Short Story in Progress

Project: The Witch of the Little Wood
New Words: 2,079
Current Total Word Count: 7, 606
Goal: Complete the story (this short story is turning into a novlette, I think).

Random Rough Sentence(s): Everyone knew that the witch lived in the little wood, that she lives in the hollow of a tree. There she keeps old bottles, the labels torn off, which she refills with potions of her own making. The slithering slickly brown one turns a child into a toad. The angery black oilly one keeps you from ever having a happy thought again. The clear liquid one, evervescent and glowing will cause you to fall asleep forever and dream of things you want but can never have. And everyone knows that she eats children, roasting them, crisping them black over a tiny fire in the middle of the little wood. She saves the bones for her potions, pops the eyes like jellied grapes into her mouth. Everyone knows that she is the witch of the little wood. That wood belongs to her and always has. If you follow her too close, she will stop and stare at you with her sharp, dark eyes, and you won’t be able to sleep for a week. And if you stare back and look to long, you’ll end up crazy like John Peterson over on Elm, who tried to drink drano and now is living in a shelter, because he can’t be happy ever again.

Notes: This story has been tumbling around my head for a while. I started it a while back and intended to write it for Scheherazade’s Facade (an anthology market), but never finished it. I’ve started rewriting it from scratch and am rather pleased with the results. It’s the first time I have a longer story that I know I can finish and that I know I’ll be happy with by the end. Amazing feeling to have.

I’ve been getting good feedback on it from my writing group, too, which is always nice. (^_^)

At Work

I just spent two and a half hours at the office after work rewriting a flash fiction piece to submit. It’s off and away.

It’s a good thing. But my now back hurts, I’m tired (I’ve still got an hour commute ahead of me) and I don’t want to go running.

I’m feeling like working on my writing means sacrificing my marathon training. And vice versa. I need to figure out the balance between the two.

But first, I just need to get in the car and go home.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Creating Poetry, by John Drury

I picked up this book because someone in an Amazon review called Creating Poetry a “muse disguised as paper”. It may not go that far, but it’s close. This book is full of writing prompts, each focused on the chapter’s subject, from Beginnings to Tone, Form, Research, Sound, Inspiration and more. There is plenty here for a poet to use and learn from, especially if they flip around from section to section, picking out prompts on an area of their writing they want to focus on. (I don’t think the best use is to read it from cover to cover as I did).

Occasionally, I thought the prompts for a particular subject were to specific, however, Drury encourages you to use this book as a jumping off point. It’s not necessary to follow the prompts to the letter, if the poem goes off in another direction.

Also, here is on of my responses to one of the prompts in the book. I followed a prompt focused on ghazal’s a form of poetry traditionally from the Middle East, which arranges the poem in a series of 5-10 couplets, rhymed on the same sound throughout and using the subject of love or wine to represent mystical experience. The prompt I used asked that the reader write a ghazal of my own. You’ll note that I dropped the rhyme, like many American poets do.

An Untitled Ghazal

The water in the vase is stagnant; the stems slimy.
A halo of petals on the table are emptied of fragrance.

We are always new, he says, always in the state of becoming new,
each dead cell replaced with its replicated offspring.

The leaves are dancing like translucent tissue paper.
The mottled light is bounding along the grass.

The days are an amalgamation of eyes blinking, hair growing,
lips parting, fingers thrumming over the flesh of the world.

He says, its not that time moves too quickly.
It’s that it moves too quickly.

The stars glimmer like fireflies trapped in tar.
The stars are a map of the freckles on your skin.

He says, silly rabbit, you have to have lived
what you lived in order to know what you know.

The Gerber Daisy leans against the glass.
A sun resides at the heart of its petals.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Midnight Writer

2011Last night I started read Machine of Death (MoD), an anthology of stories centered around the premise of a machine that lets people know how they are going to die, but is annoyingly vague about it. So far, so good. The first couple of stories have been fantastic, but that’s not the point of this story.

The point of the story is: I’ve known about this book for quite a long time. When the editors first started asking for submissions, I became thrilled at the idea of this book and knew I wanted to submit something to it. So, I came up with a couple of story ideas, started writing, got bogged down and lost in the writing, and never submitted anything.

While I started reading the stories in the finished book (while feeling a little jealous about it’s shiny and clever cover, as well as the awesome illustrations at the front of each one), I kept thinking about the stories I didn’t finish. Once upon a time, in one of MoD’s emails or blogs, I remember reading that if this book sells well, then they will consider making a second book on the same premise.

Suddenly, a story that I’ve had in the back of my mind jumped up and kicked me in the frontal lobe, announcing that it would work just wonderfully as a MoD story.

But that’s silly, I told the story, why would I work on writing a story for a market that’s not even open. Instead I should be working on things that I can actually submit and share when I’m done with them.

My protests did not, however, stop the story from jabbering in my ear and making a general nuisance of itself, insisting at grabbing my attention at every turn to the point that I finally had to give up on reading for the night and go to bed. At which point the story continued to lay itself out in a provocative display before me, dazzling me and enticing me with plot, dialog, and clever descriptions.

There is no winning against such an onslaught. So I dragged myself out of bed, scrambled around for the nearest legal pad and pen, and began my bleary eyed scribbling — bleary eyed not only due to exhaustion, but also because I’m half blind without my contacts in.

In the end, I had several pages filled with practically illegible writing, consisting of a nearly finished scene and some outline notes for the rest of it. I’m sure I’ll have a fun time deciphering the mess later.

But all I cared about was that the beast was appeased, and I was allowed to sleep.

ETA: I think I may know a way to make this story work without the MoD element to it, which would make it viable for other markets. Hrmm….

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Opening Lines: The start of something wonderful

I always loved Stephen King’s opening line for The Gunslinger, book one of the Dark Tower series:

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

This is an excellent example of a great opening line. It’s not as poetic or witty as some famous opening lines, but it serves its purpose well, by immediately hooking readers (well, this reader at least) into the story. It gives and immediate (albeit brief) introduction to the setting and two main characters of this storyline, while setting up questions that make you want to know more, which also letting you know what the main tension of the story will be — the act of pursuit. Immediately you want to know: Who is the man in black? Who is the gunslinger? And why is he following the man in black?

This initial hook and interest was followed by a storyline that absorbed me completely. I loved The Gunslinger when I read it (even though my interest in the series dwindled as the wait from book to book accrued and the ongoing storyline became more convoluted), and that opening line was the first time I thought to myself, damn, that’s a great opening line.

Perhaps, this book was where my interest in opening lines first began, or perhaps it was always there, and this was what made me aware of it. Either way, I know that every time I read the back of a book, I flip open to the first page to see if the opening line catches at me. Opening lines appeal to me for many reasons, for example:

  1. Introduce characters in an interesting way, like The Gunslinger line. Another example — “I am an invisible man.” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  2. Present an important or central conflict of the story, again like The Gunslinger. Another example — “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” – Franz Kafka, The Trial
  3. Set the tone or mood of the book, especially if the narrator has a sense of humor — “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Opening lines can also feature the setting or introduce the theme, among other things. However, I find that the most memorable opening lines, the ones that catch my attention and draw me into the story, tend to include one or more of the three things I listed above — characters, central tension, or a feel for the mood.

Planning my opening line of a story or book is not the first thing I think of when I start writing. I begin with the overall arc of the plot, the character’s wants and challenges, and how to get it all across at the right pace, because while opening lines are important, they don’t mean much if they’re not followed up by a great story.

But once I’m in the rewriting stage, I do try to think about what I want to get across in that first line and how I might try to hook the the reader and draw them in with a (hopefully) great opening line.

What are some of your favorite opening lines, and what do you love about them?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]