I Hold Your Hand in Mine by Tom Lehr

Liz’s Note: Today’s “story” is actually a hilarious song by the fantastic Tom Lehr.  If you’re looking for excellent MicroFiction sometimes you need to look no farther than a talented lyricist.

I hold your hand in mine, dear,
I press it to my lips.
I take a healthy bite
From your dainty fingertips.
My joy would be complete, dear,
If you were only here,
But still I keep your hand
As a precious souvenir.
The night you died I cut it off.
I really don’t know why.
For now each time I kiss it
I get bloodstains on my tie.
I’m sorry now I killed you,
For our love was something fine,
And till they come to get me
I shall hold your hand in mine.

Political Satire: Comedic Writing (Part Two)

Note: Today’s regularly scheduled MicroFiction piece has been bumped to Wednesday in order to give everyone a little more time to think about Political Satire in time for the competition on Friday.

Political Satire tops the list of genres NYC Midnight writers are scared of getting.  I think a lot of that fear comes from the fact that people don’t understand it as a genre.  So before we get into what it is, let’s start by debunking a common myth:

Political Satire is not a bunch of jokes about politicians.

Quips about Donald Trump’s hair or David Cameron being replaced by a cat need not apply, not matter how clever your joke is.  So what is it?

Satire is a genre of writing that criticizes and attacks vice, folly and abuse, particularly of ruling parties or those in power. It is marked by anger and a desire to change or destroy that which it attacks. It has a definite target and often uses humor to make a specific point. It does not simply “make fun” of a subject but seeks to inspire change.  – TV Tropes

Here are examples that have elements of the genre, but not quite there:

  • The Jungle & Uncle Tom’s Cabin – these seek to inspire change, but they don’t use humor to illustrate their points.
  • Animal Farm – that’s an allegory.  Political Satire often uses allegorical elements, but a straight allegory is not the same thing as satire if it doesn’t have the humor.

Jokes about political candidates might be funny, but political satire doesn’t have to be overtly about politics to make a political point.

The plot of a political satire piece usually has nothing to do with the subject or message you’re trying to get across.  For example, both “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift and “Baby Cakes” by Neil Gaiman are, on the surface level, stories about eating babies.  But the point they’re trying to make is very different.

Swift’s piece is about British policies regarding the Irish and the cruelty and indifference towards the plight of the impoverished.  Gaiman’s piece (originally a short story but linked as a comic) will make anyone consider converting to vegetarianism.

Some points on this:

  • You don’t necessarily have to agree with the points in your political satire piece.  Gaiman has said, “For the record I wear a leather jacket and eat meat, but am quite good with babies.”
  • Hyperbole is your friend.  Obviously neither Swift nor Gaiman was actually advocating eating babies.  But if you’re really good, your satire might get mistaken for the real thing.
  • Political satire is timely.  Remember: it’s meant to inspire change.  So while you could write a piece similar to Swift’s regarding politics of a bygone era, it doesn’t really fit the spirit of the genre because the issue is already over.
  • Some issues are pretty timeless.  For example, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata is about women going on a sex-strike to protest a war.  It’s been adapted several times, most recently in the film Chi-Raq by Spike Lee.

 

Since we’re talking about Flash Fiction in particular, let’s look to the following examples of sketch comedy for ideas.  These are quick skits and would easily translate into a complete story that will fit in under 1,000 words and will give you a more modern take on what Political Satire is.

  • “What if Bears Killed One in Five People?” is a political satire of the issue of rape on college campuses.
  • Amy Schumer parodies a commercial to satirize the regulations limiting accessible birth control (and one other issue, if you watch through to the very end.)
  • Key & Peele use a skit about the zombie apocalypse to make a point about racism.

I hope you recognize these skits and the comics who produced them – hopefully Political Satire will be a little less scary when you realize you’ve already been exposed to it.  I suggest you check out more of their sketches, as well as South Park and The Colbert Report for other examples.

So, with that in mind, how do you write a Political Satire piece for the Flash Fiction Challenge?  Well, my advice is to pick an issue to write about.  What do you care about?  What’s in the news today?  Read through your Facebook feed and current events news pages to get ideas.  Embrace your inner snarkiness and start joking about it about!

 

Have any examples of your own or questions to share with the class?  Leave them in the comments below!

 

“Mistress Morphine” now available in HAVOK!

My story, “Mistress Morphine” is now available in the latest issue of HAVOK magazine!

Love comics?  Epic battles of good vs. evil?  Then you will love this issue!  There are nine original flash fiction stories, including “Mistress Morphine” by yours truly.

Check it out today!

For more information on how to submit your own writing to HAVOK and Splickety Publishing check out their info in Publisher’s Spotlight.

Make ’em Laugh: Comedic Writing (Part One)

Last week I left off with a few subcategories from the NYC Flash Fiction contest that deserve an in-depth look.  Today we’re going to be discussing the comedic genres, particularly these three:

  • Comedy
  • Political Satire
  • Romantic Comedy

So, what’s the difference between these?  Way back when we only had two dramas (Comedy and Drama) a Comedy meant it had a happy ending, usually a wedding, while Drama ended with a tragic death of some kind.  These days we use Comedy to mean that which makes you laugh.  The differences between the comedic genres come from how it makes you laugh and why.

Comedy

In a broad sense, comedy covers all the sub-genres but in general, let’s talk about Classic comedies, aka comedies that are not making fun of something in particular but are their own self-contained stories.  Early examples include Commedia dell’Arte with stock characters and improvised situations, and Shakespeare’s comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It.

Some common tropes of comedic genres:

  • Mistaken/Hidden Identities
    • Twins
    • Long lost relatives
    • Disguises
  • Trickery of some kind
  • Stock Characters (i.e. the Lovers, the Servants, the cuckolded buffoon, the greedy miser, the doddering professor.  Since you’re meant to laugh, flat caricatures do well here even though they can be hallmarks of bad writing in other genres.)
  • Gender bending (A classic trope from Shakespeare to Bug Bunny.  Beware of distasteful humor regarding transfolk here, the same way you’d do well to avoid racial/ethnic humor in your stock characters.*)
  • Differing personalities having to work together  (Buddy Cop movies)
  • Mad cap adventures
    • Babies
    • Animals
    • Cross-country races for fabulous sums of money

For a more complete list, and/or if you’re out of ideas and forced to write something comedic, start clicking through this page until inspiration hits you.  (Be forewarned, lots of TV Tropes links are coming, set yourself a timer so you don’t fall down the rabbit hole.)

*Before anyone starts arguing about political correctness and its place in modern comedy, I want to first say that you can of course write whatever you want.  But if you’re a novice comic I would advise you to avoid polarizing tropes.  If you’re trying to make a point about race it takes a lot of skill, and even then people may not get the joke. And if you’re not, it’s just lazy writing to rely on outdated tropes.

Romantic Comedies

I’m not going to go into too much depth on this because it essentially has a combination of the above tropes, with the added emphasis on one or more couples and a focus on their romantic relationship.  In dated works it meant the couples got married at the end, in modern takes it means the couples either “get together” or maybe even rekindle a fading romance.  Unlike the other Romance genre, this one should have a happy ending, regardless of how unrealistic it may be. Indulge in a little wish fulfillment.

For flash fiction you should probably stick to the relationship itself, but it should be noted that Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, one of the earliest examples of the RomCom, has its dramatic moments, so don’t feel limited if you want to include some heavier plot elements.  It’ll flesh out the story and add depth to your characters.


Sitcoms are good modern examples of short-form stories, but if you’re looking for novels most of the greats tend to parody certain genres (Terry Pratchett: Fantasy, Douglas Adams: SciFi, Christopher Moore: everything from the Bible to Shakespeare to Vampires.)

This is as good a place as any to talk about the difference between Parody and Satire.

Parody

Parody is the practice of copying the mannerisms, style or appearance of a work or its author’s voice to make a point about that work (or sometimes unrelated other works)…it is often good-natured or affectionate. It only attacks the style and content of a fictional work and not real-life events. -TV Tropes

Remember when we talked about what fell under Fair Use?  That’s parody: “Something you’ve seen before in a different form.”  You’re making fun of someone else’s concept or intellectual property or a genre or whatever.  You’re joking about a concept that you yourself did not invent.  (Side note: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sounds like it ought to be a parody, but it’s actually played straight and gets away with it because the Jane Austen work is in the Public Domain, same as the Wizard of Oz and Wicked.)

While Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is original content, it’s a parody of the SciFi genre in much the same way Galaxy Quest is a Star Trek specific parody.  What do I mean by that?

The protagonist, Arthur Dent, rejects his call to adventure and spends most of the novels as a reluctant hero.  He and the main love interest never really get together.  The climax of the novel, leading up to Arthur being the chosen one for having the ultimate answer question to Life the Universe and Everything is never actually resolved.

A parody can be funny without having any real jokes in it.  For example, the episode Pillows vs. Blankets on Community is funny precisely because it’s played straight – a pillow fight documented in such a way that it parodies the Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.  It’s the absurd situation that makes the comedy, and it’s not quite as funny if you don’t get what they’re parodying.

As for Satire… I’ll be honest, this post is much longer than I expected it to be, and I don’t want to rush that one, so we’ll have to get into it on Friday instead.  But before we go, I want to leave you with this:

General Pointers

Everything I’ve listed above are plot-related comedic tropes.  You should note that when it comes to comedic writing there are other ways to tell a joke that have nothing to do with the plot.  They include but are not limited to:

  • Timing
  • Sarcasm
  • Hyperbole
  • The Unexpected

The last one is my favorite.  There’s just something about the unexpected that makes me laugh, and I love that good comedic writing will work jokes into the description as well as the dialogue and situations. Like the quote below:

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t. – Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Comedy is an art, and I can’t really go into what’s funny or why.  I can’t teach you how to tell a joke; it would take far too long and I’m out of time as it is.  But check out the following resources to unlock your inner comic:

Got any tips and tricks for comedic writing?  Authors/novels you love?  Share them below!

Ebb and Flow

Celia sat in the little rowboat, the rhythmic sound of wooden planks slapping the waves all to keep her company as she floated further from the bank of the river.

The current took the boat westward away from the looming plantation, white as bone, its windows full of soft yellow light.  She felt as thought it was watching her and took only shallow breaths until it passed from sight.

The forged papers were carefully stashed in her satchel along with a small sum of money she hoped would quiet whoever might ask too many questions regarding where she came from, where she was going.

Ahead was a lone woman with a rifle slung over her shoulder, waving her on.  Soon they’d be running, but for now she let the ebb and flow carry her onward to days when she could breathe easy once more.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Grievous Angel

Who likes Short Shorts? Grievous Angel likes short shorts!  They’ll pay Pro-rate for anything under 700 words (and accept poetry too!)  Details below:

  • In their own words: “We are looking for original Poetry and Flash Fiction…At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, apart from the word length, the key factor with Flash Fiction is it has all the elements of a traditional self-contained short story, including a beginning, a middle and an end, even if some aspects may be implied. Flash Fiction is NOT an extract or vignette from a longer story and should never end with the words To Be Continued…
  • Genres they accept:We are a SFF&H genre-only webzine. This means Science FictionFantasyHorror and related speculative fiction sub-genres, including Urban Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Mythos, Steampunk and Magical Realism, as well Humour/Satire riffs on these genre.” (Emphasis is theirs.  Copy/paste did something funny today.)
  • Word count limit: Flash: 700 words max. Poetry: max 36 lines each, up to 5 poems submitted at one time.   They encourage micro-fiction.
  • Payment: $0.06 per word or $1 per line of poetry.  $5 minimum for the short stuff.  (Note: You’ll need a PayPal account to accept their payment.)
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No
  • Multiple Submissions**: No (but up to 5 poems at a time.)  Please do not submit again until 6 weeks have passed (it helps keep the slush pile down.)
  • Schedule: Open.

So get to it and submit those short shorts today!

*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.  “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!

NYC Midnight Genres: A Primer

For those of us who regularly participate in the NYC Midnight contests there’s a certain dread that comes from the last few weeks leading up to the contest, particularly regarding the genre prompts.

I personally love the different genres – there’s the possibility of getting something you’re familiar with, but it’s just as likely you’ll get something you’ve never written before, and that you’ll discover that it was your secret calling.  I pulled Mystery twice – the first time the 1,000 word limit almost killed me.  The second time around I had 2,500 words and that first experience under my belt, so it went much smoother and I ended up really enjoying it.

…And then there’s that third option: something everyone hates and is equally terrible at (*cough*Political Satire*cough.*)  But then again, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.  So, because I don’t know what your personal preferences are, here’s a quick primer on the possible genres and how to break them down.

(I’ll go into detail on some of the tougher ones over the next couple weeks.)

Note: I know everyone here isn’t necessarily going to be participating in these contests, so even though these genres are specific to NYC, what I have still goes for genre-related publications.


NYC has the following genres:

  • Action/Adventure
  • Comedy
  • Crime Caper
  • Drama
  • Fairy Tale
  • Fantasy
  • Ghost Story
  • Historical Fiction
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Political Satire
  • Romance
  • Romantic Comedy
  • SciFi
  • Spy
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
They also have “Open Genre” but that basically means write whatever you want, and you’ll basically only see it for the final round, if you make it that far.  So let’s break the given genres down into a couple subcategories, shall we?
Plot-driven genres

I’ve grouped the following together because their plot drives the genre.

  • Crime-related stories
    • Crime Caper: usually have criminals as the main characters in a “how they committed the crime of the century” kind of story.  Think Ocean’s 11, or The Italian Job.
    • Mystery: usually involves solving a crime, often involving murder, missing persons or stolen items, etc.  Think of this as a Crime Caper after the fact.
    • Spy: More action than either of the above genres, Spy stories can involve international crime syndicates, large scale espionage and can be from the point of view of someone thwarting crime (James Bond) or someone committing crime (Jason Bourne, or the Mission Impossible team).
  • Pacing-related stories
    • Action/Adventure: This is pretty generic for fast-paced, explosion-filled fun.  Die Hard, Indiana Jones, you get the idea.
    • Suspense: I had to look up the NYC definitions for the difference between Suspense and Thriller.  In general, suspense is slower paced, with a dramatic flair as the tension builds.
    • Thriller: Thriller seems to be fast-paced, with action scenes and plot twists.  I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% clear on the difference, but luckily some genre bending tends to be the norm with these contests.
  • Love Stories
    • Romance: Romantic elements can be present in any of the categories, but with a Romance story, the relationships are the central focus.  Most people I’ve asked agree that a Romance may not have a happy ending, but that dating and/or love and relationships need to be central to the piece.  I’ll put Love Actually in the category – not all the tales end happily but they’re all about love in some form or fashion.
Self-Explanatory Genres
  • Drama
  • Historical Fiction

Drama is the way to go for all you literary types.  Historical fiction is exactly like it sounds: set against a historical backdrop.  I’m not really going to go into either of these two.  They’re pretty standard, really.


That’s enough info to digest for now.  In the upcoming weeks I’ll be talking more about the following sub-categories:
Comedic Style/Tone

This is anything that counts as humorous.  There are some differences here, and we’ll go into that in detail.

  • Comedy
  • Political Satire
  • Romantic Comedy
Speculative Fiction genres
Speculative Fiction encapsulates anything with a “speculative” element, i.e. something that doesn’t exist in the real world.  So monsters, magic, spaceships that travel across the universe, all that belongs here.
  • Fairy Tale
  • Fantasy
  • Ghost Story
  • Horror
  • SciFi

Got any questions about what we’ve already covered?  Dying to know more about something I may have glossed over?  Ask me in the comments!  And for everything else (including the dreaded Political Satire), stay tuned!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Deadline Round-Up

Have you been keeping track of all the publishing deadlines coming up this summer?  No?  Well, let’s see if I can make that a touch easier for you.  Below is a list of all the Publishers featured on our Publisher’s Spotlight with links to the original posts AND the deadlines for their current calls.

Also, here’s a link to all publishers with rolling submissions, meaning they do not have a deadline (but they might close for the holidays; check individual pages for details.)

Freeze Frame Fiction is currently CLOSED for submissions.

As always, don’t forget to check out their individual sites as it will have all updated info.

Happy Submitting!

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!