Friday Fictioneers – Cavity

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PHOTO PROMPT © Mikhael Sublett

You can never take it back. One look at her eyes, wide as a cartoon, and her trembling hands was enough. She’d seen the anger he’d locked away and could never feel safe again.

“It’s a prophecy,” he tried. “See, like in the painting.”

He gestured at the hole his fist had made in the wall and then at the picture, the one mirroring the other. “They’re the same.”

Hoping for hidden treasure, he reached into the cavity. Silent, she shook her head. His fingers closed on nothing, and he knew the real emptiness he’d revealed was his own.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Taxi War

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PHOTO PROMPT © Fatima Fakier Deria

I’m not even a land person. Driving a bus isn’t what destiny intended. A war canoe, that’s what. Like my grandfather and all the way back to my grandfather’s grandfather. Sail bellied full, outrigger flying over the sea, drips spraying like blood from a severed neck.

The harsh cry of my men behind me, weapons ready, as we prepare to land.

Another craft slips alongside—an enemy taxi. My warrior blood sings as I pull my gun. Driver, pow! Passengers, pow! pow! pow! This route is my route, my people’s route.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Fairy Ring

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PHOTO PROMPT © C.E. Ayr

Deep in the woods, there’s a fairy ring. As a child I found the place. From all over the valley, travellers journeyed to view it and make wishes.

Deep in the woods, there’s a fairy ring. Over the years, a road was worn smooth by thousands of pilgrim feet.

They built a café to cater for hungry travellers, and an inn to lay their heads. And a souvenir shop. And a supermarket. And a housing complex.

Deep in the city, a ring of trees is lovingly preserved. But nobody can remember why.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Help

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PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

This isn’t a story. If you’re reading this, please help. Okay, I’ll admit I was looking on your computer for dirt I could use to blackmail you. And, as you can imagine, I found plenty. That business with Mary was … well, who I am I to judge?

I’m not exactly a nice person. But I didn’t deserve this, trapped as a recurring algorithm in your desktop. Maybe my body is wandering around by itself out there, maybe it fell down dead. Just press the keys and release me. Please.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

125. Six plot twists and two to avoid

A plot twist is a story development that the reader does not expect and in which something surprising happens or something surprising is revealed. Generally, the storyteller will set up expectations and then “twist” those expectations by revealing new information.

A plot twist:

  • must be narratively sound,
  • must be unexpected, and
  • might be foreshadowed.

If it occurs at the end, it’s referred to as a twist in the tail. Aristotle, in his Poetics, argued that a good plot ending must be “surprising yet inevitable”.

Types of plot twists

  1. I Am Your Father, or Anagnoresis

The discovery of another character’s true identity

    • Oedipus Rex marries his mother in ignorance
    • Also Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back and The Kite Runner

Darth Vader

2. Flashback or Analepsis

A sudden reversion to an earlier event reveals characters or events in a different light

  • The pensieve in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 

3. Banquo’s Revenge or Peripeteia

A sudden reversal of fortune arising from the character’s circumstances

  • Banquo urging Fleance to take revenge in Macbeth

 

4. It Was Me All Along or Unreliable Narrator

A character is revealed to be other than who we thought they were, throwing preceding events into doubt

  • In Fight Club the narrator is revealed to be Tyler Durdon himself

 

5. Will the Real Villain Please Stand Up

  • The villain in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is revealed to have been at his side all along

 

6. Gasp or False Protagonist

Death of Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones

 

Twist endings to avoid

1. It Was All A Dream

This is usually thought to be cheating when it’s used as an ending

  • The events of A Beautiful Mind are revealed to be hallucinations

 

2. The Lost Will or Deus ex Machina

The opposite of Banquo’s Revenge in that the reversal is not motivated by prior events.  An unexpected, artificial or improbable character, device or event is introduced suddenly to resolve a situation or untangle a plot. It was a favourite in Victorian times where it was attributed to fate and frequently took the form of the discovery of a lost will.

Holmes and Watson

Nowadays this device is generally deemed unacceptable.

  • Jane Eyre where Jane leaves Mr. Rochester and ends up on the doorstep of a long-lost relative

Friday Fictioneers – Sacrifice

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PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

Everything about that building was wrong. Bastard amalgam of a hundred ages mixing turrets and pediments—a temple to some chimaeric deity, part saviour and part destroyer. The one terrible eye looked down on you from its riveted socket, like the porthole of a ghost ship.

And heavenly Marie Celeste it was, for I never saw its shuttered doors open to worshippers or supplicants.  Silas said god lived in the cabin perched atop the roof, winching his vittals up from street level. I disagreed, believing the tenant was a deaf hunchback, and dreamed of being sacrificed to the creature.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

 

Friday Fictioneers – Playing House

 

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PHOTO PROMPT © Ronda Del Boccio

He offered a smart home, a car, and flowers on special days. She took her long red hair and wound it tight about them both. Waited for love to move in. What arrived was habit. She polished that until its base metal sparkled.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – The Wrong Destination

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PHOTO PROMPT © Fatima Fakier Deria

Oi, mate! This is the wrong afterlife. You’ve made a mistake. I’ve no clue what to do with the Tupperware. Nothing against the ladies, you understand—they’re very pretty. Nubile even. And the fields are definitely Elysian. But I don’t belong here.

In case of further booking errors, I’m also not Christian. So no harps and heavenly choirs, okay?

I couldn’t have been clearer. Feasting, carousing, a little banging of fists on trestles, a spot of wrestling. The reservation was for Valhalla. Valkyries, not nymphs. No substitutions acceptable.

Unless….

This isn’t hell, is it?

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

124. Does politics mar literature?

Let me get the answer out of the way right from the top—no, of course not. George Orwell said, “No book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” Our lives are political, so what we write is also political. Even fairy tales are political. If storytelling wasn’t political, tyrants wouldn’t trouble to ban or burn books.

Alice

What does political mean?

So, next, a definition. I don’t mean political with a small “p”, party politics, though some stories may legitimately be about such partisanship. I mean political with a capital “P”—the way power is distributed and how it affects everyday life. If a character doesn’t have enough to eat and must choose between paying the rent and buying school kit, that is a political context. If a character is saved from domestic drudgery by a prince, that too is political.

Breaking writing rules

But doesn’t this cut across so many writing rules? Literature, after all, is art, not propaganda. Readers don’t want to be yelled at or told what to think.

Yes, fiction writing isn’t propaganda, or political science, or journalism. But this doesn’t mean fiction doesn’t deal with politics. It just deals differently with the subject. Fiction makes political situations personal.

Characters makes us care

Fiction is about character. Even in plot-driven stories, it’s the characters who make us care. A story in which the characters are simply vehicles for a political argument would be dull. The politics of Orwell’s 1984 isn’t particular subtle or nuanced. It’s the plight of Winston Smith that engages us. There’s nothing special about the role of politics here. This is not different than any other over-indulgence in plot or theme. If the characters spend the whole story blowing each other away or discussing particle physics, it would be equally dull.

Characters live in three circles. They have an inner life and a circle of intimates, friends and colleagues. But they also have a third circle—the social setting that defines their concerns, their view of the world, and their beliefs. Ideology is a strong determinant of the third circle.

Readers don’t like being told what to think

You get this comment a lot in discussions about political fiction.  And, when you come to consider it, this is odd. Nobody ever complains they feel manipulated when a writer equips a character with some other trait like selfishness or courage. Writers devote a lot of care to telling readers what to think.  They craft the characters to engage sympathy, structure the plot to create peaks and troughs of tension. So, maybe the principle is readers don’t like being told to think in ways that challenge their preconceptions.  But isn’t that precisely what literature is supposed to do?

“Some people will suggest that dealing with themes is ‘didactic.’  Don’t be fooled.  Those same writers will put themes in their own works, and usually they’re taking stands that oppose yours.  For example, if you argue that morality is innate and central to what a human is, they’ll argue that it’s situational and we’re all just animals.  They don’t oppose the idea of stories having themes; they may just be opposed to your views.  So make sure that your arguments are rigorous and persuasive.”

David Farland How to Win Writing Contests and Big Publishing Contracts

We tend to notice ideology and feel we’re being preached at when the text departs from our unconscious biases about the world. There is a saying that the ideology of the powerful is the belief that their view isn’t ideological, just common sense. What makes an ideology work is that it articulates a lived sense of the world. One person’s common sense is another person’s propaganda. Readers who react with fury to having an ideological viewpoint thrust on them by authors rarely respond in a similar vein to, say, thrillers or romance.  Yet both tend to have a fairly transparent ideology.

Thrillers typically pit a plucky hero against the forces of evil. Over time these forces have varied from the Nazis, the Soviet Union, Islamic fundamentalists, shadowy corporations, and elite cabals, depending on who the “enemy of the day” is. The politics goes unnoticed because it’s an assumption about the forces of good and evil shared between author and reader.

Less obviously, romance too contains an ideology about people and relationships. In the classic romance (consider Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet) love is a force that is stronger than human will, incompatible with everyday life, and its proper end is death. More contractual or rational bondings are out, as is working at a relationship.

 

Readers should be left to make up their own minds

This is the “writer as witness” idea and it’s really back to the “readers don’t like to be told what to think” argument. The notion is that the writer should present the facts and leave the reader to judge their meaning.  And it’s an odd view, because it applies more to journalism than to fiction. Though, it has become such a truism among fiction writers that it tends to be said without question.

In reality, most of us writers don’t operate like this. The writer surreptitiously shapes the reader’s perceptions in a thousand subtle ways. How could the reader come to their own conclusion? We select the contents, we craft the order in which they’re displayed, we polish and shape in order to create the effect we desire. Creative writing describes events in the light of the ends we ordain for them. The open-endedness is an illusion. Of course, no two readers ever render exactly the same story in their minds, I accept that. They may even disagree with our conclusions, depending on their own concerns and life experiences. Even so the writer is not only witness and advocate but also judge and jury.

Everything reflects an ideology

What could be more natural than a fictional world with protagonists and villains in which characters undergo an arc of change? This is, surely, the ABC of how to write a story. And yet this too is a product of a particular (wealthy and individualistic) social order. There are literary traditions in other cultures that use very different conventions. I argued in an earlier blogpost:

There is a view of the person and of development contained within these formulae.

  • We are individuals
  • We choose our own fate and can change

These principles of character arc seem so obvious we hardly even notice them as assumptions. But they come from a particular kind of society and, to other cultural traditions, they are far from obvious. How about these propositions:

  • People become people through other people. This is the core principle of the Ubuntu cultures of Southern Africa. In other words, humanity is a quality we owe each other. Or, in the European tradition, John Donne’s famous “no man is an island”.
  • The number of people on the planet who can choose their own fate is extremely limited. The starting conditions of wealth, gender, race, status and caste circumscribe our choices. For many people, change is unthinkable. Those who do escape their circumstances are not representative of their peers.

These differences are not only narrative, but moral. The first principles are individualistic, the second communitarian.

 

Friday Fictioneers – Bar girl

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PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

The pressure of his gaze weighs on me, like the compression of the machines in the dress factory. I switch on my face, but nothing I do can affect the outcome. He will chose me or he will reject me. I choke. In this bell jar, evacuated of love, it is hard to breathe. But at least, he might promise a bed for the night.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here