Steampunk Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is fun.  It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s bite sized!  This piece has been kicking around my hard drive for a little while, so I decided to post it up here.  Next post, I’ll talk about the awesomeness of flash fiction some more.  For now, enjoy an example.

~^~

The captain cleaned his weapon.  It was a lovely contraption, a convergence of metal and flame.  In its bronze bulbs were the proper types and amounts of chemicals to rain fire and lead upon anyone or anything which threatened him.  It was a hand-held beauty, but it had saved his life more times than he would admit to anyone but those of the cloth or a generous bartender.  He slid it into his side holster.

The captain cleaned his goggles next.  Tinted glass, golden rims,  and soft leather eye cushions had spent so long on his face that his cheeks were imprinted with them.  They had served well since he lost a toe because he was too busy wiping his eyes of salt water.  He fastened them about his skull.

The captain cleaned his boots.  Damn but it had been a long time since they’d touched land.  And yet every time he thought to go to port, the sea lured him back.

The captain cleaned his ship.  She was small but mighty.  Tall boilers sat aft, churning in seawater to boil, the steam pushing her forward through storm, cyclone and calm.  Her smooth brass banisters warmed to his hand like an old friend saying hello, sharing a joke.

The captain stepped forward and began to clean his main weapon.  She sat at the fore, a rotating chair equipped with an enormous pneumatic harpoon.  He checked the base, made certain that the trigger mechanism was prepared and functioning, and then rubbed upon the sharp barbs a poison which even the sea could not wash away.  It gleamed in readiness as he stepped away.

The moon glowed from the depths of the ocean.  He judged the chop of the sea.  It was a calm night, but not too calm.  Waves rolled about three feet up, cradling his ship without tossing it.  The moon dipped and rose with the water, singing greetings to him, tempting his eyes to the night sky, to the mesmerizing stars.  He didn’t bother looking up.  The moon was where she belonged and so was he.

The captain went to his bird.  The albatross had flopped onto his ship after a bad fight some years ago.  He’d considered eating it at first, but the bird was so large and majestic that his hands had gone numb on the spine, and he had instead taken it in.

The albatross’ feet shifted.  He leaned down and pressed a bit of oil into the foot he had fashioned of wire and leather for it.

“Calm night.”  He murmured, feeding it some smoked fish.

The bird shifted, resettled its wings with a ruffle and a slight flinch of the head.

“Aye,” he murmured, and took a piece of fish for himself as he watched the sea, soon to be his battleground.  Yes.  All was prepared.  Tonight he would finally taste victory.  “Perfect night to hunt the Kraken.”

Bow Chick-a bow-wow…

Last time I had a few tips for getting your sex scene up to snuff.  I should mention that these tips aren’t in any particular order, and not just because I’m a lazy blogger who doesn’t really care to think about what order my tips come in.  Mostly it’s that you should be thinking about all of them before, during, and after writing.

Now, your first two tips were…

#1 Love is a Battlefield
#2 Have a Point Besides the Prick

In which I mentioned that writing sex is like writing a fight (I could have also named it ‘All’s fair in Love and War’ but I actually kinda like that song) and that you should usually write sex for a reason.

But say, what if you have a reason, but you’re not sure you can pull it off?  Well, then, I will contradict myself slightly.

#3 Practice Makes Perfect

After that first  scene (which is lost in the archives of the internet… thank heavens) I stopped writing sex.  And thus I never really improved until I joined one of the RP forums which I’ve talked about.

Now, RP is great for regular writing, but sometimes it can get a touch awkward when you’re cross playing someone of the opposite sex who winds up in bed with someone, who is played by someone who is the same sex as you.  (have some convolution, Batman.) Heck, RPing sex with someone you aren’t involved with at all, no matter how actually needed it is in whatever plot you’re working on, can get majorly awks, period.

Behold, the patron saint of awkwardness.

Now, it’s not that RPing sex (it’s not quite the same as cybering, guys, though they’re very similar) isn’t helpful; in fact, if you’re looking to work on your erotica, grab your significant other and give it a try.  Hell, you do it in real life, trying it in writing can only be a good thing, right?

But maybe you have no comfortable writing partner or SO.  No prob.  Going it on your own is a great learning experience as well, but since you want to work on your sex writing, write sex.  You can get your foreplay on, make up a reason or two, and have at it, but just do it.

As I mentioned in the last post, I lost a bet.  Yeah, it was silly, but I wouldn’t have offered that particular bet if I hadn’t wanted to have an excuse to work on my smut anyway.  That facet of my writing was weak, I wanted a touch of hilarity, he wanted a lemon.  Everybody won.  So go out, make a bet, make a resolution, roll the dice and hit it off.  Practice your smut, and be joyful.

#4 A Sex Scene is Still a Scene

Here is a loose definition of a scene.  It is a bit of text that can be anywhere from a few sentences to a few pages.  It has a beginning, rising action, climax, and falling action.

And now you are back in elementary English class.

Unless you are intentionally coming into the middle of a sex scene, give it all the attention it deserves.  Make sure it has a firm beginning and rising action.  Answer the questions.  Foreplay?  Yes – fabulous beginning, hooray for your characters getting some sexy time.  No?  Why not?  Do they not have time?  Rising actions: is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Are they hot, or is this a total dud and they’re regretting whatever made them go home with this person anyway?

The climax doesn’t have to be a climax, guys, but it absolutely needs to be there.  Hell, you don’t have to mention climax, but you sure as hell better punch the climax, or your readers are going to be like “Er, that was great, and I need a cigarette, but..why?”  For instance, you can totally pass over the climax of the man, but when he realizes “Oh shit.  I’m in love with this chick” we’d better hear it loud and clear.

But then again, maybe you want to be nice to your characters, and throw them a bone.  Ha.  Haha.

We’ll round out with that for today, and be back later with another few tips.  We’re still only on #4 out of 10!

Exercising and Exercises (part 1)

Fair to warn you all that as November is very busy, we’ll be having slightly shorter posts at the same intervals.  

I am a runner.  It’s a hobby I picked up because all my friends were doing it so I decided to as well.  It’s many things, and today I’m going to start going through these things today.

Running is a great time to compose poetry.

I like haikus.  Haikus are really fun.  They are bite sized little pieces of word craft, deliciously put together and wrapped in their little 5-7-5 bits of alphabetic foil.  They are also fabulously easy to compose in ones head while puttering along any number of roads.  I mainly run at night, when I can just go and not even think about how far or fast I’m going.  And even with my music thumping along in my ears, words come to my mind and arrange themselves according to what I’m seeing or thinking at the time.  I rarely remember them long enough to write them down, but they amuse me and pass the time when my songs start to bore me.

But I don’t stop at haiku, or at just while I’m running.  As I ran once in Korea, I came across two older women eating cherries off the bottom branches of a tree.  Seeing as I had no idea the berries on the trees were cherries at all (they were very small compared to the cherries I’m used to) I went over to check it out.  These ladies were maybe 5’0″ in shoes.  I’m about 6’0″ in shoes.  So I pulled a branch down for them and together we ate cherries at ten in the evening.  Out of it came a poem I’m very proud of, which was published by the Seoul Writers Workshop.  I’ll put that poem at the end of this post.

Cherry branch in Gimpo, South Korea

Cherry branch in Gimpo, South Korea.

Now, the point is that good writing material must be looked for, but it can also happen suddenly and without warning.  You not only have to work at it, but you must also be open to it.  Writers can’t sit around and wait for something noteworthy to just happen to them, they have to get out and do something, as well as waiting for something to happen to them.

So for part 1 of ‘Exercising and Exercises’, make something happen.  Go for a walk.  Do a good deed.  Challenge yourself.  Drive fast.  Do something, then write about it.  Easy, right?

And now: your poem.

The Cherry Tree

At night the trail is bathed

In the mercury halogen orange of countless lamps

A touch of violet killing foolish insects

(Though really, they flock more to the orange)

I walk, and from the cushioned trail

(Sandwiched between levy and stream)

I see two Ajumas in the grass

Picking through the branches of a cherry tree

The branch being low, the pickings are slim

But there they are, and I draw closer

(To be honest, I wasn’t sure the dark berries were edible until this night)

And peer up, judging distance.

There is a likely prospect, just within my reach

Stand on tip toe, touch a leaf, grapple, grasp

Then turn to them with my prize, as they murmur

(obvious things, most like, but as they are in Korean, I’ve no notion)

They set about to nibbling, one taking over the holding

The other indicating for me to take a few and eat

(Did she say ‘Cherry’?  I’m not sure, I only know ‘strawberry’: ‘Dalgi’)

as she talks to her friend.

I want to ask how the weather is down there

They are both two heads below me after all

But instead I eat and watch them nosh

(They make nummy noises like little cats, and I grin and do the same – I’m in Rome, right?)

Never before have I felt so much like a gentle giant

To them I’m probably the amusing foreigner, an alien

Not exactly to be disdained, but neither to be paid much attention to.

(Though I feel rather like a deity, bringing food down from on high – ha!)

I savor the taste, delighting in the new discovery

of small tart cherries practically in my back yard

But soon make my goodbyes – ‘Anyung.’

(Oh no!  They’re older – I should have said the whole thing!  ‘Anyungegeseyo’ complete with bow!)

They pay me no more mind than one might a house cat

‘Anyung’ they say and continue their nibbling

On the branch I gave to them this humid summer night.

(And here I thought the dove brought an olive, not a cherry branch…)

The Story in the Single Word

Seeing as we’ve been on about Nanowrimo for the last week and some, we figured it was time to go on with something else.  Nanowrimo is still around the corner though, and we’re still excited!  Be on the lookout for some more guest post stuff!

I’ve been wandering around wordpress quite a lot lately, looking at other people’s work and ideas.  It’s awesome, because from other people’s ideas come my ideas – it’s a fabulous little circle of awesome.

One of the ideas I’ve encountered before but am finding commonly again is the “X Word Story”.  These are stories where the author attempts to tell a story in a set amount of words.  In high school, we wrote 55 word short stories a few times to work on our word choices.  I discovered that I was a very wordy person, and this was a very, very good exercise.  It forces you to chose exact words which express precisely what you want to say, rather than combining phrases in order to culminate in your idea.  Consider the goal of the X word story in terms of math:

With each story, you are going for a certain feeling, or number.  Let’s say 42 – because it’s the answer to everything (life, the universe, etc.).

In a non-x word story, you take your words and add them together to create the number.  So, just as ‘dark’, ‘mysterious’, and ‘uneasy’ would equate to a somewhat frightening but not outright terrifying setting, 7 +10 + 25 = 42

In an x-word story, you want to get straight to the point, no beating around the bush.  You have to get straight to 42, to put one single word for “somewhat frightening but not outright terrifying” that also incorporates the ideas of ‘dark’, ‘mysterious’, and ‘uneasy’.  In this case, 42 = ‘eerie’.  (Boy do I love that word.  It’s just got so many vowels, proving xkcd completely correct)

Now, there’s something to be said for crafting stories to be this precise from the beginning, but there’s another use for these things.  Distillation and re-constitution.

In high school, my teacher sat in front of the classroom one day and told us about his college professor.  This professor told the class to write a story of about 5000 words.  The class did so.  Before they turned it in, the professor told them to re-write that story, but limited the re-write to 1000 words.  Then he cut it to 500.  Then 100.  Finally, he said “re-write it into a poem.”

Now, I love poetry, but I’m only good at it once a year or so.  I would strive to cut it to 55, then 6, and finally, one, single concentrated word that said everything about the story that was important.  Perhaps you might say that this takes away the point of writing a story, but it lends a very important aspect of focus to any piece.  A great exercise I’m going to complete for you, and invite you to join me on, is to take a story and dissolve it down.  In the interest of space and time, I’m going to start with 55 words, then 6, then 1.  For additional challenge, the 6 words can’t appear consecutively in the 55 words, and the 1 word can’t appear in either.  To preserve the point of the exercise, no explaining, no framing of any of the three stories.  Ready?  Set?  Go.

 55 words

She lifted her head against the pounding headache, grimacing.  A hand pressed into the dirt, then another.  She gained her feet, rose, hissed.  Meters away stood her opponent, a smile on his face. 

“Ready to give up yet, girl?” He asked, smug.  “That wound must hurt.”

She snarled.  Blood trickled from her brow.  “Not yet.”

6 words

“You will never see me break!”

1 word

“Endure.”

This idea can also be applied to much bigger structures.  Try taking your novel and distilling it into a single word.  What do you come up with?  Can it be anything else?  I considered the words ‘persist’ and ‘persevere’ for the final word as well, but in the end chose endure.  Why?  ‘Persist’ has the connotation of a goal.  If you persist, you are persisting towards something.  Victory, recognition, love.  In a similar manner, persevere has the connotation of ‘moving forward’.  One continues to walk, perseveres.  You don’t necessarily have a goal, but you are moving.

Endure merely means to stand.  It doesn’t even mean stand tall, or stand proud, or stand unbroken.  It is a simple, but firm refusal to break.  Thus, it was the word I chose in the end.  This serious consideration of word choices and definitions is another reason I really like the idea of the exercise.  Synonyms are great, but occasionally they are used interchangeably when the meaning is not at all interchangeable.  This series is a really good one for Sleight of Spirit, you all even get a little insight into Morgan from the 55 word version.  And Morgan does not persist.  She barely even perseveres.  She simply endures.  

What about you?  Can you take your novel and narrow it to successively smaller word counts?  Can you hit the magic number with one word?  If you decide to do the exercise, I call it a distillation, and link me, I’d love to see it!

Through the Lens of Spoken Word

Today I decided to check out the Freshly Pressed and found a post on the Spoken Word.  It’s an excellent post and I suggest you all check it out because it’s got some really great youtube videos I’ve been working my way through.  It’s making me think about the role of the spoken word in novels.

Generally, after about first grade, we’re taught to stop reading our words out loud.  While there is merit in this, I think that it’s a skill which should be retaught somewhere around middle school.  Spoken word is critical to our culture, and in general spreads ideas much faster than the written word.  (Ok, I could get into an exception with twitter and the internet, but I won’t).  Most of us have never read a book out loud longer than, say, a children’s starter chapter story.  Even though most books are meant to be read silently these days, there is a lot to be garnered from actually speaking the character’s words and actions.  It makes one slow down and visualize, rather than barreling through just to see what happens (I admit, I’m guilty of this).

As I was thinking about this, I figured that here are three types of novels when looked at through the lense of the spoken word.  The ones that are written from the spoken word, those that are written with the spoken word, and those meant to be interpreted to the spoken word.

Novels written from the spoken word are generally simple to pick out.  These are the stories which started as spoken word stories and much later were adapted to paper.  They are often terrible to read, sloggy and confusing.  My favorite example is the Odyssey.  I took a Greek literature course and our teacher had us buy a translation with no novelization.  It was still in its poetry form and lines repeat over and over and the names go on for two or three lines at a time.  It’s a terrible readand before we’d even opened the book, our professor acknowledged that.  He went on to explain, though, that the Odyssey was never meant to be read in the first place.  It was a collection of stories which people told around fires, at celebrations, in boredom.  The repeating lines (‘When dawn with her rose-red fingers shone…’) and descriptive names (‘Odysseus, the ingenious hero’) helped the speaker keep their place in the story and gave them a touch point for their story to return and regroup.

Reading the Odyssey in English is a matter of the translator and how they chose to walk the line between technically correct and flow.  However, read aloud with a good translation, the story comes alive and is easier to keep track of.  It is meant to be heard this way.  To find this in modern things, just read the lyrics of a song or a spoken word poem.  There’s something to be said with reading aloud, but the emotion and grit a speaker can put into the right poem means that there’s a huge disparity between only reading and only listening.

Novels written with the spoken word are easy to find as well.  These are prose novels which can be read aloud but were not written specifically for such a treatment.  Many, many books fall into the category on one side or the other (from ‘wow, that works really well read out loud’ to ‘eh, it’s fine out loud.’)

I know this category the best because of my father.  When I was very young, our ‘father-daughter time’ was right before bed, where he’d take me a snack, sit down next to my bed and read to me.  I’m not sure how we graduated from kids books such as The Boxcar Children to heavy duty material such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I like to think that dad just got bored and figured I could handle it.  He got through all of The Lord of the Rings, as well as Jurassic Park and, if I remember rightly, The Lost World before I finally started reading myself to bed.

Neither The Lord of the Rings nor Jurassic Park were written to be read aloud by any means.  However, they are both very well written.  They work with the flow of words and not against them, keeping the direction of the story consistently aligned toward the goals of the story.  In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien keeps us focused on the sweeping effects of the war and the trials of each character.  Jurrassic Park guides us through the process of pride and mistakes which led to the loss of control in the park.  Good writing is good writing, though.

That’s not to say that books in the last category, those meant to be interpreted to the spoken word, are badly written – not at all!  These books have a different goal, and in general, that is to educate.  They are greatly detailed and highly ordered, using extremely precise language.  Books in this category are often non-fiction, but fiction books sometimes stray into this category.  They are not meant to entertain, but to inform.  Some people I know believe that The Lord of the Rings strays into this category, and as it is sort of a historical account of the war of the ring, I can understand where they would get that.

The reason I call these interpreting books is that while you are not meant to read straight from the text, there is information in the text which is meant to be shared.  In textbooks, it is the role of the teacher to interpret the text to the students the first time, reword it to understandable measures, and then allow the student to rehydrate the text into its original detail through reading.  Essentially it’s as if the book is a sponge filled with knowledge.  The teacher wrings the sponge out and presents it to the students empty and ready to fill.  The student takes the sponge and mops up the knowledge remaining in the book with it.

That was a really, really involved metaphor but I’m going to hope it gets through.

So, to recap:

Books written from the spoken word were originally oral stories, and are still better that way.
Books written with the spoken word are where many good books fall today – while they are not written to be read out loud, can be enjoyed that way with ease.
Books written to be interpreted to the spoken word are created dense with information.  They are meant to be simplified first, and then read again to fill in understanding.

Where do the books you’re reading these days fall?  What kinds of books do you enjoy?  Have you ever tried reading your favorite books out loud to someone or by yourself?