The people at magazine Firewords talk a lot of sense and this piece of advice for writers struck a chord with me. I tend to over-explain my stories and choosing what stuff to leave out is a real skill.
I am a scientist and I love science, medicine, drugs, technology and learning about their use and mis-use. I wrote two stories last year using science as a base and I enjoyed doing it. Two different subjects and quite different stories.
Then I ran out of ideas. I surprised myself that the well of imagination was dry. Why?
I did research in two or three new areas that I have some knowledge of so that I would be up to date in those fields. The research excited me and thrilled me with possibilities. I spent ages online and printed off lots of useful background and even drew up a list of possible story plots.
But my pen wouldn’t write about them.
But when it comes down to it, why don’t I just write it and then ask those questions? Not all of my stories are boring so why should these ones be? aaarrgghhh
Resolution for February 2016 – write at least one science fiction story. And don’t be such a wimp.
As soon as the man walked in the door I had him down as a queue-jumper. Our branch of the bank gets really busy and as we sit with our tickets waiting for our number to appear above the tellers’ desks, queue-jumpers can be very frustrating and delay our own transactions. You can spend an hour sitting in a bank waiting to deposit some £ sterling or transfer some funds from your savings account.
We all looked on as he headed straight for the nearest teller, who was taking a deposit of a great pile of banknotes from a customer. Probably the weekend’s takings from a small business. It was Monday after all. The teller stopped as he was loading the notes into the counting machine, hand poised mid-air and clutching a wad of money.
The man, in blue Polo shirt and grubby grey trousers, said something to the teller and showed him a laminated card that had the Turkish flag on it. I don’t know what it was. Re-directing him to a teller position at the far end of the bank the teller then carried on loading his banknotes. The counting machine chuntered on.
The man walked to the end of the office and spoke to a woman through the final teller window. She inspected the laminated card he offered her and then raised her voice and spoke to the other tellers in the office as they were serving their customers. Her question to them contained the word ‘calismak’, which is Turkish for ‘work’.
Each teller in turn shook their head and said no. The woman relayed that to the man and he turned slowly and headed for the door. His body language indicated humility and acceptance of the decision.
He wasn’t a queue-jumper. He was a middle-aged man with no work and therefore no money coming in. Today he was probably asking everywhere for work in this busy town. He was prepared to walk into a bank and be publicly humiliated in front of a dozen or so people, just so he could try to find a job. Any little job. Empty the bins, polish the floor, tidy someone’s garden, paint the front door.
I cursed myself for my snap judgement. I was wrong. I admired the man’s courage and my heart went out to him. I wished him success. He wasn’t after charity, just honest work.
Today’s microadventure taught me to think before passing judgement on another.
When a story of mine fails to win a competition or be accepted for publication I try to work out why it wasn’t chosen. Of course, it might just be the wrong story in the wrong place but it’s always worth trying to give a story a makeover.
I say this because I gave one story a 90% makeover and it won a competition. Never mind that the previous draft was poorly written with mixed-up points of view (yes, I admit it, the judges were right).
Today I gave a ‘failed’ story a makeover and injected some of my internet-gathered suspense factors. There are some excellent writers’ web sites with tips tailored to all sorts of fiction inadequacies and I had selected 22 ideas on generating Suspense that I wanted to explore. I felt as if I was holding a bag of mixed sweets and was eager to try some.
The story is memoir and a bit sentimental so I added a measure of cruelty towards the protagonist. She was an interesting and convincing person anyway but she needed an impetus to push her story forward. I made her more feisty and I began to admire her spirit as she fought against her tormentor.
Then I added a subplot that fitted neatly around the existing tale. In addition to increasing suspense for the reader it provided a more satisfying ending, which echoed the scene I had set up at the beginning of the piece.
What I have to do now is shut it in a drawer and wait three weeks till it ferments. Then I’ll take it out and read it just to see if it’s rubbish or actually better than the previous draft. It’s exciting waiting for my own decision on the re-vamp in a few weeks.
And I still have my shopping list of 22 suspense-generating ideas waiting to be adapted and rolled out elsewhere.