"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not." -Ernest Hemingway

Friday, February 24, 2012

From Seconds to Eternity: Time and Space in Fictional Writing - Part 1

“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity.”  -Albert Einstein 
Literature, in its own right, is tied to time like no other art form I know of.  For example, a photograph or a painting is an image of a moment in time and last only as long as it takes to look at it.  Same could be said about music.  A song lasting 2.5 minutes represents the 2.5 minutes it takes to listen to it.  
A book takes time to read as well; however, the reader can be transported through time whether they spend five minutes reading or several hours.  For example, it’s possible to write a story that takes thirty minutes to read and covers thirty minutes of action or the time covered could be stretched out over a lifetime.  There are no requirements when it comes to fictional writing.  
As a writer, the possibilities to capture time and space in a story are infinite; but just like a scientist developing a time machine, there are methods to the madness and I’m not talking about something as complex as a flux capacitor! 
Let’s explore:
Summary and Scene
Summary covers a relatively long period of time in a short amount of distance.  It’s a useful method to help reveal information, explain a character’s background, change the pace or to advance forward or backwards in time.
Scene is to fiction what the five senses are to living.  In other words, they allow your readers to experience the elements of your characters’ lives through sight, sound, scent, taste and touch.

It’s possible to write a short story in a single scene, without any summary at all, but it’s not possible to write a successful story completely in summary.  By summarizing events rather than having them realized as moments of time in your character’s life, you disconnect the reader from putting themselves in your character’s shoes.  
To put it simply, summary allows you to speed up time in your story and fill in the gap of missing information, scene allows you to slow the pace and fill in the gap of missing details; smells, colors, sensations...etc., you get the picture.  

Eventually, a story requires a trigger or a crisis to occur that is crucial to a turning point in your protagonist’s life and cannot be summarized, therefore, all stories require scenes.   

One simple formula I use to help keep on track to bring balance between summary and scene is the following:
Scene elements Summary elements
Goal                Emotion
Conflict             Thought
Disaster            Decision

Basically, in a scene, a character has a goal (maybe to fix a cup of coffee, thus allowing smell and taste to be interjected) then a conflict arises (they knock the mug over, spilling hot coffee on their lap, in could come sight and touch) and next a disaster (the phone rings, Aunt Ruby just died, time for sound).  
Moving from scene to summary will now allow the pace to quicken.  The character reacts to the news (they remember when growing up they were the only one Aunt Ruby never sent a birthday or Christmas present to (a long period of time in a short distance)) then they think about what just happened (Aunt Ruby became filthy rich when her husband died) now they make a decision (they will go to the funeral and put on a show of sorrow) then the character takes action based upon their decision (they take their best suit to the cleaners).  
So as we can see, by using the method of summary and scene we are able to transport our readers through time in a matter of a few sentences or several pages.
In Part II, we will explore two more methods for transporting our readers through time; flashback and slow motion.
Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Showing is Believing: Grasp the Principle of Filtering and Never Tell Again

All writers start out as beginners.  Whether they spent years in school or ventured out on their own in search of their dreams, there was an invisible start line etched across the beginning of their pathway to a writer’s life.
Like many beginning authors, I started out writing all my stories in first person (read my post hereand ended every line of dialogue with an attribution of either she said, he said or they cried! (read my post about it here)
Then there was the infamous challenge of overcoming the don’t tell ‘em, show ’em syndrome.  If you ever find yourself wondering how in the world can you show something to the reader without telling them, then you are not alone.    
For example: It’s easy to think if my character has walked into a room and sat in a chair by the window and looked out and saw her neighbor fall to the ground that the only way my readers are going to know they fell is if I write the scene like this:
{Mary made her way to the chair by the window and graciously sat down.  She looked out the window and saw her neighbor, Mr. Pepper, standing in his front yard.  She noticed a strange look on his face and then she saw him clutch his chest and fall to his knees.}

In writing fiction, you will often times be writing through some observing consciousness and when you ask the reader to observe the observer, you start to tell not show and inadvertently get in their line of sight.  
By removing the filters, you allow your readers to remain inside the character’s stream of consciousness.  
Let’s explore:
The filter is a common error and as a beginning writer, difficult to recognize.  Even experienced writers can still fall prey to the natural urge to tell not show syndrome, but once you grasp the principle of filtering it’s an exciting way to make your writing more vivid.  
Taking our example from above (I’ve highlighted the filters) and then removed them to “show” how our scene can be more vivid.  
With filters:
  {Mary made her way to the chair by the window and graciously sat down.  She looked out the window and saw her neighbor, Mr. Pepper, standing in his front yard.  She noticed a strange look on his face and then she saw him clutch his chest and fall to his knees.}
Filters removed:
{Mary made her way to the chair by the window and graciously sat down. Across the street her neighbor, Mr. Pepper, was standing in his front yard with a strange look on his face. Suddenly, he clutched his chest and fell to his knees.}
Notice how in the revised version with the filters removed, it reads as though you are Mary observing the scene and not someone standing next to you telling you what she was seeing.  
So, the next time you are self-editing your story, make a mental note to watch for filters and experiment by removing them.  You just might be amazed how vivid your scene becomes!
How about you have you learned to spot filters (or perhaps you refer to them as something else)?  If so, I would love to have you share how it has improved your writing.
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Defeating Deadlines: How Flash Fiction Improved My Writing Skills

Time is running out and all you can concentrate on is the ticking of the clock.  The more you focus on the mesmerizing sound the harder it becomes for you to concentrate, and the less you concentrate, the only letters that come to mind to type on the keyboard are, D. E. F. E. A. T.  
Sound familiar?  Every author during some point in their writing journey succumbs to the inevitable dreadful deadline.  Sometimes it may be out of our control and other times it may be self inflicted.  No matter the reason, missing a deadline is one of the hardest things to accept, other than rejection, as a writer.  The only difference between the two is at least with a rejection you’ve tried; you made every effort in your control to imagine, create and write a work of art.  With defeat of a deadline, you continually say to yourself, “If only I hadn’t done this or that.” 
When I first started writing I found myself in awe of writers who could write a short story in say, a week, and then edit, revise, edit and revise some more and complete it in two weeks, maybe a month.  At the time, I never saw myself as one of those writers.
Years crept by and holding to my beliefs of one taking responsibility for their own improvements I studied, practiced, studied, practiced some more and then I began to network with authors whom seemed to have mastered the art of writing stories in a flash.  I’m not talking about just putting verbiage down on a screen, but actual stories that tell a tale, stories that are tight as they can be and stories that have been revised and edited all in one week!    
How is that possible?  Let explore:
In June of 2011, I discovered a whole new writing genre called, Flash Fiction.  Having never heard of it before I was very intrigued by the mere name of it and inquired with a new connection of mine, author Blaze McRob, and he took me under his writer wings and introduced me to an exciting fast paced world of talented writers. 
There are many flash fiction writer groups out there, but they all have one thing in common; write a short story usually in a thousand words or less, based upon a weekly theme and then post it on your blog.  Then the group reads and comments on each others stories.  In addition, there are many readers out there that enjoy reading flash fiction and discovering new authors!  
So, how has writing flash fiction improved my writing skills?  For starters, it has challenged me as a writer to jump right in and start a story smack dab in the middle of the action, for you don’t have much time to build up to it.  It has also taught me how to strengthen my word usage.  In other words, are my words specific, clear and simple and are my nouns and verbs strong?  For when you only have a thousand words or less, less is more.  Lastly, the encouragement and recognition I have received from fellow authors and readers of flash fiction has pumped up my self-confidence as if it were on steroids.  
If you’re looking for ways in the new year to challenge yourself as a writer, why not discover the world of flash fiction?  You’ll be amazed at how much you will improve in tightening scenes, making words count, eliminating clutter from your writing and, best of all, keep your creative juices flowing!
I’ve listed two sites that specialize in Flash Fiction:
Vamplit Publishing is for writers of horror, and I am honored to say, I am a contributing author to their Friday Flash Fiction.  They are open to new contributors and they and all their authors are encouraging and supportive of one another.
Friday Flash.org host many genre’s of flash fiction and occasionally hold contests.  A great place to meet new connections and grow as a flash fiction writer.  

The Cat Vamp Diaries: All Things Scary is my friday flash blog where I feature my flash stories and more.  Hope to see you around the flash fiction scene!
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin