.

By the way, for my pending fantasy stories, I expect the initial series research & prep to take about four months, and only then I will get into the planning and preparation for the first book…

I have similar advice for the second part, the actual writing/creation phase: write to your story, not your schedule. I’ve talked about it before, but I don’t agree with the concept of writing X words per day. I think, when you do that, you end up only with…X words written. Those words may be good, but they also may be bad. No, I think it’s better to set up your story in coherent scenes that are “writable” in one sitting/session. For me, a 125,000-word novel should have between 55 and 60 such scenes, of which I should be able to finish 3-4 per week to a realistic First Draft status (which entails not just the original writing, but also an initial editing/revision pass).*

*To save space, and brain cells, I won’t get into just how that scene-based writing lets you jump around and write whatever scene strikes your fancy at any particular. Over time, I’ve discovered just how strange I truly am in my complete unwillingness to write a story in a coherent, chronological, beginning-to-end fashion. I figure I probably shouldn’t try to inflict that particular vice in an “advice” post…

Now, the third and final “phase” of the writing process is where I (originally) wanted to focus the advice about giving yourself enough time. Hell, giving yourself more than enough time. But — and this is the big but — but, I’ve found that giving advice about editing and revision is dangerous ground. Instead, I’ll simply be honest and point out the pit I stepped in early on. As a new writer, I very much had the attitude that I just needed to get words on the page, and that I could fix any problems and shortcomings in the revision process. At that point, writing a scene was simply “word-vomit” to get the concepts on the page, and the editing process was the time to fix, well, everything.

I’ve changed my thinking on that.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean you should shortchange the editing and revision process. Quite the opposite, in fact. You need to give it more time and effort than you think you do, trust me! No, what I mean is that I find it better — both aesthetically, and in terms of results — to get the writing “right” during the First Draft process. A while back, I wrote another IWSG post about that, but damn if I can find the right one to link to…

The editing and revision process should not be there to “fix” the language or narrative itself. It should be used to finalize things like scene placement, plot timing and story structure/pacing. Only after all that should it be used to polish the language and delivery. Honestly, I plan about three months worth of revision and editing for every story…and then another month (at least) to assimilate and incorporate the feedback and suggestions from betas/editors.

All told, the whole process of writing a 125,000–word story takes me roughly 10-12 months. Could I do it quicker? Probably…but then I would be shortchanging myself. Worse, I would be shortchanging my story…and they do not like it when I do that!

So, in the end, this post about pitfalls is really about one big pitfall: time. Give yourself enough time — and flexibility — to write the story you want to write. Or, if you’re nuts like me, to write the story as it wants to be written The worst thing you can do, I think, is write to some artificial expectation of how long things should take. The corollary to that, however, is that everything will take longer than you expect, want, or plan for.

That, of course, is simply how I do it. Your mileage may vary.

The Revenge of Micro-Fiction Friday

No contest or challenge, this time…just “navigating small” and writing the words that come…

1) “Dreams of Smoke”

I tried so hard to hold it, the memory of the dream.

Even after everything, the dreams were still there…the dreams we had shared.

But so was work, and family, and all the trappings of life the way it was supposed to be. But supposed to be doesn’t include dreams. Supposed to be doesn’t leave room for could be.

I stood in that room, surrounded by white and green, surrounded by all the little lights and the beeping machines. Surrounded by fear, and by loss. I tried to hold on to her, tried to hold on to the dream.

A touch on my shoulder, and a gentle voice. One last squeeze of her hand, then. One last chance for the dream to come true…but the harder I held, the more the dream turned to smoke, drifted away.

I turned and left, broken. Like what could be, she was gone…and so was the dream.

 

2) “If Only You’d Known Me Then”

The endless summer of my younger days. Nights under the stars, sharing dollar-booze and thoughts that cost the world. Trysts under the overpass, tearing at each others’ clothes. Days under the sun, before the coming of autumn and winter. When I was invincible and immortal…when I was young.

“If only you’d known me then…” I whispered.

Before life took its toll. Before reality and consequences. Before regrets.

She reached a hand — her touch was light, barely there. I hesitated, stopped, trapped by what I was at that moment. Broken and frail, weak in ways my younger self would never understand. Could never understand.

I couldn’t help her, couldn’t help myself. If only she’d known me then…

There were no tears: I remembered enough of the strength I once possessed to be strong one last time. There were no tears…but no words, either.  I wasn’t that strong.

Her frail hand was shaking almost as much as mine. “I know you now,” she said gently, lovingly.

 

3) “The News”

“I have money — you don’t have to worry about that,” he stammered, his mind several steps behind reality.

Her hand on his arm, a smile that was no smile. “It’s not that, and you know it.”

Laughing screams from the nearby playground brought a flinch. A look over, a glimpse of those kids, and it all came crashing home.

“But…what can I do?”

A shake of her head, then. “I just wanted to give you the news myself, before you heard it from someone else. I’ve already been to the clinic.”

The news changed everything.

 

Behind-the-scenes notes:

1) “Dreams of Smoke” started as a very different story. What I had originally envisioned, however, just didn’t come together, so I put it aside. When I came back to it, a few days later, I had 125 words and a broken story. I put on an album and got working to “fix” it. The only part of the original I truly stuck with was the limit of 200 words, and the “vision” of dreams disappearing like smoke. I’m still not sure if it worked.

2) “If Only You’d Known Me Then” is a story about age…about getting old, and everything that goes with that. It is, to be honest, intended to be the opposite sentiment to Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, but drawn from the same well. Trying to do all of that in 150 words may have been over-ambitious…

3) “The News” is autobiography. The moment that changed the universe for me…and that’s all I’m going to say about it.