Tag Archives: short story writing

Wednesday Write-In #74

The words for this week’s CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

package :: jointed :: ribs :: monochrome :: wet ink

And, after much cogitation and deliberation, this story here is what I made out of ’em.

Image: damoselsprintersblocks.com

Image: damoselsprintersblocks.com

It Is Written

It was a dark and stormy night…

Yeah, all right. So I did that on purpose. What, you think because I live on the streets, I can’t be in on the joke? Get real.

Anyway, it was a dark and stormy night, that night. The sort of night that makes you think the dawn’s never goin’ to come, no matter how hard you hunker down and suffer through it. The sort of night that’s full of knives. It was late, too, when I first saw this weird old guy come huffing and puffing down the street, well past midnight. He was a bit like an insect in a suit, this bloke, oddly jointed and full of corners – his knees stuck out to the side as he walked, like he was on springs. He had a black umbrella, shining and wet beneath the streetlights, clutched in one knobbly hand. The ribs of it looked broken at the front, because they kept bashing into his face as he went – the wind was one of them capricious types, you know the ones. Can’t make up its mind what way its blowin’. In his other hand, he had a package tied up in brown paper and string, like somethin’ out of another century. It was biggish and squarish – looked about the size of a small paintin’, not that I’d ever seen one in the flesh. Whatever it was, it seemed heavy. By the time he got close to me, he was pantin’ like a man halfway up a mountain.

Anyway, on he came. I sat quiet.

He came level with my place – my ‘place’ bein’ a nice, me-sized nook in the brickwork in front of an old buildin’, used to be a bank I think before everythin’ turned to muck – and I watched as he stopped beside an old rubbish bin, out on the pavement. He looked up and down the street like a man afraid the cops are on his tail – that was what made me perk up and take notice, if I’m bein’ honest. Somethin’s not right here, I told myself. I want to be in on it, just so’s I can deny everythin’.When he was finished scopin’, he turned back to the bin. Mutterin’ under his breath the whole time, he jiggled the squarish thing he’d been carryin’ out from under his arm, and lined it up for shovin’ into the bin. He had a bit of trouble with it – the package wasn’t quite the right shape, and between the wind and the rain and the tricksy umbrella, he didn’t seem like he had enough hands to do the job right. I was on the spot of slinkin’ out and offerin’ assistance when he gave a yelp like a dog in pain and, with one final push, left the thing half-in and half-out of the bin.

Then he took off down the street like a rat out of a trap, and didn’t once look back.

So, I sat gazin’ at the bin. The package started to come open in the rain. I saw there was paper in it, paper with writin’ on it. Wet ink slid down off the paper, like the words were so new they hadn’t had a chance to settle in properly, and I knew that if I didn’t do somethin’, the message on that paper was goin’ to end up washed down the gutter. Bein’ a man of letters, I couldn’t have that.

So I got up, and I soft-shoed my way over to the bin. The place was deserted. The street was a howling hollowness.

I grabbed the package, and straight away sort of wished I’d left well enough alone. The old guy hadn’t been pretendin’ – it was heavy. Metal. It clacked, like it was full of movin’ parts. I realised then that there were loads of pages in here, all of ‘em printed with fancy letterin’, monochrome and crisp – and I’m talking printed, like Gutenberg. Old-style hand-carved letters, spiky and sore to the eye. Sathanas Dixit, I read, before my brain sort of went into a seizure. I blinked a bit, wonderin’ why I couldn’t see right, and tried to focus on somethin’ else.

Then, my eye fell on a handwritten page. I pulled it out and tried to angle myself so that I could read it in the glow of the streetlight without letting the rain rip it out of my hand.

Daniel, it said, the handwritin’ lookin’ breathless, if you know what I mean. The printing blocks and documents I mentioned are enclosed. I cannot have them in my home any longer. As I tried to explain on the ‘phone, they have started arranging themselves – you must believe me! I cannot tell you how often I have checked over the work and realise it says something I never intended; the mistake is not mine! I put the blocks in, and they print something different, something – horrifying. It is Him, Daniel. Him! His power is too strong, and I cannot bear it. Please, take these infernal objects and bury them deep, somewhere I cannot know about and somewhere I will never find them. Please, I beg you. And please, we must disband our group. We are meddling with power that no man has a right to. Believe me. Nathan.


I heaved the package, blocks and ink and paper and the lot, over to my cubby. My eyes recovered fine, and once they were workin’ again I read all night long, and never felt another drop of rain.

What a stroke of luck I had that dark and stormy night, eh? Or maybe it wasn’t luck so much as another part of His plan, slotting right into place.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide that one.




Frustrated Friday

It’s Friday. This is, undeniably, a Good Thing, and I am looking forward to the weekend partly because it’s the weekend, of course, but also partly because I’m meeting an old friend tomorrow, and that will be lovely.

However, it’s also a Major Pain. This is because I’m also dealing with the fact that a competition I wanted to take part in, the closing date for which is next week, will probably have to remain unentered. This, my friends, is not only because I completely messed up the dates – this happens to me on a worryingly frequent basis – but also because a story idea I’ve been working on for a while is just not happening. It may happen in two weeks’, or three months’, or fourteen years’ time, but as of right now, it’s at a standstill.

This is frustrating.

This is what my head feels like. Image: en.wikipedia.org

This is what my head feels like.
Image: en.wikipedia.org

There’s so much about the story that I like. I really love the protagonist – everything from her name to her demeanour to her appearance pleases me. I have already imagined the final scene, and the ‘voice’ of the characters, completely different from anything I’ve written before, is an interesting journey for me. It’s so annoying, though, to have the beginning and the end of a strong story mapped out, and no clear way of getting from A to B. I know all the story needs is time, really, but time is what I do not have. I hate the idea of leaving a competition unentered just because I couldn’t get my act together, but there it is. It looks like that’s exactly what will have to happen.

I’ve made a point of entering competitions over the last few months – there is certainly no shortage of them. So far, I’ve had no success whatsoever, but then, success isn’t really the point. The point is to impose discipline upon myself, to have a deadline and to meet it, to fulfil the ‘brief’, so to speak, and to rise to a challenge. Simply meeting the deadline, for me, is a success in itself. So, you might understand now why I’m so irritated with myself. Not only have I missed a competition, in all likelihood, but I’ve also let myself down. It’s true that it’s not easy to keep track of everything, and I’ve had a lot of things to think about lately, but that’s no excuse really. The fact is, not only is the story not ‘right’, but I also thought I had an extra week in which to get this work done. I don’t. For some reason, I always manage to fudge dates when it comes to the end of one calendar month and the beginning of another. Somehow, in my mind, several extra days just creep in out of nowhere. This often causes me problems. You’d think, at this stage in my life, I’d have come up with a way to deal with this absent-minded dizziness.


I suppose, at the end of the day, it’s only a competition – and probably one in which my entry would’ve sunk without trace, too – and I should just give myself a break. It is important to take part in competitions and become part of a writing community when you’re starting off your journey as a writer, of course, but it’s also true to say that missing one out of the multitude isn’t the end of the world. It feels that way, but it really isn’t. I suppose the little voice at the back of my head will always be there: ‘You could’ve won this one. This could’ve been the one! You’re an eejit to have missed it.’ Those little voices in your head have an annoying tendency to be right, sometimes. That must be what makes them so annoying.

In any case, I still have today, and Sunday, before I need to really give up hope. Perhaps it will all work out: I’ll embark upon a writing marathon and the whole thing will just slot together like Lego and I’ll get it submitted with hours, instead of seconds, to spare. Yeah, maybe – and maybe I’ll also become the first Irishwoman to walk on the surface of Mars, or to cross the Atlantic using a jet-pack. You know, I have a feeling I’ll still be sitting over the same stubborn 800 words in a week’s time, wondering why they just won’t cooperate, and driving myself further round the twist.

Perhaps I should just throw in the towel, and take up knitting instead. What do you reckon?

Image: rcvs.org.uk

Image: rcvs.org.uk

Have a wonderful Friday, and a happy (and hopefully unfrustrated) weekend!

Wednesday Write-In #49

This week’s words were:

inside and out  ::  tessellate  ::  starvation  ::  floral  ::  sweat

Image: answers.com

Image: answers.com

The Stolen Gift

That morning, she came back to the market. He’d almost given up checking for her when the flash of her dark hair, shining in the early sun, caught his eye. As quick as a blink, though, she vanished again, and his chisel slipped as he searched for her in the crowd. Hissing with pain, he clutched his bruised, sweat-filmed fingers to his chest, hastily checking his work for evidence of his clumsiness. Luckily, thankfully, the line was clean and the tile unscratched.

‘Watch what you’re doing!’ his boss snapped as he passed. ‘How can you work if you break your hand? Foolish boy!’ He spat in the dust at the boy’s feet and stalked away to harangue one of the other apprentices, leaving him alone to fume, embarrassed, over his thoughts.

‘Pay attention!’ he muttered, regaining his grip on the chisel. The job they were working on was the biggest his boss had ever been given, and no mistakes could be made. Each boy had memorised his part of the pattern in order to score and cut and shape every tile without a shred of error, and he closed his eyes and imagined what the prayer room would look like when the floor was laid down. The sea of tiles would interlock as though it had been there since the dawn of time, when everything had been fresh, and clean, and new. Sighing with pleasure, he bent to his work. Carefully, he tapped at the score-mark across the vivid red tile, allowing himself a smile as it snapped cleanly away, the line so straight it could have been cut by the master himself.

A gust of fresh, flower-scented air made him look up. It was like the smooth touch of a hand on his hot skin, or the feeling of a warm meal sliding into his wizened stomach; it had been a long time since he’d felt either of those things, since his mother had passed into eternity. His eyes searched for the source, and when he saw her, standing only a few feet away, he was hardly surprised. Looks like an angel, smells like an angel, he thought, happily. No doubt she also speaks and thinks and acts like an angel. A girl so pretty could not be anything but beautiful inside, too.

She smiled at him. He held her gaze, and returned the smile tenfold.

His hand slid to his pocket. He drew out something small – barely the size of his palm – and placed it carefully on his workbench. He crooked his finger at the girl. Her smile grew shy, but she took a step, and then another, in his direction. He watched her eyes as she looked at it, this tiny thing he’d pilfered fragments for, and risked his neck to make. She saw, and understood, as she looked at the perfect sweep of the black glass shapes, cut with beautiful precision; she looked at the golden yellow of the pattern within, and the way it blended with flecks of red, all fitting together without a hint of disharmony. Deep blue surrounded the black, the colour of beauty – the colour of love.

She jumped, the rosy blush of her cheeks a perfect echo of the mosaic in her hand, as the boss roared at him to get back to work. She turned to run, but just before she vanished into the crowd again she turned and caught his eye, and smiled. She raised his gift to her lips and kissed it, and then was gone.

Wednesday Write-In #48

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

toxic  ::  imprint  ::  fluorescent  ::  cream  ::  water pressure



The fluorescent tube flickered above our heads, its failing light mimicking my suddenly irregular heartbeat. I picked at a tear in the greasy, checkered tablecloth, its plastic surface giving way to a toxic-looking underlay. I loosened some of it with a questing fingernail, wondering if I could sneak some into his coffee without him noticing.

‘Could you have picked a worse place to tell me this?’ I asked. The crackling buzz of the dying light filled my brain, and he made no move to reply. He shifted in his chair and cleared his throat, and his eyes flicked up to the wall behind me.

The imprint of his wedding ring was still on his finger. The skin where it had been was shiny-looking and new, like a freshly healed wound.

‘Look,’ he began, ‘I’m sorry. I never meant for any of this to hurt you.’

‘If that was true,’ I said, ‘you wouldn’t have done it.’

‘So, we can sort out the house and stuff at a later date, yeah?’ The eyes again, flicking up to the wall. I wondered what I was keeping him from, where he’d rather be.

‘Do you even care about me? Did you ever care?’

‘D’you want another coffee? I wouldn’t get the cream this time, though. It looks a bit off.’ He met my eyes and gave me his little boy smile, the one which managed to be sweet and apologetic at the same time, the one that said ‘sorry, love – I forgot to get the newspaper,’ or ‘sorry, love, I didn’t get around to washing the car.’ Sorry, love – I couldn’t remember how to love you, so I just stopped.

‘Is there someone else? Is that it?’

‘So, how’s work, and everything?’ he asked, winding his fingers together, his knuckles whitening. ‘Anything happening with the new boss?’

‘Is she younger? Better looking? No, forget I asked. I don’t want to know.’

He took one last look at the clock.

‘Look, I should probably go, you know? I have to meet someone, in a while. Will we just…’ he took a heavy breath, biting his lip as he gazed at me. After a few minutes he blinked, shaking his head. ‘I’ll be in touch then, right? In a few days?’ His voice was bright, and he was already half on his feet.

I expected him to reach over and shake my hand, then. I genuinely, honest to God, thought that’s what he was going to do, like I was a client and this was a business meeting.

I stood up, carefully. The table surface seemed too far away as I reached down to grab my phone and keys; my hands didn’t belong to me. I felt like a helium balloon, full to bursting, rising up and up toward the cobwebbed ceiling. I clamped my mouth shut, because I felt it coming, like I was a pipe under the wrong pressure, a water main about to blow, a sewer threatening to overflow.

‘Are you…’ he began, but he looked at me and his words just dried up. I’d never seen his mouth hang open before – not for me, at least. I said nothing, and he said no more.

I kept my mouth shut all the way home, driving carefully and considerately; I kept it shut as I locked the car, unlocked the front door, and kicked off my shoes. I kept it shut as I walked upstairs to the bathroom, and as I wrenched the rings from my finger, and as I pulled out the plunger from our – my – designer wash-hand basin, and as I dropped them down the plughole one by one.

I kept it shut as I dropped our wedding photograph onto the tiled kitchen floor, and even as I smashed the china bride-and-groom figurine he’d bought me for our first anniversary, and as I cut my wedding dress into a mass of tiny, silken squares, fit for nothing.

By the time I finally opened my mouth again, there was nothing left to say.



Writing Stories: Some Helpful Hints!

In honour of it being Friday, and because I’ve been focusing on short stories and flash fiction this week, and because stories are taking over my tiny mind, I thought today I’d blog about some things I’ve learned about story-writing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call what follows a list of rules – far be it from me to lay down the law – but they’re a list of observations, based on empirical evidence. They may be useful; they may not. Either way, writing this post will get them out of my head, which will make my life a bit more peaceful.

That'll be me, there, on the end, with the big smiley head. Image: mindco-consulting.com

That’ll be me, there, on the end, with the big smiley head.
Image: mindco-consulting.com

Ahoy! Off we go.

One of the first things I’ve learned about writing stories is this:

Discard the obvious

Perhaps this isn’t news to anyone, but it was a bit of a revelation to me. You know when you see a writing prompt, or you read something inspiring, and a story starts to suggest itself in your mind? Chances are you’re having a wonderful idea which will turn out to be a fantastic story, but it’s also possible that the first idea – indeed, the first few ideas – which will occur to you are going to be ‘obvious’, predictable, and based, unconsciously, in things you’ve read or seen already.

I don’t mean this to sound discouraging. Write, and write, and write, by all means. But it’s good to be aware that the first idea which will strike you isn’t always the best one to go with. A really good tactic to get around this problem is to write as much as you can, and read widely; but then, I think reading and writing as much as possible is, pretty much, the cure for everything.


Try writing your idea from the other side

Now, obviously, I don’t mean slipping into the Happy Hunting Ground and writing all your stories from beyond the grave. What I mean is taking your idea and flipping it around. You could try writing the story from another person’s point of view, or taking your main characters and swapping their opinions on something important, or changing the gender/age/race/whatever of your main players. This may not do anything besides reinforce your conviction that you had the story right first time, but at least it’ll be fun. Also, you never know what new ideas might spring from it.


Try writing your story all in dialogue

Sometimes, stories written all in dialogue work quite well. Sometimes, they don’t. A key to a successful all-dialogue story is making each voice distinctive, so there’s no confusion on the reader’s part as to who is speaking at any particular moment. In fact, this is an important thing to bear in mind for written dialogue of any sort. However, the reason I think writing a draft of a short story all in dialogue can be a useful writing tool is this: it can help you to really get under the skin of a character. Their dialogue can betray verbal tics, sayings, dialect, accent, education, bias or prejudice – all of which, of course, makes them a richer and more rounded character. You can take these insights with you as you rewrite the story – or, of course, you could choose to keep your all-dialogue style. Either way, you’ve got a cool story.


Work on your images

So, you have a story. It’s working well. It’s about a woman having a terrible fight with her husband, we’ll say. The woman feels irritated at her husband’s habit of leaving piles of used tissues all over the house, perhaps, or maybe he leaves little towers of nail clippings in tiny sculptural arrangements on every flat surface, or something of that ilk. (Please note: this is not based on any observations of my own husband. Just in case.)

Anyway. So far, so good, so expected. The story is fine, and well-written, but it’s not grabbing the reader’s attention. Millions of stories exist about a husband and wife having a row over the silly minutiae of life. A way to elevate your story onto another plane of interest is to use descriptive images that are startling, eye-catching, perhaps even a little disturbing – the more ‘everyday’ your story is (i.e. set in the ‘real’ world, featuring ordinary folk doing ordinary things), the more ‘out-there’ your images can be. The contrast can sometimes be intriguing.

It’s very important to note, however, that this approach doesn’t work for everyone. It can, sometimes, lend a sci-fi or ‘magical realism’ air to a piece which won’t work for every story, so use this tip sparingly.


It's hard work, this. Phew. Nice cup of tea will sort me out. Image: daisyandzelda.com

It’s hard work, this. Phew. Nice cup of tea will sort me out.
Image: daisyandzelda.com

Right. Refreshed! Back to it.

You don’t necessarily have to have a ‘twist’ – but try to make the end of your story unpredictable

So. It seems to me that sometimes twists at the end of stories can irritate readers. They can sometimes seem contrived, and not in keeping with the rest of the story, if they’re only included for the sake of having them. Also, here’s the scary bit: a reader can always tell if the twisty ending is ‘set up’, and not an organic part of the story. So, it’s important to plan and plot your writing, especially if the piece you’re writing is as short as flash. In 200 words, or 150 words, or 300 words, or whatever, plotting and planning is absolutely vital – not one word can go to waste, so it’s important to make them all work as hard as they can. If you want a twisty, dark, unpredictable ending, then make sure it’s planned from the outset and organically, naturally hinted at and prepared for the whole way through the story. Anything else can seem like a ‘deus ex machina’, which is irritating.

Just my 2 cents, now. Don’t take any of this too seriously.

Remember all the senses

Sometimes in writing it’s easy to get distracted by the sense of sight, particularly in short fiction. You ‘see’ the world of your story through the eyes of your character; you see the other characters, you look at their reactions. But sometimes a smell, or a sound, will tell a reader far more than anything a character can see. Making full use of the senses also helps to create a believable character (this is, of course, if your characters are in possession of all the senses – of course, a lot of very interesting writing can centre on characters who have senses which are different to the ‘norm’); people naturally use all the senses at their disposal without even realising it, so characters should be the same.

Anyway. There’s lots I’ve learned about writing over the past while, but I hope these little pointers will be of use to others. If you agree, or particularly if you violently disagree, with anything in this post, let me have it in the comments. Healthy exchange of ideas is what it’s all about, right?

Happy Friday, everyone. Hang in there. It’s nearly the weekend.