Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Flash Fiction Failures, Part I

In a recent post, I mentioned how difficult I find it to write a coherent story in 250 words. Below, I've inserted one of two stories I wrote for (but didn't submit to) one particular contest.

I wrote this story in a short, undisciplined fury. I thought the basic notion, and the punch-line, would be strong enough to make it work. Everyone (I believe it was, literally, everyone) in my writing class disagreed.

Splash, Indeed

I hate the ocean. Its romance is totally lost on me.

What’s to like, really?

Sand wedged up your crack? Seagull crap in your French fries? Hypodermics floating ashore?

So why am I here, you ask?

Fair enough.

I’m here to take advantage of half-witted tourists who leave their valuables tucked in shoes as they wallow--like pale, obese slugs--in the surf. I don’t get why these numbskulls think that, simply because they’re on vacation, they don’t have to exercise common sense.

I can’t swim, if it’s anything to you. So I try to work well away from the shore. Normally, this is no problem, since most of the touristy saps arrange their blankets well up into the dry stuff.

But today, the rip tide is strong, the beach steep and narrow. So I’m closer to the water’s edge than I’d like when all of a sudden this long-haired, bare-breasted creature comes charging out of the surf and right the hell up to me.

She’s beautiful, I suppose, for an animal out of that giant cesspool they call the Pacific. But she smells like seaweed. And her slimy fins are coated with wet sand.

I’m stunned when the crazy bitch leans in like she’s gonna give me a kiss or something. Before I know it, I’m swinging my cane like a mad-man and sorta grunting for help.

Why she acts surprised, I have no idea. I’m a total stranger, after all. And I hate the ocean.

More Summer Magic

splashing in the pool

Water has an almost mystical hold on me. In my wee youth, I was enthralled (and terrified) by the ocean. Now I'm simply enthralled. I love lakes and streams, as well. For a long time (until I'd been asked by a dozen different adults, "But how will you make a living?") I wanted to be a marine biologist.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, water flows its way into many of the stories I write, always providing mood (from bald-faced romance to brooding menace), often echoing a story's shape.

Growing up, no-one in my immediate family was particularly enamored of water, and, though I lived less than twenty miles from some of the world's most famous beaches, we rarely ventured to the shore. So I have no idea where my love of things aquatic began. But it's there, and it's strong.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Kimber Whale

My son loves the ocean (or at least what he knows about ocean creatures). Up until recently, these guys were called Kimber Whales.

This pic was taken on a nice day at Sea World San Diego.

Summer Sights

Writing Contests

I've made attempts at four different flash fiction writing contests* in the last couple months. The process has been fun and extremely challenging.

Two of the contests had a word limit of 500, which seems a comfortable fit, but one, The Pearl, had a 250 word limit. I made two attempts at the problem (writing two completely different stories) and failed miserably, even after re-writing one of them multiple times. 250 words is a painfully constricting barrier. Despite the fact that I've read published stories of that length that worked (and a writer friend of mine wrote a very fine horror story for the same contest), I'm going to make an official announcement here... It's impossible to tell a good story in 250 words. It has to be impossible, 'cause I can't effing do it.

More about the mechanics of the flash fiction contest world in the next entry...

*Writer's Weekly, Reading Writers, Tattoo Highway, The Pearl

Friday, June 08, 2007

Making Good Men

I took the above shot at a Cub Scout retreat (slipping away for a few minutes from the bonfire/awards ceremony).

In a world of maximum rights and minimum responsibility, the men and women leading Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are doing an indispensible job helping to give young lives a sensibly guided structure. They teach, they command respect, and they make reasonable demands of their charges.

A huge thanks to them all.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

What You Already Knew

Several times in recent weeks, as I've been working on stories for contest submissions, I've had trusted reviewers offer a critique that mirrors something I had already thought, at some level, about the story in question.

Typically, what has happened is that I've thought a given section (a turn of phrase, a bit of character behavior) didn't quite fit/didn't quite work. But I kept it anyway because I had a fondness for the intention, rather than the execution.

I'm almost entirely convinced at this point that it's universally a mistake to hang on to something you know isn't working (typically hoping that no other reader will notice the weakness).

Oftentimes, the offending section isn't even central to the story, but is simply a stretch of prose we've come to love. In this case, particularly, give it the ax.

But what if the broken part is central to the story? In that case, I suggest re-writing in the simpliest way possible, a de-gimicification, if you will. Just give it a plain-Jane presentation to get the point across. Perhaps something better will come along later. But, if it doesn't, at least that part of the work won't stand out like a pustulent sore thumb.