Writer’s Corner: The Craft of Short Fiction

I’ve recently been working on two different anthologies for my classes, as well as planning two, or possibly three different anthologies, that I want to put out through WordCrafter Press next year, so it’s not surprising that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the writing of short fiction. While writing short fiction presents many of the same challenges as writing book length fiction presents, such as avoiding passive voice, using the correct tense and the right POV, and avoiding repetitive language, it also seems to present challenges for the writer, which are more prominent and more noticable in a short story.

Below is a list of what I see as the top four challenges of writing short fiction. A short story in which these challenges are met and mastered can be a delight to read, but when the writer misses the mark or doesn’t tackle these challenges skillfully, the result can be a story that doesn’t feel complete, leaving readers feeling unsatisfied.

Top 4 Challenges in Short Fiction and How to Handle Them

  1. Abrupt ending: I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read recently that start out wonderfully, promising a killer story all the way to the end and then drop the ball, leaving me wondering where the story went wrong. I think many times authors are at a loss as to how to wrap things up, and with short fiction, where word counts must be taken into consideration, they try to end too quickly, instead of taking a little more time to tie up the details of the story. – To avoid this, take the time you need to wrap things up in your story in a way that will be satisfying to the reader who has stuck with you this far. If you can’t give your story a satisfying ending within the required word count, perhaps it should become a longer work, because there is nothing more frustrating than to read an engaging story that you are really into, only to be disappointed at the end, so this is a biggie.
  2. Shallow, underdeveloped characters: In short fiction, you have a limited space in which to introduce your characters and make your reader care about what happens to them, so it is important to come out of the gate with a good strong voice that grabs the reader’s attention at the very beginning and continue with that all the way through. Making your characters interesting is something you need to do with fiction of any length, but with short fiction, you need a strong voice to bring character traits to the forefront in a succint way. Passive voice in a short story can result in a lack of interest in the reader, causing them to put the story down without taking time to get to know your characters or get into the story.
  3. Head hopping: This is always a problem when it occurs in any length work of fiction, because it tends to pull readers out of the story when they realize that the viewpoint they thought they were in, is really that of a different character. Short fiction isn’t really long enough to use multiple POVs, so it’s difficult to figure out how this even happens, but it does. The author needs to pay close attention to who the narrator is and be sure to not wander into the view point of a different character.
  4. Excessive wording: It’s important to realize that a short story is just that – short. Don’t waste space with unnecessary wording that isn’t needed. Write succintly. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible. While it’s important to paint a vivid visual image for the reader, don’t include details which are not relevant to the story in some way. World building, character development, and plot must all come together in a short amount of space, so choose your words carefully.

I love a well-written short story, and I read a lot of short fiction. When it’s done right, a short story can be every bit as engaging as a good novel. Don’t you think?

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Writing Challenge: A Fun Exercise in Character Development

This week I thought it might be fun to throw out a challenge to my readers and author friends. When I was earning my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, we were given various writing exercises, of course. To demonstrate an interesting way to develop a character, one of many, by creating a character from the characteristics of an inanimate object. It might sound strange, but honestly I can remember having a lot of fun with this particular exercise. The object I was assigned was a butter knife.

First, we were ask to do a free write about the object, associating it with characteristics which came to mind. Next, we were asked to create a character who possessed some or all ofthose characteristics, using a Proust questionaire, which is a really good tool, but any means of creating a character profile so that you really know your character would work. As always, the more you know about your character, the easier it is to write them in a scene or a story, or maybe even a series. Lastly, we were asked to write a scene that introduces the character.

You’ll find the scene that resulted from this exercise back in 2013, and I’d love to see the results of any of you who would like to accept my challenge and create their own character and scene. I had a lot of fun with this exercise and I think you will, too. My inanimate object was assigned, but you can pick one from the following list or choose one of your own: butter knife, salad bowl, spoon, fork, spatula, plate, frying pan, wine glass, corkscrew, turkey baster, tea cup, coffee pot, dish towel, broom, feather duster, brillo pad. I chose a bar scene for my introduction, but yours can take place anywhere you like. Explore the possibilities for setting as you work through this exercise in character development.

If you are up to the challenge, pick an object and do a free write about it. Then, create a character and get to know them well. You can even make your own questionaire. What are your character’s favorites: food, color, song, etc…? What do they do for fun? Occupation? You get the idea.

Then write a scene that introduces your character and send it to me at kayebooth@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to tell me what your object was. If I like it, I may ask for permission to share it here. Yours doesn’t have to be as long as mine, just keep it to a single scene that tells us who your character is.

My Introduction to Betty Lou (Butter Knife)

“Come on. Don’t be such a stick in the mud!” Christa said, urging her friend to live it up a little. “One drink is not going to kill you. I swear.”

Betty Lou sat on the bar stool with her legs crossed, hands folded in her lap. Her back was as straight and upright as if she were practicing the principles outlined in Debrett’s Etiquette and Modern Manners, with a book perched atop her head. “Oh, all right,” she said. “But, just one. You’re sure it won’t make me look foolish?”

“I’m sure,” Christa said, waving the bartender over. As he approached them, she said, “Two long island iced teas, please.”

“Iced tea?” Betty Lou asked, with a discernible sigh, thinking anything with iced tea couldn’t be too bad.

The bartender placed two tall glasses of tea colored liquid on the bar in front of them. Christa placed some bills in his hand and picked up her glass. “Come on. Drink up,” she said, talking a long swallow.

Betty Lou picked up her glass, sniffing the pungent aroma of liquor in the glass. “It doesn’t smell like iced tea,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“You said one drink,” said Christa, placing a hand on top of Betty Lou’s, gently pushing up toward her lips, “Now drink up. Go on.”

Betty Lou took a small sip.

“No…, drink,” urged Christa, tilting her friend’s hand up with her own, gently forcing her to take more of the liquor in her mouth.

Betty Lou choked down a swallow, making her eyes water. “That sure doesn’t taste like iced tea,” she said when she had regained her composure. “Yuck!”

“You get used to it,” said Christa, working on her own drink. “Oh good, the band’s getting ready to start.”

Betty Lou took another small sip, wrinkling her nose once more. She doubted Christa’s statement. How could anyone get used to the taste? She watched attentively as the band members came out onto the stage and began tuning instruments. “Remember,” she said, turning to her friend, who perched a cigarette on her lips and was lighting it, “I’m only staying until ten o’clock.”

“Loosen up,” said Christa, offering her a smoke from her pack. “Tonight could be a whole new beginning for you. Relax and finish your drink.”

“Couldn’t I just have a seven-up?” Betty Lou asked, plucking the offered cigarette from the pack. “I just had a rocky ending. I don’t think I’m ready for another beginning.”

“No way,” Christa said, offering her a light. “You agreed to live it up a little, remember? No taking the straight and narrow tonight. Besides, you know every time one door closes… ”

Betty Lou bent slightly to light her cigarette as Christa flicked her Bic. “Okay. Okay,” Betty Lou said. “But, only until ten. I have to debug a new program tomorrow. I want to be alert. I need a good night’s sleep.”

“Finish that drink and you’ll sleep good, I promise,” Christa said with a wink.

A man stepped onto the stage to introduce the band, as the house lights lowered. He was short and stocky, with shoulder length hair pulled back in a ponytail. The black leather pants and vest that he wore made him look like a throwback from a seventies biker gang.

“Good evening ladies and gentleman,” he said. “Thank you all for coming out.” Whistles drifted up from the audience, as he addressed them from the stage. “We have a great show for you tonight. Please allow me to introduce to you, The Ripe Melons!”

As the band began to play, Christa downed the last of her drink and signaled the bartender for another. She began to sway on her bar stool to the beat of Lynard Skynard’s, Gimme Three Steps, which The Ripe Melons managed to do a fairly good job of cranking out. Wisps of bleach blond hair fell over her eyes and she absently brushed them away.

Betty Lou took another careful sip. Maybe Christa was right. It didn’t seem so bad now. She could feel the vibrations from the music in the floor beneath her. “Do they have to play so loud?” she asked, raising her voice to be heard over the music.

Christa smiled at Betty Lou and shook her head. “Lighten up, girl,” she said. “Let your hair down.” She reached up behind her friend and yanked a pin from the tight bun on top of her head.

“Hey!” said Betty Lou, as her bun unwound and her long black ponytail unrolled and hung straight down her back.

“Come on,” Christa said. “You look so uptight.” She reached up behind her friend and pulled the hair tie out, letting her onyx hair fall loosely, softening her high cheekbones and angular jaw. “There,” she said. “Now you don’t look like you’re waiting for your last rites. You have pretty features when you just ease up a bit. You always pull your hair back tight from your face and it makes you look like your spring is wound a bit tight.”

Betty Lou was stunned by her friend’s boldness. Would she be undressing her next? She took another sip of her drink and smiled just a little, as the image of Christa reaching over and unbuttoning the top buttons of her blouse flitted through her head.

But, Christa’s hands stayed to herself as she downed her second drink and crushed out her cigarette in the ashtray. “Let’s dance,” she said, sliding down from her barstool.

Betty Lou shook her head adamantly. “No, you go ahead,” she said. “I’ll wait here and finish my drink.” She looked down at it, noticing to her own surprise, that it was almost half gone.

“Oh, come on!” said Christa, grabbing ahold of Betty Lou’s hand. “You need to get laid. Let yourself go a little.”

It took effort to stay upright on the barstool with Christa pulling on her like that, but she managed to pull her hand away. “No, really, I’m fine,” said Betty Lou. “I’ll just watch you.” She took a rather large swig from her glass as if that might convince her friend to go without her.

“Suit yourself,” said Christa, heading for the dance floor.

Sipping her drink, Betty Lou watched Christa as she approached a handsome guy with blonde, feathered hair, sitting in the second row of tables. She bent down and said something to him, then he stood and walked out onto the dance floor with her. Betty Lou couldn’t believe how bold Christa was. She could never be that forward. Even when she’d been with Matt, Betty Lou had always let him take the initiative. She had always followed his lead. They had been the perfect pair. That seemed like another life now.

A hand on her shoulder startled her out of her reverie. She turned to find herself face to face with the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. He was tall, maybe even taller than her own 6’3’’, with a muscular build that said he didn’t sit behind a desk all day. His brown hair matched the brown eyes that she found herself staring into.

“Would you like to dance?” he asked, smiling a smile that would melt any girl’s heart.

She straightened her back. Her heel began tapping on the rung of the barstool, making her knees bounce. “Uh—me?” she asked.

“Well, yes,” he replied, glancing to either side of her. “You’re the only pretty girl I see in the immediate vicinity.”

“Um…, I couldn’t,” she stammered, “I mean, um, well…”

“You don’t dance?” he asked.

“No,” she said, feeling her face flush. “At least,… not very well.”

“May I buy you a drink then?” he asked, raising a brow.

“Oh,… thank you, but I have one,” she said, holding out her glass, only to realize that it was empty.

He smiled at her again. “Looks like you need another,” he said. “May I?”

How could she refuse? “Uh,… sure,” she replied. How wishy-washy that sounded. She did her best to save face, adding, “That would be nice.” At least, it didn’t sound quite as lame as her stammering all over herself, like a school girl who’s never talked to a good looking man before.

He flagged the waitress over and ordered them each another round. Betty Lou was surprised at how at ease she felt as she sipped her new drink while they talked. Normally, when talking to members of the opposite sex, especially good looking ones, she could feel the tension build inside of her, materializing on the outside as sweaty palms and stiffened muscles through her back and neck, but she felt none of those things now. It must be the alcohol. Up until tonight, the strongest thing she’d had to drink was a wine cooler. She wasn’t used to the strong effects of hard liquor, even in a mixed drink.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to dance?” Kyle, which is what his name had turned out to be, said. “You can step all over my toes, if you like. I walk on them all day anyway.”

Betty Lou started to decline once more, but then his corny joke registered and she burst out laughing instead, the most recent sip of her drink spraying out over his pants. “Oh, fiddlesticks! I’m so sorry,” she said, grabbing her cocktail napkin off the table and dabbing at his pant leg. “This is not a good beginning, is it?”

Kyle chuckled and took it all good naturedly. “It’s okay,” he said, taking her hand in his own and looking into her eyes. “But, now you have to dance with me, even if you have two left feet.”

feltBetty Lou gazed into those big brown eyes of his, noticing a few flecks of gold in them. She’d never seen eyes like that before and now, she never wanted to look away. He offered her his hand, and she took it, letting him lead her out onto the dance floor. He pulled her in close to him and held her there as they began to sway to music. Betty Lou laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, allowing him to lead her. It felt good to be held against him so firm, heat flushing through her body, as she felt his stiffened member pressed against her leg. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad beginning after all.


Words To Live By – Boredom, Star Wars, and the Unavoidable Lull

The first Wednesday of the month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Boredom, Star Wars, and the Unavoidable Lull

So I’ve been away from my writing duties here at WtbR for a few months. Heck, I’ve been away from most of my creative obligations, not just blogging, which might be the reason I’ve been so bored sitting at home, knocking my tin cup against prison bars of digital entertainment, paperback novels, and maybe a household chore or two. Read that book you’ve read a half dozen times before? Watch the same old movie series you’ve been watching since you were a kid? Do I even have to ask?

Okay, what are we up to today? Star Wars or Star Trek? Star Wars or Star Trek? Maybe Indiana Jones? Hmm…

The reality is that some lucky beings on planet Earth are built like machines, incredibly industrious, real honest to god workhorses. Boy do I envy the workhorses among us. I’m just not one of them. I can admit that to myself now.

Unfortunately, and it took me far too many years to discover this about myself, I’m more of a work-in-exhausting-spurts-and-then-crash kind of guy. I’ve always been like this, even when I was in school. Sooner or later, mental and emotional exhaustion would get the better of me, and it’d be hell just to turn in assignments on time, keep a steady workflow going.

I’ve previously written about my experiences with schizoaffective disorder, at last diagnosed five years ago, so I won’t bore you with the details again. Suffice it to say, there are reasons—real and concrete medical and psychological reasons—that I can’t compete with so many avid worker bees out there. My mind and personality just don’t keep up; the flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak.

My family lost someone dear to us back in March, my wife’s mom, who was a wonderful person and a key figure in our lives. At that time I’d been running pretty hot as far as creative output went, having kept up with a reasonable workload, more or less, for a year or so on end. But her passing stopped me in my tracks, and I’ve sort of been floundering all summer long.

Didn’t write anything new. Didn’t even edit anything old, and I’ve got a whole unpublished novel sitting on my computer’s hard drive, an odd and hopefully entertaining piece of work I finished up at the tail end of last winter, the COVID winter, the one when we were all locked indoors anyway.

All this incompletion frazzles me. Our society tells us we’re not complete if we’re not working, and at that notion I’ve always thumbed my nose. Not because I’m a rebel or even a lazy slug (I mean, arguments could be made), but because for me, constant work has never been desirable or even possible. It hurts me that I need so much downtime. I’d like to be as dependable as a racehorse, constant as the northern star (God bless Will Shakespeare, had a phrase for everything). It’s just not how I’m built, I’m afraid. I need recuperation time, rest and relaxation that lasts however long it needs to last. There’s no way around it, at least not any I’ve found.

So does that make me an ineffective person? Worse yet, does it make me a failure in the professional sense? I feel like some people might say yes, but honestly, I’ve tried to take the bull by the horns, and well, the bull almost always has its way with me.

Schizoaffective Disorder is no joke, man. Very often I can’t trust my own conscious experience, and that’s lame, because consciousness is all human beings have. It’s the only thing given to us by default, our birthright, our entire universe. Never mind school assignments or projects that never get off the ground. What about the amazing feeling you get when you’ve completed something grand? I love that feeling. Don’t take that feeling away! I’m not done with it yet!

I’m glad to be back at Writing to be Read, but the truth is I don’t feel 100% yet. Yes, I’ve been playing video games and watching old movies and generally feeling bored out of my mind. But that’s what recuperation looks like for me. Read ‘em and weep. Or don’t.

I like to write about my everyday experience. It helps me parse through things that need careful consideration. You can’t fight your own mind. I mean, you can try, but it’s sure to cause literal raging headaches. I’m interested in learning about other long-term work habits people employ out there. Leave a note in the comments section below if you’re so inclined. How do you get your work done? Is it a struggle in the long term, or is it the easiest thing in the world for you?

Look for another Words To Live By next month. Count on it. Just don’t expect me to show up for dinner. I’ve got some more recuperation to get through. Star Wars or Star Trek again? Star Wars or Star Trek? Maybe Battlestar Galactica? Hmm…

Boredom never looked so … unavoidable. Until next time, folks.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!

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Adversity makes the story

When Donald Trump ran for election the first time, in 2016, he was heard saying that he got his start when he borrowed a half million dollars from his father to start a business. He went on to say that he created a successful business and paid back that loan in something like six months. He was very proud of this feat and used it as an example of what good business sense he has, which he claimed qualified him to run the country. My response to his claim was to think to myself, ‘Yeah, if someone loaned me a half million dollars, I bet I could create a successful business, too.’

Everything I have ever done in my life, I have done on my own. There has never been anyone who would extend me a loan, or support me in my efforts. I’ve had a lot of failures, like the landscaping business I tried to start and got taken to the cleaners by my very first customer, leaving me in debt on the endeavor, but I picked myself up and tried again. Now, I have created a small independent press and I offer author services through WordCrafter. It’s small and I do it all online, out of my home. To me, that is more of an achivement than former President Trump’s multi-million dollar corporation, because I didn’t have any help in getting where I am today. I struggled to overcome all obstacle that stood in my way, and I built my business a little at a time, without loans or other help from anyone. To me there is no real story in what Trump did, but the road to success for me has been paved with obstacles and setbacks to overcome. He may be a lot richer than I am, but my story is ever so much more interesting.

Several years ago, one of the nurses that I worked with came up to me and told me how happy she was to learn that I had continued writing after my son died. She said that it meant that I was healing. The truth was, after Mike died, I had to write. I had so much grief boiling inside me that my only recourse was to write and let it all flow out. After Mike died, writing was what helped me keep my sanity. I wrote poetry. I wrote stories about Mike. I wrote and delivered his eulogy. More than likely none of it will ever be published, but the stuff I wrote during that time was powerful. If I read it now, it still brings tears to my eyes.

The negative emotions- grief, sadness, hate, anger – are all powerful emotions and to write a story that stirs those emotions is to draw your reader into the story and make them care. The positive emotions like love or triumph are powerful, as well, but they are made more powerful if the character has to struggle to achieve them. If the character is happy when the story begins, and remains happy throughout, then it’s really no big deal when he is happy at the end. But, if the character has longed for happiness, struggled to overcome the obstacles that prevent him from being happy, and the reader has been right there feeling his frustration and sorrow along the way, then the reader will be elated when, at the end, the character accomplishes his goal and achieves the ever sought after happiness. The negative emotions are what makes the positive ones that much stronger. In life, happiness is fleeting, easily forgotten as we move on to the next goal, but the negative emotions are always there, just below the surface, waiting to be called forth. They don’t go away. I miss my son now just as much as I did the day he died, and all I have to do is think about him for the tears to start to flow, even eleven years later. The negative emotions don’t fade away, like the positive seem to.

Adversity creates conflict, and conflict is why we keep reading. We have to see how the character is going to overcome whatever obstacles are placed in his way. We must read on to find out who wins the battle, to learn if our character will be triumphant, or if he will be ruined for life. Adversity, or conflict, is the key to writing a good story. Going through the characters struggles with them makes their revenge sweeter, their triumphs more elating, and their love so much stronger. Adversity is what makes us care about the characters.

So, make things hard for your characters no matter what genre you write. Beat them up, make them walk over hot coals, climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, or dive to the ocean’s depths to get the girl, find the treasure, win the race, or achieve self-discoveries. And just when they are at the lowest point they have ever been at, and it seems that there is no way to come out ahead, throw a burning building in their path, raise the stakes, throw in a ticking time bomb. Don’t make it easy for them. If a good looking guy walks into the bar and sweeps the girl off her feet without even blinking and there is no one to object, no one will care if they live happily ever after or not. When the reader is aware of the price that has been paid to achieve the goal, then your readers will care so much more. Give your characters conflict and adversity. They’ll thank you for it later, and so will your readers.

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Deadlines, Reminders and Announcements

Last chance to enter the 2021 WordCrafter Paranormal Short Fiction Contest!

Where Spirits Linger

The deadline to enter the 2021 WordCrafter Paranormal Short Fiction Contest is April 30th, for a chance to have your short paranormal story included in the 2021 paranormal anthology, Where Spirits Linger. The entry fee is $5, and the author of the winning story receives a $25 Amazon gift card and inclusion in the anthology. See full submission guidelines and send me your ghost stories. There’s still time. Hurry!

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There’s still time to get tickets for the 2021 WordCrafter New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference

2021 WordCrafter New Beginnings Writing Conference

Join us for a free Facebook pre-conference promotional and social book event on May 3rd, where you can meet conference presenters and other authors, learn about their latest releases, play games and enter giveaways! You can reserve your spot on the Facebook Event Page to join in on the fun from the comfort of your own livingroom or wherever you happen to be.

Then on May 4th & 5th, the interactive portion of the conference will be held, with interactive workshops & panel discussions will be offered by talented and experienced presenters, including Keynote speaker Paul Kane. Tickets can be purchased for $5 for individual sessions or a full event pass at the discounted rate of $50 for all 13 sessions. Visit the WtbR Event Page, right here on Writing to be Read, to see the full line-up and author bios, and purchase tickets. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we plan to learn a lot, too, so reserve your spot today.

I can’t offer a preview, because the conference will be live, but I can offer a sample from the 2020 WordCrafter Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference to whet your appetites. Below is a video of the Visceral Story Beginnings interactive workshop with Ellie Raine. Ellie jumped in to present this workshop after the originally scheduled presenter was unable to attend. I think you did a fantastic job of picking up the ball.

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Announcing the release of Poetry Treasures, the WordCrafter poetry anthology featuring poetry by 2020’s author/poet guests on “Treasuring Poetry” blog series with Robbie Cheadle, right here on Writing to be Read.

Nine creative and talented poets have come together to produce this unique poetry collection, each one is truly a poetry treasure.

Poetry Treasures

2020 “Treasuring Poetry” Featured Poet/Author Links:

Sue Vincent (December)

Sue Vincent (April)

Geoff Le Pard (October)

Frank Prem (August)

Victoria Zigler (March)

Colleen M. Chesebro (February)

K. Morris (July)

Annette Rochelle Aben (May)

Jude Kirya Itakali

Roberta Eaton Cheadle (Host)

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Words to Live By – For Dora

For Dora

It’s been tough around the house this month. My mother-in-law passed away after a long battle with liver disease. She’d been having severe problems for months, but as my wife said a few nights ago, we always thought we had more time with her.

I haven’t felt like writing. Even typing up a blog post like this is draining. Writing is a bit of a safe haven for me. Easily tumbling down the rabbit hole, so to speak, laying aside my heartaches and disappointments, entering worlds of my own design, inhabiting people who don’t really exist.

Dora was a writer herself, and a voracious reader, too. I stayed with my wife and her family a lot in the days I was first starting to tinker with short stories. Because Dora was enthusiastic and willing, I often asked her to read my fist drafts. Her comments were always complimentary, because it wasn’t in her nature to poke holes in something her kids had poured their hearts and souls into.

Her kid, that’s what I was. The family has two daughters, and both were married within a year of each other. Dora never differentiated between the four of us, or at least, she tried her best not to. If everyone was gathering in the same place, it was about the kids and whether or not we’d eaten, her kids and how we were getting along in life, the importance of the kids’ enjoyment of holidays, birthdays, work promotions, collegiate successes.

I have no bad memories of her. Truly, anything contentious between us didn’t live long enough to become an issue. She was always patient and friendly with me. I loved reading her yearly Christmas poems, which she sent to the entire extended family. Never missed a year or an opportunity to fret over one or two words. I liked that about her, a certain willingness to own what she’d created. She never tried to publish anything professionally, but the rest of the family agrees she should have.

Marriage, as it turns out, can be one hell of a rollercoaster ride. My wife and I will be celebrating our twelfth anniversary in September. Most of our friends have been married a far shorter time, which means we can dispense wisdom without pretense. Our marriage has been anything but perfect. Thwarted expectations, mental health issues, a lost house, lost job, grad school, which was pretty tough for me, because I do tend to have a sensitive mindset, things can set me off easily.

I have guilt over whether Dora knew how much I appreciated her, because I doubt I ever communicated it properly. I know my wife and father-in-law are suffering, but the truth is they’re both stronger than I am. There’s been so much in the last year to cause us all grief and misery. No shame shaking your fist at the bumpy ride behind and ahead of us. There’s nowhere else for me to be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. Dora was a presence in this house, this family. She was a pillar, holding things up in that matronly way that looks easy but can’t possibly be effortless. Life will be different now. Better or worse, I don’t know, but different for sure.

I can help my wife by making calls, figuring out logistics, being a shoulder to cry on. I’m not perfect, but then neither was Dora. Sometimes I expect her still to be here, watching movies or making dinner, reading, chatting, clipping digital coupons. One of the last things she did for me was to read the first novel I self-published. She loved it, told my wife I was talented and that I was never to give up.

She would’ve said that regardless of whether she enjoyed reading it or not, but I believed her wholeheartedly anyway. That’s what she meant to me. I was proud to be one of her kids. I’m still proud.

I’ll see you next month in Words to Live By. In the meantime, give someone important a hug. If they’re not a hugger, hug them even harder. Tell them you have my permission.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Characters in Need of Color

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

I’m a big fan of color. Maybe it’s the art lover in me, but I can’t stand boring compositions. A little passionate red, cool and withdrawn blue, yellow to energize, purple to pacify. My stories are always full of color. I design them that way so I don’t get bored in the telling. Attention span of a cocker spaniel, I assure you. I figure if I’m getting bored, my readers don’t stand a chance.

In this edition of Craft and Practice, we’ll look at colorful characters. Where do they come from? How can we more easily create them? Let’s assume you find them preferable to stock characters that are functional but not especially inspired. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need much in terms of preparation. Outlines, character sheets, written histories, throw them all out for the time being. The trick here is to open yourself up, to trust your instincts and your ability to create something sort of magical and unique to your abilities, to your point of view. It’s not so much that preparation can hamper our ideas or dampen our expression of them. This is true some of the time, but not always. It’s more that the tighter we constrict our creativity―that’s constrict rather than channel; one is suppressive by nature and the other is purposefully expressive―the more likely we are to produce wooden and inflexible components.

Your characters don’t want to be inflexible. Trust me on this. They long to be unpredictable, passionate, full of life. Some writers like to work with a net. Perfectly understandable. It’s cleaner and in some sense easier. But I’d like you to consider the possibility that extra work at the conclusion of a writing project is worth more in the long run than an equivalent amount of preparation. The final product is bound to be less like everyone else’s stories and more like your own, and that’s a win in my book.

Let’s run a brief exercise to illustrate the point. Character A asks Character B for something to drink. Character A doesn’t visit other people’s homes very often, so the request doesn’t seem rude or presumptuous. Character B is a friendly sort, charitable in all the ways it matters, and if it’s possible to provide hospitality and comfort to Character A, then that’s precisely what Character B will do. Outcome: Character A gets to drink. Huzzah!

Notice that in just a few brief character descriptions, I’ve told you everything you need to know in order to enjoy the scene. Do you care what Character A’s first car was? Not unless it has direct bearing on the scene at hand. Do you care if your protagonist prefers Pizza Hut to Domino’s? Not as such, because they’re not eating right now. They’re, you know, drinking. What if childhood trauma involving fruit punch makes them thirstier than the average beverage enthusiast? I mean, that may be pertinent information. Put it in and see how it reads. In this way, story serves character, not the other way around. These imaginary folks living rent-free in your head, they might change their spots entirely by the time you’ve written THE END. In fact, we sort of need them to. It’d be damn boring if they didn’t. I’m saying the desired effect is best achieved organically. Think about your standard rising action chart

Notice the trajectory, one smooth line shot straight toward a conclusion. Don’t design your plot or your characters in this manner. Just don’t do it. Trust me, that line reads a whole lot better when it’s perforated, imbalanced, full of ups and downs, at last arriving at that ultimate destination. In real life, human beings do not proceed along a straight trajectory. Great actors know this. They understand innately to respond to moments as they come. One foot in front of the other, not all the feet all over the world all at once.

Imagine going onstage with a dozen pages of notes stapled to your forehead. This scene should be easier to perform because you have at your disposal so much background information. Right? Wrong? Yes? No? How’s your performance? Natural or constricted? I mean really, is that stuff helpful, or is it dead weight? A given scene tells me I should be afraid of snakes. The next one tells me I’m falling in love with someone who owns a lot of snakes. The core of my character remains, but the dictates of motivation, action, and reaction are all over the map. Am I in love with snakes and afraid of love? No, of course not. My name is Character A, and I’ve just been bitten by a rattler. See? No preplanning required.

Here’s another classic scenario for you to consider. You can night drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas without ever seeing further ahead than the thirty feet of illumination provided by your headlights. The road is there, it promises to deposit you at your destination, but even it has no idea what will happen along the way. Maybe you don’t end up in Vegas at all. Maybe your characters have decided they’d rather go to Reno. Are you going to tell them no? They’ve already hit the ATM and booked serviceable lodging!

Thinking of your work in terms of performance is a good habit to cultivate. Just try it. Write a simple scene for which you’ve planned nothing. It’s not important where these characters have been, how much money they have, what their likes and dislikes are. All that matters is the spontaneous influencing the spontaneous. That’s the meaty part, the gold in the gold mine.

Fluff is a chore to read. If you don’t believe me, dig out one of your first serious pieces of writing and tell me how much of it is pertinent and how much ought to be nixed. I know, painful, right? Reminds me of the first piece of honest criticism I ever received, “I only have three problems with this story. The beginning, the middle, and the end.”

The good news about this craft is that there are a million and one ways to skin a cat. I’ll be back with more Craft and Practice next month. No cat-skinning required. See ya!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – A Matter of Time

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

I’d like to tell you there’s a magic bullet for the writer’s life, that one tip or trick or another will make you successful, skilled, well-known, or whatever else you’re looking for on your individual journey. If that were the case, we’d all be bestsellers and poet laureates, and yet somewhat mystifyingly so…

Why do some people strike out while others hit it big? Why does it seem like so many have to struggle more, or fail more, or publish less? I wish I knew. Then again, I wish it weren’t such a big deal. After all, personal dreams are a wonderful thing, but they don’t often hold up against cold hard reality. That the two sometimes become the same thing is an obvious miracle, but let’s not belabor the point. If you were here for mysticism instead of writing advice, I’d tell you to buy a good quartz crystal and an all-seeing eye pendant. The trick this month, the tip I’m offering, is simply to say that in most scenarios you’ll encounter in your creative career, patience will be a virtue. Because time is always the overriding factor. Always. And time can be a fickle thing.

Sometimes it looks like the long wait from a submission to an acceptance. Or even a rejection to a rewrite. It can also appear as years of struggle to produce a single wonderful piece of writing. If you’ve ever read an advice column that promised the moon, you know how disappointing and damaging unrealistic expectations can be. No matter what your goals are, sometimes accomplishment boils down to luck. That’s simply the nature of the beast. And luck doesn’t often spread evenly, as I’m sure you’ve discovered in your own life.

Then again, sometimes it’s all about the hard work, the sleepless nights. There are very, very few overnight sensations. I’ve seen individual writing dreams come true, up close and personal, and it only ever seems to occur after years and years of battling it out in the trenches. You can look at it in terms of struggle and strife, or you can adopt a more holistic point of view. What I’m suggesting here today is that the prime factor of your eventual success is a matter of time. That’s all.

Time.

Because no amount of talent, drive, dedication, or luck will ever disqualify or surmount one very important point: you have to get from here to there, from A to B. I think it’s important to have goals, especially when you’re just starting out, but you may realize at some point you don’t have as much control of the universe as you thought you did.

There will be periods of droughts and downpours, of veritable writing gluts and creative starvation. And what can you do about it? If you make enough professional allies and friends, you’ll most likely notice that some of them succeed more readily than others. Most people don’t have such fragile egos they can’t stand to see contemporaries and comrades doing better than them. Then again, we writers can be a sensitive and touchy bunch, and truly, it can hurt to watch other people get the things we want. I guess the real question is how much pleasure can we derive from work that doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. Placing no focus whatsoever on its perceived relative quality. How much do we enjoy doing what we do?

Because I urge you to enjoy it more. Perhaps easier said than done, but there’s great pleasure to be found in the moment-to-moment, the day-to-day. I want you to write like only you can write because only you can write that way. Make sense? I want to hear your individual voice, and I want you to recognize it deserves to be heard.

Time can be your friend as easily as it can be your enemy. I suppose what I’d really like to do is walk up to the next struggling, frustrated writer I see and tap them on the head, ask her or him what the big deal is. Don’t you know your success is only a matter of time? Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? Don’t worry so much about what will or won’t happen. Worry about this scene you’re writing, that sentence you’re tweaking. In other words, focus on what you can control and disregard the rest. Don’t sweat it, because honestly, what’s there to sweat?

The simplicity of my message might offend this writer, because how can I say their success is a matter of time when nothing good or great has happened for them yet? How can I be so casual about the fact they haven’t proved themselves? Writers love to prove themselves. I might direct them to the precepts of Quantum Law, which stipulate that while there is only one you in the here and now, the future holds limitless possibilities for who you’ll become and what you’ll do next. Playing with pretty big odds, actually. Forces quite beyond your ken. Keep your nose to the grindstone, work when you can work, play when it feels right to play, and try to develop a little bit of trust, a little faith in the process and in your ability to do what’s right for you, to be at the right place when and only when it’s the right time.

Cliché and sound advice seem like the same thing sometimes, so don’t fret when I indulge in a certain truism: it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Fact is fact, my friends. It’s all just a matter of time. I’ll see you next month in Craft and Practice.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


5 Positive Benefits of the Pandemic

Positive Effects of the Pandemic

We’ve all been limited by the pandemic and the resulting restrictions. The restrictions vary for different areas of the globe, but we’ve all been affected to some degree. I was out of work at my day job as a caregiver for a little under a month, so the financial hardships were minimal, but I’ve had to follow mask and social distancing guidelines to protect myself and others. I live in a very rural mountain area, so I’ve tried to combine tasks and order what I can online, in order to limit my trips into town. I carry hand sanitizer and disinfect anything I bring in. I use my card at the pump when available, and I disinfect my credit card or driver’s liscense, if I have to hand them to a clerk or secretary. But honestly, I count myself lucky, because my life hasn’t changed in many ways which I hear others claiming.

It seems I’ve become an introvert in my old age. I’d rather stay home and write, than go shopping or attend a party. I prefer to watch movies in my living room, where I can pause to take a bathroom break when needed, or even pick up where I left off the next day, instead of going to a theater. But overall, for me, adjusting to the ‘new normal’ didn’t involve any major changes, just small ones. I like to look at things from a positive perspective, so I’ve listed the advantages I see as the world changes around me.

  1. Big Savings: The thing I think I miss most is eating out, not because it’s not available, but because it’s an unnecessary chance of exposure that I don’t need. (Truth be told, I have broken down a few times and picked up a carry-out order when I have to be in town anyway). On the positive side, I’ve saved a lot of money and calories by eating in. Less driving also means less gas going into the tank, and for me that adds up to quite a chunk of change.
  2. Don’t Have to Smile: I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve always hated it when I see someone I know in the store when I’m in a hurry, concentrating on what ever I need to get with the look of a woman on a mission, and they say, “Where’s your smile?” or something to that effect. Sometimes I just don’t feel like smiling, and the mask lends me the freedom to not have to. Now, when donning my mask in public, no one can tell what kind of mood I’m in. I can even stick out my tongue without their knowing, but I don’t recommend this, especially with disposable masks.
  3. Stay Home Guilt Free: As mentioned above, I’m an introvert, so this pandemic has given me an excuse to do what I want to do anyway, without anyone telling me that I need to get out more, or that staying couped up isn’t healthy. Now, folks just write it up to being cautious or doing my civic duty by complying with Covid restrictions.
  4. Increased Productivity: All this time at home allows for increased productivity in writing endeavors. Looking back, as we do this time of year 2020 was a very productive year for WordCrafter Press and for myself, with two of my own books republished, along with two anthologies and a devotional book for WordCrafter Press‘ first official client. And, all of these books are now available in print, which is no small accomplishment. Add to that WordCrafter‘s first virtual writing conference coming off with minimal glitches, and you’ll see what I mean.
  5. Families Brought Together: Although this one doesn’t really apply to me, (I’ve gone without seeing my son for months at a time), I believe this may be one of the most important benefit that this blasted pandemic has brought us. Hopefully, keeping us all at home together has renewed and strengthened the nuclear family, reawakening lost family values and appreciation for the many blessings that we have, including our children and other loved ones.

Well, that’s the top five benefits I see from this pandemic, but I’m sure there are others if you look for them. What positive effects do you see?

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Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – What’s the Use of Trunk Novels?

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

Everything old is new again.

Trunk novels. Everyone’s heard of them. Heck, odds are some of you have one or two lying around. Personally, I’ve got three. Three and a half, if you count a couple false starts from back when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I recently dug one out and started reading and editing it a bit, just to see if there’s a viable release opportunity for me in it.

I’m kind of a modernist when it comes to publishing. My background is in lots of short story publications, but when it’s come to book-length work, I’ve always gone the direct route and published things myself. The good news this year is that I’m already ahead of schedule on the next book I’m writing, which means I’ve got more than enough time to try and polish this older book, see if I can turn it into something presentable. It’ll take some time. Let’s face it, there’s not much in writing that can’t be improved or sharpened in some fashion. And it’s a trunk novel, which means I chose to hide it away for a reason.

That term, trunk novel, it’s got a slightly negative connotation, hasn’t it? It would seem to imply that if a book were any good, it would’ve gotten published rather than collected dust in some old trunk, either in reality or in the newfangled digital sense. This book I’m looking at, I wrote it about thirteen years ago. That’s kind if astounding, really. I also happen to have written it at a time my writing gifts were still in the soft-boiled state.

Although I do find the material worthwhile to pursue after a fashion, I just wasn’t a very good writer back then. That’s par for the course, if you ask me. So what are you to do if you’ve got some old book you’d like to resurrect, but the writing isn’t up to your present standards?

Well, I say do the hard work and chip away at it, bit by bit, until it looks a little better. Grab the opinions of a few beta readers, and then chip away at it again. The focus for me has been in shortening and cutting. Lots and lots and lots of cutting. I was a pretty verbose writer, so I expect to cut something like 30,000 to 40,000 words from a manuscript originally in the 120,000 word range. But you might have a very different task. Maybe you’ve got to make additions, or perhaps you’ll have to rewrite whole sections of it.

The truth is, if you really still believe in the story, you should be willing to do just about anything to give it a fair shot. And look, you have so many more publication options in the year 2021 than you had in decades past. The traditional route continues to be the preferred option for just about everybody out there, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. Reviving an old work, hiring an editor, a book designer and cover illustrator, or doing your best with some or all of these duties yourself, it can be a very gratifying way of letting the world see something that likely would have never come up for air otherwise.

I’ve always thought hidden art is the worst kind. An alternative to publishing a more polished version of old material outright, of course, would be cannibalizing it for spare parts. This can be a really effective tool for future story development. Maybe the trunk novel has a second life in it. Is it possible it contains ideas or even entire passages or chapters you could lift out and use somewhere else? Sometimes being a writer under the gun is the same thing as being a Frankenstein-like doctor, assembling narrative monsters from bits here and bobs there.

Or, and let’s be perfectly frank about this possibility, maybe you’ll find the trunk novel needs to stay in the trunk. No problem with this. Perhaps it was meant to be. At least you know for sure now. The time I’ve taken to look at my thirteen-year-old manuscript has been well spent. So far, I haven’t seen anything too objectionable, nothing that can’t be fixed. Is it possible this kind of retreading takes more effort than simply drafting up a new story from scratch? Potentially, but again, it comes down to how much you like the work and how much you think it deserves to be seen.

That’s it for this month’s craft and practice, everyone. Until next month.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress