Tag Archives: challenge

Running Out of Steam

I have to say that after a year of writing short stories I am finding it a little hard to find inspiration. I have covered so many different things over the last fifty weeks that finding something new to write is becoming an issue.

Or maybe the problem is just that I am getting tired of doing this over and over again.

Last week’s story was about a party hosted by social vampires. They enticed people into their lair and drained them dry, making them pay for food and drinks and subjecting them to all sorts of depravities, leaving them broke and broken and willing to do anything to get back in. It actually wasn’t much of a story, more of a lecture about how the party started and one man’s efforts to fight back by using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to warn people to stay away. But it could be an interesting premise to write an actual story about. All I would have to do is find the right characters to write about and put them in the thick of things.

I think that maybe this week I’ll take my inspiration from Twitter. I can read a bunch of posts and see if I can find something that inspires me with a “what if?” thought. Otherwise I have no idea what I will be writing this week.

As the year of the Dirty Little Freaks winds down, however, my mind is pushing ahead to next year. Although I hit 200 days on my chain on the Magic Spreadsheet, I think I’m going to stop using it next year. I’ve done what I needed to do and I really don’t have any more to prove. I just want to focus on writing a good novel next year, which means planning it out so that it will be the best story I can write. No more freestyle writing where I have no idea what is going to come out of my mind and onto the page. No more discovering the story as I write it. I want to know what the story is about ahead of time in order to decide whether or not it is worth writing in the first place.

I also want to get some reading done. I haven’t had a whole lot of time for reading this last year, and I have an awful lot of books on my shelves that are gathering dust, and I haven’t even cracked their covers yet. I’m talking physical books here, not e-books. Don’t even ask about how many unread books are on my Kindle. It’s obscene.

That’s about it for this week. As always, I’ll fill you in next Sunday on my latest story. And if I’m lucky I’ll have found the inspiration for next year’s novel. See you then!

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How Did I Get Here?

This week my story started out with a boy running from some bullies. Then I turned it into a flashback and by the time I had finished it was essentially an origin story for a superhero like Batman. He found a secret hideout underneath an old, empty warehouse that was full of technology that was beyond what the rest of the world had available. He’s not quite sure if it is alien in origin or not, but he thinks that he can use it to make himself into a hero.

The story isn’t bad, but the first few paragraphs really don’t fit where the rest of the story ended up. They will probably all have to be rewritten or maybe cut altogether for the second draft. It’s kind of an intriguing premise though, and I might just have to explore it again some other day. In the meantime, though, I’m on to story number 48.

It’s hard to believe that we’re this close to the end of the year. It has been a long run, and I think writing all of these short stories has been good for me. They have certainly given me a chance to come up with some interesting ideas for the future. If you have followed my blog, you also know that they have also given me some reason to worry about my sanity. But then, most writers probably think that at one point or another in their careers. How often do you think Stephen King has written something and thought to himself, “What is wrong with me?”

Anyway, since I have spent most of this weekend watching Doctor Who in honor of the 50th anniversary special, I started this week’s story with my main character using some British idioms and references. I probably won’t be able to pull it off for the whole story, but it’s one of those writing exercises that I thought might be interesting. I’ll let you know next week how it went.

Speaking of the Doctor, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to come up with that kind of immortal character? There aren’t many fictional creations that have the worldwide attraction and recognition of Doctor Who. It’s also interesting that the ones that I can think of are British creations, like James Bond and Harry Potter.

Time for a challenge, kiddies! Name some other fictional characters in a long-running series that are widely recognized across the globe. Go ahead, I dare you!

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I Think I’m Getting the Hang of This

It only took me nine months. Three quarters of a year. Thirty nine weeks.

I think I’m finally getting the hang of writing short stories. Of course, since very few of them have been read by anyone, I may be way off base, but at least I’m getting a lot of practice. I finished this week’s story on Wednesday, then wrote another one on Thursday and started one more on Friday. I haven’t finished that last one yet, but I’m starting a new one for a new week anyway, and if I finish that one early I’ll go back and work on the other one again.

My story last week was about a challenge. It was really just a prelude scene to a much longer story, but that’s okay too. It was about a man who is approached by an older man in a cafe. There have been several murders involving young women, and they were all found in a state that suggests demonic sacrifice. The man is challenged to save another young woman by going to a remote location and figuring out how to use magic. Not the trickery and illusion of the stage magician, but real, honest-to-god magic like in the fairy tales. And at the very end of the story, I hint that the old man presenting the challenge is actually an older, time-traveling version of himself.

I am really thinking of expanding on this and writing the rest of the story, but it won’t be this year. Instead, I’ll just add it to the pile of other story ideas that I have come up with during the last nine months and let it simmer in the back of my head until I’m ready to take it to the next level.

On a different note, October is practically here, which means that NaNoWriMo is closing fast. I probably won’t be participating, as I don’t think I’ll be able to write 50,000 words of short stories in 30 days. But I’ll be thinking of all of you as I plod along, and I’ll definitely be hitting my keyboard next year. Probably with one of the previously mentioned ideas.

That’s about all I have time for today. See you next week!

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Challenge Accepted!

When I asked last week what I should write about next, one of my friends suggested I write a YA Cthulhu story. So I did.

I started in a coffee shop, with a young man meeting his goth girlfriend. She promptly dumps him, telling him she can’t stand his lack of ambition. So, of course, that drives him to seek out an antiques store in the area, where he acquires an ancient tome to help him summon the Old Ones. All in an attempt to win her back.

To be honest, the story is incomplete. It really should be longer. It could actually be the start of at least a novella. But for now it is a fairly decent set-up. Maybe later I’ll write Part 2, which would go over the actual summoning, and the disastrous consequences that would necessarily result. Maybe.

This week, I’m going to follow up on a writing prompt I had posted a few months ago and then forgotten about. Someone managed to find it recently on Twitter and reminded me about it. The question was: What if Tesla really was from Venus as some theorists believe? And if so, what was he doing here?

So that’s my challenge this week. It will be more of a sci-fi story, which I have little to no experience writing. I enjoy reading them, and watching sci-fi movies, but I haven’t written much in that genre. So even if my story sucks, at least it will be good practice.

If you’re following my track on the Magic Spreadsheet, my chain is 40 days long now. I have been writing first thing in the morning, even before I go to work, just to make sure that I get it in. Even though it is usually still dark out, that seems to work for me, so I plan on continuing the trend as long as I can.

That’s it for today. Tune in next week for a report on “Men are from Earth, Tesla is from Venus.” See you then!

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Portrait of a Character

This week’s story wasn’t so much a story as an exploration. I started simply, with a visit to a tailor to get a tuxedo for a wedding. As the story progressed we discover that he works in Hollywood and knows Bruce Willis. And the I tried to throw in the weird.

When the tailor goes to measure for the pants we find out that our hero has something wrong with his legs. They are covered by some kind of metallic substance that even he doesn’t understand. And apparently it’s dangerous to others.

By this time I was already flailing, searching for an actual story. After he showed the tailor the danger involved in setting off whatever the stuff was on his legs, the man is completely professional and finishes taking his measurements. And then our hero leaves.

As he goes, we find out that he is a stuntman, not an actor, but it is the “armor” as he calls it, that lets him do what no other stuntman can do. A walk through memory lane then goes over what happened the first time he used his power in public. It was at a bank robbery, and he ended up killing someone, which haunts him to this day.

Definitely not much of a story, but it might be an interesting character concept for a larger tale later on. If I end up publishing an anthology of these tales, this one probably won’t make the cut, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth writing.

In other news, my writing streak on the Magic Spreadsheet  is still going strong, and I rewarded myself by buying some games. I didn’t have any games on my netbook before, as it was intended primarily for writing, but I saw a sale on GOG.com for some old D&D games that I couldn’t pass up. Even though I already owned most of the games in the bundle, there was one included that I have been lusting after for years and that alone was worth the price. (Neverwinter Nights 2, in case you were wondering.) Also, they were all downloadable, which is important since I don’t have a CD drive for my netbook.

The only catch to buying these games was that I had to promise myself that I would never start playing before I got my writing done for the day. After all, a writer has to keep his (or her) priorities straight. And having a little fun after finishing my work is a nice reward.

That’s all for this week. I’m starting a new story today as soon as I finish this post. I wonder what it will be this week? Tune in next Sunday to find out!

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What Did I Just Do?

OMG.

Dirty Little Freaks #24 was way out of my ballpark. I’m not sure how I got there, but the story took me places I have never been before. Places that are impossible for me to reach. It was a struggle all the way, but I think I can be proud of what I did, even if it was a painful journey.

I started with something simple. A rude comment made by someone at a funeral. As I developed the story, the comment was made by a younger brother and the funeral was the main character’s father. Then things started to get really interesting when I decided that the comment that had been made was true, and that it was about our main character having an incestuous relationship with her father.

It was about pain and loss and love that broke the rules.  And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. I’m not looking forward to editing it, because I know that any changes I make to it will only have to make it better, and I’m not sure how I can. I was really stretching my boundaries on the first draft, so taking it to the next level is going to be rough.

I think that the direction my story took was at least partially influenced by the book I was reading. The Lake of Dreams, by Kim Edwards. It wasn’t about incest, but one of the themes was the death of the main character’s father, and how it affected the course of her life. I could actually see how the story I was writing changed to reflect the story I was reading. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often for me, so it was interesting seeing it happen now. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it was a bad thing, just that it was unexpected and a little frightening to go where I have never gone before.

In other news, that makes 19 days in my Magic Spreadsheet chain, for a total of over 8,000 words. Having the spreadsheet is really giving me that extra incentive to keep writing, even though I might not want to. In the last few months, I have only been worrying about getting the story done, and have skipped some days when I didn’t feel like writing. But now, the focus is on getting at least the minimum in every day, so I have been writing first thing in the morning and taking the rest of the day for myself. The stories have been longer, as I only have to make sure I reach the end by Saturday, but I think they have also been better. We’ll see how it goes in the coming months.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next Sunday with another update. See you then!

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FanFic or Not FanFic?

So my story this week is a sci-fi version of the classic television show “Hogan’s Heroes”. The question is: is it fanfic? (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, fanfic is short for fan fiction, where someone writes a story based on the characters or world of another writer.)

I don’t think it is, for a couple of reasons. First, I changed all their names. Second, because it isn’t set in Nazi Germany, but instead on a different planet far in the future. I think that those two things give my story enough differences from the show that it can’t really be considered fanfic.

But I could be wrong. I haven’t written any fanfic before so I’m not really familiar with the limitations of the definition. Maybe the fact that anyone familiar with the show would be able to easily make the connection is enough. While I did change the names, a few of them are fairly close to the original (Kronk instead of Klink, Shoz instead of Schultz, etc.) I am also trying to be faithful to the personalities of the characters.

So what do you think? Is my story fanfic or not? Have you ever written fanfic? If so, what was it?

In other news, I am still using the Magic Spreadsheet, and my chain is up to nine days as of Tuesday night. I’m going to keep going as long as I can, and I’ll keep you informed as I go.

That’s about it for today. I’ll be back on Sunday to let you know if I was able to finish this week’s story. I’m going to try to do my best to honor the great Bob Crane and Werner Klemperer, but they are a hard act to follow. On the plus side, I did buy the complete series on DVD, so there is plenty of inspiration (and entertainment) to keep me going.

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Peer Pressure, or Finding a Reason to Write

I have been hearing about it for months now, and I finally gave in. I signed up for the Magic Spreadsheet.

In case you haven’t heard about it yet, the Magic Spreadsheet is an online spreadsheet on Google Docs that lets you track your daily writing. Not only that, but someone has made a game out of it, giving you points for both the number of words written (250 minimum) and how many days in a row you write. The longer your chain, the more points you get. I signed up on May 28, so this is my fifth day in a row writing, which means I get 5 points just for writing today. I also got 3 points for writing over 1,000 words. When I get 495 points I advance to Level 2, and my minimum word count goes up by 50 words to 300 words per day.

Since my project for this year is to write a short story every week, I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I finish the story early. I might have to start another project on the side. Something that I can pick up whenever I have the time, but that will let me get in my minimum word count.

At least one of my writing group is also using the Magic Spreadsheet, and is up to level 4 with a chain of 110 days. One of the podcasters I listen to is Mighty Mur Lafferty, and she is level 5 with a chain of 180 days. I don’t know if I can match that record, but at least this gives me something to strive for. It makes me accountable for writing every day, which is something I have been slacking on.

If you are interested in signing up, you can join the Facebook group or you can just Google it. Make sure to read the directions first, but don’t be afraid to add your name to an open slot. And if you do, let me know, so I can watch your progress. (If you’re looking, my name is at the bottom of the ISBWtwo sheet.)

In other news, I finished my 22nd Dirty Little Freaks story, and I’m trying to come up with something to write for number 23. I was watching Hogan’s Heroes today with my wife and I started thinking it might be interesting to write either some fanfic based on the show, or a story that is at least loosely modeled after them. Probably the latter, as I don’t think I could pull off a story worthy of the magnificence that was Bob Crane. (And if you haven’t seen the show, do yourself a favor and check it out.)

That’s it for today. Wish me luck on my daily writing, and I’ll see you back here on Wednesday with another update. TTFN!

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WisCon Writing Contest

On my first day at WisCon I discovered that the person who organized the Odyssey Con spontaneous writing contest also set one up for WisCon. So, of course, I had to at least attempt to participate. Since I hadn’t seen the e-mail before the con I knew I had little chance of actually being a part of it, but I thought it would be worth it to at least show up and see what happened.

To make a long story short, I got in. I decided that I didn’t care whether I won or not, so I would just treat it as a writing exercise. They provided six lines of dialogue and I decided to use them all as the start of my story and just go on from there. I also decided not to name the characters or use any kind of attribution. I was thinking about a writer’s podcast I had heard last year that spoke about how the reader should be able to tell the speaker by the dialogue if it is written correctly, so I tried to write each speaker with their own voice. I’m not sure how well I did, but I’ll let you judge for yourself. Below is my entry.

Mission Control

 “Picking anything up yet?”

“Nothing human. Coupla cats.”

“How do you know they’re cats?”

“How do you know they’re cats? If it looks like a cat and meows like a cat, it’s a cat. These guys think like cats.”

“And different from dogs, yeah?”

“Just like the difference between red and blue. Besides, they’re both normally like, uh, I dunno, a soft glow … until something lights ’em up. But it takes different things to do it. Cats light up when they see some kind of small critter they can chase, but dogs only do it for people. In f…. Oh, wait! What’s that now?”

“What? Let me see!”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist. Give me a second to focus in.”

“Is it them?”

“Not sure. Could be. Here, take a look.”

“They’re big enough to be human. But how can we tell if they’re the guys we’re looking for?”

“Let’s see what happens when they see the bait. If they light up, we’ve got ‘em.”

“What are you using for bait?”

“Like I said, they think like cats, so they’re looking for something small that they can hunt. But they’re bigger than cats, so they’re gonna want something a little bigger. Hang on, I think they spotted it.”

“That? Oh my god, what did you – you didn’t!”

“I told you, they needed something to hunt.”

“But it’s a child! How could you?”

“Don’t worry, we won’t let them hurt it. Besides, they like to play with their food first.”

“They play with it? That’s sick!”

“That’s why we’re here. We’ll get ‘em before they hurt the kid.”

“We better.”

“You worry too much.”

“I can’t help it. I’d like to have kids myself someday, you know.”

“You? Yeah, right! That’s rich. Carlos, they’re on the move. Get your team into position.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that I have never thought of you as the parenting type. You’re always focused on the job. I bet you don’t even date, do you? Well?”

“All right! I admit it. I haven’t made a lot of time for myself recently, but that doesn’t mean –“

“When’s the last time you went out on a date?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“Come on. You can tell me. I promise it won’t leave this room. Get ready, Carlos, they’re almost at your position.”

“Well… fine. The last time I was out on a date was right after I graduated from the Academy.”

“After… Holy crap, that was, like, eight years ago! No wonder you’re wound up so tight.”

“I am not!”

“Oh, please! You walk around like you’ve got a broomstick rammed up your ass. Ramrod straight and ready to snap.”

“… I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Where are our targets?”

“Don’t worry about them. Carlos took them down ten seconds ago. And look. There’s the kid, safe and sound.”

“So is it them?”

“Just a sec. Scan results are coming in now. DNA…Kirlian…Psychotron…. Yep, we’ve got ‘em!”

“Finally!”

“How long have you been after these guys?”

“Three years.”

“Wow. Must be a relief for it to be over.”

“You have no idea.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“I’m not sure. Whatever the Director wants, I guess.”

“Can I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

“Take some time off. It doesn’t have to be long, but it wouldn’t kill you to take a vacation.”

“I don’t know…”

“Just think about it. I usually take a couple weeks off between gigs myself. I’m planning on taking my boat out for a tour of the islands.”

“That sounds nice.”

“Damn straight. Nothing but the wind and the waves for two whole weeks. If that doesn’t recharge your batteries, nothing will. So what do you say?”

“Are you inviting me to come with you?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Because we work together, that’s why!”

“That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard. You know damn well that interpersonal relationships are allowed. And besides, I think we work well together, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah.”

“So think of it as a team-building exercise. There’s nothing like sailing to get people more in sync with each other.”

“…”

“Come on! It’ll be fun!”

“All right! It’s a date.”

“Okay! You won’t regret it.”

“I had better not. Now let’s get this mission wrapped up. I’ve got to go shopping for a swimsuit.”

“Yes sir!”

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Knowing When To Stop

I had an epiphany last week while I was working on my story. I started late, and wasn’t writing much on a daily basis, but I thought I knew where I was going with it until I wrote a single line. With that line, everything changed.

I was done.

All of my thoughts on what was going to happen next were irrelevant. The story was finished and it was good. It didn’t need anything else. I could just stop right where I was and it was okay.

“Always leave them wanting more.” – P.T. Barnum

Sometimes it’s better to leave the readers hanging. When you leave the reader the task of answering the questions that are left hanging, believe me, they will do it. And they’ll think the story is better that way.

So I ended up with a short story of 568 words. One of the shortest I have ever written. But I think it works. And to show you what I mean, I’m going to share it with you here. (It’s just a first draft, so don’t expect greatness.)

The only thing left in the box was an old, dirty penny. Sam picked it up and peered at it, trying to make out the date through the grime. 1916. It was older than his grandpa. Might be worth something if he cleaned it up and took it to a coin shop.

He jerked his head up at a noise from the entrance to the alley. Four large boys sauntered along, eager for trouble. “Whatcha got there, runt?” the largest one called out, swinging his baseball bat against a garbage bag, tearing it open and scattering the contents across the alley in a wave of refuse. His posse hooted at the resulting mess.

Sam stood up, putting his hands on his hips and slipping the coin into his back pocket. “Nothin’,” he said. “There ain’t but trash up here. I’s jus’ leavin’.” He walked towards the others, but they closed in, trapping him on the wrong side of escape.

“No need to rush,” Joe said, wrapping his beefy arm around Sam’s shoulder. “Why don’t you stick around a bit so we can have some fun?” He wiped his bat on Sam’s shirt, leaving a greasy stain slanting across his chest.

Sam squirmed out of the larger boy’s grasp and backed away. “Cain’t do that, man,” he said. “I’s gotta get somewheres.”

“That so?” Joe asked. “And where is it that you gotta get to so quick?” He put the bat up on one shoulder, holding it loosely. He looked relaxed, but Sam knew that he could whip it down and start a beating in one quick second.

Sam thought fast. Things weren’t looking very good. He was just starting to get used to this town, but it wasn’t looking like he was going to be able to stick around much longer.

It was the same thing everywhere he went. He tried to stay out of trouble, under the radar. But it didn’t take long before someone cornered him, just like this, and forcing him to act. Then people would start looking at him funny, calling him a freak, and he would have to leave.

The longest he had managed to stay in one place was for a glorious three months in the mountains of Oregon. He had found a cave that summer, and was living off the wild, with only occasional trips into town to scavenge for supplies and remind himself that he wasn’t the only one left alive. That idyllic time had ended with a group of boys, just like Joe and his gang, cornering him in an alley.

And now here he was, thousands of miles away, once again about to fight for his life. No matter how far he ran, the people were always the same. They all had their idea of how the world worked, and it didn’t include him.

Screw it. He didn’t need this crap. And he certainly didn’t need a beating from these jerks. Sam was sick of living on the fringes of society, running from place to place and living off of garbage. It was time to do something about it, and there was no reason not to start right now.

A smile spread slowly across Sam’s face. Joe’s own grin wavered when he saw it, and his hand tightened on the handle of the bat. Sam didn’t care. It wouldn’t make any difference.

This was going to be fun.

See what I mean? I introduced you to a character, gave you a little of his history, and gave you a hint of what might come next. You’re dying to know how Sam is going to get out of his predicament, but since I didn’t provide the answers, you get to answer those questions yourself.

Go ahead and leave me a comment about what you think about the story. Remember that it’s just a first draft, so try not to get all caught up in the fine details. Just let me know if you think it works.

That’s it for today. It’s time for me to start thinking about my next installment for the Dirty Little Freaks collection. I’ll check in again on Wednesday with another update. See you then!

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