Sunday, September 7, 2014

Flashy stuff.

At Indies Unlimited this week, I talked about ways to work reading into your day. One of the things that makes me crazy about our current culture is that the marketers have plunked a TV screen in every possible place where they can catch our attention for even a few minutes: in restaurants, at the dentist's office, in line at the store. (My dentist even has TVs in each examination room. Every time I go in for a cleaning, I get a dose of some talk show along with my fluoride treatment.) And if there's no monitor convenient to where we're sitting (or standing) and waiting, we can always pull out our phones and check some app to pass the time.

All those screens are there not only to entertain us, of course, but to sell us stuff. Why give in to the marketers? Why not bring a book or an e-reader with you (on your phone, if you must) and read instead of watch?

Anyway, I got to thinking after I posted that piece that people who profess to be writers spend as much time complaining about not having time to write as they do about not having time to read.

I have a solution for that, too. It's called flash fiction.

Flash fiction usually has a word limit, and it's usually understood that the writer is to tell a complete story within that word limit. That's how we do it on Saturdays at Indies Unlimited. Every Saturday morning, our admins post a prompt written by our Evil Mastermind, Stephen Hise, and illustrated with a photograph by his able co-administrator, K.S. Brooks. (Here's this week's flash fiction prompt.) The limit is 250 words, and players have until Tuesday afternoon to post their work. Then on Wednesdays, we open it up to a popular vote. On Fridays, the winner for the week is announced, and on Saturday mornings, it all starts again.

Winners get more than just a congrats post at IU, though. All of the winning pieces are collected into an anthology and published at the end of the year. But even if you don't win, you can take all of the pieces you've written from IU's prompts and publish your own flash fiction anthology. If you play every week, you would have 52 mini-stories at 250 words each -- or 13,000 words. It's a fairly painless way to add another title to your bibliography.

I've been indulging in writing flash fiction more often lately, and I'm blaming fellow indie author J.D. (Dan) Mader. He has instituted a Friday afternoon feature on his blog called "2 Minutes. Go!" It's flash fiction with a little twist: instead of a word limit, there's a two-minute time limit.

Dan has attracted a bunch of talented writers to the Friday festivities (well, and me). Nobody's watching the clock except you, and nobody cares if you've clearly gone over the time limit. It's all very laid back and generates a lot of entertaining little stories to read.

To give you an idea of how it works, here's my story from this week. I did go over the time limit, but only by a minute or two.

"We're done here."

"Wait. What?"

"You're not paying attention. There's nothing more I can do."

She shifted in her chair. "No, really, I'm listening. You wanted me to...."

He threw up his hands, eyes rolled to the ceiling. "Just go home, Cindy. You're not concentrating. You're not even here right now. Just get out of here. Take the rest of the day off and come back in the morning."

Biting her lip, she headed for his office door. If only he knew why her head was in the clouds today.... But she couldn't tell him what was going on. If he knew she was protecting someone who was stealing him blind, he'd probably fire her. And if he knew that person was his own son, they'd both be out on the street.
It ain't deathless prose, but hey, it's a story. Right?

The point is, everybody can find two minutes -- or five, or ten -- somewhere in their day.  If you want to be a writer, think about using that downtime to read -- or to write. It all adds up.

Speaking of adding up, I've begun working on my new novel. The current title, which may change, is Seasons of the Fool. It's a stand-alone novel, not in the Pipe Woman Chronicles universe. I'm still feeling my way along a little bit -- but as of tonight, I'm about 18,000 words in, and it's starting to come together. I'll post more about it next week.

Have a great week, everyone. And don't forget to bring a book with you!

These moments of deathless bloggy prose have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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