#flashfiction #story #fiction
What I wish to write about today, actually happened a couple of months ago, just as school was ending. It was my last day to assist in the middle-school library of my son’s school. It was also a scheduled testing day for many students, so the library’s book section was closed.
My job was to man a mobile book site: table, computer/scanner, and a rolling cart full of randomly, librarian-selected books. I was ready. Yet, as the minutes ticked by the halls remained silent with only an occasional squeak of shoes or hushed whispers, but no customers. I tried reading the book I’d brought along, but alas, I was bored. And that was when I had the great idea to conduct an experiment.
I had seventy-nine books on the cart: all fiction books, and all middle grade or young adult in content. My testing method was simple: pick up a book, look at the front cover, skip the synopsis and/or any prologue, and then read only the first paragraph. If the book caught my attention in that opening paragraph, it earned a spot on the top shelf of the cart.
At one point the librarian came out into the hallway to check on me. I noted the quizzical uncertainty on her face and felt compelled to explain why there were books stacked on the table, and an oddly empty book cart, especially the top rack.
What did she say? She gave me a furtive high-five as only a librarian could, and with a conspiratorial smile claimed that I was, “a girl after my own heart.”
With the seal of approval upon me, I quickened my pace–an hour and a half passes quickly when you have a timed goal to complete. I can’t describe what I thought I was looking for, but I knew that I’d know, or feel, it when I read it. I finished with literally minutes to spare before my shift was over.
My top shelf was full, and overflowed into the second tier of the cart. It was difficult, but I narrowed my list down to the top twenty-one titles, those that most surely grabbed me from the first few lines.
Here’s my list:
1)Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
“The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up.”
2)The Lightning Dreamer(written in verse–added commas to note line breaks)by Margarita Engle
“Books are door-shaped, portals, carrying me, across oceans, and centuries, helping me feel, less alone. But my mother believes, that girls who read too much , are unladylike…”
3)The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake
“The first time I seen her, I got a bad feeling inside.”
4)The & Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
“I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks.”
5)Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
“It was April and all Monticello was stirring, but in their cabin Mama had just put baby Maddy down to sleep and she told Beverly and Harriet to be still.”
6)Positively by Courtney Sheinmel
“When my mother died I imagined God was thinking, ‘One down, and one to go.’”
7)Taken by Edward Bloor
“Once you’ve been taken, you usually have twenty-four hours left to live.”
8)Number 8 by Anna Fienberg
“I think the best number in the whole universe is eight. The way I see it, eight has everything going for it. It’s even, for a start.”
(The first eight are in ranking placement, however the remainder are not in any order of preference.)
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Spitting Image by Shutta Crum
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet
by Erin Dionne
Kill Switch by Chris Lynch
Gone by Michael Grant
The Looking Glass War by Frank Beddor
The Battle of the Labyrinth
by Rick Riordan
Door in the Woods by James Dashner
London Calling by Edward Bloor
So what did I learn?
Those first few lines are so important, but they don’t have to be complicated. They are the gatekeepers into the story, and only need to stand tall, firm and, singular. Be inconspicuously vague in the everyday details, but brazenly unique in the special stuff. Intrigue the reader into the tale. Don’t hold back. Make me extremely curious!
Keep the words simple, but the thoughts so precisely complex and revealing that they belong only to this story, character, and/or moment in time. What you say must ring true, and if you try too hard, add too much, too soon, you’ve lost me.
The first paragraph, or the beginning, should offer a promise. A timeless connection between the reader and the writer (or narrator) should offer an invisible contract of whispered truths to come.
Personally, I prefer first-person narration in stories (and most of my writing). Less than a handful of the above-mentioned books were written in third-person POV. But maybe that’s just me. Interesting though!
Obviously, I’m not too good at keeping up with this blog. However, I do “write” blog posts, but mostly in my head–although I’ve taken notes, and at some time in the future plan to share them. Right now, it seems more important to write, and finish drafting my current project, Sky.
Speaking of Sky, I’m in the process of its transcription into computer files, as well as drafting and expanding the story along the way. My goal is to be done with this process around the time school starts, and then move onto a hearty round of editing.
The poem I posted last year on this site, “Shame,” will be published the week of August 24th via a great site: http://www.thevoicesproject.org! Oddly, I receive the most random traffic to this blog because of that poem, so I wanted to have it officially accepted/published somewhere before someone plagiarized it off my site (It happens!).
I have one non-fiction short story and one new poem out there in the world, awaiting either rejection or acceptance. At this point, I still have naïve hope that both will be given the latter.
One of my planned, upcoming/someday blog post will be about my writing group. I started the small group at the beginning of the year, just for local moms. It’s been such a great experience and a wonderful way to promote more writing in my life, as well as to encourage other moms.
I’m still reading as much as I can, for fun and to improve my writing. I’m almost done with Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home–there’s hidden wisdom between the lines.
That’s all, folks! For more frequent, less loquacious updates, please like my Facebook page:
I had no intention to sign up for NANOWRIMO. In the past, I’d considered it briefly with the same intrigue someone might consider eating fried Oreos. Interesting concept, but probably a really bad idea that could lead to unpleasant distress.
November begins the holidays, right? My kids have five scheduled school days off this month. There are several family birthdays and those end-of-season sports parties to plan/attend. And, let’s not forget the twenty-pound turkey that needs cooking with all the fixings. And that Christmas craziness that the stores started pushing before Halloween. Whew! Overwhelming! November is one of the worst months to delve into writing 50,000 words. Or, is it? http://nanowrimo.org/
Often, I don’t listen to the rational hemisphere of my brain. So, I’m actually looking at this as an auspicious occurrence, that was possibly meant to align despite difficulty. I’m always looking for signs. And there have been a few that watered the NANOWRIMO seed:
- A new project that I want to see in rough draft ASAP! https://shermierayne.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/when-the-dogs-bark-listen/
- A major age-related milestone is coming up.
- A conversation hubby & I had Wednesday afternoon.
Without any doubt, it was that conversation that not only shone brightly on that little growing seed, but soaked it until the roots were spreading quickly. The conversation? Well, it was the basic we-need-more-money lament. But, when hubby finished with, “Why don’t you hurry up and finish that book and make us a million dollars?” I actually felt belief in his words (maybe for the first time). Perhaps it was merely a desperate, temporary dreaming lapse on his part. Yet, I heard in his voice an undercurrent of hope and confidence. I needed that. In that moment, I knew I would push harder, try harder, and struggle more. And not for the possible selling of a book that might someday make a little money, but because I had a believer.
I’ve been treading lightly. Hesitant. My footfalls have barely left an imprint. Now, I’m committing to the long hours of struggle, relenting to its beauty. The unrest to succeed. “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” Frederick Douglass
There y’all go, that’s my “why” to NANOWRIMO. I don’t plan to blog this month unless something truly remarkable happens (fingers crossed). If you’re curious and want to follow along with my month-long NANOWRIMO journey, please like my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/ShermieRayne?ref=hl . I’ll update my running word count there! @ShermRayne
I started a new writing project last night. I know I had promised myself to stick it out with only one big story at a time—and not to hopscotch around, dividing my limited writing time. But, the pot of thoughts began boiling many days ago. I honestly tried to put a lid on it, ignoring the flashing of ideas. Yet before I realized it, my main character had a name and a face and a heart full of pain.
So, when I sat down to declutter the ever-growing paper mess at my desk, my hand casually retrieved a legal pad from the floor. In an instant, I knew the only question was whether I’d use pencil or pen to start writing. The lid had popped off the pot, releasing the steam.
After I’d finished scribbling out the first entry (epistolary), the paper literally vibrated in my hands—holding me as much as I physically held it. I didn’t want to go to sleep, afraid I’d lose that connection. No worries! In fact, in spite of spending a rushed day running about, including work on a dental crown, the story is still strong. I garnered a nice collection of napkins, receipts, and Post-its scribbled with written material.
So, when the dogs are barking or the pot of water is boiling, pay attention. Listen, don’t suppress! Perhaps everything does have its own season and time. Maybe this is the very right moment in time to write this one particular story. I will listen and write!
My writing has hit a wall! One made out of colorful Post-its, carefully pinned to the corkboard above my desk. I’m at that point in the story where it doesn’t feel right to continue calling the characters by generic names. That worked in the beginning for practicality and momentum. Not now.
This became painfully obvious when I introduced my lead character’s sidekick. Dialogue was stifled and lacking. Liveliness missing. He needed to be named, like all things created.
From this fantasy story’s conception, he’s been called simply, “Red Man.” It’s a literal observation. Similarly, other characters had/have temporary names, e.g. Yoda-like dude (short, wise, and speaks his mind). So, I pulled out the baby-naming books and my overflowing “naming” file—full of scraps scribbled with cool-ish names that I’ve come across. I find them everywhere: books, magazines, movies, the shoe boxes at Kohl’s, name tags of service workers, and even the yearly unclaimed money/property register. I do, however, draw the line at searching the obituaries. (That’s actually a story idea in the making, hmmm . . .)
But nada. Again, I’m at a standstill. I need the perfect name and it eludes me. A solid and strong name, perhaps one from long ago that can be resurrected and recycled.
I’d love to hear from other writers! What is your character-naming process? I’m especially curious how fantasy and/or other uncommon world genre writers come up with character names.
For the longest time, my husband has considered my writing a hobby, and often refers to his enjoyment of fishing as a comparison. This infuriates me, because writing, to me, is so much more. I believe it to be my calling. Something I don’t necessarily want to do, but rather its nagging and berating calls me to respond. To act, to write.
Anyway, after considering the matter, I’ve realized that perhaps I was not fully understanding the comparison. Indignation aside, I had quite the epiphany. What if I was only applying my own assumptions/perceptions of what fishing meant to me? I failed to understand what fishing meant to hubby. So, I thought about it . . .
He loves throwing a line into stilled water, watching the undulating ripples, anxiously awaiting that pull from the other end. He calls this time his peace. Mind roaming, relaxed, and embracing nature. So, I get that now. Maybe that was the intended comparison. I was simply hung up on the word “hobby.” Maybe I expected a more elegant lexicon to acknowledge my efforts.
I mean, writing is a very internal process, requiring lots of snapping synapses to flick just right. It is hard, frustrating sometimes, conjuring up new worlds, or characters that actually think and feel and act in all sorts of crazy, human-ish ways. It can be exhausting. Whereas, fishing is an external interaction in the living, tangible environment—outside of self. Yet, in the end, both can provide the same result: a feeling of unawareness to the walls of everyday life that otherwise enclose us.
Sometimes, I think we all get hung up on the precise meaning of words, adding in our own (mis)perceptions too. We don’t stop to realize that not everyone shares the same experiences and interpretations.
A couple of years back, I decided to add a “word board” to our already cluttered kitchen wall. A nice visual to gaze upon over a bowl of morning cereal, reminding the kids of school. Although, I still read aloud nightly to my children, it’s not enough to combat the increasing infiltration of electronics insidiously creeping into our home—and the school as well. So, with a discarded, glass-less frame and some purchased dry-erase backing, I made the board you see here for less than five bucks.
I began by adding, or updating, two or three words weekly. It wasn’t long before I was scribbling meaningful quotes, mantras, or scripture as well. I want to foster kindness, empathy and other attributes amongst my children, and I believe words have the power to do that. (For a short time, I added a Spanish word-of-the-week, but this didn’t go over so well.) While the weekly “word board” talk about philosophical meaning and/or the definition discussion isn’t mind-blowing, it is often engaging and usually near the mark. Regardless, they are thinking!
Honestly, my kids now seem acceptingly indifferent to the board, and have come to expect it to be updated regularly. Of course, they don’t recall the meaning of every word that’s been presented, but many words, especially those that we’ve made everyday connections to, have become part of their vocabulary. And that, makes it so worth it!
What’s their all-time favorite word? Insolent: it is heard quite often here 😉
It’s funny how the little things in writing can make you stop mid-sentence and ponder. Make you wonder what you really know about life. Do I even know enough to write? The other day, I started a new chapter where my character awakens to the smell of frying bacon. Of course, I wanted to show and not tell that. Alas, that’s when I had to ask: what the heck does bacon really smell like, as it’s frying into crispy strips of heaven?
This is my first blog post, and the best I could think to write about was bacon. UggHH! But, please, stick around for more!