Fiction Circular 9/28/18

INDEPENDENT AUTHORS – SELF PUBLISHED WORK

First up, from Miles To Go Before I Sleep… is the micro, Venom!? by Ramya Tantry.

If a person can be Flash if struck by a lightning or a Spiderman if bitten by a radioactive spider. Then looking at snakes on display, she wondered.

What will a person become if bitten by a snake? Venom!?

— Venom, R. Tantry

From Blogggedit, S For Stairs by Avani Singh.

“I just wanted to get away from that endless darkness…” — S For Stairs.

From ABK Stories, Twenty Eighty-Eight by Alexander Bjørn Kodama.

“By 94 she had thought moving was going to be horrible, but medicine was better now, broke the bank, but it was better. 94 is the new 54; so they say.”

— Twenty Eighty-Eight

From Medium, It Didn’t Have To Be This Way, Ted by J. Brandon Lowry.

“Bring forth the murderer.” — It Didn’t Have To Be This Way, Ted.

INDEPENDENT LITMAGS AND EZINES

From Terror House Magazine, #LoveIsHate by T.J. Martinell. A interesting commentary on the culture of grievance and some of unintended consequences thereof.

“How is it any of your business what I do in my personal life?”

“Like I said, we have a situation here.” — #LoveIsHate

From New Flash Fiction Review (issue 14), Millhouse Again by Paul Beckman.

“Millhouse awoke when the page dropped on him. It was the third time and he got up and dove escaping the next crushing page.” — Millhouse Again.

LITERARY EPHEMERA

Art of Blogging offers up some helpful advice for aspiring professional writers with How To Be A Boss At BLogging When You Have 0 Followers by Cristian Mihai. Not all of Mr. Mihai’s recommendations are one’s with which we agree, but there is much to be gleaned from this rousing post.

“It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” —Zig Ziglar.


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OVERLOOKED FUNDAMENTALS OF FICTION WRITING (PART III)

Passive & Active Character individuation

The accent, cadence, lexiconical reach and narrated description of a character all lend themselves to differentiating them upon the page from every other, however, the former three are oft neglected by burgeoning writers. This is usually a by-product of theme fixation and character repetition and should be guarded against. Having all of your characters speak the same is wrongheaded for obvious reasons and lends itself to a narcissistic reading (even if that reading is incorrect) by the audience; the assumption by critical readers will be – generally – that the author is simply asserting himself through a panoply of different avatars to better pound some pulpit or another. Very tedious and often, quite condescending.

Active individuation is any portion of a story which has a character actually doing something that differentiates him or her or it from the rest of the cast. Manner of speech (and thought, if there are to be internal monologues) here is paramount. If you are from a coastal US region the intricacies of other state accents will be largely foreign to you and likely be beyond your ability to reliably and authentically recreate. If you are writing a story surrounding a poor youth living in the deep south of the US and have little knowledge of the south, for instance, then you’ve some legwork ahead of you. You must study the language of the area, the collective mannerism and phraseology, hammer out the regional accents and home in on a very specific model of speech and stick to it throughout the entirety of the story. Linguistic active individuation is made doubly difficult due to the tendency for most people to write in much the same fashion in which they speak. Social media is a testament to this, where dialectical tendencies can be observed in real-time breaking down along fairly predictable national, ethnic and racial lines. Also of importance, after having garnered a handle on the dialects one wishes to employ within their story, is to take a measure of the dialect continuum to be utilized, where it becomes less intelligible to other groups of your fictional world and where it ends completely and trammels off into total unintelligibity.

A dialect continuum is any geographically contained series of varied language groupings which are all, to some degree, intelligible (though not mutually) to every other member of the total language block. In the US, the English language is the primary “block” whereas all of the various different variations thereof, such as southern, Ebonics, New York and the transcontinental accent, make up the variations of the block, or the sub-blocks of the primary language and though, not mutually communicable to all other sub-blocks, each block can be reliably understood to communicate on the most rudimentary of levels. Taking this real world example of language variability into your own stories will help to add a level of both immersion and believability which simply will not be able to be achieved without it.

Passive individuation, we shall define, as any portion of the story which defines a character through something other than their direct action, from some source that is beyond their agency. The most common form of passive individuation is narrative description of the character, such as, “Franklin was a stocky man, graying about the temples, some forty years of age, with a wrinkled brow and a surly grimace perpetually distorting his wind-chaffed and pitted face.”

Here it is important to establish visual motiffs, whether they are movements, some portion of their physiology or some notion or mythos concerning them which is propogated by some other portion of the cast. For example, in my latest (and as yet unfinished work) the novel, Tomb of the Father, there is a ominous character who stalks and hunts down criminals, he wears peculiar bracelets, adorned all with bells and everywhere he walks there is a faint jingling preceding his steps. I utilize this aural motif at subsequent sections later on in the story to establish both a eerie precursor to his appearance as well as a vector which forces other characters within the novel to recall their interactions with him; for example, one of the principal characters is passing beside a merchant who is hocking chimes and their metallic chittering reminds the character of the ominous man. Such symbolic motifs are imminently useful for establishing a particular tone or mood and are highly underutilized in modern literature wherein most authors will rather satisfy themselves on spoken themes and rigidly articulated talking points, this can be fine but is inherently inclined to wax either stale or obnoxious.

OVERLOOKED FUNDAMENTALS OF FICTION WRITING (PART II)

Overlooked aspects of character and theme

Whilst bearing the overwhelming importance of world inconsistency in mind we will now turn our attention to characters and their portrayal. A good fiction writer must be a good actor, his characters must not all be but mere extensions of his own idiosyncrasies, if so the characters will assume a kind of bland and unconvincing uniformity, becoming not separate entities, but rather, component parts of one overbearing hive mind with a totalizing consistency of thought. Characters should all have their own inner lives unless you have a reason within the story to portray them “flatly.” For example, you might wish to portray a nameless “random henchman” type character in a comedy tale to parody action genre-convention, with its seemingly endless host of utterly incompetent and drone-like shock-troopers who are curiously never daunted by the fact that their masters continuously send them up against foes girded by the indomitable power of plot-armor.

Two good examples to compare and contrast for the purposes of elucidating “well rounded” characters and “flat characters” can be found in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged respectively. In The Fountainhead all of the principal characters (and even most of the minor characters) are distinctive, both in terms of their thoughts, words and deeds whereas in Atlas Shrugged nearly all of the principal heroes are facsimiles of John Galt (with the sole exception of Dagny Taggart) and all of the principal villains are echoes of James Taggart (with the sole exception of Dr. Robert Stadler). A repetition of a certain character type is problematic because it necessitates a repetition of theme. In the case of Atlas Shrugged it is established that John Galt believes that a kind of enlightened selfishness is not only good, but the highest moral good. Since nearly all of his compatriots in the novel speak, act and think exactly like him (to the point of being indistinguishable upon the page without moniker) one knows precisely what they’re going to say and what they are going to do. Furthermore, this tendency breeds a (often unintentional) preachiness which is both extraneous and irksome; there is, after all, only so many times and ways one can repeat “selfishness is the highest good” before the reader is inclined to inwardly shout, “By the underbelly of Apophis, I get it already!”

If your purpose, in writing any particular story or portion thereof, is to convince your audience of something, it were better that you restrain from incessantly beating them over the head with your ideas, as that is about the least convincing thing you could do. Furthermore, regardless of your purpose, the aforementioned type of character repetition (and thus, theme repetition) breeds stilted and unbelievable characters who will utterly bore all as the reader has already met them a dozen or more times before! As with films, there are some books that are so profoundly bad they’re good precisely because they’re so humorously bad, but whoever heard of a book so boring that one simply must read it?

Overlooked Fundamentals of Fiction Writing (part I)

Fiction writing, like all other forms of art, is predicated upon communication.

First and foremost, a fiction writer should focus on ensuring he has the requisite ability to communicate his or her thoughts via the written word and to communicate them effectively. It doesn’t matter how extensive your lexicon, nor how captivating your style, if you cannot arrange sentences in such a way as to drive home the meaning contained therein. We shall not cover, in any depth, the rudiments of the English language nor of any other and will, instead, assume a certain degree of literary proficiency and creativity from the reader (one should be careful not be to too bound by forms which can sap the work of its vigor and inventiveness). Instead we will be turning our fevered imaginations towards the specific ways (the forms) in which the themes within a given work are communicated.

Pay particular attention to your opening sentences.

There is no more important section of a given story than the opening sentence(s), for if your audience does not find it sufficiently eye-catching they are like as not to read little further. Certainly, if the whole opening paragraph is either mundane, impenetrable or both, then one should not expect any sizable readership to follow. For instance, in my recently published short story The Chittering, the tale begins with a evocative description of the scene and the principal actors within it. I wrote:

Night fell like a blanket of smoke over the hunters, the clicking of crickets in the forest beyond the old bunker, the only sound, save for the rustling of the lonesome wind.

The purpose of this introduction was to provide a description of both the “stage” and the “actors” upon it as well as lay the snare which was to pull the reader deeper into the story. It was my hope that the mention of mysterious hunters, huddled in a old bunker would cause the reader to ponder, “Who are these hunters, what is this bunker? Why are they in it? What is all this about?” This is not to say that one should not begin with naming or detailing their characters (that’s perfectly fine), however, there is something to be said of cramming too much information into one particular place. Information overload (something author’s like DeLillo delight in, i.e. Underworld) occurs whenever you attempt to describe multiple events and/or characters all within the space of a single line of text. Something like, “Tim, the Freemason, was feeling queasy, he figured those lobster’s which Sherry, the cook, had given him for Clancy’s birthday, were the likely culprit.” The sentence is a little difficult to follow, but more than that, it is rather clunky and reads like a paint-by-numbers description (he did X, then he did Y because she did X, etc), which is not particularly interesting and can wax rather robotic.

Whilst we are on the topic of painting-by-numbers, another attribute of one’s story which will return dividends if cared for is the rhythm of the text itself.

Rhythm.

The rhythm of a particular line of text is also of considerable importance not just for the “flow” of the story but also for the impact of particular portions thereof. Consider the way following passages:

His hands shook upon the handle of the smoking gun as he loomed over the twitching ruddy creature upon the ground, now twitching no more.

Chopping this sentence up (“changing the rhythm”) can be a method to place more emphasis upon particular actions, like so:

His hands shook upon the cool handle of the gun. Coils of smoke, like phantasmal worms, moved about the rafters. He looked down to behold his victim, twitching like some bird-rent crab.

Twitching.

Twitching.

Twitching no more.

The first description is more compact and more “correct” grammatically speaking, but it doesn’t have the same level of visceral impact as the second description. Neither is necessarily better, in any total and all-encompassing sense, but certainly, one or the other will be much better for certain types of scenarios and deftly navigating between the two kinds of descriptions (those being: “matter-of-fact” and “poetic”) will make for a much more enjoyable read, it will also allow you to explain certain segments of your story in a way the other will not.

World consistency.

Any cinephile worth his salt will have seen at least one film series wherein a character or place or theme is introduced and becomes important only to vanish in the next installment and never reappear again. I call this world inconsistency to differentiate it from a plot-hole as the two are not necessarily synonymous. World inconsistencies occur when one builds up a particular portion of their world(s) over a particular portion of one’s story and then suddenly and inexplicably glosses over or ignores everything there created. Such inconsistencies typically occur either through forgetfulness or a misbegotten desire towards flair (i.e. it just sounded good at the time). World inconsistencies often occur in sequels which are, in the current artistic climate, usually driven my market demand and are thus hastily cobbled together re-imaginings rather than detailed elaborations. A good example of this phenomenon can be found within the Hannibal Lecter (or Lecktor as Manhunter puts it) series of novels written by the notable and stylish crime author, Thomas Harris.

In the novel, Hannibal Rising (2006), the individual who is most formative to the budding serial killer is his fiery adoptive aunt, Lady Murasaki, a Japanese woman of considerable refinement and ability who I assume (though do not know) was patterned off of the 11th Century Japanese writer,  Murasaki Shikibu, known for her text, The Diary of Lady Murasaki. Despite her prominence in the sequel novel, Lady Murasaki is never mentioned or referenced in anyway in any of the other novels, those being: Red Dragon (1981), Silence of the Lambs (1988) and Hannibal (1999). Now we should forgive Harris this oversight due to the fact that, firstly, he did not want to write the book to begin with (Dino De Laurentiis forced him into it due to studio pressures; i.e. maintaining the franchise) and secondly, he couldn’t very well change his other previously written books right off the bat and would have had to have made additions to one or more of his previously released novels. Now what he should have done (other than just refusing to write the book to begin with) was write yet another novel or novella, occurring sometime after Hannibal Rising, but yet before the last book in the series, such that all the various strands of Hannibal Rising were tied together into the rest of the previously established Lecter mythos. Failing this, one is left with prominent thematic attributions which dissolve into utter nothingness.

[continued in part 2]

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Logos Anthology: Free e-book

The Logos Club proudly presents a collection of some of our finest choice writing featuring: Kaiter Enless, Cygnus-X, Gio Pennacchietti & Joel Hyduke. Re-distributing or altering the contents of this anthology will result in immediate manly challenge and a subsequent duel at ten paces.

Click the link below to receive the book and many thanks for your kindly patronage.

Official Logos Club Anthology, Part One