Leave heavy lifting to the reader

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Whatever the length of a story, each word has a load to carry, and it’s a writer’s job to make sure each pulls its weight. Where a key rule is ‘show, don’t tell,’ words often have to carry passengers, in meanings, parallels, and analogies. Writing a story of six words is good exercise for the longhand pen while away from the typewriter, where I’ve been with a notebook.

German times tables

Like many writers, around 90% of what I write is never published: it’s all notes and thoughts in journals. From some of those (less than 10%) something more might emerge, and one of my favourite writer sandpits to play in is the six-word story. Even within such a tight word limit, a story can have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I try to use the minimalism of the format for more than one effect, even if it looks like I can’t be arsed.

I try to make my fiction evocative, invoking memories and questions: ‘What if…(…he’d finished the job; I just end this…)?’ The six-word story lends itself to that (leaving the heavy-lifting to the reader). Those stories then languish in my notepad, and some become more. Others remain just thoughts, but ideas shared might find another writer looking for an idea or a starting point. There are a finite number of plots and writers to write them, but infinite ways of telling the stories.

Being anonymous John, Malkovich (Malkovich, Malkovich…)

Malkovich-Banner-1024x576

Watching TV tonight, I jotted a few things down in my journal. I ended up with seven six-word stories, some final drafts, and others the seeds for my own longer stories or those of other writers. To a reader carrying their weight (of interpretation), seven stories of six words could be seven chapters in a story of 42 words.

Together, we can write books which have many more pages in the mind than they do in reality. ‘Leave heavy lifting to the reader’ is a story in itself…

Lonely dog seeks new homeless human

Innocence, learning, losing; life’s only path

Butterfly lands, human blinks, humanity sleeps

To their utter astonishment, it flew

A benevolent armada, above the clouds

I asked if they had music

In the beginning was the end

There are many more of the briefest tales at the online repository of such things, SixWordStories.net. My longer works are available from Amazon (other bookshops are available, and all of my titles can be requested from most (and at public lending libraries)).

In the beginning, this was new

I go everywhere, you go anywhere

I ask why, you tell me

At the end, we leave together

1. Message to campers? (2,3,7)*

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There was a time when if anyone asked me how I was or what I’d been up to, I’d just tell them to read this blog. Lately I’ve been distracted, consumed, and my posts sparse. My story continues, but nowadays it’s tales around the campfire with old friends, as I edit what’s in my head.

burning1981The Burning (1981)

It’s probably not gone unnoticed (least of all by me) that I’ve not written much that’s new lately. It’s equally clear that’s because of my preoccupation with fighting for my independence with a fascist regime. But as I’ve noted recently, I’ve accumulated a lot of longhand notes, scribbled at random times in a journal, but not evolving into anything.

Two things occurred to me: that I’m spiting myself by allowing the social cleansing machine to wear me down; and that in any case, I only have a finite amount of time available.

So I’ve made a kind of belated new year’s resolution, if only to myself and for the sake of my sanity, to keep me writing. As part of that, I’ve been fleshing out some of those notebook ideas and building the beginnings of plots.

The message to campers is a statement of intent, and of me building personal goals, as I lay foundations for a third collection of short stories and a possible novel in the next year or two. This then is me setting out my stall and committing myself (but without strict deadlines attached, I’ll just go at my own pace).

Some will be flash fiction, others long-form (and the possible novel, or at least a novella). All are working titles and subject to change, not being written for quite some time, or at all. These are not synopses, as I don’t want to give anything other than intrigue away. Just hints, in the hope people want to read the stories they become.

This is my sandpit too. There are a finite number of plots, but infinite ways of interpreting and telling them. If any other writers reading are struggling with the block, perhaps I might provide seeds, and stories could be told which I’d never have written. Others are free to join me in my playground:

Homo equus: The discovery of bones (possibly ancient), some human and others from horses. Perhaps to be expected in a battlefield, but like many of my older stories, there’s a twist which very few will see approaching.

Message in a bottle: A story arising from plastic pollution, where new bacteria are found to thrive. Could they be an effect of plastics we haven’t yet considered, given the problem is so recent?

The extraterrestrial typewriter: From a writing prompt in the writer’s block-busting book I have, 642 Things to Write About, specifically What your desk thinks about at night. With my laptop running the SETI@Home screensaver, a form of first contact is made between my typewriter and a signal from the cosmos.

Andrea: An android, who – like so many others – wonders what life means. It’s a well-used trope, usually addressing immortality, but I’m building a twist in, kind of an opposite of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Technological beings are made from the same stuff as us organics, the dust from the stars. They just had an explosive evolution and worked out they’d quite like to live.

Neo Anominati: Human DNA is hacked. Can’t say much more.

The genomic riddle: DNA can travel vast distances and carry huge amounts of information. What if we’re looking in the wrong place with SETI and radio astronomy?

The plastic population: Imagining another world, with strict controls over the introduction of foreign bodies, and where any human free of all traces of plastic is free to visit. Such a shame that micro-plastics pollute our first home to such a degree that they’re now in the rain, and every living organism.

We are the swine: A neo-apocalyptic Lord of The Flies, some Animal Farm, and a bit of 1984.

August underground overground: A companion piece to the original August Underground’s Diner (near Hotblack Desiato’s office in Islington), launched in pop-up form in Wimbledon and staffed by recovering horror icons (think Pinhead with Elastoplast, Freddy Krueger with skin grafts and a manicure…). It might have some Wombles as antagonists.

hellraiserfaceswab2Beta (atomic)

Those are the ones with some literate flesh and bones. There are others besides, some ideas so surreal that they might not make it out of the journal or my head. But it’s enough to be getting on with, to check back on and to work through. Knowing people besides myself are watching adds another (very pleasant, quite thrilling) dimension.

*1. “To all intents” (announcing intentions to the campsite)

When I started writing this blog (over five years ago), it was because I had no-one to talk to, notes-to-self while I lived on the streets and transcribed my scrawl on a library computer. It’s still that, albeit on the typewriter, on my writer’s desk, in my studio: an attempt to write what’s on my mind, whether or not I had plans for that material in fiction or reality, but always wearing my heart on my sleeve.

To be continued.

Wearing a sieve like a helmet

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Although I’m (not over but) dealing with a few issues in my real life, I’ve still been struggling to write. The real world issues are the ongoing personal lives of loved ones (friends and family), those of the world at large, and the ones in my head. With so much to write about, I’ve struggled to know where to start, or started writing and found myself in a land of digression. But I digress. I’ve found a solution. It’s something I’ve had for ages, but which I’d forgotten about.

Pinhead LegoPinhead (centre): Head like a sieve

Salvation came indirectly from a kindred spirit, another blogger commenting on my last post. I felt empathy, as I was reminded how the universe can answer you if you ask for something, and I read Annother Voice | Unsilenced. That moment of quantum entanglement was what reminded me of the thing I’d lost: Not empathy or universal connectivity, but a book.

Like other writers, that blogger often uses writing prompts, an exercise I’ve rarely undertaken since I first got into writing on a home study course. I’ve always preferred writing freehand, in a notebook always about my person, or at my desk, just seeing what comes out. That’s where most of my fiction starts life, but writing about life can be difficult: It’s that paradox of having too much to say in my head.

I’ve had to compartmentalise my mind (again), so that all I can’t easily write about (the complicated and the not finished), I’ll think about some more first. What’s left is fiction ideas, plots and outlines in one pile, and other freehand notes in another. Then, like my mental health labels, I’ll pin those memos in my head and try to make sense of it all (like Hellraiser with Post-Its).

Pinhead Post It

Still though, I find there’s so much from my mind in those notes that it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where the book came in.

I first noticed 642 Things to Write About in a book store when I was out with my children, and immediately I dismissed it. As the name suggests, it’s 642 ideas about things to write. But I can come up with ideas from my own imagination; that’s where my stories come from. I thought The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto had quite some front, publishing a book of mainly blank pages, with suggestions for things to write about at the top of each. They were charging people money to write their book. So I bought a copy.

The impulse to buy came with a simple thought: 42, which always gives rise to other thoughts. These may be just 642 ideas, but they’re those of other writers. There are only a finite number of plots, but an infinite number of stories which can be written. Each copy of 642 Things sold – if filled by writing freehand – would be a unique volume. I thought I could get quite into that.

Even though I have a fertile imagination, there’s something challenging and refreshing about writing something suggested by someone else. I liked to think those writers at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto might be interested to see what others made of their ideas (in fact, I’ve been tempted in the past to ask another writer to take one of my ideas, then for us to write two completely different stories). Then I forgot about it.

The book and the beginning of my 642 Things got lost in my real life, just as I was lost in my inner third world and my thoughts, so that I forgot my virtual life and writing. It was the perfect storm. And then that other voice came along, reminding me of writing prompts, and that I had a whole book of them. I guess that prompted me to write a blog post about writing prompts, a foreword to my own 642 Things, some of which I’ll share and a few may become stories.

The best prompt came from another writer and blogger, a kindred spirit who connected the dots without realising, when I didn’t know what to write. Sometimes we wonder if anyone’s reading us, and I’m glad I read that other voice.

I’m the cracked actor with much on my mind, wishing to escape. Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light, like umbrellas in the night: Full of holes where the rain gets in, but the holes are small so the rain is thin.