Author: DeAnna Knippling (Page 2 of 52)

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 11

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Arts and crafts

THE FOURTH WISH

Tamra Triplett was thinking about what would happen to her, when it finally happened, when she finally snapped. Snapped, I tell you, snapped! The frustrations of the world would become too much, she was already on the edge, and she would have to take up arms against it. And she thought, well, I don’t actually give a damn about climbing up to the top of the building and using a rifle to pick people off below me, like ants. I was never one to kick over anthills just for the pleasure of seeing them scatter.

Power? She would have liked the power to make people stop being complete idiots. That would be her secret superpower, if she could have one: the power to make other people realize when they were being hypocrites. Not the power to prove people wrong—that would have been too easy to abuse—but the power to reveal hypocrisy, yes, that would be lovely, she would love to have that. But that was probably the secret, forbidden wish that even the djinn wouldn’t give you: you couldn’t give yourself an infinite number of wishes, you couldn’t wish anyone dead (but ohhh the possibilities that one might have, if one wished to subvert that sort of thing), you couldn’t or shouldn’t wish yourself to become all-powerful or a god or something, and you couldn’t wish people to see their own hypocrisy; those are the four wishes which are forbidden.

To snap or not to snap? She had a pair of miniature scissors on her keychain, folding and razor-sharp, because she had always been raised not to bite off threads. It’ll wreck your teeth. And she did like cutting things, liked it in the thrilled, breathless way that one hears of pyromaniacs liking fire. And once, one magical day, she had been left to clean up after a work function in which name cards had been involved, and she had cut their names up, one by one, as thoroughly as if they were credit cards. But the scissors she had had to use had been rather useless and dull, mashing the paper fibers apart rather than cutting them with a quick, razor slice. They had gone out drinking without her, and all come down with food poisoning. “It was like my guts had been ripped out,” they said.  Good.

Yarn, she thought. Yarn.

I will take a hair—when I intend to snap, that is—and twist it up with some yarn, and then I will knit something that reminds me of them. Arigurimi, that is, those little crocheted stuffed toys. They’re easy enough to make, if you take the time to think through how all the shapes fit together. And then, on that day which will surely come, I will not have to climb all those stairs, which I did once for a fund-raiser, ran up every stair in the building, all the way from the basement to the top, and they mocked me afterwards because my knees hurt for months; I will not have to learn to shoot; I will only have to line them all up and take my best, my loveliest sharpest scissors, and take their wobbly little heads and—

—Cut.

But that won’t work, she told herself, sympathetic magic is just a woman’s fantasy of being able to change the world when there is no power, no justice, no virtue that will do so.

Better get a dab or two—or three, yes three is a good number—of their blood, too.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

How to Study Fiction, Part 13: Scenes, Part 5. Endings.

I would like to note that the real reason I have this complicated numbering scheme is so I don’t forget what the heck I’m doing!  This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?”  The rest of the series is here.  You may also want to check out the series on pacing, here, which I’m eventually going to fold into this series when it turns into a book 🙂

Endings.

There are two types of endings to cover here:

  • The ending of the individual sections of a story.
  • The ending of the story as a whole.

These endings have to accomplish two entirely separate things:

  • Make you want to keep reading (before the end of the story).
  • Feel satisfied by the end of the story (at the end of the story).

There is also a special case, the end of a story that is part of a larger series.  These series can be:

  • Episodic, or more focused on the story in each individual episode,
  • Over-arching, or more focused on an overarching story that spans across episodes,
  • Or a combination of both, with an over-arching story interrupted by standalone episodes, also known as “monster of the week” episodes.

We’ll cover the kinds of considerations you might need to take into account for series, but it will really depend on what you’re trying to do.

Today we’ll cover…

Endings of sections of a story

There are several places that you’ll need to write endings within a story:

  • At the ends of chapters.
  • At the ends of scenes within chapters.
  • At the ends of mini-scenes within scenes within chapters.
  • At the ends of beats within mini-scenes (if any), within scenes, within chapters.

Just as with beginnings, a lot of the wordcount of your story is going to be dedicated to endings, maybe a fourth of it–but it won’t all be at the end of the book.

The ending of most of the sections of your book will perform the following functions:

  • Tell the reader the results of the latest try/fail (see Middles for more information).
  • Tell the reader, if the results of the latest try/fail aren’t going to be told quite yet, that they will be told later.
  • Tell the reader what to expect coming up next, if not already covered.

This sounds kind of dry, but the implications can get exciting:  characters can have literal cliffhangers, black out, have someone sneak up behind them…

The point being, that the endings of every part of your story before the last one should all point toward some event further down the road in your book.  Why do readers keep reading?  Because they want to find out what happens next.  Most of the endings in a book are just exciting or subtle reminders of what will happen next.

Let’s go back to “The Cask of Amontillado.”  Here’s the opening paragraph:

THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled –but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

This is a beginning paragraph, so it does count as part of the beginning.  However, because Poe was such a smart guy, the end of the paragraph also has an ending.  Here, he hints that what will come next is a tale of revenge in which the avenger gets away with it.  This is also called foreshadowing.  

If you ended every structural unit of your story with foreshadowing up until the last one, you would not go far wrong.

The second paragraph, if you care to read it for yourself, is much the same way as the first.

Another good example is in The Princess Bride (the film version).  When Vizzini sees that the Man in Black is still climbing up the cliff, he tells Inigo to kill the Man in Black.  The end of that scene is a hint toward what will happen next:  a swordfight.

“He’s got very good arms,” says Fezzik.

“He didn’t fall?  Inconceivable!” says Vizzini, slashing with his dagger.

“You keep using that word,” says Inigo.  “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

They all look down.  The man in black is still climbing.

“My God.  He’s climbing.”

“Whoever he is, he’s obviously seen us with the princess and must therefore die.  You–” Vizzini puts the tip of the dagger on Fezzig’s shirt.  “Carry her.”  To Inigo, he says, “We’ll head straight for the Guilder frontier.  Catch up when he’s dead.  If he falls, fine.  If not, the sword.”  He sheaths his dagger and begins walking away.

“I’m going to do him left-handed,” says Inigo.

“You know what a hurry we’re in!”

“It’s the only way I can be satisfied.  If I use my right, over too quickly.”

“Oh, have it your way.”

And off Vizzini goes.

Something to note:  You don’t have to exactly tell the truth in your foreshadowing.  In fact, the more you tell about what’s going to happen next, the more your audience will expect things to not happen quite as foreshadowed.

If a plan is spelled out during a scene, especially at the end of a scene, you’re almost guaranteed to have something go wrong.

For example, in the above scene of The Princess Bride, it is strongly hinted that Inigo will win the swordfight.  Vizzini spells out the plan:  if the man in black falls, fine; if not, the sword.

However, Inigo loses the swordfight.

It’s perfectly okay for foreshadowing to not be exactly what was foreshadowed.  In fact, this is how you make something both expected and surprising.

The end of the scene in The Princess Bride starts when the characters look over the side of the cliff and see that their latest try (to cut the rope that the Man in Black is climbing, and therefore drop him off the cliffs) has failed.  They are seeing the results of their try/fail.  Then the reader gets a promise of what will come next: a swordfight.

Each “try” in that sequence has its own beginning, middle, and end:

  • They see the ship following them and try to outrun it.  They fail.  The end of that scene leads to the next try/fail, climbing the cliffs:  “Whoever he is, he’s too late! See?  The cliffs of insanity!  Hurry up!  Move the thing!  And that other thing!  Move it!”
  • They arrive at the cliffs of insanity and begin climbing, hoping that the Man in Black will be too weak to follow them.  Haha, no.  The end of that scene leads to the next try/fail, trying to outclimb the man in black: “He’s climbing the rope.  And he’s gaining on us.” “Inconceivable.”
  • They try to arrive at the top of the cliffs before the Man in Black can catch up to them.  (They succeed, but the overall outcome of the scene is in suspense, so there are a bunch of witty lines to show time passing and suspense building.)  The ending lines show that they’re still in suspense about whether they’ll make it or not: “Did I make it clear that your job is at stake?”
  • The arrive at the top of the cliffs and cut the rope, hoping that the Man in Black will fall.  He doesn’t.  “Inconceivable!”

Part of the reason the “Inconceivable!” line is funny is that it’s used for several try/fails, only for the try/fails to reveal that the Man in Black’s success, no matter how inconceivable, is real.

This is just a couple of examples of how endings can be used to draw readers from scene to scene.  Each author seems to have a different way of handling this, ranging from the dramatic to the subtle, the action-based to the emotional-based, and the straight-up truthful to the completely wrong-headed or false.

When an author stops to tell the audience what is about to happen, it doesn’t a) slow the audience down, or b) bore them.

Over and over again throughout The Princess Bride, the action stops to tell the audience what to expect next.  It’s not boring to get a hint about what happens next–it’s exciting.

There’s nothing like the moment when Watson tells Holmes in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,”

My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything.

We, as readers, don’t want to, either.

This post is getting long, so I’m going to split it up.  Next time?  The endings of stories!

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. TURN TO PAGE 87 TO GO DOWN INTO THE BASEMENT ALONE.  CLICK THE WONDERLAND PRESS NEWSLETTER SIGNUP LINK TO HAVE SOMEONE GO WITH YOU.  CRREEEAAAAAK.

 

 

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 10

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Dressing up really fancy for not fancy dinners

TEA PARTY

We didn’t always dress up for the tea parties that we held with our dolls, but when we did, we wore my adult cousins’ prom dresses.  The dolls wore the clothes that you made for them, for the dolls that was, hundreds of hours of fine crochet.  We would drink tea and lemonade and have little cookies and you went to the trouble to buy me a tea set with a teapot with a spout that worked, a real miniature teapot that could fit in the palm of my small, sweaty hand.  I am making this up, by the way; we never had tea parties together, not unless I was two or it was for someone else’s benefit. Instead I remember you brushing my hair and screaming at me for letting me get it tangled one minute, and pleading that it was too pretty to cut the next.  I gave you a tiny, perfect teapot later, so you could have tea parties with your dolls and your granddaughter, whose hair I have also seen you brushing, although because I was there to see you, as you told her that it was right that she suffer in order to become more beautiful, you did not scream.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 9

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Kitchens

SPOTLESS

In the middle of the night I got up and looked into the kitchen, which gleamed at me.  The rows of cabinets spoke of containment and order.  I knew, because I had done the arranging and shelf-lining myself, that the shelves within them were as neat and tidy as their exteriors.  The refrigerator gleamed, its aluminum surface standing stalwart.  The range was as sober as a judge, its black flat-top induction surface showing only the markings of gold rings, to delineate its “burners.”  Sinks, spotless.  Hand towels, tri-folded.  Coffee maker, prepared for the coming dawn.  Floor, clean enough to eat off of.  I walked forward into it, intending to take some neatly-packaged leftovers out of the fridge. Maybe this time, I thought. But of course the cool, dark kitchen twisted around me, and I was standing back at the kitchen door, facing the other direction. I could feel the kitchen’s horror behind me, its sense of violation.  I looked, and saw a handprint evaporating from the edge of the marble island, and a drop of blood on the floor.  I had made it that far, then.

In the daytime I serve the kitchen, and I belong there.  At night, when I am at my hungriest, I am an invader; I am something other.

And someday all that lovely, spic-and-span order that I created earlier in the day will be unable to eject me, and I will consume it all.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 8

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Free Samples

FREE SAMPLE

Death was at the mall passing out free samples of makeup, she said.  Was the makeup poisoned, I asked, did it contain lead? No and no, said Death, it was just different shades of foundation in paper cups, very hypoallergenic.  All right, sorry for the interruption.  But why were you at the mall anyway?  I was bored so I took a part-time job.  Don’t all the souls keep you busy?  Not really, you only get a certain territory to collect in, and if you’re new it isn’t much.  The big profits aren’t even when you collect souls but when you recruit someone else to be a Death, put on the robes.  You aren’t interested, are you?  Maybe after the kids are out of the house, I said, you know how it is, the empty nester syndrome.  Are there Death parties? I asked. Excuse me? said Death.  Like Tupperware parties, or Amway or LuLaRoe? Avon, I said.  Ever heard of Avon?  Oh, like Avon, Death said.  I think I remember that.  My life is kind of hazy.  Didn’t they have those weird perfume bottles?  Classic cars, I think I had a mermaid, I definitely had one of those white cats where the head comes off and there’s the perfume squirter underneath.  I know, I know! I said, I had one of those, too.  Did your mom sell Avon? No, she was one of those suckers who couldn’t say no, though, not even lingerie parties and she thought those were a sin. Those were fun, said Death. Anyway I was passing out free samples of makeup and someone scared the H-E-double hockey sticks out of me.  Oh, wait, I said, I’ve heard this story, the person saw Death and ran off, only you had an appointment with them somewhere else.  Haha, said Death, that would have been ironic, but no, it was me, I saw myself, I was shopping at the mall.  Wow, I said, just wow.  What happened? I’m not sure.  I knew Death had come for me, but which one of me I wasn’t sure.  One of us fell and one of us hit their head and there was blood and can you see my hands shaking?  Oh I feel sick. One of us got up and one of us was lying on the ground, and we were wearing identical outfits and my purse was spilled out on the ground and the sample tray was just everywhere, trails of blood and foundation all over the place from people walking through the mess.  And my question is, how do I know which one I am? Or even if there’s a difference?

Check your wrist, I said. There would have been a dab of makeup there, from you showing people how to match their shade and test to see if they were sensitive.

Just like with perfume.

So this one was inspired by W. Somerset Maugham’s one-paragraph summary, “The Appointment in Samarra.”  And yeah, I know you’re supposed to test foundation on your jawline.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

 

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 7

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Making Lists

LISTS

1% milk
Yellow cheese slices
Plain nonfat yogurt
White bread
Salted butter
Spaghetti noodles (cheap)
Hamburger
Tomato sauce
Parmesan in the green can

Hershey’s kisses, plain
Tinfoil
Decent toilet paper
Eggs, at least six dozen
Cream cheese, not low-fat
Graham crackers
Another 2 pkgs toilet paper, but only the one package needs to be the good kind

Bandaids
Gauze
Neosporin
Concealer, hold it against your inside wrist to see if it matches
2% Milk
Hamburger
Hamburger Helper (you pick)

Folger’s coffee, not that other stuff
D-Con refillable bait station for killing mice, at least 12 in the package
Coffee cake
Box of coffee cake mix
Invitation cards
Heavy nails

Shovel
Mattock (like a pickaxe with a sideways axe head, for digging through tree roots)
Plastic spoons, any color just not pink
A ream of nice printer paper
Elmer’s glue
Scissors
3-4 different newspapers
Hand soap
6 boxes of parboiled Uncle Ben rice

Clothesline rope, probably 6-7 packages will do it
Square-notch economy flooring trowel
10 bags Quikcrete Mortar Mix (60 lbs each bag)
Anniversary card (you pick)

Ham
Buns for at least 50
Mayo
Tissues
Red Jell-O for salad
Fruit cocktail
Upholstery needle
Black upholstery thread
Bleach
Big bag of russet potatoes
3 cans cream of chicken soup
Big container of sour cream (cheap is fine)
Shredded yellow cheese in the big bag
Garlic powder
Almost forgot, dill pickles and do not bring back the sweet kind, I want Polish dill, I can’t stand sweet pickles you know that
A roll of black crepe streamers, for decorating

Whole milk
Red wine
Italian sausage
Garlic bread
Good spaghetti noodles
Tomato sauce
Fancy parmesan
Dozen roses
Love you too, Snookums
Love you too

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

 

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 6

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Museums (preferably art museums)

POP-UP

The museum appeared suddenly, without notice, in the old sporting-goods store.  At first Clara Achziger thought it was a Halloween store, the kind with the plastic tarp sign strapped to the front of the hollowed-out storefront, fake walls put up inside to block off any unused square footage.  Costumes, plastic masks, makeup, stubby weapons that small children would wack against their parents’ thighs.  Spiderwebs spun out of plastic.  Candy bowls that grabbed back.

But no: The Pritchford Museum of Arts & Sciences, Now Open! The lettering was all wrong for a Halloween store, the sans-serif font self-respecting yet easily read.  The museum’s logo of a Greek temple in a circle clinched it: surely nobody would bother to make their Doric columns properly if the place was only meant to be a joke.

She paid seven dollars and went inside.

The rooms were arranged to make it feel like you were traveling on a time machine through history.  The first room was a cave, where a wax Neanderthal painted shimmering buffalo on the wall.  The major inventions of the era (fifty to ten thousand years ago) were language, art, farming, and culture.  The next room was set in 3200 B.C.E., showing the art and sciences of the Mesopotamians.  Cuneiform script was presented on re-creation clay tablets.  A children’s table—had their been any children on that Wednesday morning—featured a kind of polymer surface in which messages could be written with pointed styluses.  Childishly, Clara wrote “Kilroy was here” and, down in one corner, drew a little bald man with nose and fingers hanging over an edge.  Strange, winged, half-human gods in bas-relief looked at her from niches in the walls.

Time passed as she wandered through the rooms.  In 604 B.C.E. was the birth of Lao-Tzu, the founder of Daoism.  In 500 B.C.E., the caste system of India was established.  In 124 B.C.E., Alexander the Great’s empire reached its furthest extent.  In 408 C.E., Theodosius II became the emperor of Byzantium and contructed his walls around Constantinople.

Slowly, gradually, with increasing tension in her shoulders and a slight ringing in her ears, she worked her way back to the present.  She lingered in the room spanning the lifetime of the Persian poet Abu al-Qasim Firdawsi (940 to 1020 C.E.); she practically set up shop in the Ghenkis Khan room (1206 C.E.), she blew a kiss to Marco Polo (1271 C.E.); she sat on a carved stone throne in the Aztec Room (1502 C.E., lead by Auitzotl, conquerer of the Mixtec) and contemplated the tastefulness of blood sacrifices versus standing in line at Starbucks; across the hall (also 1502) was the memorial room of the first slaves reported in the New World, where she knelt and wept until her knees felt like they were made of stone; she skipped the Columbus room (honestly, who needed it?); she drifted through the room of the Emperor Wanli in China (1572 to 1620 C.E.) wearing a complimentary silk robe that she returned carefully to its hook by the door as she left; she looked through Galileo’s telescope in 1604 to peek at other worlds than these; she invaded Egypt with Napoleon, calling him a syphilitic ass the entire time; she grieved over the Taiping Rebellion; she bled with the Crimean War and then, in short order, saw the bodies stacked like wood in the photographs from the American Civil War and thought, I think I’m getting a migraine; World War I arrived and left her coughing and stumbling to grab one of the gas masks on the wall; in the World War II room the floor was made of bits of something that crunched underfoot and which she didn’t dare look at; the Korean War and the Vietnam War made the back of her throat raw and her joints ache, her eyesight dimming; the Cold War echoed in her ears like a million-voiced punk rock concert; the Second Civil War was a room covered with yesterday’s headlines—she covered her eyes with her arm but walked bravely onweard through the room anyhow; and then she was at a black door marked EXIT in glowing neon letters.

Clara lingered there until two security officers told her it was closing time.  And then when they tried to make her leave she fought; she fought to stay; she fought to return to a room, any room, no matter how terrible, in the past.

They threw her out and nobody has heard from her since.

I couldn’t help but think of The Circus of Dr. Lao, written by Charles G. Finney in 1935, as I wrote this.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 5

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  The smell after it rains.

DON’T

Don’t trust anyone with a banjo; don’t trust anyone on a day in which you have heard a banjo, even banjos on the radio, even the smell of banjos on the air.  Don’t take a shower during a thunderstorm, or when you’re alone in the house, or at the cabin on the lake; don’t take a long, hot bath anywhere near a radio, especially if there are banjos playing on it.  Don’t be alone; don’t be alone with a man you just met; don’t be alone with a girlfriend because after all there are only two of you; don’t split up; don’t go down into the basement, the cellar, the mine shaft, the canyon, the pool, the lake, for God’s sake don’t go down into the ocean, especially on a stormy night when the waves roll in and roll in and there’s no way to tell whether that roar comes from things beyond or just a wave and it doesn’t take monsters to drag you under, only a wave that you didn’t predict and you can never predict the waves; that large dark shadow that lingers in the storm is a rock one second but one flash of lightning later it’s a thing, oh God in the dark, something ancient and strange.  Don’t make fun of this town; don’t come back to a town where you grew up; don’t pray at that church, it’s the wrong one; don’t listen to the laughter coming out of the drains.  Don’t answer the phone; don’t not answer the phone; don’t go near the horrible rough bleating of a phone off the hook; don’t pick up the knife-cut telephone cord and stare at it in horror, ain’t nobody got time for that; don’t call the cops; if only you had called the cops; why didn’t you tell anyone what happened to you when you were sixteen, fourteen, twelve, four? don’t you dare say those things about Grandma. Don’t forget what I taught you about guns; don’t aim a loaded gun at someone you don’t want dead; don’t just assume that you should want a man dead who is trying to kill you; don’t jump to conclusions; don’t assume that a gun is unloaded or for that sake loaded; you don’t want to be holding a pistol in the face of the man wearing a hockey mask and have the trigger click over and over as you realize that you have nothing to defend yourself with and that you never did; don’t think that you can just shoot someone and get away with it, even if they’ve broken your ribs and your leg and you’re leaning against the wall with blood dripping down your face; don’t assume your attacker is alone and for fuck’s sake don’t assume that they’re dead after you’ve shot them; don’t you know that women can be psychopathic home invader murderers, too? Don’t be a babysitter if you can help it, and if you are don’t be the kind that wants to steal another woman’s baby for your own; you know that women can’t be trusted.  Run don’t walk; don’t run they’re going to shoot you from behind and it would be better to wait behind that tree while holding your breath and waiting for you to be grabbed from the wrong side ’round; don’t watch horror movies with someone you don’t intend to fuck; don’t fuck someone you’re watching a horror movie with; don’t fuck, drink, or swear because if you do it’s all your fault, whatever happens to you; don’t stop to see if the animal you hit out in the middle of nowhere while you were driving alone is dead because it’s no animal; don’t get into the car, whether it’s your car or a car belonging to some boys you don’t know and who are driving who knows where; don’t let anger and pride drive you away from someone who didn’t mean to hurt you; don’t get so uppity; don’t expect to have a happy ending, there’s always one last thing; don’t sit out beside the lake with a cup of coffee with a shot of bourbon in it, sipping as you look across the water after the rain, just soaking in the smell of it, and thinking thank God it’s over.  The gods who look over you aren’t those kinds of god, the forgiving kind; the gods who look over you demand the sacrifice of your sense of safety every moment of every day, a tithe of fear and terror; don’t call their attention; don’t look their way.  The banjos are coming and your boyfriend is possessed; the car rolls up its windows and the windup clown doll in the attic (did I remember to warn you about attics?) begins to laugh again.

Yes, I totally wrote this after reading Jamaica Kindcaid’s excellent flash fiction piece “Girl,” and of course her story is better than mine!

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 4

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Random Acts of Kindness.

THE CURSE

You’ve always had problems containing yourself into the person that other people think you should be.  That one time you spent all the money in the joint account on video games, the other time that you seduced that teenaged kid in the back of the church—don’t worry, it wasn’t like in the middle of a wedding or anything and anyway you think he was homeless, the time you put bleach in your alcoholic father’s bottles of booze, but only the really cheap shit he was hiding in the garage, not the good stuff that your mom might drink in the cabinet over the old green fridge.

Why shouldn’t you do these things?  Nobody seems to be able to explain it to you.  Then one day, it’s like the slobs all rise up.  It’s a witch hunt.  Friends don’t answer your calls, or texts, or emails, or messages.  They don’t answer the door even though you know they’re home, you can see the flickering of their TVs.

You go back and try to refine the past down to a point.  Was it something you did?  Didn’t do?  You work it over in your mind until you’re almost sure you know what it is: when you knocked over your latte in Jeremy’s car, which you were borrowing, and you didn’t clean it up, and he couldn’t get rid of the smell.

Jeremy’s a sucker, though; that’s probably not it.  Then you remember last Tuesday, leaning your head against the door of a vending machine at the community college, hungry and watching a protein bar dangling from the ledge and thinking, You have to wait until nobody can see before you kick it, if they see you it’ll be bad, and this guy gave you two dollars that you didn’t need so you could feed it into the machine and you said thanks and he said no problem and that was it, really.

Saying thank you to a sucker. That was the moment everything went to shit.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

How to Study Fiction: Part 10a: Scenes, Part 2a

Ugh…I should have written this earlier.  The number is my guesstimate for where this will go eventually.

This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?”  The rest of the series is here.  You may also want to check out the series on pacing, here, which I’m eventually going to fold into this series when it turns into a book.

Scene structure terms.

I’m going to be using some terms about scene structure that may not be familiar, or that may not be used exactly as other writers have been using them.  These are terms that I developed for my own benefit as I was studying novels and short stories.

I found that breaking down books into smaller and smaller parts helped me see what the author was trying to do.  It can get really overwhelming, trying to sit down and say, “How did the author pull off this one cool thing in that book?!?”

I made up and adapted some terms so I could take smaller bites.

For the purposes of this blog series, I’m breaking down stories into the following:

  • Scenes, which are groups of text between one blank row and another, and which have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Chapters, which are groups of text that has a first-level header line, such as “Chapter 1” or “1,” and which may cover multiple scenes or only one scene.
  • Sections, which are groups of text that covers multiple chapters.  May also be called “Parts” or “Books.”
  • Mini-scenes, which are bits of text within a scene that has its own beginning, middle, and end and has a change in time, setting, or the characters in that section.
  • Beats, which are bits text that has a beginning, middle, and end but is connected by transitional material within a scene or mini-scene.
  • Transitional material, which are bits text that transitions the reader from one unit to another unit, usually a beat or a mini-scene.  This is often a summary.

I may also use the following term in my movie examples:

  • Sequences, which are series of related scenes as a character tries several different tactics to achieve the same thing.

A chase “scene” is often a sequence covering may different locations and different tactics as the characters attempt to outwit each other.  For some reason, in movies this tends to be told through different scenes, while in fiction this tends to be mini-scenes within the same scene.  I’m not sure why that is.

Text, for our purposes, can either be summary or real-time.

  • Summary text sums up things that happened.
  • Real-time text demonstrates things happening.

For example, if a flashback is summed up in a few paragraphs or as an aside in dialogue, it’s summary text.

If a flashback is played out in a scene with dialogue, action, and description, it’s real-time text.

I don’t know if anyone else is using these terms the way I do–but I’ve found that I needed them to help identify pieces of structure.  Summary text is often used as transitional material; scenes are often in real-time.

The rule of thumb that is given to beginning writers is to “show, don’t tell.”  And, for the most part, that is a good rule of thumb–for beginners.  For intermediate writers, it’s important to be able to summarize actions to move the book along at a reasonable pace.  Do we need to know about each characters’ morning routine in detail?  When is it better to skip a morning routine entirely?  When it is better to summarize?  When is it better to write the scene out?

These are judgment calls that intermediate writers have to make all the time, and the rule “show, don’t tell” doesn’t really help at all.  Different writers will make different calls on these questions:  some writers love to write all their backstory in real time.  Others summarize, summarize, summarize.  Some writers love to connect beats and mini-scenes with transitional material; others don’t.

This is what I’ve observed from my studies:

  • If you want to lie to or mislead the reader fairly, write in real-time.
  • If you want the reader to take something for granted, summarize.
  • If you want to draw attention to the events of a scene, write in real-time.
  • If you want to focus attention elsewhere, summarize.

If you want to show that one character is taking something for granted (but that the reader should have some doubts about the statement), have them summarize the situation in conversation.  You can see this all the time in mystery and crime novels.  The investigator questions someone.  That person makes a statement.  Something about that statement, the investigator thinks, is off.

Most backstory involves conflict.  It’s possible to turn any summary into a real-time scene with conflict in it, and it’s possible to turn any scene, no matter how dramatic, into a summary.  Especially when you need to sum up the events of book 1 in the beginning of book 2…

Back to Endings next time!  Sorry about the side note!

Live, die, rewind… The Clockwork Alice

 

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