How to Write Short Stories on a Deadline

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This week I’m trying to get two stories ready for submission to specific calls in the hope they might sell. One is the story formally known as “Infinity Girl and the Shadow” (and is going to be renamed if it kills me) and the other is (also about to be renamed) “Washed Up Upon the Shore”“. The call for the former shuts on Thursday, the one for the later at the end of the month.

Guess which story I’m working on right now?

Yeah, the one not due for another few weeks. But, I suppose, at least I’m trying to write something.

Actually, it’s not that bad; I spent most of Sunday cutting 1500 words out of my magical girl story. It’s pretty close to done and I’m remembered how much I like redrafting when I actually focus on the work, when I cut things because they’re extraneous, it feels like I’m good at what I do and the story is all the more polished for it. Especially as the tilt on this isn’t the and never had been the superheroness (in this case the magical girlness) of the story but how that impacts on reality and the protagonist’s life and relationships.

“Washed Up” (which is probably going to be renamed “Like Pearls, Spilled and Scattered”) is about what makes a person and how purpose can sometimes override memory, personality. Good people will do good things, even if you strip them to the bone, because of who they are in their core. Oh and it’s my attempt at a Lovecraftian story without the Lovecraft but all the magic and mysticism. I’ll definitely be returning to this world, though not the same area.

I just wish it wasn’t so warm out, this really kills my ability to be creative.

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When Does Evolution Become Transformation: “Washed Up Upon the Shore” to “Pearls and Memories, Spilled and Scattered”

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I’m not sure when Story A (in this case “Washed Up Upon the Shore”) becomes Story B (what I’m currently calling “Pearls and Memories, Spilled and Scattered”). The tenses changed from second person past to first person present and, while it’s at its core a milleu story about a priest on a quest to save a child, the story doesn’t feel the same anymore. Now into its sixth iteration, there are new scenes and a completely different journey towards a similar ending.

So where do you draw the line? Is Story A just a proto-evolved version of Story B? More importantly when does a story become so transformed that you can submit it to a market as a totally different entity to an earlier, imperfect draft?

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I have no idea. I suppose the good thing is I only submitted “Washed Up” to two markets. I’m revising it now because I want to submit it to a specific place which happens to be open. I can feel that itch in my fingers as I think about how the story needs to go. How I should have planned it. I can still do that, of course, and I have a mental map in my head. I also know where this needs to go, the marked out scenes and the comments from my crit group that the story needs to be darker.

But I’m left wondering, when does A become B and perhaps there isn’t an answer.

But that’s okay.

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Chilling Out and the Dog Days of Summer

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This week, partly because my CBT is beginning, I’ve had homicidal PMS rage (which is still better than sobbing uncontrollably) and my therapy is ending, I’m trying to chill out.

Seriously, I find Sherlock really relaxing. I’m sure the decaff mocha helps. Also running into friends by accident, especially when one of them is the most-beloved Bramble, giver of unconditional love and hugs, really does give you perspective. Sometimes serendipity is awesome. As is the chance to run the dogs on Eaton Park, somewhere I’m coming to love more each time we visit.

Ditto having a good long chat with my guide dog instructor about medication issues relating to Uni’s long-term health problems and having my frustration validated. I like validation because it reminds me that I can actually be right about things, especially when it comes to Uni/the cats and my own life. I’m all for improving my self-worth, though that does mean being around other people (loneliness isn’t helping my anxiety, indeed it appears to be fuel for the fire). The dog days of summer, however, are all about taking things a little easier, especially in 26°C heat.

Speaking of dog days ….

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She suits the bandana, yes?

I’m actually quite pleased with myself, while I’m yet to get my head into Stranger Things, I have been listening to books and writing. I sent off “Washed Up Upon the Shore” to my crit group this morning and I’m hoping to submit it to a specific market next week if they’re still open. The story is stronger now though still imperfect (and this is like draft five) but there’s something in it which I still love. But I have high hopes and that’s something, especially as it’s been a while since I sent a story out into the wild.

On The Broken World front, I’m getting words down. Mostly it’s key scenes but this is draft one and so I’m trying not to care too much, just get the words on the page. Order can come later and that’s actually helping; stressing out over things I should need to control is a big trigger for me and I’m tried of panicking. This book is is no hurry, it’ll be born when it’s born. End of.

And, in truth, I’m loving writing it. Jaada is a big part of me, without being autobiographical, and she’s such a fun character to write. She knows she’s a part of a story but everyone has roles to play and hers, well, it’s a doozy.

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The Liner Notes: “Washed Up Upon the Shore”

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Ever since I discovered the compelling and lore-rich Bloodborne, I’ve been on a Lovecraft kick. I’m not a fan of his views or the man himself but the cosmology fascinates me, as does how other people have taken the mythology and made it their own. Case in point: I absolutely love Ruthanna Emrys’ The Litany of Earth; that’s the kind of mythos story I’ve always wanted to read and news of more Aphra Marsh books coming next year really excites me. As does The Old Hunters DLC recently released for Bloodborne (see here, here and, most importantly, here).

The only story I ever actually liked out of Lovecraft’s collective fiction was The Shadow of Innsmouth (which is also why I love The Old Hunters and the corpse of Mother Kos. Litany also focuses on what happened to the people of the town after the government bombed the sacred Old One reef and put them into camps far from the ocean). Dreams and the Old Ones go together but it was the lure of the sea which interested me. Plus I wanted to do something fantastical and secondary-worldy.

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The key for me was the idea that the sea is the gate to immortality. My protagonist is a man living in a seashore village who has an otherworldly connection to the ocean, it calls to him and he is receptive. His village has a spirituality revolving around the waters; the dead are sunk beneath with pearls beneath their lips as payment, their bodies becoming part of the ocean environment and they are also aware of a culture mirrored beneath the waves; once there was a town where there is now only underwater ruins with creatures living within.

The Faith of the Sea has the status of a minor cult but by the end of the story is a mainstream religion. Balem, my protagonist, is a priest when it is a cult and by the end of the story it’s one of the greater faiths that move over the land constituting the Twilight Empire. The Empire is minor in this story but it’s ruler the Empress Caisha is not, not is she quite as she appears and only certain people can see her with unclouded eyes and a mind able to survive the revelation.

Worshipping the sea is, as a concept, not new. It’s one of the primal forces of life, like fire and the seasons. A couple of years ago, while in Japan, I went to Teramachi (translated as ‘Temple Town’) in Kyoto and just wandered. There were a number of temples and a couple of shines but one took my interest because the kami being worshiped inside was this beautifully carved wooden octopus. I snapped an image of it because it struck me as beautiful in a weird way, octopi are about as alien as sea life can get and it sat in my brain, asking what else could live under the ocean on a world that isn’t quite Earth.

And what else drifted through the heavens.

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I quite enjoy writing secondary worlds, world building is after all my thing and I’ve always found the dark depths of the sea to be disturbing, unknown and dangerous. I also wrote this piece in second person as I wanted it to be really immersive and just a little bit creepy even though the narrator is referenced as male. My other issue is I tend to write passive characters. This is probably because I’ve spent much of my life unconsciously being like that and am now making an effort to be much more active; Balem lies to get into the entourage of the Twilight Empress and as the great monarch herself says:

“I do not punish honesty but I don’t forget liars.”

 I love that line, I think it’s my favourite of the entire story.

“Washed Up Upon the Shore” went out on submission this week, I have high hopes for it so here’s hoping it sells.

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Exploring Second Person, Autism and Empathy

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Fushimi Inari Taisha, Japan
伏見稲荷大社、日本

Lately, I find myself writing more and more in second person. What’s that you ask?

Well perspectives are split into three ‘persons’:

  • First: I (I walked down the street.)
  • Second: You (You walk down the street.)
  • Third: they, he, she (Peter/Fran walked down the street.)

If I had to guestimate, third person is probably the most popular, followed by first with second, well, second is seldom ever touched. In fact it’s not usually even mentioned in creative writing classes. Second person is the bastard child of narrative because where as I has someone narrating the tale and you allows for the telling of the story through a named character’s eyes, second person puts you right into the action.

I liken it to cinema seating:

  • He/she/they is right up the back, in the plush chairs, watching the full screen glory.
  • I is somewhere in the middle an the narrator your companion sitting in the chair next to you.
  • You is right in the front row in front of a massive 500″ screen so close to the action you can smell the blood and shit.

Stories are about transportation, not panic-inducing immersion so second remains under-used but it’s fast becoming my favourite form. I’d never actually come across it in creative form until I read a story by my friend Shannon called “You First Meet the Devil at a Church Fete” (She won the James White Award for that one as well). I’ve seen it used occassionally since but most authors don’t even seem aware it exists. That’s a good thing for me.

Recently I’ve written several stories in second person, present tense: “Washed Up Upon the Shore” and “One Quiet Night”. Each is about projecting someone’s skin onto the reader and I’ve been wondering why this particular form of writing appeals so much.

If I’m honest I’m pretty sure it’s to do with the fact I’m autistic. I understand empathy and I understand that people experience a range of emotions, most of the time I’m so terrified of making people unhappy. When it comes to reading and, in some respects writing, I just don’t quite mesh (in the case of most books I’m painfully aware the adventures are fake, it’s hard for me to get invested). Books aren’t the same as human lives but second person allows me to not have to worry about the protagonist, second person is putting on a new set of clothes which you take off at story’s end.

A lot of people think autism is like psychopathy, that it’s about not comprehending/caring about emotions. In reality it’s actually closer to an overdose on empathy, caring too much about something/one but at the same time not being able to comprehend the reasons why. Characters, not even the really well written ones, to me they’re not people, not real (with auto-/biographies being the exception) so it’s hard to care. This sounds callous but it’s exploring this idea which is helping me to become a better writer.

A few years ago I went to Fushimi Inari Taisha, the famous fox shine just outside Kyoto. This is the one from all the Japanese movies with a corridor of torii gates, each with a name and date carved into the distinctive crimson of the arches (names are on the left, dates—presumably of erection—on the right). The corridors, the gates are so close together there’s no light, no air, between them. They remind me of process of reading, at least for me, which involves layering yourself on characters. This works especially well in second person where you literally become the protagonist.

I was talking with some friends and explaining that I never plan novels—at least not the Ashteraiverse, those stories are told to me—but short stories are different: I need to understand crisis and motivations, reaction and purpose. First person is easy, your protagonist recounts their tale but third, that’s so much harder for me. Second person provides the easiest way for me to take the pressure off and write about my reader, letting them overlay their reading experience with their own personalities.

And I’ll write more, I think, than just my first two forays so wish me luck.

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