Video Essay Spotlight: Just Write

Time for another Video Essay Spotlight.  One of my absolute favorites is the YouTube Channel Just Write by Sage Hyden.  Each video is akin to a mini-lecture on various writing techniques and how they work when applied to a particular movie or TV show.

“But Liz, we write fiction not – ugh – scripts.

Well, first off, slow your roll, imaginary strawman reader, or you’re really going to lose your mind by the time I get to Lessons from the Screenplay.

Anyway, what I love about Just Write is how Hyden breaks down writing concepts and gives a clear example of how to use them, and why they work.  Take a look at last week’s upload for a primer on flat characters and characters arcs, for example.  In it, he discusses where we break the rule of character arcs and why it works – specifically in terms of Paddington, with nods to Back to the Future and The Hunger Games.

If I had to level a criticism, it would be that the earlier videos are titled by the media that they’re dissecting and not the lesson we’re supposed to be learning.  So if you click on the Wonder Woman video, for example, you won’t know until you start watching that the subject is “bathos” and where sincerity fits in a culture that’s oversaturated with irony and anti-heroes.  This naming convention makes it harder to remember the lessons he’s already covered, or circle back to get a refresher on areas where your own writing is lacking.  On the other hand, it does help you avoid spoilers for media you haven’t seen yet.

Further reading:

If you love this video, check out more Just Write content on YouTube. (And sorry, one more plug for their Game of Thrones video on everything that was wrong with Season Seven’s writing.  It was really cathartic, guys.)

If you love this video and want to pay him money to produce more content, consider supporting him on Patreon.

Special plug: if you pledge at the $10 level: “You’ll get my email where you can send me a sample of your work-in-progress, whether it’s a novel, screenplay, or a short story, and I’ll give you notes on possible improvements. ” (I’m not sponsored by him or anything I just thought that was a pretty cool option.  Who doesn’t love feedback?)

Lastly, check out the website for blogs and other content.  The reading list is pretty cool, I see those books quoted fairly often in writing craft videos.

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Publisher’s Spotlight: “Release the Virgins!” Anthology

By now y’all should have figured out that I have a wicked sense of humor, so when I read about this publication call I HAD to share it.  It’s an anthology entitled Release the Virgins! after all.  So let’s take a closer look:

  • In their own words: “Submissions are open for short stories that include, somewhere in the story, the phrase “Release the Virgins.”  An email proposal is required to make sure you are not duplicating an idea already reserved by one of the accepted authors. “
  • Genres they accept: Humor, obviously.  Anything else isn’t specified one way or the other.
  • Submission tips from the editor:
    • Avoid unicorns. I’ve already had a bunch of proposals about unicorns and even if the submitted stories are all good, I’m not going to want to have more than one or two unicorn stories in the anthology. We want variety.
    • Be creative. If it looks like you just took a story you already had and found a way to work the phrase into the story in such a way that I could remove the phrase completely and it wouldn’t hurt the story, then I will probably not accept it. The phrase should be relevant and necessary to the story.
    • Don’t send me a proposal with spelling and grammatical errors. I mean, duh.
  • Word count limit: 5,000 words.  “A good but padded story may get rejected over a concise, fast-moving one, because we want to fit in as many stories as possible.”
  • Payment: 5¢/word
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Not specified, but you have to send a proposal first, so why would you send it anywhere else?
  • Multiple Submissions**: Same thing; I doubt they’ll accept more than one proposal idea.
  • Reprints: Doubt it, but you can ask when you query.
  • Deadline: September 1, 2018

Reminders when submitting:

I’m going to skip my usual spiel since this is a one-time call.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • An email proposal is required to make sure you are not duplicating an idea already reserved by one of the accepted authors. Send to michael.ventrella@gmail.comDo this first.
  • Want more info?  Click here for full guidelines, updates and formatting preferences.

One final reminder: Read their guidelines, follow their rules.

Good luck, and happy submitting!

How to Write Flash Fiction in 48 Hours or Less: Day One

Last weekend was the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition, 2018.  Well, the first round of it, anyway.  I’ve been dying to write a recap of what it’s like to participate in one of these, so if you’ll indulge, the following is a summary of my writing process for how to write a Flash Fiction story in 48 hours or less.  This is my process for Day One: Brainstorming.

The Prompts

So as per usual, I stayed up until midnight in order to get a first look at my prompts.  I do this mostly so I can let my brain go crazy in the middle of the night, coming up with wacky ideas and then banishing them with sleep so I can write something coherent in the morning.  This year, my prompts were:

Genre: Fantasy

Yes!  So exciting!  I’ve been doing this competition for the last four years and I’ve never gotten fantasy before.  Those of you who hang around here will know that this is my favorite, preferred genre, so this could not have been better for me.

Location: A Space Shuttle

Aaaaaand just like that my goodwill evaporated.  Fantasy in a space shuttle.  They just can’t make it easy, can they?  Unlike some other “think fast” writing exercises, this was going to take more than an hour for me to come up with a way to blend genre with a location that clearly belonged in a different speculative fiction category.

Item: A Can of Paint

brainstorm tweet
I also brainstorm on Twitter in the middle of the night. Gifs ensue.

This got side-lined entirely.  Usually I venn-diagram my prompts and pick two out of three to focus on initially.  Since the Fantasy/Space Shuttle combination was going to take the maximum amount of brain power I figured I’d work the item in later once I had my world building and premise sorted.

Brainstorming at Midnight

Ok, so technically I was brainstorming Friday night through all day Saturday.  I had all kinds of notes going on and spent a lot of time thinking and world building instead of actually writing anything.  I don’t recommend this, but it’s how I work.  After four years of prompts I can eyeball a story in my mind and know ahead of time what will fit into 1,000 words and what won’t.

I spent a lot of time trying to think of scenarios where Fantasy and a Space Shuttle would fit together, and the first thing that came to mind was this:

Valkarie
How were you not in Infinity War? I’m still mad about that.

No, I did not end up writing about Valkyries in Space.  But it was enough of a jumping off point that I was able to start brainstorming what fantasy tropes could carry over into a space setting without appearing out of place.  Gods?  Yes.  Superpowers?  Hell yes.

I wrote down a bunch of fantasy tropes in a list to see what I could pick from.  Halfway down the page I scribbled: “Move away from Sword & Sorcery.  With a space shuttle we’re looking at Age of Discovery.  What would magic look like in the future?  Sword and Sorcery –> Urban Fantasy –> Future Fantasy with science and magic.”

For those of you needing assistance with my shorthand, Sword and Sorcery is what people normally think of in terms of medieval fantasy, but it’s not the only fantasy flavor out there.  You also have Urban Fantasy, which is set in contemporary times.  Twilight is the most prominent example I can think of at the moment since Harry Potter relies on a lot of traditional fantasy pastiches.  Anyway, “Future Fantasy” doesn’t exactly exist, so I had to brainstorm what fantasy elements could be carried forward in time the same way they fit into fantasy that is traditionally set in historic times.

What types of Magic?

So at this point I had decided that magic was what translated best from Fantasy into a future setting.  (More than fantasy races or monsters or the medieval motifs.)  So now I had to figure out what kind of magic would work best to correspond with or combine with science.  I made another list in my notebook:

  • Mystical, innate abilities (the force)
  • Pyrokinetic (like superpowers?)
  • Elemental (like Avatar)

Once I hit on that third item I knew I had something I could work with.  Also from my notes: “Elemental magic is a shorthand trope, used often enough, needs not a lot of explanation.”  This makes it ideal for flash fiction.  There isn’t a lot of room to explain complex world-building, so you have to stick to some tropes so that you have room to flesh out what makes your world unique.

So, what’s the plot?

I did spend a lot of time thinking about where I wanted to go from here.  Additional notes are scribbled regarding the different elemental powers and what they can do, what the backstory could be (why they are colonizing new worlds with their powers, etc) but much of that was worked and reworked on Sunday when I got to the nitty-gritty of actually putting words to my ideas.  So we’re going to leave off here and next week I’ll do a write up on how to take all your big brainstormed ideas and fit it into a cohesive, 1,000 word narrative – what there’s room for, and what there’s not.


Is this self-indulgent?  Well yeah, maybe a little, but hopefully it’s helpful to you as well.  Every writer is different, and I invite you to share your own process in the comments below.  Ask questions, give advice, get involved!  It makes the whole process a lot less daunting.

“Quality Protection Guaranteed” now available in HAVOK!

I’m so excited to announce that my short story Quality Protection Guaranteed(TM) took first place in HAVOK’s Rampage! Monsters vs. Robots contest issue!  This is the second of my stories to make it into HAVOK, but the first placing in one of their contests.  More details on the issue below!

Monsters vs Robots
God I love this genre.

Do you love giant monsters battling insanely oversized, impractical battle mechs?  Of course you do.  And why wouldn’t you?  From Pacific Rim to Voltron, Power Rangers, Evangelion and Godzilla this genre kicks some giant ass.

You can get your hands on a copy by clicking here to order print copies or getting the Kindle edition through Amazon.com.  Have Kindle Unlimited?  Download it for free!

Speaking of free, did you know that you can get a FREE digital subscription to Splickety’s flash fiction magazines just by joining their mailing list?  Click that link to check it out and never miss an upcoming issue!

If you’re eager to see your own fiction in print you can check out their Upcoming Themes and Deadlines page – there’s a Halloween issue coming up and the deadline is July 27.  Want to know more about the other Splickety imprints?  They were featured in this Publisher’s Spotlight post.  Be sure to check the updated guidelines in case any details have changed.

Thanks for checking it out and happy reading!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Factor Four Magazine

I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but recently Shimmer announced that it will be closing down.  Any time a long-time publisher closes is a sad day for authors and readers alike, but I wanted to jump in and say that hope is not lost.  Even though we’ve lost some of the greats, new publishers with new opportunities are coming online every day.  Today’s publisher premiered just four months ago, and released their second issue this past Sunday.  Let’s welcome Factor Four Magazine to the party, shall we?

  • In their own words: “We publish flash fiction in the genres of speculative fiction, specifically science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, super hero, or any combination of these. We are looking for stories that are engaging to our readers in such a short word count. Please take note of these factors (pun intended) when submitting stories to us..”
  • Content limitations: We are okay with foul language and sexual activity within a story, provided it fits the story well. We do not publish erotica.
  • Word count limit: 1,500.  According to their notes, under 1,000 is preferred and 750-1,250 words is the “sweet spot.”
  • Payment: 8¢/word U.S. based on their word processor’s word count and excludes title, author information, etc. “The minimum payment for a story is sixty (60) U.S. dollars. Payment is made no later than the date of publication via PayPal.”
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No
  • Multiple Submissions**: No
  • Special Note: You will be required to submit through their HeyPublisher portal on their website.  You must create an account; doing so is free.  (It’s not a huge obstacle, the whole process took me about two minutes when I made my account.)

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  You’ll need to subscribe to see what content they publish, but it’s $4 for the year, which is less than a single issue of most magazines.  Reading the magazine will help you get an idea of what their style preferences are, so you’ll be able to tell if you’re a good fit.  (Or, if you’re like me and you writing varies, it will help you narrow down which submission to send.)  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Also – and I feel like I need to point this out, especially considering Shimmer’s closing – support your publishers.  Buy their content.  Read your contemporaries and follow them on social media if you’re so inclined.  Writing is a small community, and it’s important that we contribute to its future.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

Video Essay Spotlight: Terrible Writing Advice

Man, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could really use something funny right about now.  Sometimes real life gets in the way of writing even small things (like blog posts) and I fall off the radar for a couple of weeks months.  So, with that in mind, let’s check out something lighthearted and dripping with sarcasm.

This is Terrible Writing Advice by J.P. Beaubien.  It comes exactly as advertised: tongue-in-cheek advice on what-not-to-do relayed through clever little animated videos deconstructing story tropes.  I’ve posted the Chosen Ones video below, but you should definitely check out the many, many other videos here.  They are equally hilarious and a good way to poke fun at ourselves as writers.

I’m a big fan of the phrase “write harder,” which is my go-to piece of advice whenever I think a fellow writer is leaning on lazy cliches or predictable plot points.  Watching these might make you a little self-conscious about your own writing habits, but it’s good to recognize where our own writing falls short by relying on trends.  Once you realize it, you can revise with that in mind and try to deconstruct the tropes – I promise both you as a writer and your stories will be better off for it.

While you’re at it, I recommend taking a look at Beaubien’s website, where he goes into full detail on what he actually thinks of the tropes he’s dissecting.  I’ve linked the page on Chosen Ones, so you can read the full analysis on why we love – and hate – that trope.

Got any of your own terrible writing advice?  Have an opinion on a video series that’s a must-see I need to cover?  Drop it down in the comments!

Happy writing!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Sword & Sorceress

Today we’re taking a look at a little something for the ladies: Sword & Sorceress 33!  I’d heard of the anthology before, but I wasn’t aware of the history of the publication.  Check out the primer below, which I shamelessly pulled from Wikipedia:

The Sword and Sorceress series is a series of fantasy anthologies originally edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and originally published by DAW Books. As she explained in the foreword to the first volume, she created the anthology to redress the lack of strong female protagonists in the subgenre of sword and sorcery. At the time, most female characters in sword and sorcery were little more than stock damsels in distress, or pawns who were distributed at the conclusion of the story as “bad-conduct prizes” (Bradley’s term) for the male protagonists.

    • In their own words: “Stories should be the type generally referred to as “sword and sorcery” and must have a strong female protagonist whom the reader will care about…We are willing to consider stories set in modern times (urban fantasy), but we don’t buy more than one or two of those for the anthology. We always want something short and funny for the last story.”
    • Genres they accept: Fantasy, and occasionally urban fantasy.  Sword and Sorcery preferred, obviously.
    • What NOT to send:  “We do not want stories with explicit sex, gratuitous violence, or profanity. We are NOT a market for poetry, horror, or dark fantasy.”
    • Word count limit: 9,000 words or less. “Preference given to shorter stories. The longer a story is, the better it has to be. Long stories should be submitted early in the reading period.”
    • Payment: $0.06 per word as an advance against a pro rata share of royalties and foreign or other sales.
    • Simultaneous Submissions*: No.
    • Multiple Submissions**: “With regard to multiple submissions, do not submit more than one story at a time. If we’ve rejected your first one, you may send one more, as long as it’s before the deadline. We have occasionally bought someone’s second submission. We have never bought a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth submission. If you send us two stories, and we don’t hold either of them, wait until next year to try again. Please do not re-submit stories we have already rejected (including stories rejected in previous years).”
    • Reprints: No.
    • Schedule: Monday, April 23 to Sunday, May 13, 2018. Stories received before or after this period will be deleted unread.
*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.
**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.Bonus content:The guidelines page has links to two pages by Marion Zimmer Bradley:

The titles are a bit misleading – while they sound like basic tips for new writers, the articles go in-depth regarding what they’re looking for in a story.  They include tips on how to read your work critically and revise so that your piece is in its most saleable condition.  (I wrote a similar piece in checklist form if you want to check that out.)

Go take a look; anything you can do to read up on the publisher’s preferences will give you a leg up on the competition and help improve your submission preparation for other markets.

 Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Their published stories are available here.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

5 Ways to Break your Writer’s Block

Few things are as disappointing as sitting down to write and finding that you have nothing to say.  Maybe you have an idea of what to write but you just can’t get the words to come out right.  Maybe you’re looking for fresh inspiration.  Whatever your situation, here are five ways to kick start your muse.

1.) Create a Playlist

This is my go-to tactic to get in the mood.  Some people have favorite bands who inspire the imagination.  My favorites are usually Pink Floyd, Vast, Radiohead and (appropriately) Muse.  Another tactic is to use specific songs that fit the atmosphere or tone of what you’re writing.  For example, my ghost story set in Louisiana had me listening to “House of the Rising Sun” and “Hotel California” on repeat.

Want something without lyrics that you can use for a specific scene?  Go on YouTube or Google “D&D background music” to find the sounds of taverns, towns, chases or whatever fits the scene.  (Movie soundtracks are great for this too.)

2.) Pick a Writing Prompt

Ok, but what if you’re completely out of ideas with no idea where to start?  Try looking up some writing prompts.  Set a timer and force yourself to free write for an hour to whatever the prompt is, and see what spills out.  Here’s some sites to get you started:

There are tons of these out there, so if that doesn’t do it for you, get over to Google and do some digging.

3.) Get to Know Your Characters

A big cause of writer’s block is that you’re dealing with characters you don’t know very well.  If you know who your characters are – their wants and needs, how they’ll react when you put them in a dire situation – then you can work on giving them conflicts that will enhance the story and build towards their arcs.

Great!  So how do I get to know someone who doesn’t exist, Liz?  Well, short answer: personality quizzes.  (Don’t laugh.)  Try some of these and fill them out like you’re answering for a particular character.  The quizzes themselves might be dumb, but it’ll rewire your brain to start thinking like them, and treating them like a real person.

Want a deep dive that’s more than just the usual Myer’s Briggs?  Check out the Enneagram personality test.  I did a cursory search for that link but there are a few of these sites out there that can go pretty in-depth.  Even better, some sites explore how the types interact with one another, so you can see how your characters might get along – or not.  Try it out and see what insights it unearths.

4.)  Transcribe Passages from Published Works

This is more for when I know what I want to say but the words aren’t coming out in the right order.  If I’m having trouble just forming sentences, I’ll pull out a favorite book and skip to a scene I like, or one whose voice or word choice I envy.  Then I’ll physically type or write out the passage word for word.  Not just read it, but actually transcribe it.

There’s something about the act of manually putting one word in front of the other that reminds me what writing is supposed to feel like, and what a complete sentence looks like.  It sounds dumb, but honest to god, it really helps to mimic polished writing until I can take the training wheels off and go wobbling off on my own again.

5.)  Don’t Write

This sounds counter-productive, but sometimes the best way to write is to not write.  Has it been a long day/week and you’re completely spent?  Have you slept well lately?  How are are your eating habits?  When was the last time you got out in the sunshine?  If you’re not taking care of yourself, then writing is probably going to be a struggle for you.  Well, more than usual.

Make sure you take time for some self-care.  Turn off social media, go take a walk and let your mind wander.  Go get bored.  Boredom is a great way to break writer’s block, but you can’t get bored if you’re on Twitter all night or binge-watching Netflix.  You’d be surprised what comes to you when you’re able to decompress and let your mind wander.


Anyway, those are my go-to solutions for writer’s block.  Did I miss any of your favorites?  Got a writing prompt site that’s the best thing since shredded cheese?  Post it in the comments and help each other out!  Until next time, happy writing!

Funded!

I just checked on the Kickstarter this morning and we are FUNDED for Welcome to Miskatonic University!  Whooooooo!

Celebrate

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can click here to check out my previous blog post where I talk in detail about the anthology project.

There’s still time to back the Kickstarter if you want to be sure to reserve your copy in advance, and just a reminder that they’ve also got a stretch goal to fund the second volume, It Came from Miskatonic University which has even more awesome Lovecraftian stories.  Here’s more info about that:

“In the second, It Came from Miskatonic University, the setting and mood shift slightly as some of the barriers to that unknown are stripped away. So either the main character (or the whole setting) already knows some of the secrets to the unknown or the protagonist is themself part of the “unknown,” being a part of that secret world—whether a Deep One trying to save her human girlfriend or a powerful sorcerer on a mission—and thereby becoming a direct window to that unknown for the reader. These are the narratives where weird fiction blends with fantasy and science fiction. When the unknown has been revealed, accepted, and possibly even incorporated into the setting, we are flitting across weird fiction’s borders with other speculative fiction. It’s almost as if you’ve been learning a thing or two during your stay at MU.”

You can read more about it in this third interview with Scott Gable, which no lie, posted about an hour after my blog post went live on Wednesday.

Thanks, and stay tuned for updates as this project goes to print!

Welcome to Miskatonic University Kickstarter

Hi all!  I have some pending news I wanted to highlight today, which is a little different from my usual M.O.  Those who stop by will note that I like to announce whenever one of my stories is available to read, either online or when the publication drops.  Consider this something like a pre-announcement.

My Lovecraft-inspired short story, Through Cryptic Caverns, the Shoggoths Come at Night has been selected for inclusion in the upcoming anthology, Welcome to Miskatonic University brought to you by the fine folks at Broken Eye Books!  I had a lot of fun writing for this one; here’s what to expect from the anthology in their own words:

Welcome to Miskatonic University brings you modern tales of good ol’ MU. Each story shows a slice of college life at this storied and magical institution, steeped in the occult and part of the strange town of Arkham. Come visit this fascinating New England university—where science and magic, tradition and experimentation go hand in hand—and the quiet, secretive town on which it relies.”

My own contribution is the story of Bernice Jackson, a closeted southerner looking to get as far from home as her mother will allow.  She takes up residence in Waite Hall, where the campus – and her classmates – are not always what they appear to be…

Unfortunately you can’t read it yet, since this story’s publication is pending funding from their Kickstarter.  I’m a firm believer in advertising a product rather than soliciting donations, but if you back the Kickstarter for at least $7 you get a copy of the digital anthology, so this is more like reserving a pre-sale copy.  And hey, if you want to spring for a hard copy ($20 – $35) I’d be happy to sign it if you send it my way!

They’re funding two anthologies, with my story appearing in the first volume.  I read over the bios of my fellow contributors and their stories looks pretty cool as well.  Here’s a little more regarding what types of stories are in the two volumes:

“The first, Welcome to Miskatonic University, represents the first half of that spectrum. These are the tales with the unknown at their core, where relatively normal people in a relatively normal world come face to face with the unknown, and we get to see what happens. These are the stories most tightly anchored to our reality, to what we now. In the second, It Came from Miskatonic University, the setting and mood change a bit. And this isn’t a binary—not an either-or; it’s a spectrum with gradation in how these elements change. In these tales, that next layer of secrets have been stripped away. (It makes perfect sense that, after a century of uncovering secrets, a college might not be the same as it was.)”

If you want to know more about the project you can check out the Kickstarter page, or read up on the publisher’s interviews with A.C. Wise and Hellnotes.  Thanks for checking it out, and if it sounds like your cup of tea then I’d encourage you to contribute to the Kickstarter to make sure you get a chance to read it.

Thanks in advance!