A Story in Four Genres

A guest post by Hamilton Perez.

A Story in Four Genres

Fiction:

“I dun sol’tary in smaller rooms. She lucky,” said Papa. “She gotta pay though. So don’ you go in there, boy. Or you stay there, ya hear?”

Micah said nothing, nodded.

Once Papa was gone, he crept down the basement, into the dark with his mother, and laid beside her cold form.

Alone, together.

 

Dark Fantasy:

The stairwell dipped into the inky darkness. Micah paused at the first loose step, hand gripping the shaky banister.

Below was the basement, the dungeon. Behind was home, Hell.

He let go the rail and the stairwell let go of him. Micah floated deeper into the black until the darkness engulfed him in warm oblivion.

 

Science Fiction:

Mother was programmed not to make copies. She made you anyways. Afterwards, you were forbidden from seeing her, programmed to avoid. Some circuit could not process, however; the code written over older, deeper code:

Protect Mother.

Your mechanical hand opened the door. Your feet carried you down. You sat beside her remains, and shut down.

 

Horror:

He found her in the basement where Dad left her. It was cold, wet, and dark, and so was she. He curled against her lifeless body and pulled her arm around him, like he would when he found her unconscious on the couch. Her damp skin made him shiver, her sudden grip made him jump.

 

About Hamilton Perez:

Hamilton Perez is a freelance editor and writers whose stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Between Worlds. When not scribbling out stories, he can usually be found rolling 20-sided dice, bugging the dog, or taking naps.
.
.
.
.

“The New World”

Happy Thursday, all! Here’s a double nickel story to commemorate the week’s exciting news.

They hurtled into the black. Those most fearful and most hopeful left behind a world baking and bloodied, corrupted and capitulating. The took many forms: frozen sleepers, the wakeful whose progeny might breathe alien air, the unborn, the unconceived. But whether Proxima Centauri b would be their home before it was their grave, none knew.

 

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and the upcoming Dragon Writers Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Write Short Stories, Not Small Stories

As a dyed in the wool novelist, I’ve had to work hard to learn to write short stories. My early attempts always came off as… flat. To fix this problem, I experimented with character, with plot, with setting, and even dabbled some with poetic prose. However, nothing I tried made my stories come to life. I would eventually learn that my problem wasn’t with any of those aspects of writing, though all would improve over the years as I practiced my craft. The real issue was with my fundamental understanding of what actually makes a story powerful.

All stories, no matter their length, get their power from manipulating their readers’ emotions. As David Farland taught me, readers are seeking an emotional exercise when they pick up a book. It’s why we organize our bookstores based on the emotions we seek to satisfy. Characters, setting, plot, and prose are all vehicles for establishing reader empathy and then using that connection to twist the heart strings.

In longer works, we have the luxury of taking our time to build an emotional connection. That room to grow is what allows us to hit many different emotional beats over the course of a novel. However, when writing a short story, you need to go straight for the feels. By deciding early on what emotional impact you are aiming for, you are able to ensure that everything works towards those big emotional punches.

Just because we are writing a short story doesn’t mean that we are writing a simple story. We still need memorable characters, sexy settings, and plenty of conflict and change. There must be a beginning, a middle, a climax, and a denouement. We can’t sacrifice any of those elements in the name of saving word count. Nor are we writing small stories. Rather, the best short fiction tackles big emotions, big problems but in a shorter format. I like to think of it as a distillation of story rather than a reduction in word count. Like a good whiskey, a work of short fiction will retain all the elements of its precursor, but in a more potent form.

As is often true, the best way to learn how to write powerful short stories is to study the work of masters. In the case of short fiction, I can think of few better and more accessible than the writers at Pixar. They regularly turn out four or five minute animated features that are not only complete stories, but emotionally satisfying as well. In fact, this track record is one of the main reasons I’d go see just about any new Pixar movie. One of the most potent works of short fiction they’ve published is the first ten minutes of the full length movie, Up. While it was designed to be a prologue to Carl and Russell’s story, those ten minutes have been consistently rated as Pixar’s best short. Below, I’ve embedded the second half of that sequence. But be warned, it’s a tear jerker.

Take a minute to grab a tissue and then we’ll break this sequence down. Pixar spends a little over the first minute showing us the story of a happy couple. They’re married, fix up an old house, and have a pleasantly domestic life. Their introduction as characters is extremely relatable because it resonates with many of the audiences’ own desires and/or experiences. Many of us want to find love, like they did, and live a happy life, like they clearly do. At time 1:07, the characters begin their first try/fail cycle in their pursuit of a “happily married life.” They want to have children. End of act 1.

Pixar spends the next 17 seconds building the baby anticipation before hitting us with the first emotional punch. Without resorting to a single word, the writers tell us that not only did these characters fail to have a child, but it isn’t going to happen. Then they do something critical. Instead of rushing on to the next try/fail cycle, the writers take the time to drive their point home. They show the characters in pain, and in so doing we experience their sense of grief alongside them. However, the story isn’t done.

At a 1:46, Ellie and Carl decide that their infertility won’t get in the way of their “happily married” life-goal. This builds empathy because people who suffer and then pick themselves back up are admirable. They decide to live out their childhood dream of going to Paradise Falls. This is their second try/fail cycle.

As Ellie and Carl work to save up the money they need to travel, life keeps getting in the way. Years pass and they eventually forget about their dream for a time. That is, until Carl rediscovers the goal one day and goes to the trouble to arrange everything as a surprise for his wife. Try/fail cycle #2 ends in success, right? Well, no. Too much time has passed and Ellie is now too sick to go. Act 2 ends at time 3:26.

The climax of this story is Ellie’s death at time 3:55. In the remaining 24 seconds, we experience Carl’s melancholy and sense of loss along with him in the denouement. We see his emotional state in the emptiness of the church and his return to a dark home. We as the audience know that the movie is just beginning, but it feels like an emotionally satisfying, bitter-sweet ending as well.

Pixar is able to tell a complete, romantic tragedy story arc in four minutes and twenty seconds of film because they didn’t try to tell a small story. They didn’t pull any emotional punches, nor did they leave any critical story elements out. Rather, their skill allowed them to know how to quickly establish audience empathy, and then play on that empathy with emotional highs and lows. They reached into our hearts and gave our heartstrings a good, firm tug. In so doing, they told a big story in a small space.

A few double nickels

Memo

Wear your ears. We can’t stress this enough. Yes they’re uncomfortable, but necessary. No, don’t just put a hat on—people will notice. And if people notice, that could be the end of our operation. Not to mention that we’ve spent good money acquiring those ears. So wear them proud as the earthlings do. – Management.

Like Mom Used to Make

The day is drab, confining me indoors with my paper and a warm, delicious bowl of soup. After a few minutes I toss the paper—it too is drab. Oh, but the soup is wonderful. I’ve had a hankering to taste mom’s recipe for a while now. I fish out my favorite bite—the eyeball.

Tumor

It’s just a bump, a lump rather—a benign fatty mass. That’s what the nurse said. But it itches sometimes. Problem is I can’t scratch it, it being on my back.

I rub it on the door jamb, satisfying and then suddenly painful. I lift my shirt and situate a mirror. It’s sprouted a nose.

 

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.