Friday Fictioneers – The Librarian

bonfire-anshu
Photo Prompt © Anshu Bhojnagarwala

In the silvered night, he steals down alleys, ferrying old books from the library to secret caches. The Pure are already calling beyond the walls. When they enter the city, they’ll root out heresy with a great bonfire and smashing of icons. Corpses will swing from the gates.

The librarian isn’t sure whether astronomical texts, and studies of verse are heretical. But he suspects they may be. He believes the invaders might find the land inventory useful. And this too he bears into hiding.

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

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Friday Fictioneers – Hunter’s Moon

from-renee-heath
Photo Prompt © Renee Heath

Organising it took ages. The same corner table in Marcel’s; the red dress; the precise day. A cloudless sky with hunter’s moon. But love finds a way.

My woman sits by the window, half illuminated by the restaurant’s discreet lamps, but already silvered by the moon outside. She is becoming one with the night. On the beach beyond, some creature cries, stitching the present to a timeless past.

“Did you bring her here?” she asks. “Your ex, Louise. Before she …”

Everything is the same. Now I will ask her the question. By her answer she will merge with Louise.

 

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

113. The third variety of fiction

Fiction is stories, right? The protagonist encounters a challenge, sets off in pursuit, and after many travails achieves a resolution. Much genre writing fits this mould.

There is another kind of fiction where the plot can be incidental or even non-existent. This is writing based on character rather than story. Often this type is called literary.

But that’s not all. There is a third, though rare, kind of fiction, which executes its code in your brain as you read. It rewires your consciousness.

I was very struck by this again reading Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon, a literary science fiction novel set in a near future total-surveillance Britain.

gnomon

The plot revolves around a detective’s efforts to understand how a suspect could have died under a mind-mapping session. It turns out that the suspect invented a series of narratives to keep her own consciousness secret. The book loops back and forth through these stories.

There is a sequence where Harkaway’s method is evident. One of the narrative personas is brought together with a woman who he is told is his dead lover, Stella.  The text oscillates between the possibility that she is an imposter and the possibility that, if she occupies Stella’s place in the world, she is Stella. Layers of philosophical hocus pocus, of metaphor, and of narrative exposition create a universe in which this transubstantiation is plausible.

Yeah, I hear you say, all fiction does that. It invites us to suspend disbelief. But what Harkaway does is more than world-building which postulates orcs and elves and offers us an escape into magic. He transforms your sense of reality such that we understand personal identity in a new way. We don’t escape into a fantasy world. Rather, reality changes.

old-bridges-26__880

I described this technique in an earlier post.

Words can create illusions. They can bridge impossible gaps allowing magical connections to be made between unlinked things. This is the stuff of fantasy, but also the stuff of poetry and of magic realism. Imagination can stitch together things never connected in the real world. Recurring words and images can stitch together these magic connections

Harkaway describes in a blog the process of writing the book:

This was like weaving a tapestry thread by thread while holding the entire design in your head, and my head just wasn’t big enough. Meanings intersected with other meanings, with consequences. I had to go back, again and again, re-work, re-conceive, re-imagine. Sure, yeah, I know: writing is re-writing. I’m familiar with the re-write. This was more like starting a new book every four months or so. The number of plotlines and their interactions meant a kind of exponential multiplication of possibility. I’d made a maze in my own mind and I kept getting lost in it. The book was smarter than I was.

Reading Gnomon was more like taking a mind-altering drug than like narration. A few other books have done this. One was Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo.

Another was A U Latif’s Songs from the Laughing Tree (currently out of print). In a review of Latif’s book I wrote

Our brains are evolved to seek pattern and meaning, and Latif plays with this. The figures of the stories loop and dive, and create impossible or magical meanings that are whimsically held together by no more than a concatenation of words, an ellipsis of adjectives.

Have you encountered books in this third type of fiction?

Friday Fictioneers – Hologram

teds-car-in-the-woods
Photo Prompt © Ted Strutz

Long after his death, a digitally remastered Ol’ Green Eyes was wowing audiences again with gyrating hips and glorious guitar riffs.  Girls born decades after the original performances screamed and tried to rush the stage. The star, haloed in blue light, paid them no mind.

The tours were a sell-out nationwide. But Ol’ Green Eyes weren’t very interactive. Not until Frank Gainsborough had the idea of adding a connectome. It weren’t the original one, of course. That were long gone. But a great nephew made a reasonable match, right?

Now, when the girls scream, he leers and hauls them to his dressing room.

 

 

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 – Safe haven

dales-broken-door
Photo Prompt © Dale Rogerson

I don’t even recognise the handwriting. So much has changed since I wrote those words in my journal. Can I believe them? Searching my memory offers no answers. I have no recollection of those woods, the cottage, the break-in. Did it really happen?

A story slots into place in my narrative. Comfortable.

That would explain my fear of dark tree stands. But I’m an imposter in my own life. There is now an uncertainty at the core of my life, a swampy place where the footing is unsteady. It threatens to swallow everything.

 

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 – Hospitality

Bokeh-Priya-Bajpal
Photo Prompt © Priya Bajpal

The unmistakeable sound of young men behaving badly drifting across the water. Robert was drawn to investigate, and wandered round the bay.

He accepted a can of tasteless fizzy warm beer, declined a spliff, and answered questions about his trip and how he liked the island.

“What do you do?” he enquired of one man.

“I drink,” The reply came with a grin. “In my spare time I’m a policeman.”

The others, all of whom seemed to speak some English, chuckled, exposing teeth and gums stained bright red by betel nut.

 

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 – Fjord

Russell-quarry
Photo Prompt © Russell Gayer

The sun-swept fjord has been constructed with real flair. Geirfinnur Vidarsson admires the build as only an engineer can.  Steeply sloping snow-capped walls and a firth perfectly aligned with the rising fireball, bathing the glaucous waves orange.

He steps with care through the lava field, wary of the razor-edged cinder cones lurking beneath the soft green moss.  Geirfinnur is alone in this landscape. He utters a cloud, and it drifts fluffy across the dome of the sky.

Next, he tries to forge a man and a woman, but fails. Head bowed, he turns back towards town.

 

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

112. Rules bestselling authors ignore

Writers are taught many rules by the greats. But should we believe them?

Stephen King adverbs

Avoid adverbs

Stephen King famously said “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” and urged writers to eliminate them. Three years ago, I wrote in defence of these much maligned parts of speech.

Now we have some objective analysis of the truth or otherwise of the dictum. Ben Blatt analysed the more than 300 novels that reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list since 2000 and the 100 most recent winners of literary awards. He compared these “professional” authors with a sample of 9,000 “amateurs” who had written novel-length fan fiction. The professionals used around 114 adverbs per 10,000 words, compared to 154 by the amateurs. So there is a correlation between fewer adverbs and literary success. As you can see from the graphic, I used 44 adverbs per 10,000 words in my current novel.

adverb use by category of writer

However, Stephen King seems to be wrong about eschewing adverbs, if you take him literally. He used an average of 105 across 51 books.

adverbs by author
Source: Ben Blatt

 

Never open with the weather

Another great writing dictum Blatt explores is Elmore Leonard’s “never open a book with the weather”.  The graphic below shows that Leonard did this 4% of the time across 45 novels.

weather in first sentence
Source: Ben Blatt

Keep it short and simple

Bestsellers today, according to Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers’s The Bestseller Code, use shorter sentences and simpler words. And it seems true that sentence length and complexity has gone down.

Sentences in Jane Austen’s 1811 Sense and Sensibility averaged 23.2 words and in Charles Dickens’s 1859 A Tale of Two Cities 17.7 words. They both require a reading age of 14-15 years.

By contrast, J.K. Rowling’s 1998 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with a reading age of 12-13 years, came in at 11.8 words. Stephanie Myers’s 2005 Twilight was a lightweight 9.6 words per sentence and demanded a reading age of 10-11 years.

While the complexity of language has gone down, the size of novels has gone up. In the era of mass publishing between 1850 and 1950 shorter novels arrived but they grew in size again after the advent of long-haul travel and the airport blockbuster.

Friday Fictioneers – Miss Masie’s Mausoleum

goats_and_graves_3_randy_mazie
Photo Prompt © Randy Mazie

Miss Maisie make a mausoleum. Weren’t that just like she? Even in death, she lord it over Miss Hester.

But Miss Hester, she smile and sweep her patio; keep her place spick and span. She look from her door through the chicken-wire fence at goat and chicken and pickney playing on the grave.

“You don’ mind that your sister still have bigger house?” I aks.

Miss Hester laugh. “She cyan chase them animal out, now. She gone. And I outlive she.”

 

 

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

111. What are judges looking for in a writing competition?

Ever wanted to know how judges make their choice in literary competitions? Here is the answer.

I can’t promise that this is true of all contests, but the Farnham Short Story Competition uses a format to ensure consistency of assessment between stories and between judges.


Julie Evans, winner of the 2018 Farnham Short Story Competition, with competition administrator, Derek Keen
  • Is the submission formatted readably, and without typos, spelling and grammar mistakes? Reject entries that are poorly formatted, inadequately proof-read, and full of spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Overall, is it a good story?
    • Does the story work?
    • Did it move or enlighten you?
    • Did you enjoy reading it?
  • Character and point of view.
    • Does the author create believable, memorable characters with the uniqueness, complexity, and individuality of real people?
    • Do the main characters undergo change?
    •  Does the dialogue work?
    • Is point of view handled consistently?
  • Plot and structure
    • Does the opening draw you in, setting up a clear dilemma?
    • Is there a clear and compelling storyline with an arc of conflict, crisis and resolution?
    • Is the plot original?
    • Is there good pacing?
    • Does the ending satisfyingly resolve the opening dilemma?
  • Theme
    • Does the story contain a central or dominating theme?
    • Does the author make this idea concrete through the characters and their actions?
    • How well is the message integrated into the story?
  • Setting and atmosphere
    • Are historical and geographic details sufficiently and accurately developed to give the story realistic or appropriate atmosphere and setting? Can you visualize the places being described?
    • Is the setting an integral part of the story
    • Does the story contain anachronisms or inconsistencies?
  • Writing quality
    • Is language skilfully used?
    • Do specific details appeal to your senses and hold your attention?
    • Are character and detail “shown” rather than “told”?
    • Is there a good balance between narrative and dialogue?
    • Does the author use precise, active verbs and avoid overuse of adjectives and adverbs?
    • Is rhythm used effectively?
    • Are metaphors and similes fresh and effective?
    • Are recurring motifs and/or symbolism used to create additional layers of meaning?

This list is an attempt to summarise the elements of good writing. You can find the full judges scoring sheet at FSSC judges scoring sheet -ilovepdf-compressed

Congratulations to this year’s winner, Julie Evans, and to runners up, Katrina Dennison and Jacky Power.