Monday, October 14, 2013


The search engine bots don't seem to have liked this one as much as my previous entries. I assume it's because I used this random generator to create the title and the resulting output resembled their own spam a little too much. They looked at the page title and thought "one of us, one of us" and then moved on to traffic-up some other, more human-touched web page, perhaps.

This week was probably about as close to missing a week as I've gotten so far. The weekend, while mostly empty of obligations, just didn't lend itself much to writing. I did replant a snake plant, though, so the weekend wasn't a complete loss. And, at the very last minute, before my Sunday social obligations kicked in, I pulled this story out of thin air.

I decided to do another flash story because they don't take up much time overhead and are, in general, pretty fun to do. Of all the Wendig-inspired flash stories, I think I enjoyed that random generator the most, and mostly, I think, because of the sheer WTF-factor of the titles it produces. And most of all, it gives you five of these weird-ass titles at a time, giving you just enough choice to get you started.

Because I was fairly well-limited on time, I definitely approached this as a feel-your-way-forward type of thing. You can probably tell that I was kinda winging it as I went. I knew, from the title, where I was going with it, in the sense of a couple sitting on their porch at the edge of a weird chaos discontinuity, and they were going to be watching birds flying out of it, but I wasn't quite sure how it was going to end until I was a couple pages in.

A lot of times when I write one of these things, I outline ahead. There are broad sections where I summarize them in my notes like this:

Cameron goes to the park, meets a demon.
Demon eats his car
Chase scene

For example. "Patter" is shorthand in my notes for points where it's fine to go on a tangent, pad in details, whether in internal monologue or in the sort of random details that Birds of the Variable Poisoned South packed in. In most of my first person stories, it's where the narrator talks directly to the audience about what's going on, or something similar that's happened to them. The story basically turns into an essay for a while before they get to the point and then go back to what's happening now. I like essays and essay writing so I deliberately give myself space to write them in my stories.

In stories like Birds, it's where I blue-sky setting detail by just banging out paragraphs of random description. I write them with little preconceived notion of what they're going to be about. I just let details erupt from my brain and see what happens. Basically, it's a little space where I can blue-sky ideas for the rest of the story or indulge in informal poetry.

It's fun to do, but a little dangerous. There's a fine line between "colorful" and "pointless blathering" in my experience. If you don't have an exit strategy it edges narrowly towards "wasting your reader's time" territory, which is the biggest sin a piece of writing can have. You always have to keep in mind that someone who is reading what you're writing could always be doing something else with their time--they are reading your story in favor of, say, eating a really good donut, or watching television. You have to treat them well, as a common courtesy.

So, you have to keep a balance point in writing patter. On one hand, it's a sort of safe place where you can go off the rails a bit and indulge in weirdness, filling out the background detail as you go, making the world your characters live in a bigger and more interesting place. It's a place where I can have Cameron talk about what he did on his last summer vacation and why he's not a real big fan of going to proms. It's also a place where I can talk a bit about the random messed-up things the characters in Birds have seen off their porch, how the townsfolk really got in the collective neck.

But there's always a thought at the back of my head when I'm writing this stuff about patience-levels and where I'm going with it. Every sentence takes the needle a little closer to "E" and I ask myself whether it's time to bang enter and tab and get on with it already.

On a different note, they always say never go with your first idea on something. In this case, I went with my first idea. I'm pretty happy with it. I think it might merit revisiting at some point, blowing up into a longer piece of some sort, perhaps a classic type of science fiction story. My initial idea was that it would be half-Moorcock/half-post-nuclear-apocalypse.

In any case, I need to get back in habit of not...doing everything all in one sitting. I need to make an effort to write more, a little at a time, rather than just banging everything out all in one block. That's one of the dangers of these flash fiction pieces. It's too easy to avoid spreading the work out over several days and that's a bad habit to get into if you're interested in writing novels. Also, it's causing me to outline less before hand and my organizational skills are beginning to suffer for it. Boo.

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