What Makes Flash Fiction Sizzle or Fizzle?

by guest columnist, Avily Jerome

What Flash Fiction Markets Want

Avily Jerome is the Editor of Havok Magazine, the speculative fiction imprint at Splickety Publishing Group. When not editing flash fiction stories, she is a stay-at-home mom of six and is an aspiring speculative fiction author.

Interview by Farheen Gani

Flash fiction is one of the most enjoyable types of fiction to read because it’s quick and doesn’t require a great time commitment. You can read a flash story in a waiting room or in the bathroom or any time you have a few minutes to kill.

However, the very things that make flash fiction fun to read are what make it hard to write. An entire story world, developed characters, and a well-structured plot must be written in one thousand words or less. And, of course, as with all stories, it must engage your reader. Any story that is boring or has flat characters will be laid aside, regardless of how short it is.

Splickety Publishing Group looks for a few major elements when we’re deciding whether or not to acquire a story.

  1. Every word must count.

With flash stories, there’s no room for fluff. Excessive description or scene-setting pulls away from the story. With so much to accomplish in such a short amount of time, your writing needs to be concise and vivid. Use strong verbs and adjectives, and cut out anything that doesn’t directly add to the story.

  1. It must have a complete story arc.

Story structure in a flash piece is a more fluid concept than in a novel, but your story arc still has the same elements. It should start with some sort of inciting incident, include some major obstacle to overcome, and conclude with some sort of resolution at the end. It not only needs to engage the reader—it needs to satisfy him.

  1. It should have a twist of some sort.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but it is something that we at SPG like to see. Some of the best flash pieces have a twist that the reader doesn’t see coming. If you can incorporate an element of shock or humor or something thought provoking into your story, it’s more likely to hold our attention.

In short, we crave interesting stories that are tightly written. If we think your story has merit, we’ll work with you to make it the best it can be. Please visit our website at http://splicketypubgroup.com/submission-guidelines/ for upcoming themes and how to submit.

Get a FREE writing evaluation at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (top right corner). Questions? Write to DeborahOwen@CWInst.com.

Not Child’s Play

by Farheen Gani

“Maybe I write for kids because I’m just a kid at heart.” says Pam Zollman when questioned about her love for writing children’s books. She wrote her first poem at the age of seven, but this award-winning author has travelled a long way. From reporting for a daily, to being a technical editor, she has dabbled in many forms of writing. It was only after the birth of her sons did she discover her true love and, around 40 books later, she is raring to go.

Make no mistake though, she warns. Children’s writing isn’t as easy. “If children don’t understand what you’re talking about, they will put your book down. Adults are more willing to give a writer a chance,” she explains.

In this interview, she shares many insights such as this and more …

  1. Which do you think is more difficult to write: a picture book, early reader, or chapter book?

I think that each type of book has its own inherent set of problems. But, probably the picture book is the hardest to write. So many people read one, see how “simple” it is, and decide that they can do it, too. In today’s market, editors are asking for picture books to be 500 words or less…and tell a whole story! Tough to do, but obviously not impossible. Early readers are also hard to write because you need to write them with a limited vocabulary and word count and still tell a story that will keep the young reader interested. 

  1. How do you select the age group you are writing for?

I have found that I write naturally at a 3rd grade reading level and my inner child is about 10 or 11, sometimes 12, so I love writing for that age group. Sometimes I decide ahead of time that I want to write a picture book or a middle-grade novel. Sometimes it isn’t until after I’m deep into the story that I realize that I need to rethink how I’m presenting the story and that I need to make it younger or older. 

  1. Are there any themes/ issues close to your heart?

I tend to write what I call “school stories.” These are small stories about kids dealing with problems at home and at school. Many of these have relationship issues at the heart of the story. The hurting child is always close to my heart – but that’s what we’re supposed to do to our characters. Make them loveable and then hurt them so that the reader cares what happens to them. 

  1. Do you try to incorporate a message in each of your books?

If I wrote a good story, then the message/lesson is already there, coming naturally from the character and conflicts he or she has to overcome to achieve his/her goal or solve the problem. No one likes to be lectured. If you want to learn something specifically, then you turn to nonfiction. 

Don’t misunderstand. While I think fiction is written for its escape elements and pure, simple enjoyment, I also know that kids are learning things from my stories. It might be how to cope with a bully or it might be different types of insects or dealing with younger brothers.

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What is “Voice” and How Do You Use it?

Using Voice Effectively
by Deborah Owen

What do writers mean by “voice”? The voice, or point of view (POV), is the angle from which a story is viewed; every story and article has one. There are three types of POV and, while some are more preferred, no particular one is right or wrong.

* First person POV pronouns are: I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, and ours. New authors usually write in first person because they feel focused and closer to the story. First person draws the reader in, but it’s a limiting POV and is not the editor’s favorite.

There are two problems with first person POV. First, the constant use of “I” becomes trite. Second, the story’s character only knows what the writer knows, and cannot see from a different POV.

For example, if John says, “Susan is going to meet me at seven o’clock,” and in the meantime, Susan falls, breaks a leg, and lies helplessly on the floor, John will not know what happened to her until someone tells him. First person POV is better reserved for memoirs, journal entries, and specific stories.

* Second person POV pronouns are: you, (singular), you (plural), your, and yours. Example: “You must come with me to the Christmas play. You and I will have popcorn and lots of fun. Did you know your hat is on backwards?” As you can see, this point of view is even more limiting and never used.

* Third person POV pronouns are: he, his, she, hers, it, its, they, their, and theirs. There are two kinds of third person writing, omniscient, and limited. In third person omniscient, the readers are like flies on the wall and they can see into characters’ minds. This POV limits the suspense since the reader is left with few unanswered questions – but it’s easy to write because authors don’t have to work at “showing” the scene.

* Third person limited doesn’t show internal dialogue (thoughts) so the characters can’t foreknow anything. Like first person, the readers can see through the character’s eyes, but unlike first person, they can also see through the eyes of others.

In third person limited, the suspense builds as the writer shows the scene instead of telling it. The reader lives the story as the character lives it. Here is an example from Deborah Owen’s The Perfect Crime:

“Harrison slumped against the car, collapsed, and rolled in agony as he clutched his chest. Vision blurred, and then his eyes rolled back until they relaxed in a wide, empty stare.”

The sample doesn’t say the man had a heart attack and died, but you know it, don’t you? As you can see, even showing may have a little ‘telling’ in it.

Editors buy more third person limited than first person. Let your readers feel your characters instead of seeing them. Play with the various points of view until you’re comfortable writing all of them.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (for free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Journalism Changes

by Josephine Kihiu

Journalism is a practice dating back hundreds of years. Frankly, it stems from humans needing to be know-it-alls. When reading became a luxury no longer reserved for the rich, disseminating news to a broad public proved profitable and generally beneficial. You’ve all heard the horror stories of late: journalism, especially in the print media subset, is a dying industry, clinging hopelessly to its marginal profits. Sure, the industry saw some major cuts recently. However, the reality is this – journalism is not dying. It’s just changing.

People are embracing a digital lifestyle, and so is the media. Journalists still roam unexplored niches and probe prominent minds for columns to sell, but those columns may end up online or in the journalist’s personal blog, as well as in print.

Digital journalism is an immediate response to the ever-increasing presence of the Internet via smart devices. Want a run-down of the State of the Union’s main points? Need to check your movie listings? Want to know the weather? Answer all questions using the omnipotent Internet.

Cognizant of the new shift in how the modern person acquires information, journalistic publications respond by posting pieces online. They also create apps allowing those with smart phones to roam their websites more conveniently.

Online journalism also serves expansion of journalistic expression. Unlike Harry Potter, your newspaper probably doesn’t support moving pictures on the cover, but journalists who embrace the digital shift can post videos, tweet, and blog about their findings in addition to the traditional static article. This increases potential audiences and diversifies the demographic reach (more college students pick up their iPhones than a newspaper).

But fear not, traditional readers. If you’re anything like me, you enjoy flipping broad pages and the feel of paper in your fingers. It’s familiar, like catching up with an old friend by letter or receiving news from a loved one by snail mail. Large newspapers still understand the importance of retaining the traditional, usually older, market, so don’t panic. News giants such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, remain consistent sources of accurate, interesting news, faithfully delivering to your door as a reminder that all things change… yet stay the same.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (for free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

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Writing Duo – Father and Son

by Karen Johnson-Waugh

Father’s Day is a good time to reflect on the life of C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest writers in the past 50 years. More than two decades after his death, his writing continues to inspire millions with science fiction, allegorical children’s books, and philosophical books about the Christian faith.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Ireland in 1898 to parents Albert J. Lewis and Florence “Flora” Augusta. When C.S. was four years old, his dog, Jackie, died in an accident. From that day forth, little C.S. demanded to be called Jack.

Lewis knew Latin and Greek by the age of ten. When his father wrote poems and read them to his sons, “Jack’s” hazel eyes lit up. The family moved to the outskirts of Belfast in 1905 and he was fascinated with the town. He and his brother David created a fantasy world they named Boxen. Fictional animals ruled their land, which helped them cope with their mother’s death in 1908.

C.S. attended boarding schools and colleges, studied mythology, and became a professor at Oxford University from 1925-1954 where he became lifelong friends with a fellow professor, the famous J.R.R. Tolkien.

In 1949, the New York Times published an article by Chad Walsh called C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics. Mr. Walsh encouraged his poet friend, Helen Gresham, to become better acquainted with Lewis. They wrote to one another until Helen eventually divorced her husband, took her two sons to England, and married C. S. in 1956. Four years later, she died of cancer.

Lewis’ work was rejected over 800 times before he sold more than 100 million copies of The Screwtape Letters (1942), The Chronicles of Narnia (1956), and The Space Trilogy (1938-1945). Lewis died of a heart attack a week before his 66th birthday on November 23, 1963.

His stepson, Douglas Gresham, wrote an autobiography entitled Lenten Lands. Douglas and his wife, Merri, adopted five Korean children. They live in Ireland where Douglas handles the C.S. Lewis literacy estate. His brother, David, lives in India with his son.

Do you want to pass writing skills down to your heirs? Today is the day to begin. Believe in yourself. Invest in yourself. Take a writing course at Creative Writing Institute. Sign up today and start tonight with your own personal tutor.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (for free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Volunteer your Writing Skills

by Brent Middleton

          Have you ever found yourself with free time that you could donate? Or feel an urge to give back in some small way? Volunteer writing is a fun and flexible way to pass the time and help a charity spread a message.

Volunteer writing can be for and about any number of causes or events. It could simply be social media writing (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), article writing, or even personal blogs. From a technical standpoint, the rules are few, other than the ones specified by your employer. To determine their writing style, read previously published pieces and analyze them. For instance, Creative Writing Institute likes a more relaxed, personable writing style.

Volunteer writing can present a satisfying challenge and, at the same time, expand your style. Besides gradually making you more versatile, it will offer personal satisfaction in diversifying your skillset. The more different and challenging the topic, the greater satisfaction you’ll feel in the end.

If you’re looking for a place to volunteer your writing skills, Creative Writing Institute has room for two article writers, experienced or amateur. If you’re interested, write to DeborahOwen@cwinst.com.

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Microsoft Word Tips

By Brent Middleton

Microsoft Word is massive. These are some of the lesser-known Word functions. Since computers vary to a large degree, these instructions are basic.

Page Breaks

Microsoft Word automatically inserts a page break at the end of the page, but you can also insert manual page breaks. A page break is the point in the document where the text goes onto the next page. To insert a break manually, click where you want the page to be broken, then go to the Insert tab (at the top), and look under Pages. There you’ll see the Page Break button. If you’d prefer a shortcut to perform a hard page break (one that immediately starts the next page of the document), it’s CTRL+ENTER.

Section Breaks

You can configure automatic page breaks where you want. To do this, highlight the paragraph(s) that you want to work with. Go to the Page Layout tab, click the little icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph subcategory, and a dialogue box should pop up. Click on the Line and Page Breaks tab, and from there you can manage your automatic page break settings.

For more in-depth instructions on page breaks, check out the official Microsoft site: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/insert-a-page-break-HA010368779.aspx

There are other kinds of breaks, too, such as Next Page, Continuous, Even Page, and Odd Page. If you want to learn more about them, there’s a handy description of each right next to each one in Word.

The Ruler

One of the most underutilized features of Word is undoubtedly the ruler. Word includes both horizontal and vertical rulers, and they can be useful for aligning different elements of your document, such as text, tables, graphics, etc.

To view both rulers, click the little button in the top right-hand corner above the “move-the-page-up” arrow. If for some reason your vertical ruler doesn’t appear (in which case it’s turned off), you can turn it back on by going to File, then Options, which is just before Exit. Once in the Options menu, click Advanced, and then scroll down to the Display section. There you’ll find a series of check boxes, and one will say “Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view.” Select that one and you’re good to go.

Were these Microsoft Word tips helpful? Please let us know and feel free to suggest other topics that you might want us to cover.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (for free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.