Friday, December 14, 2018

Elements of Flash Fiction



By Lindsey P. Brackett


Flash fiction is not like writing a novel. Good thing, since you only have 1000 words in which to tell the story.

With flash fiction, the tactics of subplots, POV shifts, and world building usually cannot happen effectively. When I teach flash fiction classes, I encourage writers to commit to one point of view, one internal and/or external conflict, and minimal secondary characters. Instead of the whole photo album, drop your readers into a moment—a snapshot.

But unlike still photos, flash fiction is not stagnant. The story must move and something must happen. Your protagonist must have an obstacle to overcome and a sense of resolution at the end.

This moment can be as high stakes as diffusing a bomb to save the love interest—or as simple as an older couple rediscovering each other during a routine outing. When writing flash fiction—or truly any story for that matter—start with your character and their conflict. What does this person want or need? What is standing in their way?

Once, I wrote about an overwhelmed mother and her passive husband. (I promise I only half-related to this character.) Because the conflict had to be related to the assignment—ghost story, old well, horse saddle—I set them on a crumbling farm with an old dry well. When the external conflict arises, a child falls in the old well, the tension in their marriage is heightened because he’s not there to help her.

I could build a whole novel from these characters, but if I did, I would lose the great tension this story’s brevity held. The greatest conflict is this one moment—how she (and the ghost of a horse) handled the situation. This is not a story about a marriage’s demise or reconciliation. It is a story about how a mother finds her strength.

When you write flash fiction, find the one conflict that will empower, destroy, or awaken your character. Then use that one pinnacle moment and show how they overcome.
You’ll leave your reader wondering—but satisfied—and ready for more. Maybe they want more of that story, but hopefully, they definitely want more of your writing.

You can read Lindsey’s award-winning ghost story, Listen When I Call, in the 2017 edition of Southern Writers Magazine Best ShortStories.
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Lindsey P. Brackett writes southern fiction infused with her rural Georgia upbringing and Lowcountry roots. Her debut novel, Still Waters, inspired by family summers at Edisto Beach, released in 2017. Called “a brilliant debut” with “exquisite writing,” Still Waters received 4-stars from Romantic Times and was named 2018 Selah Book of the Year. Connect with Lindsey and get her free newsletter at lindseypbrackett.com or on Instagram and Facebook: @lindseypbrackett.



Thursday, December 13, 2018

Keeping Some Skin in the Game


By Vicki H. Moss, Contributing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine 


There are periods in life when you simply don’t have time to write. For instance, here’s a case scenario: You’ve recently moved. There are still 100 unopened boxes upstairs and you’re exhausted from the thought of opening another one. Halloween is nipping at your heels and everyone knows what happens after Halloween—it’s bulldozed by Thanksgiving and then Christmas decorating. Then it’s time to undrape the tree and bury the greenery upstairs with the other boxes. 

With all of that going on, who has time to write more than utility bill checks? How does a writer keep their pencils sharp and their minds sharper to be able to stack a few words next to each other when a free moment explodes onto your writer’s scene?

That’s when thinking of a subject, any subject to write about, comes in handy and you keep some skin in the game by writing short stories. Could you write a story about broccoli? You liked it as a kid and ate the flowerets or tossed it to the dog. How about a strawberry story—ever picked some in those pay-to-pick patches? What happened? Anything funny? Anything tragic or sad? If you’ve lived long enough you probably have a story about most everything.

But if you don’t have any stories, good or bad about broccoli, try searching for a writers prompt site online. Thoughtco.com is one. On that website, they have listed 250 topics for familiar essays. Instead of essays, you could simply write creative nonfiction. Whether stories or essays, write a few of those gems a week. Within a year you could have enough stories for a nonfiction book. 

Let’s look at some of the topics listed on thoughtco.com:

1. Backyard gardens – I could check that off my list because I could write about recently planting fifty rose bushes and sixty boxwoods. Then I could describe the aches and pains that accompanied that labor of love. 

2. Telephone Manners – remember the old days when long distance telephone operators had to tell you their names when they answered the phone? Did I just date myself? Oopsie, let’s just move on.

3. The Pleasure of Eating – Immediately I thought about eating bread pudding with hard sauce three times a day while in New Orleans to try and find the restaurant with the best recipe. Then there was that time I ate a frog’s leg and broke a tooth. Then that time I regretted eating rattlesnake, and that time I…you get the picture.

4. Mental Indigestion – For this subject, I could possibly expand on the rattlesnake and frog legs stories. Or I could write about rethinking and over-thinking a subject until my brain freezes or needs a gray matter Alka Seltzer. 

5. On Losing One’s Freckles – I could definitely tell about how my freckles finally gave up the ghost and did a slow fade or even better, I could write about a college friend who drove me insane using lemon juice and other concoctions on her face to rid herself of her own freckles.

You get the picture. But what about these topics—Etiquette for Ancestors or Gasoline and Onions. Strange combinations don’t you think?

Ahhh, but this one – After He Died. That topic could go in several directions and get ho-hum mild or better yet, crazy wild. Mull that one over. Then write away. Would love to be a little mouse looking over your shoulder to see what you pen to keep some skin in the game!         


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Looking for the Perfect Character Names




By Erin Woodsmall


What makes a name a good one? Luckily for us the answer to this question varies or else life would get confusing as we called one another by the same small set of names! Tastes in names change each decade, something we can see on the Social Security website

New parents pour over lists of names before settling on one for their child. So what makes a good name for your literary “children”—also known as your characters?

One of the obvious answers is: names need to match the era, culture, or setting. In Amish fiction, giving a man the name “Maverick” wouldn’t work unless it’s a nickname with a believable history behind it. For The Christmas Remedy we consulted a blue book of names and addresses that Cindy received from an Amish friend in Pennsylvania who runs a country store. Cindy has other Amish resources and has put the names in a Word document to pull from as needed. She also compiled a list of all names she’s ever used in a book—something very useful to refer back to after twenty-something books written!

Another thing to consider is the name’s meaning and connotation. A character named Hope probably wouldn’t make a good villain. In The Christmas Remedy, we wanted our main character to have a Christmas-themed name—after all, she was born on the Amish holiday of Second Christmas. So her parents decided to go against Amish tradition, and they named her Holly Noelle. Her siblings, also born around Christmastime, are Iva “Ivy” Zook and Ezra “Red” Zook. Since the Amish often stick to a short list of traditional names, they tend to use nicknames like Ivy and Red.

Have you ever met a family who names all their kids in a theme of the same first letter? This can be cute in real life, but it’s best avoided when writing fiction. On television or the big screen, they avoid having characters with the same hair color or hairstyle or skin color or body build. The visual differences are necessary to keep from confusing viewers. In a book, the name is instantly defining on page, and if two or more characters have the same letter sounds at the beginning, it’s problematic for readers.

When naming all of my children, it was important to me that I found names that had nickname potential. Some parents feel the opposite and want to find names that can’t be shortened or changed. Not every character has to have a nickname, like Matthew to Matt or Abigail to Abi, but it can be a cute thing in romance. I have a friend named Jeffrey who is often called “Jeff,” but in his mind he’s Jeffrey. My two year old, Silas, refers to himself exclusively as “Si Guy.”

Who are your characters to each other? To themselves? Names help connect a reader to the characters, so if after writing on the story for a while you realize something about the name of your character isn’t working for the story, don’t be afraid to embrace a name change.
One of my favorite names from a series I’ve read is Claire. It works for the characters and readers on many levels. It makes me think of someone having clarity, and she does, even when overwhelmed with total confusion.

What is the name of a favorite character from a book you’ve read?
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Erin Woodsmall is a writer, musician, wife, and mom of the three. She has edited, brainstormed, and researched books with Cindy for almost a decade. She and Cindy have recently become co-authors and have written three books.  Cindy Woodsmall is the New York Times and CBA best-selling author of twenty-two works of fiction. She’s best known for her Amish fiction. Her connection with the Amish community has been widely featured in national media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal and ABC Nightline. Cindy has won numerous awards and has been a finalist for the prestigious Christy, Rita, and Carol Awards. Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains. 


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Book A Minute – What’s Your Goal?



By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine


In a recent conversation with Steve Bradshaw, author of the Bell Trilogy and other books, I reminded him of his goal he once shared with me.  He had a goal of a specific number of books to sell which in his mind would validate him to himself as an author. Most authors have a personal goal. It may be as simple as having a book for family and friends to read. Some write technical or educational books to be published for advancement in their career. Some write for the money which I wrote about in one of my Suite T blogs.

Whatever your personal goal is it is personal and share it only of you like. But how about a goal of “1 Book A Minute”? The idea came to me when I was looking over the books of Andy Andrews in a gift shop. I have always thought Andrews to be a great author as well as a smart marketing author. Yet knowing this I was still surprised to see the book mark in each of his books stating, “Every minute a book by Andy Andrews is sold somewhere in the World”. Amazing!  I thought to my self that is a lot of books and then of course I had to do the numbers. I came up with 1,440 books a day, 43,920 a month and 527,040 books a year. Over a half a million a year! That may or may not have been a goal for Andrews but if it was how do you get there?

As I said earlier Andy Andrews is a hardworking marketing author. He is known to travel to gift shops, book stores big box stores where his books are sold to autograph his books and return them to the shelves. I ran across him in a Walmart store doing just that. Speaking engagements with groups are a big benefit as well. Corporations with large number of employees will tend to purchase each employee a copy of the book the author is promoting or asked to speak on. This can lead to interest in other books the author may have and further purchases from the individuals. Once an author is established in a company they may be recommended to other companies throughout that industry. 

This straggly could give book sales a big boost especially if it is a worldwide business or industry.
It should be worth noting the bookmark does state “in the world”. This tells us Andrews has a worldwide market. As an author you should not hesitate to be thinking worldwide. With today’s technology you can reach the world from the comfort of your easy chair or desk. An example would be if your language is English reach out to English speaking nations to market there. If you go global and the markets warrant there could be translations to other languages.

Most importantly do you have a personal goal? If yes, what actions are you taking to get there. Do you need help? If yes, seek it out. It will take work but the effort is worth the results. Pick out your numbers to reach by the minute, hour, day, month or year. Have a number you would like to reach and get started. Let us know of your progress.       
    


Monday, December 10, 2018

Are You for Real?



By Tonya Calvert 


Sometimes, I ask myself, “Are you for real?” Not in that, “aww, Mom… are you for real?” annoyed teenager kind of way. And not in a profound nursery magic, Velveteen Rabbit kind of way either. It’s more like a “just who do you think you are anyway?” sort of way. It’s a subtle voice saying, “those other writers are real, you’re just a wanna be.”

I say I am an aspiring writer. I say writing is a hobby, just in case someone might think I am getting too big for my britches. The truth is if you write, you are a writer. This was beautifully said by Pulitzer prize winning author and professor of writing, Junot Diaz. “A writer is a writer, not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer, because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”

But don’t real writers have 10,000 followers on Twitter? Don’t real writers have big publishing deals? Don’t real writers write all day, in coffee shops? Don’t real writers get paid? Some do, but you are writer when you write. Period. Epictetus said it well, “If you wish to be a writer, write.”

But I don’t feel real. That’s okay. Keep writing. “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who must be carefully kept” (Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit).

So, meanwhile how does a writer silence that voice? Van Gogh said, “If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter, then by all means paint… and that voice will be silenced.” So, if you hear that voice that says you are not a real writer, by all means write…and that voice will be silenced, for real.
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Tonya Calvert finds inspiration all around her, especially on nature walks and at the Florida coast. She has a BS from Columbus State University and a JD from Atlanta's John Marshall Law School. Saylor on the Seashore(Clearfork Publishing 2017) is her first book. Her second children’s book, The Origami Elephant (Clearfork Publishing) will be released fall of 2018. She is married to her high school sweetheart. They live a blessed life in the Deep South with their three boys.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Cinderella, Mount Doom, and the Plot Dragons



By T.K. Thorne


If, like me, you break out in hives at the word “outline,” plot dragons can lie in wait before you get to the end of your book.  But knowing the ending, even the first draft of an ending, is critical to driving your story.  Two things can help you shape an ending—location and character.

Terrain can be a constriction that limits your plot choices or it can suggest opportunities. Your story may require a specific place or type of location. JRRTolkien (Lord of the Rings) had a super-powerful ring that needed to be destroyed. That meant either a very hot forge or nature’s forge—lava. Lava was definitely the more dramatic choice, so he needed a volcano environment for his climax scene. The trip to Mount Doom pushed the entire plot of the trilogy.

Using a location that is already familiar territory requires less description at a point when you need to focus on what is happening. For her climax scene, Cinderella is home. No need to rehash the general layout or the characters. We can focus on what decisions characters make and what happens physically and emotionally. In Lord of the Rings, the reader has never seen Mount Doom, but by the time Frodo and Sam get there, it feels familiar from the previous references. We don’t need many clues to imagine the bubbling lava, the smell of burning sulfur, and the stark rocky terrain.

Another way to approach the ending is to look at your character arc.  How does she change and how can you show that? Cinderella is a retiring, quiet, obedient girl, but she casts caution to the wind to go to the ball. When the prince appears, she defies her sisters to put her foot in the glass slipper. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo faithfully bears the burden of the ring to the edge of the cliff, but at the last moment, he can’t overcome the ring’s power. At the same time, that power is the ring’s doom.  Tolkien made his ending work in a complex way that satisfies.

Make sure the central character plays an integral part in the solution, either by wits or bravery—or, like Frodo, by failing—but not by coincidence or employing a contrived solution. Cinderella’s decision to attend the ball and be her true self caused the prince to fall in love and search for her. Sure, the fairy godmother could have poofed them together, out of reach of the clutches of her conniving family, but the reader would have felt cheated. Your ending needs to be surprising or, at least, not completely foreseen by the reader and, at the same time, inevitable in the sense that it needs to arise out of what has come before. The reader should say, Oh yeah, I should have seen that coming when Cindy lost her shoe. When Gollum appears at the end of Tolkien’s trilogy and grabs the ring, we are surprised, but it is not contrived. Gollum’s actions are entirely in keeping with his character and previous behavior.

Use location and character to help shape your ending as soon as possible to outwit the plot dragons, keep out of a writing lava pit, and have a happily-ever-after writing your book.
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T.K.Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama. “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” When she retired as a captain, she took on Birmingham’s business improvement district as the executive director before retiring again to write full time. T.K. speaks on life lessons--how she accidentally became a police officer, didn't end up in a space capsule, and tackled historical novels about unnamed women in two of the oldest and most famous stories on earth, as well as writing a book from the case investigators' perspectives about solving the most infamous church bombing in Civil Rights history. Her writing has garnered several awards, including ForeWord Review Magazine's 2009 "Book of the Year" for Historical Fiction for her debut novel, NOAH'S WIFE. The New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list featured her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE which details the investigation of the 1963 Sixteenth Street church bombing case. Rave reviews have followed her newest novel about the unnamed wife of Lot, ANGELS AT THE GATE, which won the IBPA's Benjamin Franklin Award for historical fiction and an IPPY award. Her screenplay in the film "Six Blocks Wide" was a semi-finalist at the international "A Film for Peace Festival" in Italy. Her website is TKThorne.com, where you can read more about her books and sign up for a Newsletter with inside info on her research and adventures. She blogs there, as well, and loves to hear from readers. T.K. writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thank You, Editors both Near and Far



By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine


Today is my favorite editor’s birthday. Do you remember to thank your editor, not just after a project is done, but throughout the year?

An NPR article on editors shows just how valuable editors are to an author’s success. As the article states, “spending time getting a book noticed doesn't mean an editor doesn't edit. She often does most of the hands-on work at night or on weekends. And it begins when a proposal or rough draft is first submitted for consideration.”

"The first task is [to] just take it at face value: What is this writer trying to say? What is the project of this book?" Saletan explains. "Once you understand that, then you have to make tough decisions: Is this a good idea? Will there be an audience for it? Is this the right person to tell the story? Do they have the ability? If they don't have the ability, what's lacking? What can you bring to it? That's all the initial phase of evaluation. What I'm looking for is a mind that is capable of grappling with the structure of something as big as a book."

“But in today's competitive book market writers need an extra edge. So some literary agents, like Chris Parris-Lamb of the Gernert Co., give a client's book its first edit.”

"I don't see what I do as substituting for the editor," Parris-Lamb says. "I want to make sure we have an editor."

“The editor has the power to accept or reject a book, says Parris-Lamb, so he needs to give his writers every advantage. He wants to be sure the manuscript that is being offered to publishing companies is as good as it can be.”

"After I've taken something on and before we send it out, we say: Let's take another look at this," he says. "Let's go through this really closely and let's spend some time before this goes from being a Word document in my inbox to a book that we're sending out to publishers."

If you’re giving yourself a head slap because you haven’t thought to thank your editor. No worries. It’s never too late to show an editor kindness by just saying thank you for helping you become a better writer. So, Happy Birthday, Lily, I appreciate your talents as an editor! I also want to gratefully thank my editors, Susan and Doyne at Southern Writers Magazine.

I’d love to hear praises from you about what your editor has done for you.