Flash and Short Fiction Collections

If you choose to self-publish your own flash and short fiction on amazon, you’re going to find that you can’t just upload one flash story and sell it. Amazon has a minimum on minimum word count. Besides you want to give your reader enough bang for their buck (literal buck. I advise to keep your collections at 99 cents. You won’t be making a lot of money, its more to get your work out there and read).

So how do you decide what stories to put together? Well you have a lot of options. Some of these you may want to think about before you even start writing. Collections can be tied together in many ways.

1. Theme. Using one theme, tell many different stories that reflect it, that examine it.

2. Character. Using one character, tell a bunch of stories about them.

3. Magic. Write a bunch of stories that explain and show off your magic system.

4. World. Write a bunch of stories that explain and show off your world.

5. Multi-linked. This is where each story that follows is linked to the one before it but not to any of the rest. For example my first story is about elves. The second story is also about elves but has the theme of light always conquers the darkness. The next short wouldn’t have elves but would examine the same theme of light and darkness. And so forth.

6. Genre. The only thing linking the stories is a similar genre, especially if you focus on a sub-genre.

Another thing you can do that can help sell your other self-published (or even traditionally published) longer works is making short story collections that reflect an aspect of your theme, world, characters, magic systems or all of the above of the longer work. This lets people “try out” your story without putting down a lot of money. It can also make them fall in love with your work and make it impossible not to purchase more.

So whether or not you use your short fiction to promote any other writing you do, short story collections can be a lot of fun to both make and sell.

Has anyone self-published their short fiction work? How did you do it and how well did it do?

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Being the Change to See the Change

I have problems with my anger. I frustrate easily and with two young children, I get frustrated often. I’m probably not alone that there are times that the anger wins and I yell or throw a tantrum right alongside them. But it isn’t healthy and I don’t want to raise my voice or lose my temper. It’s something I am actively working on with my therapist and in DBT (a type of skills training/group therapy). In DBT I’m learning skills to combat angry outbursts.

The first step of course is realizing I’m angry before I yell or say something hurtful. For me, this is difficult since I go from normal to furious seemingly in an instant. But it’s not really an instant, there are signs. There are also triggers, Evelyn screaming, Nate being defiant, Jacques being short fused as well. Recognizing when I’m starting to get agitated is the first step. There are also times, especially during hypo-mania symptoms where I’m just more irritable. Calming myself before it becomes too much to handle is key.

I have a few different skills to use now that I lacked before. The first is simply taking a time out. To be honest this is the least helpful. Taking a break is important but at the same time the things that usually gets my anger up are when the kids are being disobedient or mean to each other and I can’t just leave the situation every time. I need to be able to discipline but I can’t do that if I’m angry. Walking away for a few moments may help me, but it won’t stop the behavior. It’s a last resort for me right now.

I’ve found more success with a few other skills. Just being mindful of my anger has a way of making it easier to manage. The other is acting opposite to how I want to act in anger. This means instead of yelling, I start hugging or tickling. Tickling usually dissipates both my anger and whatever frustration that is causing an outburst in my children. Double duty.

Deep breathing also helps. Not only in the moment, but anytime I’m starting to feel agitated, I take a few controlled breaths (in for 4, hold for 4, out for 8) making sure to count and focus. This also helps with my anxiety.

I’m still new at using these skills to help control myself when I feel like I’m losing control but I’ve already seen the fruits of change. While there are still the same amount of outbursts from the kids, the length of each has decreased rapidly because of my reactions being different. Power struggles still remain, but if I’m not losing my temper, I can control the situation rather than let the situation control me. I’ve seen a change in how my children react to me when I stay calm. I take any outbursts not as personal but rather as a cry for attention. Instead of giving them negative attention for their behavior, I’m working on correcting it and then giving them the loving positive attention they crave after their consequence (which is usually a short time out in their room to calm down themselves.)

I’m hoping that modeling how I deal with myself when I’m angry will rub off on the kids. Nate’s own anger seems to be more easily dissipated when mommy is calm herself rather than angry in response. It’s remarkable to see changes in them after only a week or two of trying to change myself.

All the rest I can do is pray for strength and keep implementing the skills I’m learning. My ultimate goal is to be able to discipline and act calm around my children no matter how the circumstances are making me feel. The next step for me is dealing with the guilt I feel for taking this long to get a handle on it. It’s hard to teach them how not to act when angry when Jacques and I have been such a bad example. I’m hoping that change, real change on my part will work a change in the hearts of my children. I’m not expecting them to become perfect angels who never misbehave or get angry themselves but rather to give them the example of how to handle explosive emotions before they explode.

How to Write Flash Fiction

Writing flash fiction that has meaning is as simple as following a formula. Now some people hear the word formula and they immediately think derivative however I don’t believe that. I think formulas are useful. I’m going to share what I use as a formula that I learned from Holly Lisle’s How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck.

First you take a character plus a need plus something standing in the way of their need and you have the beginning of a story. This can be for a flash or even a longer story. My example is a lost (need) fairy (character) searching for home as the sun sets (problem).

Next you add two complications to your problem (three for longer works). My example complications are sun sets and with it her powers disappear (complication one) and then the night creatures come out to stalk her (complication two).

Finally you resolve the problem, either giving the character what they need or denying the character what they need. Add some meaning to it and you’ve got your story. I find the endings are the hardest part of writing flash fiction. Tying everything up and then leaving the reader satisfied but wanting more is a tough challenge. I find that I tend to use two different kinds of endings. One is the opposite of what the reader expects and the other is the opposite of what the character expects happening. My example ending is the fairy uses her wits to outsmart the night creatures and finds home. Nice happy ending for my story. (Which is rare for me. The ending I’d expect is for her to get eaten, but that isn’t very satisfying).

Check out Holly Lisle’s FREE flash fiction course for more detailed breakdowns of beginning, middles and ends. What she says about endings is particularly awesome. And its free.

My example isn’t great but it wrote itself basically in ten minutes or so. I just did the small amount of planning beforehand and then wrote. Your finished piece won’t necessarily look like your outline (just as it is with longer works).

If you have a hard time coming up with ideas, random generators are always fun to use. Just don’t feel constrained by them. Use it to spark your own creativity.

How do you write flash fiction? How do you get your ideas?

Short Fiction: Yay or Nay

Another common question often asked is if it’s important to write and sell short fiction. I personally think anyone can benefit from writing and selling short fiction, even if it isn’t something that is natural to you. My natural story length seems to be novellas, up to 50,000 words but not shorter than 17,500. It is work for me to write a complete story in less words or even more words. And while there is a market now for novella length fiction in e-books, other traditional markets are closed off. I’ll talk later about the benefits of writing novel length fiction at a later time. Today I want to focus on writing short.

Other than not taking the same amount of time as a longer work, there are many benefits to mastering (or at least learning) the short form. Not all of these skills transfer over to longer works, but many do. First, when writing to a certain word count, the value of each individual word goes up in direct proportion to how low the word count is. Flash fiction, that is stories shorter than 1,000 words, will drill into you the importance of the right word. It will also limit info-dumping and over explaining.

A short story has all the components (beginning, middle and end)of longer works, you can just get them out much faster. This allows us to practice our beginnings, middles, and ends over and over rather than just once with a given novel. Every writer has a weakness to one or more of these. Some struggle with how to start, others how to end and even more how to get from one to the other.

Short fiction also has a more visible finish line. For those of us who struggle with finishing our work (our hard drives are usually full of started but not completed manuscripts languishing about lazily), we can complete an entire work in the time it would usually take us to write a chapter or two of a novel. This not only gets us to focus on finishing a work before beginning the ever enticing edit, it gives us a burst of endorphines for crossing that finish line. I know for me, it doesn’t matter what the length of the work is, I always get that rush when I type the words the end.

Finishing gives another upside of getting us to the point of being able to practice that all important skill revision. The famous adage that writers don’t write, they rewrite is true. While its hard to consider that our hard won first drafts are crap (though repeating the phrase that all first drafts are crap while writing often does shut up that inner critic), the power that revision gives us as writers to take what’s in our heads that are now words on paper that can now be shaped closer to the perfect vision in our heads. But revision is a skill just like all other aspects of writing, a skill that needs to be practiced and worked in order for us to grow. However, I strongly believe that a work should not be touched with revision’s pen until it is completed. Now looking at a novel, how many can you write in a year? Compare that to the short story, which can take a day or a month, but is still a whole lot faster, which means a whole lot more to practice.

Remember writer’s write. Whether its long or short, every bit of writing is further practice, further refinement. You lose nothing by working on shorter fiction, nor does it mean you can’t also work on longer fiction at the same time, benefiting from the lessons learned while writing short.

All these benefits does not mean that a short story is just a novel written in fewer words. Short fiction is a form all its own and mastering it does not translate to mastered novels. I’ll post in the future some ideas on how to write short fiction and resources for study.

A big stated disadvantage to short stories over novels is selling your work. There just isn’t the same amount of traditional markets for short fiction, though there are markets out there (especially for you speclative fiction writers like myself).

Who else writes short fiction?

From Idea to Final Draft: My Process

My writing method makes sense to me, but probably doesn’t make sense to other writers. Some probably do things pretty close to how I do and otherwise do the exact opposite of each. So what is my method?

First I outline. I tend to do limited amount of world building and character building. I prefer to discover those types of things as I write. What I do need to know is who my main characters are and what they want, why they want it and what is stopping them from getting it. From there I do a line for scene outline that includes what the character in the scene wants, whats standing in their way and if they get it or not and what worse thing happens to propel the story forward. I stick pretty close to my outline though I’ve been known to change stuff around while writing. This really helps cement what needs to be written each day.

 

 

Next I write the exploratory first draft. I follow my outline and just write. I don’t worry about prose or even making scenes come alive. There are a lot of talking heads in my first drafts. A lot of dense sections of action and then a few, but not many descriptions. My settings are bare, my characters naked and the bare bones exposed.

 

 

 After a first draft, I try to let it sit a bit but usually I’m ready to start revisions. Revisions for me can take more than three times as much time as a first draft. My first revision is usually a rewrite. The plot had gotten messed up, the ending is rushed, scenes are missing, etc. I do a first read through, making notes on what does and doesn’t work. Then I write an outline of what each scene that actually made it looks like. Usually my scenes will drift a bit from outline as I discover more about my characters and world. This is where I do more world building, answering the questions that came up during the first draft. After all of this analysis I write a new revised outline. I then start at the beginning and write through my outline, sometimes transferring full scenes from draft one to draft two but that depends on how much I keep from the first draft. My first two novels have almost nothing kept because I changed so much.

 

 

The third draft is where I flesh out scenes, bring the senses alive and making sure the setting adds to the scene rather than being a dull backdrop. This is where everything gets nailed down and character begins to shine. Second draft is all about fixing the plot. The third draft is about fixing character and setting.

 

 

The final draft is the polish. This is where I pump up my verbs and nouns. I cut, cut, cut until the prose cuts back. I make sure it is both readable and enjoyable. I spend time on perfecting similes and metaphors. I also pay more attention to grammar. Once this is done, I’m ready to look for betas.

 

 

So what’s your writing process? Do you have one true way of doing things or do you like to try different techniques for different projects?

The Importance of Finishing What You Start

One thing writing has taught me is the importance of finishing what you start. Everyone can benefit from this lesson, not just writers. I have a lot of unfinished works on my hard drive but writing isn’t the only thing I have a hard time finishing.

I’ve started knitting. So far I’ve finished two scarfs and half a washcloth. I still use the half washcloth but it is half the size the pattern called for. However I’ve started and unraveled countless projects so far. Right now I have two separate projects going at once, one another scarf and something called a spa towel. I’m already tempted to start another washcloth but I’m refraining until the towel is done. So what right? Who cares if I finish what I start knitting wise. It’s all practice right? Only its hard to see how I’ve improved if I keep undoing my work. Plus I’m trying to give these things as presents for Christmas and I don’t just want to give unknitted yarn.

So being stuck I made some goals for December, easily achievable and recordable. I’m going to finish the unfinished projects on my hard drive. This includes five flash fiction stories (less than 500 words needed for each), one novelette (about 3k-6k left), and 3 short stories, all of them only needing an ending. Boy I suck at endings.

I already know that I’m not sure how many of these projects, especially the flash fiction are even going to make it to revision. The passion on them has been lost since they’ve sat untouched for months. However dispassionate I feel, I need to finish them. I’ll learn from the finished project and I’ll know at that time whether they will ever see the light of publication.

I’m not just going to begin where I left off, instead I’m going to read each piece through from beginning to end and then write. I may even do some planning on the endings, though I already have the ending planned for both the novelette and the short stories. It’s the flash fiction that I have no idea where I’m going with.

This is one of the reasons I started blogging. To have the satisfaction of something finished, even if its just a blog post.  There are a lot of reasons why I blog actually, but that’s a subject for a different post.

Who else has problems finishing what they start, not necessarily just writing projects? Do you abandon them or come back later? What motivates you to finish what you start?

Kitty Cat Blues

grumpy cat

Every time I see a cat picture on Reddit or my facebook feed, I get the urge to go out and get a new cat. But all I have to do is think of Desco and the pain that fills the hole she left in my heart for that desire to vanish. I’m still mourning my Desco. My kids are still mourning my Desco. It’s not just the cat herself that I struggle with letting go, it’s the fact that she’s gone because of me, because of my decision, a decision I’ve come to greatly regret. Story time.

First the good. Desco came to us as a kitten, an abandoned kitten, fending for herself in the backyard of our apartment building. She’d jump onto our deck, meowing at the screen of our sliding glass door. Her mews for food were greeted with the excited cries of two young children and their cat loving mama. We fed her tuna and gave her water and she came back. Even after being shooed off the porch by a broom swinging grandma, Desco came back, this time to our front door.

Now you have to realize we lived in an apartment with security doors. So somehow this magical cat found her way inside and then found our door out of all the options in front of her. She turned down the right corridor and mewled out at the right door, how in the world could I not take her in after that?

So she became ours. She was not malnourished, nor was her thick fur matted or dirty, she looked like she’d been recently taken care of. But even after posting found kitten posters around the two apartment buildings, no one claimed her. I’m of the opinion someone moved and unable to take their cat with, left her. But we really had no way of knowing. So we named her, Desco after a video game character and we loved her. She loved us back. She let Evelyn, at the time a toddler, nearly suffocate her with hugs. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about her. She was ours for over a year.

So now I’ll get to the point of how we lost her. Management at the apartment building changed and we had issues with the new management. Some of it was our fault, and some of it theirs but ultimately we decided we needed to move. We found a place but we couldn’t bring Desco with. And so, even though it grieved me, even though it caused pain to my children, we let Desco go, bringing her to a no kill shelter.

A few days later, regret already filling my broken heart, my husband found her on the shelter’s webpage, a picture of her beautiful face filling his phone. They had renamed her some ridiculous name (like marshmallow or something, I don’t remember) and remarked how lovable she was. I desperately wanted to go get her back but doing so would be financially irresponsible as well as making our move to the new place impossible. So instead we checked back often and a couple days later she was adopted out again.

The kids still talk about her, a year later. They talk about her new home, and the new family that will love her like we did. While they hold no ill for my decision, they say they still miss her. I do too. And so now every time I see a cat, I ache. I want another cat, I want Desco back even more, but I do want another cat someday. I just don’t feel that I deserve one.

What are some of your pet regrets?