Authentic Voices

I have a confession: I don’t like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein very much.  Not for the usual reasons one might dislike a piece of work (plot, character, etc.)  This is solely because of how she writes from the perspective of different characters.  Let me explain.

Frankenstein begins when Robert Walton meets Victor Frankenstein in the arctic.  Walton begins the story in first person, which then transitions to Frankenstein’s recounting of creating the monster, which then moves into the Monster’s account of what happened to him after Frankenstein abandoned him.  The novel stays in the first person, but the narrator changes.  When it does, each narrator sounds exactly like the last one.

This is a common dialogue problem, but it also crops up in any body of work with multiple first person narrators.  Because the problem goes dialogue, I tend to categorize this as a problem with characterization.  The problem stems for the fact that your characters are too similar.

You might have characters that look different physically, who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, who are different ages, different races, etc., but if they all speak in the same manner, make the same observations, well, they will end up blending together, which can take you out of the story.  When you think about it, of course they characters sound alike, they were all written by one person.

So, what are some counter-examples?

Cloud Atlas is one of my favorites for multiple perspectives.  Not only do the main characters in each section of the novel sound different, the entire piece of work shifts genres so that it feels as though you are putting one story down and picking up something completely unrelated on your bookshelf and so on.  It does go a little overboard with this though, as the final story (which is told entirely in the middle section of the book, rather than broken up) reads like A Clockwork Orange.  It can be a difficult slog if you’re not prepared for it.

If you’re looking for a three-minute example, check this out.  For context, this is a clip from the show Galavant, with songs by Alan Menken (think every Disney movie after 1988.)  The character is an unintelligent thug who has fallen in love, trying to express his feelings.  And it is hilarious.

It works because that character is so fully-formed that even his love song is reflective of his personality.  The better you know your characters and the more work you put into making them individuals the better you’ll be at giving them unique voices.  So dig deep and don’t fall into lazy writing patterns.

Got any examples of writers who excel at character’s voices?  Read any that were so similar you had to laugh out loud?  Leave them in the comments!


Traditions Across Time

Clara felt déjà vu wash over her as she became caught in the folds of time.  Her skin, wrinkled with age, became taught and smooth, liver spots shrinking into freckled birthmarks on the back of her sun-kissed hands.  Her small fingers twisted blonde hair over and under while her sister fidgeted below her.

“Sit still, Hannah!”

“I’m trying!  Are you done yet?”

“Almost.”  Clara reached down to pick another dandelion from the field.  She wove the golden strands around the flower, trying her best to hold tight as they slipped through her slender fingers and stuck out at odd ends.


Clara snapped back to the present, her wrinkled hands still grasping her granddaughter’s golden hair.  They sat facing the ornate dressing room mirror, white from head to toe.

“Are you done?”

“Almost.”  She fished a white rose from the wedding bouquet and slipped it gracefully into Hannah’s hair.  Perfect.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Haunted Waters Press

It’s time for another three-for-one special on this week’s Publisher’s Spotlight!  Haunted Waters Press is a small, independent publisher that offers several opportunities to submit, including the following open calls below.

From the Depths 2016: Outsiders Theme
  • In their own words: “From the Depths is the annual literary journal of Haunted Waters Press. Featuring works of prose and poetry, the journal is released in the fall of each year. Described as “one of the most compelling and beautifully illustrated literary journals,” From the Depths was created to showcase and celebrate the writing of new, emerging, and established authors.

    Inspired by the Grand Prize Winning Entry and Runners Up in the 2016 Haunted Waters Press Fiction & Poetry Open, the theme for the 2016 issue is Outsiders. We seek fiction and poetry highlighting the unique struggles, circumstances, and journeys that set individuals apart from others. We look forward to reading your work!

  • Genres they accept:  Any. “We are interested in stories that entertain us, stories that captivate us, but most of all, stories that haunt us.”
  • Word count limit: 7,500 or less for fiction and flash fiction; poetry any length.
  • Payment: $0.01 to $0.04 per word for fiction and $20 for poetry.
  • Reading Fee: $3-$10 donation for their Expedited Decision.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No Simultaneous Submissions unless submitted via Expedited Decision.  Expedited Decision submissions are reviewed within seven days.
    • Note: Expedited Decision is the only option currently open, so Yes, they do.
  • Multiple Submissions**: One active submission per contributor. Please wait until a decision has been reached prior to submitting additional work.
  • Previously Published Submissions: Yes, but “entries must not have appeared in print. Please be certain there are no known copyright restrictions.”
  • Schedule: March 1, 2016 – September 20th via Expedited Decision.

So what is “Expedited Decision?”  Essentially it’s a reading fee – you send them a contribution between $3 – $10 and they’ll fast-track your submission so you get it back within a week.  They do have a free reading period, but the deadline for 2016 has passed.

“Hey Liz, I’m strapped for cash.  Any chance of a free submission?”  Why, yes!  Check out…

Penny Fiction Competition 2016
  • In their own words: “Tell us story in exactly 16 words—no more, no less.  Extra points will be awarded for those writers who adhere to the rules. Not really. There are no points. Just read the contest rules below and impress Penny with your ability to follow instructions.”
  • Genres they accept:  Any, but “no poetry, tag lines, or jokes.”
  • Word count limit: 16.  No, really.  But on the plus side, “One entry per author, per round. (Contributors are encouraged to submit multiple stories in a single entry, but may only transmit one submission per round.) One story is fine. Four is cool. Twenty is borderline obnoxious. We like obnoxious! Just remember: a single entry with multiple stories!”
  • Payment: Grand Prize: $25 and publication in the 2016 issue of From the Depths.  Selected Runners Up will also receive publication.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No.
  • Multiple Submissions**: See above.
  • Previously Published Submissions: No.
  • Schedule: Round Three – June 1, 2016 – July 31, 2016

“I mean, that’s great and all, but $25 won’t go far.  You got anything with a bigger pay out?”

Yes, increasingly particular imaginary construct!  I do!

Short Shorts: A Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Contest
  • In their own words: “We seek flash fiction of 500 words or less.  Winning entries will contribute to our upcoming “Outsiders” theme highlighting the unique struggles, circumstances, and journeys that set individuals apart from others.”
  • Genres they accept:  Any.
  • Word count limit: 500 or less. Up to three works may be included in each entry.
  • Payment:
    • Grand Prize
      • $250
      • Publication in the 2016 issue of From the Depths

      • Featured Author Interview to accompany published work in print.

    • Runners Up
      • All entries eligible for publication in the 2016 issue of From the Depths.

      • Contributors to be paid $20 for each published story

      • Online Featured Author Interview.

  • Reading Fee: $10
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Yes (see Submission page for details and limits.)
  • Multiple Submissions**: Yes (see Submission page for details and limits.)
  • Previously Published Submissions: Yes, but “entries must not have appeared in print. Please be certain there are no known copyright restrictions.”
  • Schedule: May 5, 2016 – September 20, 2016

Keep this in mind in case there’s a Short Fiction you want to submit to From the Depths.  Since it’ll cost you either way, it’s probably worth it to pay your $10 here in case you’re selected for a Runner Up slot.

Ok guys, I think that’s plenty of info for now.  Don’t forget to refresh your memory with the reminders below and check out the links for more info on these opportunities!

*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:  Flash is short and their stories are freely accessible on the site.  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 to a recently published story.

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.

Happy submitting!

A (Year) in the Life

NYC’s Flash Fiction competition is coming up next month, which marks my one-year anniversary of renewed writing.  I’ve talked about the competition before, but what do I mean when I say that it got me going again?  What was I doing before?

Let’s break it down into some hard numbers:

Calendar Year 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
Total Submission Count 9 16 8 6 25
Increase/Decrease over last year 78% -50% -25% 317%
Total Unique Pieces Submitted 3 7 3 5 14
New Pieces in Circulation 3 4 1 1 10
% of Subs that are New 100% 57% 33% 20% 71%
Pieces Written for NYC 2 3

*through May, 2016

It’s safe to say that not only are my numbers up, but they’re better than they ever have been.  My 2016 (through May, mind you) is better than my last two years combined in terms of productivity.

I kept my NYC submissions listed separately, since they were written for the contest, not for publication.  Two of the pieces I wrote for them I revised and became part of my “New Pieces in Circulation” for 2016 once I submitted them to publishers outside of the competition.

And that’s just quantity.  In terms of quality, let’s look at this list:

Calendar Year 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
Total Acceptances 1 1
Contest nods 3
Rewrite Requests 2
“Please Send More” 1 4 3 7
Personal rejections 2 4 2 4

This one takes a little more explaining.  Contest nods are anything that placed (or came close to placing) in a contest, so the two rounds of the NYC Short Story Contest that placed me into the next round were counted, as was my piece for Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Phenom.

Rewrite requests aren’t acceptances, but they are pieces that are under consideration that I’m working on revising.  Hopefully these will one day become acceptances.

So then what’s that lone little acceptance for 2016?  Well, it isn’t out yet, but stay tuned next month when I let you know where to find my latest story!

So, what can you learn from this?  Am I just bragging? (Well, ok, maybe a little.)  But the point is, it’s so important to practice your craft.  Start more projects.  Finish what you start.  Submit, submit, submit.  One number goes up, they all go up.

And don’t ever let a bad week, or bad month, or bad year get you down.

God Given Talents

Moses stood by the side of the highway, his staff in one hand, a construction sign in the other.  He twisted it to “Slow” and the cars sped by, one by one past the towering waters of the sea.  The traffic in the other direction piled up behind the “Stop” portion of his sign, waiting for their turn.

A pick-up truck slowed as it approached, the headlights reflecting off of Moses’ orange construction vest.

“Hey, Moe!”  The driver gave him a wave from the inside of his vehicle.

“Evening, Phil.”

“Looks like it’s gonna be another late night tonight.  The boss is calling for overtime to finish up this section of the tunnel construction.”

The old man groaned.

“Hey, at least it’s more money.  Once this project’s finished you’ll be out of a job.”

“Doubt it.  Are you out of a job every time you finish a tunnel?”

“S’pose not.”  He spat a thick glob of chewing tobacco onto the gravel.  “Guess that’s how it is with all contract work.  You do your job until they’re done with you, then you got to move on and find someplace else that’s looking for a skilled pair of hands.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

Moses watched Phil drive away and turned the sign so the other line of traffic could pass through the parted waters.  He sighed.  It’s a living.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Phobos

Let’s get back into the swing of things and get back to a typical Publisher’s Spotlight.  This week we’re looking at the Deep Black Sea theme for Phobos magazine.

  • In their own words: “For our fourth issue, Deep Black Sea, we want short stories, flash, and poetry hauled from the brine of oceans both real and fantastic: the shipwrecked rocket bobbing in the black ocean waves of a starless planet, its bloodied crew and their flashlights at the hatch that opens into the perfect dark, and the heavy thump against the hull; the work song of a dozen sailors, and the lilting mezzo-soprano that begins to harmonize from the empty crow’s nest; the fleeing galleon’s dreadful captive gnawing the last rivet from its iron box; the granddaughter that chucks a sharpened stick and spears a skull-sized opal blob galloping across the sand on its little wet fingers.”
  • Genres they accept: Any, but especially the weird stuff.  “We publish macabre, astounding, unsettling, thrilling, baffling, and terrifying stories in the tradition of Shirley Jackson, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.”
  • Word count limit: 2,500 words for short stories and poetry, up to 1,000 words for flash fiction.  “Flash stories under 1,000 words have a much greater chance of being accepted.”
  • Payment: $0.05 per word or $20 minimum for poetry.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Unknown
  • Multiple Submissions**: Unknown
  • Schedule: Reading from May 1st to July 31st, 2016

*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:  Past issues can be found 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 to a recently published story.

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.  They also have an FAQ page for anything not covered in the guidelines.

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!

Twist Endings Part Two: What Makes a Twist Work

Last week  A bit ago we got in-depth on what kind of twists are best to avoid.  So, if not all twist endings are bad, what are the good ones?  Why do they work and how can you write one to wow your readers?

“[The surprise ending] depends on a writerly balancing act, in that to be successful a twist must be an ending the reader did not see coming, but also logical and plausible once it happens.” – Nancy Cress

Ok, so, surprising but logical.

A good twist needs to have a set up and a payoff.  It’s best to have your twist in mind before you sit down to write your story.  That way you can leave a trail of clues that hopefully the reader won’t notice on first read, but will be glaringly obvious the second time around.  When you get to the reveal, you want the reader to think “Of course!” not “What just happened?”

How to hide your clues:

1.)  Use people’s assumptions against them.

If you set up a story where a knight has to rescue a princess in a tower from a dragon, we automatically have assumptions that the knight is good, the princess is sweet, and the dragon is evil.  That’s the way tropes work; we rely on them for shorthand to fill in the details in a reader’s mind so we don’t have to describe every desk in the classroom, every evil deed a mobster has done, etc.  You get the point.

So a good twist will lie by omission.  The knight kills the dragon because he assumes the dragon is bad, after all, it captured a princess didn’t it?  It didn’t?  The princess is actually a horrid monster and the dragon has locked her in the tower to protect the surrounding villages?  Now that’s a twist.

2.)  Use ambiguous language.

Let’s say that when you’re writing the dragon story you start with the king sending the knight on his quest.

“Far away from this kingdom is a ferocious monster who has terrorized the countryside.  We’ve contained it to the island but we won’t truly be safe until the beast is dead.  Go forth and get rid of it once and for all!”

Because the dragon is never mentioned by name, the reader will assume (as the knight did) that the dragon is the beast.

Pronouns can also be used to your advantage, if you use them sparingly.  Girl on the Train has scenes where the narrator addresses a character solely as ‘he’ thus using your assumptions about who it is to hide his true identity.  Unfortunately, this is also a tell-tale giveaway that something is amiss, so try not to do this too often if you’re writing a mystery, or other genres where twist endings are expected.

3.) Use unreliable narrators.

The way your narrator sees the world colors the reader’s expectation.  We root for first-person narrators because we’re in their head.

So if your knight says the dragon was ferocious or the princess was sweet or the king was a doddering old fool that he was only sort-of listening to, we’ll assume that he was correct until proven otherwise.

Another way to make your narrator unreliable is to hide something from the character, therefore obscuring it from the the  audience.

4.) Make sure the story makes sense both with and without the twist.

If your twist is too obvious it won’t be an enjoyable ending, so you have to make sure it works with the reader’s assumptions.  But when you read it through a second time, knowing the twist, it has to make sense.  The best twists work both ways, and get your reader to read it all over again, looking for the clues you left, leading to an appreciation of your writing skills and a great recommendation.

For that reason, please, please reconsider including a double-bluff (i.e. the agent was really a double agent was really a triple agent!)  Most of the time it makes no logical sense unless you really, truly know what you’re doing.  You can get away with a shocking ending once but after that it’s a game of diminishing returns.

5.) Use twists sparingly.

This goes with the double-agent point above.  Sometimes the genre will require a bit of a twist (mysteries for example) but for the most part, twists are supposed to be unexpected.  I think that’s one of the reasons why M. Night Shyamalan’s movies seemed to decrease in quality: if you go into a work expecting a twist you won’t be able to enjoy the ride.  I personally know that if something has a twist ending I’ll be too focused on looking for the clues (which are sometimes obvious) that it’ll kill my suspension of disbelief.

Great Twists I Recommend:

The Twilight Zone – Probably the best short stories ever put to film (stand alone 30 minute episodes famous for their twists.  But let’s be honest, the first 25 minutes still hold up, even if you know how it’s going to end.)  They’re all worth watching, but I do like “Spur of the Moment” for a great piece that keeps you guessing.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Don’t laugh.  It’s a great mystery novel, and one of the tightest examples of storytelling with hints and clues scattered throughout the book as to what’s really been going on.  I love how there are absolutely no loose ends by the end of the book – something the movie didn’t have time to include.  If you haven’t read it in awhile it deserves a second look, particularly from a “twist” perspective.

Over the Garden Wall – Episode 7: The Ringing of the Bell – You might need a Hulu paid account to view this one.  It’s part of a 10 episode animated mini-series (10-20 minute shorts) that deserves a full viewing, but if you only have time for one, check this out.  It is by far the best example of a twist I have ever seen, and I will rewatch it again and again and again just to take notes on the excellent storytelling.

For follow up reading I recommend:

(This goes without saying, but beware of spoilers.)

Got any recommendations of your own?  Leave them in the comments!


The Memory Forge

Melissa sits too close to the fire, staring into the flames.  The logs crackle and shift, sending a flutter of glowing embers shuddering into the sky like fairies.  Behind her the other girls are running through twilight dew, clasping their hands around the fireflies that dot the clearing.

“Here,” Scoutmaster Jeannie says, handing her a skewered marshmallow.  “Make yourself useful.”

Melissa smiles up at her, dipping the plump, too-white blob into the flames.  Jeannie tips the edge of the skewer higher, so that the orange flame just barely licks the bottom of the marshmallow.

“Medium rare, if you please.”  She winks at Melissa.

Melissa’s daughter will roll her eyes at that one day, as well as the many stories and inside jokes her mother will relate from her days at Girl Scout camp.  But for now the fire of childhood is lit, and her memories are just being forged.

NYC Midnight: Flash Fiction Challenge

This is going to read less like a Publisher’s Spotlight and more like a personal story, because it is.  If you only care about the contest, skip to the  quick and dirty.  The rest of you, feel free to join me in a little reminiscing.

The end of July will mark the one-year anniversary of me getting my writing life back on track.  I was in a bit of a writing funk.  Diving in here and there but never really devoting the time and energy to my writing that I ought to.  It had been a year and a half since my short story, Needs More Salt, was published and I didn’t have drive to keep it up.

Then in July I saw an ad on Facebook for a contest: NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge.  The entry fee was steep – if you know me at all you know I hate paying entry fees at all, so $50 made me cringe.  But skeptical as I was, I did a little digging and here what I found out:

  • NYC Midnight runs four contests a year on a rotating basis, one of which is the Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC).  (The others are screenplay-related or for Short Stories.)
  • The entry fee for the FFC gets you:
    • two rounds of competition with two unique sets of prompts
      • an additional two rounds should you place high enough in your groups
    • official feedback from the judges
    • unofficial feedback from the forums should you choose to participate
    • access to prizes, given out to the top 10 writers of the final round competition

So, why did I join?

I hadn’t written finished anything in a awhile.

Lord, what would I become without a deadline?  Don’t answer that.  For perspective, I had the idea for a superhero story sitting around in my computer since early 2014.  I only wrote/finished it on May 6th because of a certain Heroes vs. Villains contest deadline.  (It was well received; thank you for asking.)

I liked the odds.

Because they split the contestants into different groups, you’re only really competing against 30 – 40 writers.  That said, some of the finest writers I’ve had the pleasure to meet were in my group.  That hurt my chances a bit, but on the plus side, we made friends with each other on the forum and I was invited into a writer’s group who have kept me active over the last year, even when the contest wasn’t in session.  So, win-win.

Also, you only have to beat out half of the group (roughly) to get points for this contest.  With two rounds built into your entry fee you have two chances to score high enough to move on.  Your points for both rounds are tallied together, so even if you get 8th place in round one (8 points) and 5th place in round two (11 points) you’re still going to do better than someone who took 1st (15 points) in round one and 14th for the second (2 points), even if you didn’t get in the top 3 for either round.

It was an even (more or less) playing field.

George R.R. Martin would not win this contest.  If you want to win you have to come up with good ideas – fast – and polish it as best as you can within the time limit.  Prompts like “Action-Adventure, a Dumbbell, and an Underwater Cave” will throw anyone for a loop.  You could get a genre that you’re not familiar with, but chances are, there are other writers in the group who are just as lost as you are.

I got to read the competition.

Here’s the thing: when you’ve collected as many rejections as I have you start wondering whether you’re really any good.  Did I come really close to getting published or am I at the bottom of the pack?  I did my first round of the FFC without any beta readers at all – no help, no outsiders allowed.  I did that partially to test myself.  How well can I write when left to my own devices?  It turns out I’m pretty good at being creative under pressure.  The judges didn’t think so, but that’s another matter.

The judge’s opinions are subjective, but at least in this contest you get to read what the competition wrote (assuming they submitted it on the forum, which is locked to outsiders, so it counts as a workshop, not a first publication.)  Some are going to be better than yours, and that’s great!  Learn from them!  Be awed and take notes!  And also, some are not.  Be kind.  Give advice to help someone improve.  That’s what you’d want for your piece, right?  Advice, not mockery?  And yes, enjoy the ego boost it gives you when you find a piece that isn’t quite as awesome as yours.  You worked hard.  Celebrate.

Oh, and one more note before moving on… Just because you thought someone else’s story was awful, doesn’t mean you get to trash it if they scored higher than you.  Not cool.  To be 100% on the level, the judging for this contest is erratic.  I got 0 points on both of my stories.  That sucked.  Hard.  You put on a brave face, you bitch to your friends, you send a note to the contest runners if you think the judges (legitimately) screwed up.  But do not trash the other contestants.

I couldn’t can’t afford a writer’s workshop.

Listen, writing conferences are expensive, take up valuable time, and rarely exist within driving distance to me.  96 hours of balls-to-the-wall writing without having to leave my apartment?  Literally hundreds of stories to read through on the forums to critique (and compare myself to?)  Yes, please.

And that’s my biggest take-away from this experience.  For me it’s not about the contest (because again, the judging isn’t always the best) but about the writer’s workshop portion.  If you really want to get your money’s worth, invest in the forums.  There’s a camaraderie with participating with thousands of other entrants and seeing what you all managed to crank out.  And really, $50 for a writer’s workshop is the cheapest I’ve ever heard of, and I don’t even have to take time off work to join it.

For the record, I also participated in the Short Story Challenge and made it all the way through to the final round, something I’m extremely proud of despite my last story not placing in the finals.  There were many talented writers, so being among the top 40 was no small matter.  I say this because the judging is erratic, not necessarily bad.  And that’s frustrated a lot of participants to the point that I can’t blame them for not joining.

But then again, what other contest is this transparent?  In any other contest you get to read your entry and maybe a handful of the finalists that get published at the end.  You’re tossed into a group with a thousand other participants all writing to the same prompt hoping that you’ll rise to the top.  That’s a lot of pressure and a lot harder than out-writing 15 other people who got the same crazy prompts 48 hours ago.  And you just have to trust that the judges are ranking you fairly, you don’t get feedback, you don’t get ranked, you don’t know.

Am I going to participate this year?  I’ve thought about not.  Partially because I’ve had the experience, I’ve met my people, I don’t technically need to pay to play anymore, I’ve got the motivation and support I need already.  And Lord it is expensive.

But I can honestly say that my writing has improved and I know it will continue to improve by participating.  I know I need a deadline to get things done, and I know it forces me to test my skills by making me write for genres I’d never considered.  I hate writing Mysteries, but I wrote one I’m really proud of that’s currently under consideration at a publication.  That’s a story I never would have thought of, much less written, and it’s close to being a new credit on my resume.  How cool is that?

And more than anything, I really don’t think I can wait another year after this for it to come around again.  Even though I placed higher in the Short Story Challenge, it was a much more stressful experience.  I need the rush of 48 hours, which is just enough time to get an idea and get it out the door before I overthink things.

So yeah, sign me up!

All right, all right, I promised you some quick and dirty details, so here we go:

  • In their own words: “The Flash Fiction Challenge is an international creative writing competition, now in its 8th year, that challenges participants to create original short stories (1,000 words max.) based on genre, location, and object assignments. “
  • Genres they accept: Depends on your prompt.  “When the competition begins, writers are placed in groups where they will be judged against other writers within their same group.  Each group receives its own unique genre, location, and object assignments (see past examples here).
  • Word count limit: 1,000
  • Time limit: Prompts are e-mailed at midnight on Friday-into-Saturday.  Submissions are due by midnight on Sunday evening.
  • Entry Fee: The entry fee is US$45 by the Early Entry Deadline of June 16th and US$55 until the Final Entry Deadline of July 21st.  Click here to register.
    • You also can get $5 off the entry fee just by tweeting.  Click here to make a post to your Facebook or Twitter account to receive a promotional code for $5 off.
  • Prize: The top 10 entrants after four rounds of participation get cash prizes.
  • Schedule: 
Early Entry Deadline: June 16, 2016
Final Entry Deadline: July 21, 2016
Challenge #1: July 22-24, 2016
Challenge #2: September 16-18, 2016
Challenge #3:* November 4-6, 2016
Challenge #4:* December 9-11, 2016

*Note: you must place high enough to participate in Challenge #3 & #4.

For more Information:

How the Contest Works

The FFC 2015 Winning Entry


Who to Contact if I have trouble registering/technical issues

My handle on the Forums, if you want to be friends.  You can also check out my stories for FFC 2016 if you’re a registered member.  (I share all my stories in the forums but I have removed the links to stories written for previous contests.)

Still not sure?  Check out the entry on Jen’s Pen Den that convinced me to join a year ago or ask me questions below in the comments.

Word Counts Part Two: How to Trim

Remember when we were talking about how to write for a specific Word Count limit?  Yeah, neither do I.  It’s been a long month, mostly because I started a new day job.  (In case you were wondering why the #MFM Contest winners were posted later than advertised.)

Anyway, refresh yourself by reading Part One and then continue below for Part Two.  Also, note that most of this advice is going to be geared toward Short/Flash Fiction where you have to stay within the bounds of a certain word count.  It will always be easier to write to a designated word count limit than to trim a piece you’ve already written without serious revision.

And yet, it can be done.

I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.

– Stephen King, On Writing

I think most drafts can lose about 10 – 15% of its word count without sacrificing content.  Personally, I don’t freak out if I’m 100 – 150 words over the word count when I finish a 1,000 limit.  I know that I write in a meandering sort of way – I can cut a paragraph’s worth of words just by trimming my sentences one by one.

Anything more than that and I know that it won’t help to switch every “was wondering” to “wondered” – I’ll still need to trim a scene or cut a paragraph, maybe even lose an extraneous character who isn’t contributing much.

So how do you do that?

1.) Lists.  Oh sweet reader learn to love your lists.  List your characters.  List your scenes.  List your plot points in order.  Anything that’s taking up space, write it down.  Then take a break and come back to your lists looking for things that stick out.  Do you really need all those characters?  Does your subplot tie into the main theme?  If you had to write your story all over again from scratch what absolutely, positively has to make it into the final cut for it to say what you want to say?  That’s your bare bones outline.  Anything else is filler.

2.)  Focus and simplify. Cut out anything you listed that is distracting or that doesn’t contribute to your overall theme.  One way to do this is to limit your scenes/dialogue to two people whenever possible to save on dialogue tags.

3.) Read every sentence and look for wayward phrasing.  “Get out!” Sarah shouted angrily might’ve seemed just fine when you were in the zone but you know better than that.  And if you’ve cut characters you can trim dialogue tags here.  Watch out for unnecessary adjectives. Do you really need to say “he turned the knob, opened the door and left” or can you just say that he left?  Trust your reader and tighten your prose.

4.) Use Beta Readers.  Find someone (preferably more than one) whose opinion you trust. They don’t have to be a writer, but they do have to be a reader.  Someone who understands stories, someone who will help point out things that are extraneous, and things that don’t make sense (if you go too crazy in your subsequent drafts and start cutting out important details.)  I owe one of my betas a serious debt of gratitude for catching some major issues with a second draft.

Remember: every word counts.

Got any tips for how to trim?  Leave them in the comments below!