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Tiger and Turtle

Image: layoutsparks.com

Image: layoutsparks.com

Tiger and Turtle

Truth be tol’, I feel like hell the day Turtle and me decide to ride the rollercoaster.

‘They ain’t gon’ let us on,’ I say. ‘Les’ jus’ bounce.’

‘Fool, I know the ticket guy, ai’ght? No sweat.’ I can’t do nothin’ but shrug, and hope my head stops hurtin’ soon.

Eventually, we facin’ the top of the line.

‘You two jokers, right?’ says Ticket Booth guy. ‘Git. You gotta be this tall –‘ he points at some grinnin’ fool on a billboard – ‘to ride.’ But Turtle, he knew a back door. Soon, we on board.

My head bustin’ like a neverendin’ punch, an’ Turtle talkin’, but I ain’t hearin’. Two seats in front, there’s a tiger sittin’, stripes an’ tail flickin’. He turns, growlin’, an’ I smell his meat breath.

Coaster starts movin’, an’ I lean across to Turtle, real slow.

‘Turtle, man,’ I say, so low he can’t barely hear.

‘What you sayin’?’ he yells, leanin’ in. He soun’ like a freight train.

‘Turtle, man! Up front. Up front!’ I’m flickin’ my eyes in Tiger-boy’s direction but it ain’t no good. Turtle, he refuse to see.

‘What in the hell wrong wit’ you, boy?’ He fling hi’self back into his seat and fol’ his arms like he waitin’ for church to start. ‘You crazy.’

‘You don’t see nothin’?’ The tiger smilin’ at me now, his teeth shinin’ gold. Plenty o’ room in that ol’ mouf for me an’ Turtle too, and then some.

‘Ain’t nothing there to see,’ Turtle say, lookin’ out at the world. ‘No, sir.’

My head fit to bust, then. Feelin’ like my skin gon’ split, startin’ right at the top o’ my head, flayin’ down to my footsoles. The ol’ tiger, well. He turn, his shoulder ripplin’ like a black an’ yellow ocean, like a cornfield full o’ shadow. He turn s’more, one giant paw comin’ to res’ right on the seat in front. My brain screamin’. The tiger’s eye like a dyin’ star.

‘Turtle, man – I ain’t feelin’ so good,’ I say, an’ it the truth. My eyeballs fit to come pop right out my skull and lie, fizzin’, on my fool cheeks. I need to get out my seat, but the coaster flyin’ by now. I strugglin’, Turtle beside me suckin’ his teeth, leanin’ out the side.

‘Quit yo’ wrigglin’!’ he snap, turnin’ to me with his eyes wide.

An’ then the tiger, he pounce. He fall like a hammer, like a mountain. He brung night with him, pure dark, full o’ noises and danger and the stink o’ death. Then I hear Turtle screamin’, an’ my head explode. I bust up an’ out, th’owin’ off my skin, my self, an’ my arms ain’t arms no mo’, my hands ain’t hands.

I got claws longer n’ my ol’ body. I got pelt. I got teeth.

So I sink ’em, ever’thin’, into ol’ Tiger-boy.

As we fallin’ out the coaster I hear him laughin’.

Welcome, chile, he say. I knew it was you.

Prodding the Writing Brain

Every week (or, well, most weeks, at least) I take part in two writing challenges, one on Wednesdays and the other on Fridays. Anyone who’s been lurking around ‘Clockwatching…’ for a while will, no doubt, be aware of this; it’s my sincere hope that you’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labours, too. I look forward each week to these writing opportunities. If nothing else, it (usually) proves to me that I am capable of pulling a story together at short notice, and that I can rely on myself and my imagination to get me through a writing challenge. Whether or not the resulting story is worth reading, of course, is another question.

(Doubtless, there are weeks when my brain is an arid wasteland and no amount of encouragement can get the river of inspiration to flow. Those occasions are important, too. You can’t win ’em all, and it helps to know that it’s all right to not be able to call up a story on demand, every once in a while. The words will return when they’re ready. Fingers crossed.)

Call me again next week, right? It's just not happening today. Image: rxworks.com

Call me again next week, right? It’s just not happening today.
Image: rxworks.com

In any case, one thing these writing challenges have in common is that they both make use of prompts, or things designed to stimulate a writer’s imagination and give them some parameters for the work they’re going to produce. Prompts can take many shapes – if you think about it, actually, pretty much anything can be used as a writing prompt – but the ones I’m most familiar with are these: word prompts, and image prompts. Writing a story based on word prompts is, I feel, an entirely different challenge from writing one based around a picture prompt.

The Wednesday Write-In challenge, run by the CAKE.shortandsweet website, uses word prompts. Every Wednesday, first thing in the morning (before I’ve even had breakfast, usually), I check to see what words have been chosen for that week; because my entry for this competition doubles as my blog post for the day, I’m usually under time pressure to get the challenge completed. This, of course, is a good thing. It’s the equivalent of lifting weights with my frontal lobe, except a lot more fun. So, I look at the words, and I let them settle as I sit and take breakfast with my husband. I let them percolate as I boil the kettle for our morning tea. I ruminate upon them as I mooch about the internet, checking my various hang-outs, seeing what’s going on in the world, until – finally – my brain puts itself into gear and I can start planning out what I’m going to write.

Working with word prompts is, I think, slightly easier than working with picture prompts. Word prompts, to me, give a framework to a story. Writing this way reminds me, sometimes, of putting together a jigsaw; as kids, we’re always taught to find the corner pieces first, and get those in place before making the rest of the puzzle. Prompt words, then, are a bit like the corners of the jigsaw. They not only give me ideas for the story, but they are also like pegs upon which I can hang the fabric of what I’m trying to say; they form the corners, the turning points, the motifs. Sometimes, one word will jump out at me more strongly than the others and that word will be the leading image or idea in the story – the rest of the piece will slot into place around that. Sometimes, all the words will seem equally important, and demand the same share of the story. Either way, it’s a wonderful feeling to watch the story unfold in your head, to bring forth from nothing an entirely new piece of writing.

On Fridays, the wonderful people over at Flash! Friday run another writing competition. Each week, there is a prompt image provided, and the rules regarding how long the story should be change every week. Sometimes, they are as short as 100 words; sometimes, it can be closer to 500. Usually, the word count hovers somewhere around 250 or so. Besides the word count, and the prompt image, no further parameters are provided. This challenge is, to me, harder than the Wednesday Write-In. I’m not entirely sure why, but I find it harder to create a story from a picture than I do from prompt words. Sometimes it worries me a bit – normally, I like to think of myself as a fairly visual person. When something is being described to me, I can see it clearly in my mind, and when I’m reading, sometimes, it’s like I’m watching a movie. I’m good at visualisation, mental manipulation of shapes, and that sort of thing. Yet, my writing brain responds better to word prompts.

I’ve concluded it may be because the word prompts, as I’ve said, create a better framework for a story than a single image does. Perhaps it’s even because a picture prompt doesn’t limit my brain enough – I know that sounds a little unhinged, but it’s true! A picture prompt gives a starting point, whereas word prompts, at least the way my brain uses them, can create an entire story arc. I can look at the words and see a beginning, middle and end; a picture prompt can bring me anywhere.

Hello? Who's there? Image: technophobia.com

Hello? Who’s there?
Image: technophobia.com

I’m very grateful to the people who run the writing challenges in which I take part. They’re immensely helpful to me as a writer, and they’re also so enjoyable to participate in. They truly are challenges, in the sense that they ask for two different sets of writing skills, and the sort of brain agility that’s vitally necessary not only for writing, but for a whole host of other things too.

Have you taken part in writing challenges? Do you use writing prompts in your own work? Which ones do you find most useful?

And – why not take up one of the challenges I’ve mentioned here? Flash! Friday is currently running. Give it a go!

Brain Training

And, as seems inevitable, Monday has rolled around once more. It’s amazing how time just keeps on keeping on, isn’t it? I hope you enjoyed your weekend, and that you managed to spend at least some of it doing something you enjoy. As well as seeing my best friend this past weekend, I also managed to fit in two long walks in the cool, clear Spring weather we’ve been having lately, and I ate some lovely food. So, life is good.

Image: donasdays.blogspot.com

Image: donasdays.blogspot.com

One of the (many) things I have on my mind this morning is the elasticity of the brain, and the suppleness of the imagination. I’ve realised this over the course of the last week. Those of you with eagle eyes will notice that this time period coincides (more or less) with my recent focus on the short story form. The changes I’ve seen in my thought processes are quite astounding, and they’ve given me hope that my aged brain isn’t beyond learning something new just yet.

I’ve always been a long-form writer. I always thought in terms of novels, or perhaps novellas. I’ve talked before on this blog about how I found it difficult, even when in school and university, to bring written work in under the required wordcount. For whatever reason, I never really thought of myself as a person who was able to write short stories, and so I never really tried to do it. There have been a few attempts at writing stories, somewhere around the 2 or 3,000 word mark, down through the years (one about post-natal depression, another about an abused woman who begs a vampire to ‘turn’ her so she’ll be powerful enough to take revenge on the man who brutalised her, among others), but I always found myself lacking in this area. So, I’ve surprised myself lately by really falling in love with the flash fiction form. I’m almost bemused by my desire to create a story which can fit into such a tiny space, and it’s the complete opposite of how I normally think and write. My brain’s a-changing, and it’s a good thing.

On Saturday, during the course of my walk, an entire short story popped into my mind. The setup, the characters, the family, the situation, the conclusion, the dramatic arc, the whole lot. I saw it play out in front of me like it was a short film. I’ve been letting it brew ever since, but – with any luck – I’ll get it down on paper today. The most amazing thing about this, though, is that it appeared fully formed in my head as a short story. There was no question in my mind that it should be written in no more than 500 words (so, really it will probably end up being a flash fiction piece). It felt different from my usual story-seeds, ones which bloom gently into my mind and might reveal a character, or a family name, or a pivotal event, or an emotional showdown, all of which will clearly seem like part of a longer story. This was an idea which made no apology for being short. It was no coquettish thought, flirting with my neurons and promising to give me more details if I’d spend several thousand words on it. Instead, it arrived like a boisterous guest at a dinner party – the type that makes straight for the drinks cabinet with a mind to livening up the place. I liked it immediately.

As I walked, examining this little story-gem from all angles, I realised ‘I can do this. I can change the way my brain works, and how it thinks and comes up with ideas. A little bit of practice is all it takes.’ It was quite the realisation. It made me understand that, sometimes, the only thing standing between a person and their ability to do something is themselves. I knew this already, in a sort of abstract sense, but it’s only when you find yourself in a situation where it becomes tangible that you really understand the truth of it. I had myself boxed off as being one particular sort of writer, and I never even allowed myself to try any other way of working; now, when I give it a go, I find I’m enjoying the freedom found in newness. I’m not the best short story writer or flash fiction writer in the world, and I know that. But I’m getting cautiously positive feedback (amid the rejections) from some of the work I’ve been sending out lately, and that’s enough. That’s good enough for me. This positivity, coupled with the fact that I’m really enjoying my experiments with these new forms, means that things are looking up on this sunny Monday morning.

I really hope you’re having a positive start to the week, and that you’ll look for the newness, and the excitement, in whatever your life presents to you today. If things seem tough, maybe stretch your brain to think about things in a different way. It might relish the challenge, and end up surprising you.

Image: breakingmuscle.com

Image: breakingmuscle.com



For the last little while, I’ve been trying to focus on writing stories, including several pieces of flash fiction. I’ve been submitting pieces to magazines and into competitions, with no luck so far (but it’s early days yet). It’s exciting, though, to sit down at a blank page and decide what I’m going to write (in other words, a short story or a piece of flash fiction), come up with a word – perhaps it’ll become the story’s title, or it’ll end up being included in the opening line, or something – and then watching a story come together.  It’s a bit like how Dr Frankenstein must have felt when he saw this happen:

It's ALIIIIVE!!Image: europeanliterature.wikispaces.com

Image: europeanliterature.wikispaces.com

I wrote a piece yesterday which had its genesis in an image of a lady confined to a wheelchair, sitting alone by a window. I also felt I had a first sentence, which went something like ‘It’s all my fault, anyway.’ I began to write, wondering what the lady was blaming herself for, thinking perhaps she would tell me about why she had become paralysed – but she didn’t want to tell me about that. The story ended up becoming about abuse, murder and family breakdown, and all in 500 words. When I started the story I had no idea where it would go, and in some ways it was like tuning into the thoughts of this character I’d created and listening to her as she explained how she was feeling. It’s a strange sensation. Sometimes I wonder who the writer is – me, or the people in my head. Often I feel more like a secretary. Perhaps I should learn shorthand in order to keep up with their dictation.

I think it’s a good decision to take a few days away from novel-writing at the moment. I hope it will help me keep my thinking fresh and give me renewed vigour for the story I’m creating in ‘Omphalos’. I’m at a point in the book where it’s a little bit difficult to maintain my focus, and I think getting away from it for a bit will make me more appreciative of it when I go back. I’m about as athletic as a wine-rack, but at the moment I feel like an athlete warming up and getting ready for a sprint, doing stretches while huffing and puffing in my ill-fitting singlet and shorts. My novel-writing muscles are tired and overworked, and while I don’t want my short-story muscles to atrophy, of course, it’s been a while since they were used as intensely as this. I’m trying to take it easy and gently urge them into action, but sometimes my enthusiasm overtakes me. I’ll have to remember to take my time and understand that a story doesn’t necessarily have to be finished the same day it’s started. Perhaps it’s not my fault at all, though – if the characters want to talk, who am I to tell them not to?

So, that’s my plan for today. I’m hoping to have an idea-spark for at least one, if not two, new stories, before filing them carefully away in the hope that a suitable submission opportunity will present itself. I seem to be more naturally suited to the flash-fiction form – a lot of my recent work is coming in at around the 500-word mark – so today I hope I’ll manage to stretch myself a bit more and write a slightly longer piece. Fingers crossed I won’t pull a mental muscle in my self-improvement attempts, though. I don’t think I can imagine anything more painful than a brain-cramp…

Image: weheartit.com

Image: weheartit.com

Happy Tuesday to you! I hope your writing endeavours (and general life-endeavours) are going swimmingly.

Short Fiction Challenge

Here’s the deal. Today’s blog post is a short fiction challenge!



So, here’s what I did. I picked up a book at random, flicked to a page at random, and read the first line that my eye fell on. Then, I gave myself 500 words to do something with that line – I wanted to take it somewhere different to its source material (hopefully) and try to spark something new off in my brain. I deliberately chose a book I hadn’t already read, so that the story of the book couldn’t influence my use of the line. In the interests of full disclosure, though, here are the details of the book I chose: the line was ‘Right in front of my eyes, the mess on the floor disappeared’, and it was taken from p. 91 of my edition of Theodore Sturgeon’s ‘More than Human’.

Without further ado, here’s the short piece I wrote, inspired by that line – let me know what you think!


Right in front of my eyes, the mess on the floor disappeared. I’d barely had time to register that it was blood – a lot of blood – before it just vanished in front of my eyes. What the hell? I stopped in my tracks, just inside the door.

‘Um,’ muttered Jason. ‘You’re early.’ He heaved a sigh. ‘I’m not quite ready.’ I didn’t know what he meant, and I blinked at the floor once or twice, hoping it would help. Underneath my feet was smooth, and gleamed like wet linoleum – or, least, that’s what it looked like right now. Unless I was going crazy, it had just been covered in a vast puddle of gore.

‘But…’ I managed. ‘The blood!‘ Jason couldn’t look me in the eye. I watched as his face began to turn blotchy, and his neck started to look like he’d been in contact with a stinging nettle.

‘It came from a butcher’s…’ he began.

‘You nutter,’ I interrupted. ‘I don’t mean where you got it. I mean, what the hell just happened to it?’

‘Maybe I was wrong to show you,’ he murmured. ‘I thought you’d be cooler than this.’ I ignored while I struggled to process what I’d just seen. It had to be one of his crazy schemes again. Why had he involved me? After the last time…

‘Just – wait!’ I began, thinking slowly. ‘It’s one of your inventions, right? Some sort of…’ I waved my hand at the floor, ‘thing, for want of a better word, that can – what? Absorb blood?’ I stopped talking, feeling an acid taste in my mouth. ‘Huge quantities of blood? What for?’ Jason looked at me, finally, a spark of hope in his eyes.

‘Not just absorb – transport!‘ he said, smiling like a loon. ‘And not just blood – organs, clothes – maybe even people!’ I gaped at him, uncaring that I probably resembled a red-haired, short-sighted puffer fish.

‘Transport?’ I echoed. ‘T…transport? Like, teleportation?’ Jason nodded as I spoke, his grin growing more manic.

‘It’s absorbed here,’ he semi-explained, ‘and should reappear wherever else I’ve placed another section of this flooring.’ He tapped the ground with his boot. I noticed, distractedly, that he stood on a solid concrete surface; the shiny flooring was all around me, not quite reaching the corner where Jason stood. ‘All we need is a small electrical charge,’ he continued, taking something out of his pocket, ‘and we’re good to go.’

‘Wait – we’re what? Who’s going where?’ I asked, feeling the bile rise in my throat. I realised, too late, why Jason had called me, and I didn’t have time to protest before he’d flicked some sort of switch on the object in his hand. A mind-cracking jolt grabbed me, followed quickly by what felt like taking a bath in molten plastic. I couldn’t breathe to scream.

‘Damn it. Same result. I’m going to need another volunteer,’ I heard Jason sigh, just as I was sucked into the floor.


The Gauntlet Hits the Dust

Friends, I have been challenged. This morning, I will endeavour to answer ten of the most crazy questions, apparently asked by aspiring novelists (according to http://thedailyedge.thejournal.ie/novelists-questions-672612-Nov2012/). These ten (completely bonkers) questions have been taken from a forum for those who are taking part in NaNoWriMo; if they’re anything to go by, this years NaNo will deliver some interesting material. Thanks for this challenge go to Mo and Soky, who know who they are, and who know that I know where they live.

Deep breaths, a few shoulder rolls, flex the fingers, and begin!

1. What hitting ice people sounds like?

Hitting ice people sounds completely different to hitting flesh people, but it all depends on what you’re hitting the ice people with. I mean, think about it! If you hit an ice person with your bare hands, then the sound is going to resemble hitting a wall with your bare hands. It’s going to result in you breaking bones, reducing your hands to pulp and causing yourself immense pain. But don’t worry about it – if you did hit an ice person with your bare hands, you wouldn’t live long enough to worry about a few snapped fingers. My advice would be to hit them with a hard object, or from a distance, or ideally both together. Hitting an ice person with an axe, for instance, sounds a lot like chopping into a snarling, bloodthirsty tree; unless you can run very fast, though, you won’t have a lot of time to enjoy the sound. Hitting one with a truck sounds exactly like driving into a mountain, will involve irreparable damage to your vehicle, and they’ll beat you to death with random parts of the engine as soon as they catch you. My advice would be to hit them with a bomb, dropped from space – that sounds a lot like an ordinary bomb, but with extra soul-chilling shrieking and world-wrecking hissing as your ice person turns to water. But, as everyone knows, they won’t remain in their liquid state for long; as soon as they re-freeze, they’ll be after you with a murderous gleam in their mad, crystalline eyes. Which is why you should drop the bomb from space, and immediately return to your own planet, ideally in another galaxy. Ice people have long memories, and as soon as they develop interstellar travel – well. They don’t say that stabbing someone with an icicle is the perfect murder for nothing, you know.

2. How to kill an alien crystal entity

Loads of ways to do this. Heat them up really quickly to a very high temperature, and then cool them down fast. They should shatter into dust, but there’s no guarantees. You could also deploy a giant planet-killing laser and train it on your alien crystal entity; when you find the right frequency, they should shatter, too. Same goes for sound waves, but I’ve never actually tried it myself. You could flood their planet with solvent – if you get the right one, maybe they’ll fizzle into harmless liquids. Maybe.

Look, we all know the only way to kill an alien crystal entity – really kill them, properly dead, is to make them drink a concoction of dodo spit and whiskey. You thought hunting made the dodo extinct? Wrong. It was the aliens.

3. Your boyfriend says he is a wolf, you say?

‘Oh my God, not you too. Really? Is a wolf the scariest thing you can possibly be? *sigh* Right, well, if you think I’m cleaning the bath after you’ve been in it, you’ve another think coming, buster. And the first time – I mean, the first time – you bring something you’ve killed into this house, on these carpets, it’s over. I mean it.’

4. Help me write a sea shanty

How do I help you write a sea shanty? Do you want a soothing massage, or perhaps a nice cup of tea? Will I tell you wonderful things about yourself, or maybe go around dressed like Popeye in order to inspire you? Or do you just want me to write one for you? Because that’s a different thing.

“Way-lay, Over the spray, the wind she blows us away, away

Our loves and our ladies, hullay hullay, so far away, over the spray.

Haul the sheets, boys, hullay hullay, we’ve many miles to go today,

Our loves and our ladies behind us will stay, way-lay, over the spray.”

Or something.

5. Tortures for two people at once (Please ASAP!)

I’m a bit perturbed at the urgency of this one, but all right.

Two unfortunate people, one vat of water, various gags and restraints to taste. Attach victim 1 to a tipping chair, which is connected to a selection of the gags and restraints, and put victim 2 into a second chair with some of the restraints arranged to cause maximum damage. As victim 1 tips forward into the vat of water, the movement of their chair causes victim 2’s gags/restraints to tighten or engage, thereby strangling them. With the flick of a switch, you can tip victim 1 back up out of the water, simultaneously releasing victim 2. Rinse and repeat.

Ahem. Moving on.

6. Cliches of Lesbian Romance

Both partners are impossibly gorgeous, one is more knowledgeable about love than the other, every man that meets the women falls helplessly in love with them and must be rejected, they both enjoy wearing really tight clothing, particularly made of leather and/or lace because it’s ’empowering’ *head explodes*, every second reference is a joke about Cagney and Lacey.

7. Besides the obvious (tree houses and hollow trees), how could you have a village up a giant tree?

Well, this is pretty obvious – clearly, the questioner has never been to the planet of Hardu’un, where certain species of giant tree known as Glupingii actually grow in the shape of rudimentary villages. The children of Hardu’un use the Glupingii saplings as doll-houses, but by the time those children become adults, the trees are usually big enough for them to live in. The trunks develop steps as they grow, perfectly sized for Hardu’un feet, and the branches bud off into anything up to seven room-buds, which the Hardu’un make good use of. Each bud grows into a rough square shape, and – depending on the type of soil the tree is planted in, and the prevailing weather conditions – each room-bud can have up to six ‘chambers’, in which a huge Glupingii seed will develop. After three Hardu’un years of maturation, the seeds can be removed and planted (a job which takes about ten strong men to accomplish), and then the tree enters its growth spurt; after a further two years, it’s ready for habitation. Each branch develops smaller versions of the trunk-steps, and no two room-buds are the same. The room-buds higher up the tree tend to develop more rooms, but they can be slightly smaller than those lower on the tree; lower ones normally contain shops, government offices, embassies to neighbouring trees, and so on. Upper areas are largely residential.

Nobody’s really sure why the trees evolved this way. Theories abound, but the most popular one is that the Glupingii got tired of being hacked about by the Hardu’un and being chopped down for wood to build houses, etc., so the trees decided to do the hard work for them. If you can’t beat ’em…

8. Good reasons a ghost girl can rip someone’s organs out with a doll

Not sure I really understand this one. She’s a ghost girl – she can do whatever the hell she wants! Who cares what her reasons are? If the questioner means ‘Good ways a ghost girl can rip someone’s organs out with a doll’, then they’ve clearly never nibbled a Barbie’s feet to shiv-like sharpness… you can do a lot of damage with a correctly trimmed Barbie extremity. Trust me.

9. Not sure about making my cursed character a tiger – new ideas?

What’s wrong with making them into a tiger? Sounds cool to me. Just avoid the old cliches – mummy, werewolf, wraith, ghoul, banshee, animal-by-day-human-by-night, and all that stuff, and you should be good.

10. But what *kind* of apocalypse?

Why don’t you do the Apocalypse of the Toilet Seats – giant, rabid, flapping, toothed toilet seats descend from the sky and drag unsuspecting souls into the rancid sewer pit of their particular Hell. Or perhaps you could have the Beigepocalypse, where the world becomes tangled in an infernal pile of red tape, protocol, tradition, and ‘that’s just how it’s done’-ness, everyone starts to wear thick glasses and a combover and begins to arrange their pens in a row in their top pocket, and spontaneity is punishable by death. It wouldn’t take too long for the planet to eat itself out of boredom.

Alright, ladies. I hope those answers will do!


Less is More

So, this morning, I’m working on a synopsis of the plot of my current piece of work.  I’m entering a competition in a few weeks (one of those ‘find an agent’ type competitions), so I’m obviously pretty anxious to do this correctly and give myself the best shot I can.  The competition requires each entrant to summarise their plot in 300 words or less.  This is a challenge, and no mistake.  I’m sure most people who have ever written creatively felt the same way when it came to this part of the process, and it does help – a little – to know I’m not the only one facing this test.

I’m not 100% finished with the manuscript, but that’s not a problem, as I know exactly where I want the story to go.  So far, I’ve written about 83,000 words, and – for the most part – those words have been effortless and a pleasure.  I’m loving this story, and finding words has never been a problem; that is, except now, when I need to find fewer of them.  It’s really difficult to cut a story down to 300 words, particularly when it’s a story you’ve been thinking about for years, and which you’ve always seen in terms of ‘the bigger picture’ – by which I mean all the back-end detail that only an author knows and loves.  Not only do you, as a writer, know the plot, but you know the characters, their back-stories, their favourite foods and what their childhood dreams used to be, and it’s practically impossible to condense all the life in your words down to a sentence or two.

But this is precisely why you’re asked to do it, of course.

It doesn’t just apply to creative work.  When writing my PhD dissertation, I had to write an Abstract to go with it, for which I had the generous allowance of 500 words.  That was hard.  As interesting (I hope) as the plot of this work-in-progress novel is, at least it is a single story, based around a set of characters, in a world that I created – it’s not an argument, trying to link together twenty or more different stories, made by people at whose mindset I could only guess, as was my PhD.  Stories can always be boiled down to their essential elements – the hero, the quest, the ‘problem’, the journey, the resolution, the antagonist, and so on – but trying to write a clear summation of the stories of multiple texts, as well as showing the central points of my argument, was hard to do in under 500 words.  I did it, though.  It made me understand the necessity of the synopsis, too – I couldn’t possibly expect my examiners to wade through 120,000 words of carefully argued prose before they had any idea what on earth I was talking about.  The Abstract was, in a way, a courtesy to them – a guide to the inner workings of my argument, and a taster for what was to come.  It also made my argument clear to me.  One of the things you’re constantly being asked when you’re undertaking any type of written project is the dreaded question ‘what is it about?’  Being able to explain what it’s about, in a sentence or two, is very useful.  Not only does it mean you can answer the question in ten seconds as opposed to ten minutes, but it also keeps you focused on the core elements of the work you’re doing, which can only help you to bring it to fruition.

Understanding the importance of a plot summary is only half the battle, though.  I’m wondering, this morning, should I leave the end of the story out – in other words, should my plot synopsis end with a cliffhanger question?  I don’t know if I need to go into subplots and minor characters.  I’m not sure how much explanation of the ‘tech’ of my society is needed.  I’m going to have to take a leap of faith on this one, and just do my best, and hopefully I’ll hit the mark.  The worst part of all, the waiting game, is yet to come!  Wish me luck!