The Long and the Short of It

Posted: 10/05/2011 in Horror, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So here I am, ensnared between two competing priorities and passions at opposite ends of the literary continuum.  As much as I love novel-length works of fiction, I have also been enamored with short stories since I was a kid.  In his introduction to Just After Sunset, Stephen King discusses the art of the short story and describes the process of writing short fiction as a “fragile craft,” a skill that can atrophy or be forgotten with disuse.  I think he’s on to something.  My short fiction, at times, has seemed to suffer from a bizarre version of a literary eating disorder: skeletally anorexic, or feasting upon itself in bloated splendor.  This has resulted in too many of my short stories blissfully blimping their way into novella territory, or worse (perhaps) being truncated to the point that the richness of the potential tale is lost. 

I started exploring flash fiction this year in an effort to fight the battle of the bulge and to improve and hone my writing skills.  It is a challenging and demanding medium to work within.  Flash fiction can be broadly defined, but often it is described as fiction of less than 1000 words, or stories within a range of 250-500 words.  In other instances, it borders on micro fiction: tales of 100 words or less, or is dictated by a wide range of more prescriptive guidelines (often for challenges, contests, or writing prompts) such as fiction of exactly 50 words.  Writing effective flash fiction can be daunting, but it also offers huge payoffs.  Writers really have to bring their A game when trying to weave an evocative tale with word count limitations while paying attention to such elements as story arc, plot, character development, and resolution.  It is a great cure for bloat.  I’ve found that writing flash fiction has tightened up and improved my writing considerably.  Writing flash is not without its frustrations, but when you pen a story that works, it works.

In the midst of my current obsession with writing flash fiction, I’ve also been working on a novel-length work preliminarily titled Scorch.  While Scorch is not, er, blazing along at warp speed, I am making reasonable progress.  It has been an interesting daily juxtaposition, working with one foot in the world of flash fiction and the other planted firmly in a novel length piece.

Complicating matters further – a bit of a plot twist, if you will – is National Novel Writing Month (sometimes referred to as NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo), which launches in November.  Essentially, the goal of nanowrimo is to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1 and 11:59 p.m. on November 30.  For me, that means cranking out words at roughly Mach 3.  During November, that explosion you hear in the distance is probably someone’s keyboard breaking the sound barrier.

This year I will again seek to complete National Novel Writing Month, most likely letting loose my zombie hordes to sate themselves on the flesh of the living.  But I’ll also keep pushing myself to crank out some flash.  November will be a heck of a ride!

What about you?  Eagerly anticipating NaNoWriMo?  Working on a large scale project or exploring a little flash fiction?  What formats are you currently working within, or enjoying reading?  I’d love to hear from you.  If you’d like to post a link to some of your own flash fiction, please feel free to include it in your comments – I always love a good tale!

  1. I am fascinated with flash fiction, have not yet tried it. I am finally taking the plunge to NaNo in November. I’m excited and somewhat terrified. I am writing fantasy, but not the stereotypical stuff. It’s a bit darker and hopefully, blackly comedic. I look forward to reading some of your stuff.

    • blackalchemy says:

      Writing flash fiction, for me, feels a little like that rush you get from that moment of weighless anticipation when an elevator suddenly stops. Oddly exhilirating. Weird analogy. 🙂

      Best of luck for your NaNo this year – you can do it! Dark fantasy, black humor… sounds fantastic! Keep the words coming, and I’ll be following your blog!

  2. Paul D. Dail says:

    With the exception of NaNo, we are walking similar paths. I’ve loved the opportunities to do some flash fiction. I think of it like mental sherbet. Funny enough, I actually wrote my first novel in a month because I told an agent I was much farther along than I was, and she asked me if I could have her the novel in a month.

    That was almost eight years ago. Lots of editing, so the flash has been a nice way to get my mind clear (and as you mentioned, that clarity also is getting stronger in my writing as a result) while I get back to working on my next novel.

    With another job of teaching and a 19 month old daughter, I don’t quite have the freedom of NaNo, but I look forward to the day when I do.

    God speed to you!

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • blackalchemy says:

      Thanks, Paul! I am torn with doubt about the wisdom of attempting NaNo when I have other substantial projects I should be working on rather than spending 30 days opening up a new can of words. I think we are walking similar paths and it is a pleasure to encounter you on the trail! If I haven’t already mentioned it – your writing is most excellent and I intend to purchase The Imaginings (the first sample page grabbed me). Your flash on your blog is also outstanding! I totally commiserate with the need for more time – this day job keeps getting in the way when I should be thinking about dark, twisted, creepy things. 🙂

      • Paul D. Dail says:

        Much thanks (and I just saw you tweeted my story. Thanks.) So what’s your day job? Yes, they definitely get in the way.

        Oh, and I couldn’t click on “An Axe to Grind.” I got an error. Just thought I’d let you know.

        Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

  3. blackalchemy says:

    @Paul D. Dail I try to tweet or advocate for things that I encounter that are interestng, helpful, or striking, but I try to avoid turning into an rss feed. I just noticed in my reply to you that I wrote “can of words.” That’s Freudian enough to tickle me. I meant “can of worms.” My day job, well, I do consulting work. But most simply, my job is to teach trainers and facilitators how to do their work more effectively, or how to help communities engage in assessment, strategic planning, and evaluation of local initiatives, often those that involve state or federal funding, in order to help them be better able to achieve their outcomes. I do a lot of writing and babbling. I have struggle to keep myself from writing these Lovecraftian run-on sentences! How about you? You are an educator, right? In what ways does your day job support and maybe on occasion thwart, your writing endeavors? I hope I am not being nosy. I know my job helps keep words, good, vibrant words, in the forefront of my mind, with the added bonus of observing people in a variety of situations. But it can be really, really hard to switch gears and start writing when the work day is over!

    • Paul D. Dail says:

      I had wondered if you intended to say “can of worms,” but I also liked “can of words.” How fitting 🙂

      Your job sounds pretty interesting. And intense. And busy I would imagine. I am an educator. I teach Creative Writing and Language Arts at a performing arts high school. It’s a pretty good gig, as I only teach part-time, but even a part-time teaching job is almost a full-time job with grading and lesson planning. I actually went part-time last year to stay home with my daughter and focus on my writing (definitely more of the former since she started walking), and it’s been hard because it made me realize that I really want (and probably need) to be home full-time to really take the step in my writing career. As I was telling a friend recently, if all I had to do was talk about books all day, I’d love it, but I also have to teach things like grammar, essay writing and the other nuts and bolts of Language Arts which I’m not so crazy about. But again, I shouldn’t complain too much since I am able to be part-time. But yes, not much happens at the end of a day, especially if I taught that day.

      Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

      • blackalchemy says:

        My aunt is a high school science teacher, and when I visit her I get a really keen appreciation of how many hours outside the classroom educators work! Your students are lucky, though. Back in high school, I would have thought it was incredible to know my creative writing teacher was a published horror writer. It would have given me, well, hope. I imagine your daughter keeps you busy but she sounds like a true joy! I really liked your blog post A Softer Side of the Horror Writer. Sometime I’d love to hear how you triage your time for writing. Currently reading The Imaginings, very enjoyable. Your writing is tight but extremely evocative, and you are great with suspense!

      • Paul D. Dail says:

        So I had to look back to see, and you said you didn’t have an e-reader yet? Wow, I’m impressed. I’m hoping you’re not reading The Imaginings on your computer. If so, I will give a giant, sincere “Thank you!” I’ve read some technical manuals and short treatises on my computer, but I think my eyes would bug out if I tried to read a whole novel (and in case I hadn’t already mentioned it, the irony is not lost on me that I don’t have an e-reader yet have published my book as an e-book).

        Anyway, thank you for your kind words. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts as you continue. And please know that you can be honest. After an agent and two editors (not to mention the beta readers), I have pretty thick skin. Be curious to know if you think it falls under the “horror” genre.

        Thanks again.
        Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

      • blackalchemy says:

        You’re right, I don’t have an ereader yet (my mom already divulged that it will be my Christmas present, so that removes the element of surprise but is giving me plenty of time to get excited). I did download something called Kindle for PC from Amazon at no cost, and it emulates an ereader, and I am (hoping, hoping) that the stories I download to it I will later be able to sync up to the real device. We’ll see. You are right, reading a book on a computer does not come naturally to me. I can plow through short fiction, but novellas and novels take me longer (a few pages at a time) than if I were demolishing a print book (a quarter of the book a time). But, although it is slow going, I will offer you this: I totally dig The Imaginings! I am still very early into it, but what I am enjoying is your use of suspense, building tension, ambient creepiness. Kind of like Dean Koontz (who’s works I also enjoy immensely). Someday I’d love a chance to talk with you about what it was like working with editors. So far, the only editor I have is me, and some days I am a compassionate editor and other days it is all I can do to convince myself not to erase my hard drive.

  4. Abbie says:

    Hey, Hope! Amazing to see another Irish Hoosier denizen-of-the-dark-side on my blog. I just got back from there – first time in MANY years – and can report that my home town (Vincennes) is a zombie Mecca. Shocking to see, but these things happen. 😉

    Keep writing and I’ll subscribe to your blog if I can ever figure out how. (Just did.)


    • blackalchemy says:

      Hi, Abbie, thanks for the follow! It is a pleasure to meet another writer and purveyor of dark words with Hoosier origins on here! I stumbled on your blog last night and really enjoy your writing style and content. Your recent post on zombies caught my eye, because I love zombies and write about zombies, but you made such an incredible point – we are the zombies. I cringe in horror, like a vampire exposed to a sliver of sunlight or the gleam of a silver crucifix, when I see flagrant or intentional literary and grammatical atrocities littering writing. Part of what attracts me to reading and writing is the beautiful Gestalt that comes from the right words placed in the right order – it can be magic. In that sense, I will remain an unapologetic zombie waving a red pen. Your point made me think of the core theme of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend; in the end, when the monsters take over and there are few of us left, we become the unknown and unknowable monster. That’s okay. We’ll keep writing and fighting the good fight together!

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