Thursday, 29 November 2012

5 Reasons Why Flash Fiction Is Good For You


The other day I came across a magazine that accepts flash fiction of up to 800 words and it prompted me to try my hand at writing a really short story. Not only was the story fun to write, but it also made me realise just how helpful flash fiction can be in honing writing skills.

So here are five reasons why flash fiction is good for you:

1. It's actually very difficult to condense an entire story into 800 words. The story has to have a beginning, middle and end like any story, some descrption to set the tone and maybe even a little character development. It forces you to think very carefully about the structure of your story and this can only be beneficial.

2. When writing flash fiction you don't have the luxury of building a scene or using a lot of imagery. Every single word counts and there's no room for extraneous information that's not central to the plot. This forces you to trim back your writing to the bare bones and focus on individual words to a much greater degree than any other type of fiction writing. If you're anything like me you spend your time trying to bump your word count up as much as possible, so writing flash fiction will force you to approach writing in a very different way.

3. Because every single word counts in flash fiction the reader is aware that all information is meaningful. You need to lay down clues without making it too easy to guess the ending. I often get frustrated reading books that include a whole lot of pointless detail that does nothing to further the plot, or mysteries where no groundwork has been laid and the solution comes completely out of left field. Flash fiction can help authors produce much tighter, more logical writing.

4. Most flash fiction and many short stories have a similar structure to a joke and  the ending is like the punchline. In order to pull this off authors must be original and inventive.

5. Flash fiction is an ideal place to start for beginning writers who may feel daunted by writing longer stories. It allows you play around with your style an point of view while you are developing your own unique voice. For experienced writers it can be a great way to  hone skills and experiment between books. There is also a strong market online for this type of fiction, providing opportunities to reach more readers.

For all of these reasons I will continue to write flash fiction and maybe even post some of it on this blog!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Snakes On My Brain: A True Story


I have a history with snakes. I'm not talking about the human variety that lurk in the grass, pretending to be your friend and then unleash their venom on you when you least expect it, although sadly, I do have a history with these types as well.

For the purposes of this blog post I'm referring to actual snakes, particulary the extremely poisonous ones that live in this wide brown land I call home. Did you know that 20 of the world's top 25 most dangerous snakes are native to Australia? This doesn't inspire much confidence in tourists to this country, but the reality is that many of my fellow Aussies never actually see a snake outside of a zoo or reptile park.

I'm not one of these lucky people. My first encounter with a snake took place when I was about four and I ran up the steps at the back of my parent's house to find a snake sunning itself on the back patio. This snake had to climb up at least 8 steps to get to the patio, instilling me with a deep fear of the lengths snakes will go to get to humans (rationally I know this isn't true, but irrationally I'm sure all snakes are out to get us). A neighbour came over and killed the snake with a shovel, and not long after that I had the worst nightmare of my childhood. It involved thousands of snakes of all different colours writhing over every surface in the house. My most vivid memory of the dream is opening up the drawer of my toy cupboard to find it full of snakes. I'm pretty sure this was my first official nighmare.

Snakes left me alone for a long time after this, despite the fact that I spent a lot of time with my sisters running barefoot through the bush. I was beginning to think I'd never had to worry about them again until my husband and I moved to a remote outback town to teach for three years, and suddenly the snakes were back with a vengance. I didn't actually see any with my own eyes for the first couple of years, but heard plenty of horror stories. Then one day I was returning back to school after lunch when a huge king brown slithered across the path directly in front of me. What was even more terrifying than seeing the snake was seeing where it came from: a clump of bushes in an area where children had been playing just minutes earlier.

Although I was scared, I didn't reach a point of abject terror until I moved into a flat the following year and a baby snake slithered across my husband's foot while he sat at a desk in our bedroom and then disappeared into a crack in the wall. That's right, there was a snake in our bedroom. My greatest concern was for our dog, Scooter, who loves to chase things and wouldn't have hesitated to go after one, with obviously terrible consequences. Within a couple of days both my husband and dog had packed up and left me to it, but thankfully I got a new job just a couple of weeks later and I was out of there too.

I thought I'd put the snakes behind me when we settled back in Sydney in the middle of a very built-up area, but fate it seems had other plans for me. A year after returning to Sydney we inherited a house in a very remote area, and snakes were back on the agenda. The fact that our house had been empty for nearly two years, during which time there was a severe mouse plague, didn't help things along. Neither did the fact that the grass was up to our knees when we moved in, but for a long time the God's smiled on us and there was nary a snake to be seen. At first I was terrified, and anyone who knows me can attest that I talked about snakes a lot, but when the yokels assured us there were no snakes around we grew complacent and let our dog wander freely through the bushes and long grass. That changed this week with two snake sightings within days of each other.

The first sighting was scary because it was very close to the house but the brown snake at least had the decency to remain hidden beneath long grass, and it quickly retreated when it realized I'd seen it. We decided then that the yokels were full of shit and the only way to protect our dog was to keep him inside and supervise him in the yard. (Actually I decided this and my husband thought I was overreacting. This from a man who screams like a girl at the sight of a tiny spider in the toilet!) Not ideal, but I felt that we would all be safe it we just followed these basic precautions. Imagine my abject horror when I walked down the hallway towards the back door today to see a big black snake INSIDE the house. Let me remind you that these snakes are DEADLY and we live 45minutes from a hospital.

It was like my worst nightmare coming to life. At first I thought it couldn't possibly be real, and that I must be hallucinating the whole thing. My second thought was for the dog and I was very relieved to see from where I was standing that he was asleep on the bed, oblivious to the intruder in our home. It was one of those moments in life when I had to make a split second decision about what to do. My first reaction was to scream but then I realized this would alert the dog and he'd come out of the bedroom and probably attack the snake. To avoid this scenario I had to kind of walk past the snake to the bedroom to lock him in. The snake at this point was freaking out and trying to get under the screen door but in its panic it couldn't fit. I was about to close the door leading into that area of the house so I could keep it enclosed in one area when it managed to squeeze its way out and went on its way. I won't bother telling you what my state of mind/behaviour was like in the minutes that followed.

When I finally regained my sanity the first question was: Where did it come from? Had it entered the house the same way, or was there another entry point? How long had it been inside for? The night before we'd heard a couple of noises while we were in bed, so had the snake been in the house all night? Was it locked in with the dog while we went out for five hours today, and was that why the dog was lying on the floor when I got home as if he was stalking something under the bed? The mind just boggles at the possibilities.

Anyway history is repeating itself as husband, dog and possibly me this time make a run for it to the city. The dog is the only one who will get to stay though as we have no choice but to come back for work. The plan is to clear up the yard and block all entry points to house so that unwelcome visitors can't get in. We're planning to start renovations soon and all the noise should drive them away, and hopefully keep them away forever. I really hope I've had my last encounter with these terrifying creatures because snakes are not one of the most potent symbols of evil for no reason.

Rationally snakes are very shy creatures and will only ever bite as a last resort. Everyone I've told a about my snake encouters has asked me if I killed them. Nooooooo. Most bites occur when people try to catch or kill snakes. Give them space and let them go on their way unharmed and they will gladly reciprocate.

The only positive I can draw from this situation is that I'll be able to use it in my writing if one of my characters ever has the misfortune to come across a snake in his/her house. *shudder*


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Almost at the end of my WIP



There's no other feeling in the world quite like finishing a book, especially if it's been living in your head for a long time. My current WIP is almost at the stage where I can start sending it out to publishers, and I'm so thrilled to wrap it up and move on.

Although it's only a 36,000 word novella, this has been one of the hardest things I've ever written. The story is a standard romantic suspense, and it's no different to anything I've written before, but for some reason it's taken me FOREVER to finish it.

There are several reasons for this, but I think the main one is that I started writing it for an anthology were the guidelines were very strict, and although the story has changed completely, just basing the original story on something that wasn't my own idea was difficult. I also took much more of a pantser approach because I really didn't know where the story was going for a very long time and had a bit of trouble deciding how to end it.

 The process wasn't as enjoyable as it has been with other things I've written and just writing a few paragraphs was exhausting. My WIP started to feel more like a whip at times! There's also a distinct possibility I'm suffering from burn-out because I've really thrown myself into writing over the last two years, almost to the point of being obssessive.  For all of the above reasons I avoided it as much as possible, but I wasn't able to move onto anything else until it was finished. Some people can't finish books once they start reading them, and I'm the same with books that I'm writing!

Looking back now that I've almost finished it, I can see how it reflects every other book I've written in different ways. I'm not sure if this means I'm becoming stale and recycling ideas, or if this is inevitable once you've written a few books. I can honeslty say I'm quite proud of it, but I do wonder if I've managed to pull the ending off successfully. Only time will tell.

I tossed up between self-publishing and sending out queries, and I decided to give the traditional route another go because I like getting feedback and having my books professionally edited, even if it means I lose some of the control over the end product. I'll probably send it out to my top three publishers during the week and then settle in for the agonising wait. I'd like to say I'm ready to move onto something completely new, but I have another half finished novella that I have to finish before I can turn over a completely fresh page, and then who knows what my twisted mind will come up with! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Pros and Cons of Writing a Novella Series


It seems that many authors are dabbling in writing a series these days. This may have something to do with the changes in publishing which make it easier to get the first book in the series out there while the others are still being written. For authors the benefits are clear, but I've read some mixed comments about this from readers who it seems are getting a bit tired of the number of series on the market.

I've dabbled in writing a series with my paranormal romance Eternal Hunger which consists of five novellas ranging from 15,000 - 20,000 words. At the time it seemed like a great idea to write this story like this, but in hindsight I'm not sure I'd do it again. I actually enjoyed the process but the main reason I'm ambivalent about is that readers just aren't that into novellas. Despite predictions that attention spans are waning and ereadrers are better for reading shorter fiction, this hasn't been borne out by sales. Readers are still buying longer books, and it seems the longer the better. One constant criticism I've had of my own novellas and  which I've read in reviews for other authors is that they are too short.

Novellas and series are two separate subjects, but it seems many authors have had the same idea as me and decided to write a single novel in novella length installments, and that's what has prompted me to write this post. I'm surprised to see that some are even selling what basically amounts to a few chapters at the same price as a full-length novel. Not surprisingly many of the reviewers have commented that they feel cheated by this. I've tried to avoid this trap with my own series by pricing each novella at 99 cents and making the whole series in one volume just $2.99, meaning it's cheaper to buy it all in one hit. I've had much greater success with the single volume and I'm seriously considering taking the separate novellas off Amazon.

Anyway without further ado here are the pros and cons I discovered through my own experience of writing a novella series:

Pros

1.  Authors can begin making money as soon as the first novella is completed (if they choose to self-publish).

2. Selling the series in separate installments means there are more oppportunities for promotion. The first book can be given away for free, encouraging people to buy the rest of the series.

3. Each novella can have its own themes and ideas while still relating to the bigger story.

4.  It is challenging and fun to create a novella length story inside a larger story which could stand on its own (I don't think I quite succeeded with this but I tried!)

5. You can experiment with different covers and blurbs to see which ones work the best.

Cons

1. If you want to get published traditionally it's much harder to get publishers and agents to take a chance on a series.

2. Readers get really annoyed when they are just starting to get into a book and it ends, meaning they have to buy the next book.

3. If the first novella doesn't grab a reader they will not buy the next, but they probably would have continued reading a novel and given it more of a chance.

4. Many readers will be turned off by the fact that the book is part of a series and they will not buy it for this reason alone.

5. The first book in the series can be given away for free to promote the series, but it seems pointless to give any of the other books away for free if you want people to read them in the right order.

6. It can become very repetitive having to fill in the backstory for each novella.

Have you written a series and if so what was your experience like?