Writing Resolutions

Originally posted on The Sarcastic Muse:

It’s the most wonderful time…burp…hic!

Melly…Memmy…Happy Christmas, readers. It’s that time of year again. The kids are full of sugar, the turkey is a charred mess in the bin, and the local pizza parlour is cooking dinner.

“What are you going to do with all this spare time?” I hear you ask. I hope it was you; I may have had too much Christmas Juice.

Anyway…I’m going to write, of course. Thank you for asking.

If anybody has ever felt the need, or the urge, to write, then what better time to start than in the new year.

Most of us make our resolutions around this time – some of them even last as long as the 2nd January – and setting a writing goal should be at the forefront of every writer’s mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re an old hat or a willing amateur, we all benefit from…

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Writing 101 – Conflict

Originally posted on The Sarcastic Muse:

Conflict

(c) Robyn LaRue 2014

Conflict is drama if Hollywood is to be believed. It is the root of all adventure, the spice in all romance, and the gut-wrenching horror in all…well, horror. Without conflict, ours stories wouldn’t really go anywhere. There would be nothing to disrupt the status quo of a character’s life and no reason to follow them further than the first page. We would invest nothing more in them than a passing glimpse, maybe even a mutual nod, before they vanished from our lives and our libraries forever.

A story without conflict is just an account of someone’s day and unless that person is the President of the USA, or some other make believe creature, that’s going to make for some pretty boring reading. Actually, it’d still be touch and go even then unless there was the threat of nuclear war or a crack team of North Korean…

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Horror-Off Week 2 – Weaver

In the cavernous space at the centre of reality, there sits a spider. A monolithic creature of a size beyond the inspired imaginations of mankind. It works tirelessly: weaving, moulding, repairing. Each one of its countess eyes is fixated upon an individual thread amongst the immeasurable mass of silken threads which spread out from its web, connecting seamlessly to the fabric of the world.

The spider never sleeps, never eats. It balances effortlessly on the points of six barbed feet, while two pull, coax, plait and alter the very course of human endeavour. Here, a glassy, black eye spies the frayed edge of an international conflict. There, its silk glands tie a chord which binds a husband to his wife – a union of untold happiness and fecund coupling.

The world spider, the world weaver, carries out its duties without guidance and without any hint of intelligent design. The only pattern is the one emblazoned deep within its arachnoid mind. The spider will entertain no favours. It has no concept of clemency. It is incapable of judgement.

And yet…

A barely developed chord beneath its thorax gives a twitch. Those monstrous eyes rotate to, align with, and come to focus on the source. A garden spider, distant kin of the great weaver, struggles with futility against its bonds. Icy steel grips its sides painfully. Clawed feet scratch and tear at its prison, seeking purchase, seeking escape. The looming silhouettes of its tormentors can be heard to jostle and goad one another with childish dares.

‘Rip its legs off,’ one cries out.

‘I wanna see what a spider’s guts look like?’ says the other.

The steel presses tighter against its body and the little spider chitters in an inaudible cry of anguish. Its mouth-parts knock and rub together in a pain. The weaver rocks on six legs. It gently lifts and caress its brethren’s life-chord with the remaining pair. The line is too taut; nicks and frayed strands are already evident along its length. The weaver hangs its great head in a solemn apology. It cannot bear to look as the tweezers clamp further and the tiny life is lost. It simply winds the severed strand back into itself and continues to weave.

And yet…

One eye, one giant orb of obsidian glass, refuses to turn away from the tormentors. It remains fixed: ever vigilant. It watches them grow. It watches them hunt. Soon, even spiders are not prey enough for these creatures and the insects give way to rats, to cats, to dogs. They scour back alleys and wastelands for animals to torture and dissect.

Another eye twitches and joins the first in its vigil, then a third, then a forth. The weaver’s attention shifts lazily. It lifts the weave, grips it between sharp mandible jaws. Its mouthparts brush delicately at the threads connecting the tormentors to the world weave. The caress stirs ripples that are felt throughout time. Like sonar, the ripples resonate down the length of the threads. The dissonance tingles in a feedback built of vibration; a map of their life-path. A map of smooth lines, random turns, and intertwined lives.

It shudders. A knot.

Impossible.

The tormentors, no longer boys, but men lead a small child away from her mother.

It waits. The line in its mouth grows taut, frays at the edges.

 


This week’s Prompt:  The lives of many are intertwined.

Weaver is dedicated to grammar Nazi…genius and fellow Muse, Michelle Mueller, who has an irrational love of spiders and all things creepy-crawly.

If you liked this, check out Amanda’s Horror-Off Flash Fiction here. If you didn’t like this, check out Amanda’s post anyway or check us both out over at The Sarcastic Muse


If you would like to join in on the Horror-Off Flash Fiction Challenge,  these are the rules:

  1. You don’t talk about Horror-Off
  2. Stories must be flash fiction (1K words or less)
  3. Stories must have conflict, character, and resolution
  4. Stories should be in the horror/fantasy/sci-fi/spec fic genre
  5. Prompts are to be posted on the Flash Fiction blog post (post or link to your FF submission in the comment section below )
  6. This is just for fun and scares, so don’t expect any prizes.
  7. You don’t talk about Horror-Off… except when you talk about it

Flash Fiction Friday – Nature Vs. Nurture

In your lifetime, you’ve walked past thirty-six murderers. Isn’t that astounding? Thirty-six murderers. I’ll bet every one of them looked you up and down, maybe gave you a little smile, all the while fantasising about butchering you in as many ways as will make your head spin.

They can be very creative creatures, murderers. Some prefer knives, others use their hands, and others still dream of methods you would never even think possible. It’s frightening really.

While you are living your life in blissful ignorance, someone somewhere is enjoying the thrill of the hunt. Someone is breaking into another’s house or snatching an unsuspecting victim from the street. The really malicious, and there are a few, lure you to them. The skill that must take. You have to give them a little credit for that. One minute you’re laughing at the possibility of taking advantage of an infirm gent who just wants the best deal on his car; the next you’re bound and gagged in his basement. There’s a kind of irony in that, don’t you think?

People fascinate me. What makes one person become a doctor or a lawyer and another relish in the joy of extinguishing a life? Ever heard of the old nature versus nurture debate? I’m no expert but I’ve heard enough evidence to suggest it could go either way. Not convinced about the influence of videogames though. If videogames warped our minds, we’d all be running around gravity-defying landscapes collecting gold rings and saving woodland creatures. Amaright?

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes! What is it that makes one human being want to kill another? Why are some of us hardwired to violence? How do killers choose their victims? How do they refine their technique? So many questions and so little time. I suppose no one will ever know for certain, not even them.

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that, in your life to date, you’ve walked past thirty-six murderers. I can’t let you make that thirty-seven.


Okay. I’d first like to say thanks to all of you who have been patient with the lack of activity on this page. I experienced some….technical difficulties…in reality…my reality…anywho, this is my first post in far too long and the first of many which will form part of the Horror-Off Challenge set by fellow Sarcastic Muse inmate, Amanda Headlee. As soon as she posts her response, I’ll be sure to add a link. In the meantime, you can enjoy her work here and over at Sarcastic Muse.

If anybody else is interested in participating, we will be posting a prompt a week and would love to see what you make of it. This week’s prompt, chosen by Amanda, is:

“Within your lifetime, you’ve walked past thirty-six murderers.”

Thanks for reading.

 

Flash Fiction – Torment

I’ve always known there was something different about my son. He was born special. Yes, yes I know all fathers say that, but this is different. My boy is a god and I’m not talking metaphorically.

I don’t mean that he’ll grow to be a music genius, that he’s a maths wiz, or that he could run in a touchdown before he’s even out of diapers. I mean that he’s a god, a deity and a terrifying one at that.

I’ve done my research and I’m well read on my ancient gods but I have no clue as to who my son is. We’ve called him Dylan. It wasn’t my choice, but he hasn’t objected…yet.

He’s insatiable: always wanting, always demanding. He laps up our worship, the tithes, and other offerings presented to him. He laps them up and he wants more. I buy him more toys, more books, more DVDs anything that will appease him. My wife says I spoil him and, if he were a normal child, I would have to agree with her. Yet, he isn’t and I am not. I’m doing this to protect us, to protect my wife. He needs sacrifices and more of them each day.

My wife has become his guardian. Whether she realises this consciously, I couldn’t say. She is by his side day and night, feeding him, changing him, worshiping him. There is nothing I can do about that. I tried to explain the truth to her but she thinks I’m being funny. If I press the matter, she says she hasn’t the time to look after two babies and vanishes once again into his nursery.

His nursery.

I won’t go in there if I can help it, not anymore and not alone. Do you know how creepy is it watching a little boy give a great oration to a room full of stuffed animals? Do you know how it feels to see a hundred pairs of glassy eyes fixed with adoration on a creature no taller than the coffee table? They sit in silence, awestruck by their great commander. They won’t remain still for long. I can feel it.

He started talking over a month ago. My wife thinks is funny: baby talk and babble. I know it for what it really is. I can hear every word. Each night, he whispers to me through the baby monitor. His new voice is nothing but hushed tones and static crackles but I can hear him. He tells me what he is, tells me what he’s planned for us, for this world. He wants to bathe once again in the reverence of his believers and the blood of the heretics. He wants a return to the old days, wants to rule the Earth. I don’t know why he tells me these things. Maybe he does so to torment me, maybe he’s toying with me. I’m not sure.

I can’t remember the last time I slept in the same bed as my wife but maybe that’s for the best now. I don’t think she’d understand why I keep a gun beneath my pillow. I don’t think she’ll understand what I need to do.

Flash Fiction Friday – Memento Mori

Dear Sir/Madam,

I will be calling for you at 14:35 on Friday 9th September. To ensure your passing is handled in a swift and efficient manner, please make yourself available at your allotted time and present this card. Unfortunately, the details of your demise cannot be issued for security reasons. If you have any questions, or wish to reschedule this appointment, please contact me on the above number and quote your customer reference number.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Mr T. G. Reaper, esq.

 


Memento Mori (Latin: remember that you will die)

I get little cards reminders through the post everyday: from the doctor, from the dentist, from utility companies wanting to read the meters. I can’t think of a better memento mori than an embossed ‘save the date’ card.

Chris Musgrave, Sept 2014

TTT – Writing Groups (Part Four)

Hello and welcome to the final part of the writing groups’ mini-series. This week, our sights are set firmly on the question: how do I start my own writing group? And, seen as we’ve already covered the reasons to join, their pros and cons, and the benefits they have on your writing, it seems like a logical end.

How do I start my own writing group?

The first question you have to ask yourself is WHY you want to start one rather than joining an already established group. There are a number of good reasons for starting your own, chief amongst them is that you already have a group of writers you interact with and just want to make it more formal.

The next question – do I want to meet physically or online? – will determine whether you will need to charge for membership or not. For the purposes of this post, and the fact that doing otherwise will open up a whole new can of worms, I will assume meeting online will suffice.

Online writing groups

The internet has spoiled us (in oh-so many ways). The age of instant messaging and online chatting is now well established; even Facebook has facilities to group chat with selected friends. This has been a real boon to writers’ groups and has allowed the creation of pan-global circles.

Group voice/video chat has added another dimension to online meetings. The growth of smartphone technology and cross-platform messaging applications means that no writer need be isolated (so long as they have an internet connection).

What tools are out there?

Facebook

The first writing group I was a part of utilised Facebook’s private group pages. We created and administered a private group which allowed members to share and critique each other’s work and generally chat about the world of publishing.

The benefit of the Facebook group was that it provided a secure area to share work that was only accessible by members. Any new membership requests had to be approved by all admins before access was granted.

However, chat functionality is limited and the majority of our chats were through comments.

Skype

Sarcastic Muse use Skype’s instant messaging, file sharing, video, and voice chat regularly (read, almost every night). This is the main way we share work, offer support to each other and provide that all important feedback.

The fact that Skype operates in the background whilst signed on to your machine, and even your smartphone, means that the feed is always on for anyone to contribute to the conversation. This is great for those of us operating across multiple time zones.

The voice and video functionality is ever getting better and, with the addition of free group video calling, continues to improve.

Google Hangouts

I’ve not had much luck with Google Hangouts myself but I’m hearing great things. There is a member of Sarcastic Muse, who shall remain nameless, that is pushing for us to upsticks from Skype and shuffle across to Google.

Google Hangouts is another free application which allows much the same functionality as Skype. They have made a number of improvements to its speed and call quality which has had many businesses flocking to use its conference call facilities. Definitely makes it one to consider for your writing group platform.

I have a group, now what?

Okay, you have your writers and chosen your platform, now what do you do? In truth, you can do whatever you like. You can make it as formal or as informal as suits your group but bear in mind that the key focus should be on writing and helping each other to improve in the craft.

If you’re the type who needs an agenda, set one up in advance and circulate it to the group. Less structured types may benefit from writing sprints and prompts to encourage work to be produced and shared. Why not discuss ideas you’re working on, or even problems you’ve encountered? Another writer may see a way of tackling a problem that you’d overlooked.

Above all else, have fun.


Has anyone out there started their own writing group? How was/is your experience of it?

The Truth about Horror

Originally posted on Amanda Headlee:

In all honestly, horror is only a different and grotesque view of reality.  It is based upon a person’s perception of a circumstance.  The human mind has a tendency to distort the reality of a situation — making something out to be more terrifying than what it really is.   What frightens humans the most are typically the most benign.  For example:

  • The ghostly movements of your living room curtains is really your cat playing behind the draperies with a toy mouse.
  • The silhouette of a man that can be seen through the kitchen window is actually a hedge that is in need of reshaping.
  • The blood curdling screams from the other side of your wall is only your apartment neighbor yelling at his TV when the Steelers lose.
  • The spider that crawls across the bottom of your tub — Oh my GOD! A spider! IT’S A SPIDER! Kill it!  Kill it quick with fire!!!

*Ahem*… sorry, where was…

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Flash Fiction Friday – Late

Just after nine and already the day wasn’t going well. I was late; my boss had called three times to remind me. I could hear the agitated rapping of his pen on the desk. A clicking I’d assumed was a poor connection at first.

‘I don’t care what you do, just get your arse here now,’ he’d said as he terminated the connection. Shit.

I raced out of the house, a bundle of blueprints curled under my arm. They poked out at jaunty angles from behind my elbow. I jostled them as I dug through my jacket pockets for my keys. One caught on the doorframe, pulled them free from my grasp. I watched them roll away down the drive.

This time I cursed so loudly that the choir above me lost their beat. Wings ruffled and the hosannas paused momentarily. A million gazes fixed themselves upon me. I didn’t look up. A pair of angels nesting on the roof of my car took flight, leaving a trail of stars and three silver feathers in their wake. Great, it’ll take me a month of Sundays to get the stardust off the Honda’s paint.

I grumbled to myself. Snatching each of the plans from the floor, I threw them into the back seat. Of course, the last one, and only one my boss cared about, had rolled under the car, just out of reach. I knelt on the ground. Something damp soaking through the material of my pants. I didn’t want to know what it was. I used a drafting ruler to fish at the plan.

My phone buzzed. I answered though the Bluetooth earpiece.

‘Hello,’ I said.

‘Where are you?’ It was the boss. ‘He’s due in fifteen minutes.’

‘Almost there,’ I lied. The ruler snagged on a rock. Its end flicked out, swatting the plan and sending it spiralling out the back. Not what I’d planned, but it was free. ‘Got to go.’ I keyed off the phone before he could argue and ran around the car to retrieve it.

My fingers curled around the sodden paper and pulled. It didn’t move.

Something growled, low and guttural, in my ear. Sour breath warmed my cheek and I half-turned to find a lion’s head chewing the end of the plan. A second head, this one the soft, white dome of an eagle, eyed me suspiciously. I let out a sigh.

‘Nice, cherub. Good, cherub,’ I cooed, placing a hand on its mane and pushing gently. The cherub growled again. Its teeth bit deeper into the plan. I felt like killing someone.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I jabbed at the answer key.

‘What?!’ I screamed.

‘Where are you, Saraqael?’ The voice coming through the earpiece was almost a whisper and yet it still sent a shiver through my wings. Not my boss this time; something much worse. ‘The CEO is waiting.’

TTT – Writing Groups (Part Three)

Wow! It’s week three already and we’re nearly at the end of this short series on writing groups. I hope what we’ve covered so far have been useful. If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s parts one and two.

Writing groups – huh, good God y’all – what are they good for? A lot it seems. A solid writing group is a great tool and platform from which you can develop and hone your writing craft. When done properly, they urge and promote both on a personal and a public growth, exposing you to new thoughts and ideas.

How do writing groups help writers develop?

1. Constructive criticism

I’ve mentioned this before but writing groups are the perfect source of peer reviews. Many groups encourage members to read and discuss their work in the public forum of the meeting. The very best don’t even let the author talk once the reading is over; they are to listen to the feedback and take notes. The odd question often is permitted where specific attention is needed i.e. character, realism etc., but these are to be asked before the reading. Constructive criticism is a learning exercise. Listening to what your peers think of your work and making any relevant changes allows you to tweak and polish that story/novel/screenplay into a masterpiece.

2. Find your voice

There is nothing like sitting in a group (or on an internet chat), listening to people you trust say things like “it doesn’t even sound like you” to give you a total sense of dread (or relief). For a writer, finding your unique voice feels like an uphill struggle. That struggle gets so much easier the more you write and almost a cake-walk when you get your friends and colleagues pointing out when you’re straying from the path.

3. Education

You thought the classroom was where you learned all you know about writing? The streets? Well, both are true to an extent but (voluntarily) sitting in a room full of likeminded people and discussing the finer points of past perfect tense (damned if I know, don’t ask me) is an education all of its own. The upside to a writers’ group setting is that we’re all…most of us are looking to improve our work (there are a few who think they know everything already. Feel free to ignore them. The rest of your group will be) and are often more than willing to help others struggling with difficult concepts. Sometimes all it takes is one person to explain a concept in a different way and, all of a sudden, it sticks.

Here are a few things you can pick up at a writing group:

  • Manuscript style and formatting tips
  • Technical aspects of writing
  • Word and sentence flow
  • New words
  • Grammar tips
  • Acronyms (thousands and thousands of acronyms)
  • Pit falls to avoid

4. Challenge

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger right? A good writing group will always challenge its members. It should rip you out of your comfort zones and prise your white-knuckled fingers loose from the back of the chair you’ve been so desperately clinging to. Above all else, it should inspire and challenge you to write, and write often.