Back in the Saddle

               Feels good to be back on track… Nearly. September was the first month in the last three where I actually accomplished my 10,000-word goal for the month, owing in no small part to the competition at A Writer’s Recluse. I started out this year with the goal of writing 10,000 words per month for a final yearly total of 120,000. Even though I failed to meet that goal in July and August, if I total up my actual word count for the year so far I’m actually sitting at a little over 88,000 out of the 90,000 required to keep me on schedule through September. So actually doing pretty good.

                Last month I took some time to go into detail regarding my Round One submission for the AWR Cup competition. I had intended to something similar for each entry but just never really found the time until now.  Last night the Round 7 prompt was posted so we’ll just do a quick summary here of Round Two through Six.

                Round Two; The Picture Prompt: I like picture prompts. Looking at image and trying to put a story to it is always interesting. The picture I was given for Round Two was not exactly what I had expected though.

                The judges said before this competition even started that part of the objective was to takecanary writers out of their comfort zone and force them to explore some new territory. This just wasn’t territory I had expected; but I actually had a lot of fun writing.

                Looking at the picture, with its bright colors and family-friendly vibe, I was immediately put into the mindset of a number of old animated movies and cartoons I enjoyed as a kid. It invoked elements of The Secret of Nimh, David the Gnome, and Fern Gully and, drawing on these inspirations, I wanted to cobble together something fun and fast-paced and, hopefully, infused with a bit of humor.

                The picture showed a miniature humanoid riding on the back of a little yellow bird. It brought to mind the saffron finches I see all over here in Hawaii. One of the most notable characteristics about the saffron finches, aside from their coloration, is that they’re almost always seen in pairs. I got to thinking about the relationship between this bird and its companion-rider, the familiarity and closeness there. I wanted the two to be best friends. I also thought about how these little birds moved, flitting about from place to place, fast and agile. I wanted the story to reflect that movement. To not spend too much time in any one location. An adventure played out at a quick clip.

                How successful I was in those goals was, unfortunately, over shadowed by some pacing problems. In my efforts to keep things moving, I neglected few places where I should have slowed down to establish a few things and allow specific developments to sink in. It was sloppy and rushed and cost me the Round, but overall I enjoyed writing about Mixie and Orly and very well may revisit those characters later on.

                Round Three; Title Prompt: Title prompts are pretty self-explanatory; you’re given a title and tasked with writing a story to fit. I was given “The Bookbinder and the Thief.”

                “What if everyone had a book?” I asked myself. A book in which your whole story was already written; not just your past, but your future as well. What if you could get your hands on this book? “The Bookbinder and the Thief” is a story about Silas, a young man struggling to catch the eye of a local woman with whom he’s become enamored. At his wits end and on the verge of giving up, Silas breaks into the Library where the books of fate are stored to flip through her future to see if his efforts will ever be rewarded. Dismayed with his discoveries, Silas purloins both her book and his own, bringing them to a local bookbinder and bidding him to bring them together into a single volume.

                The forcible merging of two fates was a fun idea to play with and, admittedly, I ran into a few logistical issues I waved away; but this story will absolutely be reworked, touched up and brought to Warning Signs in the future.

                Round Four; Fantasy Flash Fiction: I’m not a big fan of flash fiction. For those who might be unfamiliar, flash fiction is basically just very short stories; typically, less than 1,000 words. For this prompt we were limited to 750. That’s tough for a genre like fantasy because, generally, if you want to do anything unique with fantasy you need to spend some time world building and establishing context… Which flash fiction doesn’t allow. So, instead you, kind of, have to rely on tropes; things which have been done before, concepts which your reader already understands. Elves, dwarves, dragons, knights, princesses, etc. It’s something I was reluctant to do.

maxresdefault                Instead, I dipped my toes back into waters I’d explored in a previous AWR competition; a low-fantasy world-building exercise that I knew the judges were familiar with. I toyed with two or three different ideas but couldn’t bring any of them in under the world limit, and so, in the last few hours before the hard deadline, I cranked out about 250 words which could have been better and, arguably, might not have even qualified as fantasy.

                My competition handled it much better and deserved the win.

                Round Five; The Blurb: Round Five turned out to be a frustrating forfeit. In this round, each pair of competitors were given a blurb, like from the back of a novel, and tasked with writing the story it described. Mine took place immediately following World War 1, at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles; the character was a con-artist who had forged up documents for a country that didn’t exist with the end goal of becoming very rich from wartime reparations.

                I had a lot of really good story elements to work with, including creating a deeper character than I think either of the judges cared about; but I couldn’t come up with an ending. Usually, when I write, I need to have an ending in mind before I start because, though I may not know how to get there, I at least need to know where I’m going.

                Ultimately, though, I think I let the historical aspect of the story intimidate me. I spent days researching WWI and the Versailles Treaty in hopes that an ending would come to me based on historical circumstance. But ultimately the actual history just kept creating bigger and bigger roadblocks to a narrative which, as I apparently forgot, was supposed to be fiction.

                I never actually got any word on paper.

                Round Six; Dialogue: Coming off of Round Five’s frustrations, Round Six was a welcome reprieve. The prompt was dialogue only. No tags, no narrative exposition, just dialogue… on the subject of sex.

                I like dialogue. In life I love talking to people, especially new people. I don’t think that’s often effectively communicated because I dislike small talk, but if we can get past that, I absolutely love a good conversation and/or debate. Similarly, I like writing conversations; I like the nuance of word choice, the sloppy punctuation, the pacing and pausing… All of it.

                In fact, think in most of my stories the narrative prose tends to work as a framework to support the critical dialogue which actually drives the story. Getting to do away with all that framework and get right to the meat of things was great.

                The trick, though, when writing dialogue without being able to use tags to designate who is talking and when, is to make sure all parties have a unique voice. Choice words they use, or punctuation patterns. I challenged myself by trying to make the conversation three-way, using subtle context clues to denote who is talking and when. I played with some retro-active context which, hopefully, works out for the reader… I just posted the finished product last night and haven’t received judgement on it, so we’ll see.

                Anyway, my current record is 2 Wins, 3 Losses… Thanks to sloppy pacing, being lazy, and being intimidated by the subject. Hopefully Round Six will bring me to 3 – 3, and Round Seven up to 4 – 3. My chances of winning this thing are gone, but over all, it feels good to be actually getting some writing done again.

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