The Earth my sky, the Moon my siren

Hello everyone,

Before I get to my 55 word story, I wanted to say how I excited I am to post my first official entry as a Fictorian! I have guest posted here four times before, and I am both honored and thrilled to be made a full time member.

Now, on to my first blog post- -and it was a doozy! Write a story in exactly 55 words? It sounded like a fun challenge, but a difficult one. In the end I enjoyed the puzzle of writing the story so much, I documented my journey through double-nickel-land for this post. First I’ll give you the story, then if you want to stick around I’ll take you through my process of writing it.

***

THE EARTH MY SKY, THE MOON MY SIREN

The hatch is open, my radio channel closed. Alone I float through the stars, alone with her.

Through the glass she had called, her song a sweet wind. She whispers, reaching for my helmet. Without it, I will hear her better. Her hands and mine, both at my collar.

Who removes it? It doesn’t matter.

***

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how that came out. Funny thing is, I had my idea for the story pretty quickly after getting the assignment. In my mind’s eye I saw an astronaut floating in space, getting farther and farther away from his capsule. I knew he was out there because he wanted to be, but also against orders. (I acknowledge more than a passing nod to David Bowie’s Space Oddity in the imagery.)

The siren concept and the ending both came quickly to me and I was off to the races. Now the question was: how could I possibly tell this in 55 words?

So I figured first I’d bang out what I had using as brief prose as possible and count it up. This version (sadly?) is lost to the ether, but it was 70 words long.

“Great!” I said. “I’m only 15 words off. I’ll just squeeze it a bit more and count up what I have!”

That second version ended up 90 words long. Somehow my prose squeezing added 20 words instead of subtracting them!

Here is try #2, the 90-word version:

***

The stars are my world now. Outside the capsule, I am alone among them. Alone with my new friend.

She had beckoned through the window, called to me with a song I’ve heard on the wind since I was a child.

There is no wind here, as she floats with me. The capsule is far now, but she is close. With my helmet off I will hear the wind, feel the song in my ears. I cannot tell if it is her hands on the helmet seal, or mine.

It doesn’t matter.

***

So all the core concepts are there, and the ending is there. Still now I am 45 words away from my goal. I was, like my astronaut, drifting farther and farther away.

I decided on my third try I would just capture the core concepts in a few words as possible. No prose, nothing fancy. Just A to B to C and see what that count was.

Here is try #3, where I also started counting the number of words in each sentence:

***

I am alone in space, outside my ship (8)

A woman called me with her song (7)

We float off together. (4)

She wants me to remove my helmet to hear her song. (11)

Either she or I remove it, it doesn’t matter who (10)

***

Ok with the core concepts down, I did the math: 8+7+4+11+10 = 40

That gives me 15 words to play with. I could add a bit, and swap in some ‘prosier’ word choices.

I decided I wanted to add “The door is open, my radio channel closed.” as a first line – that’s another 10 words, leaving me 5.

Here’s version #4:

***

The door is open, my radio channel closed. (8)

Alone I float through the stars, alone with her. (9)

Through the glass she had called, her song a sweet wind. (11)

She whispers now, reaching for my helmet. (7) Without it, I will hear her better. (7).

Her hands and mine, both clasping the collar. (8).

***

Okay, still needs the big finish, what do I have left to work with? Five. Five words. “Who unclasps it? It doesn’t matter.” is six. Maybe I can cut one in one of the sentences above. I decided to kill ‘now’ in “She whispers now”.

Here’s a look at what I hoped was the finished product, version #5:

***

The hatch is open, my radio channel closed. (8)

Alone I float through the stars, alone with her. (9)

Through the glass she had called, her song a sweet wind. (11)

She whispers, reaching for my helmet. (6) Without it, I will hear her better. (7)

Her hands and mine, both at my collar. (8)

Who removes it? It doesn’t matter. (6)

***

I also swapped ‘hatch’ for ‘door’, which I think is better. I made a second minor change because I didn’t want to use ‘clasp’ twice. At this point, I decide it’s done and that is the version you read.

For 55 words I’m pretty happy with it – the major thrust of what I envisioned is there. I wish I had a bit more room for atmosphere and to show his emotions about removing his helmet, but I’m happy with the result.

If you are a writer (or want to be one) I encourage you to try a double-nickel challenge of you own. I found it to be a fascinating little puzzle and I think it grows some great skills.

See you next time!

The Final Goodbye and Day Four – Two Double Nickel Stories

The Final Goodbye

You know, I forgot to tell you this. I loved the way you said my name. You pronounced every syllable, and you let the vowels roll the entire hollow of your mouth. You didn’t quite do that when you left. In fact, I don’t think you said my name at all. And I won’t say yours ever again.

Day Four

Angela took the hairpin from the Barbie and bent it straight. With her eye to the lock, she tried to read its secrets. She stuck the hairpin in the lock and waited. Silence. Then she carefully worked the hairpin, hoping tonight, it might just work. She really missed her family.

Footsteps sounded down the hall.

Adding Depth Without Adding Words

Short fiction is short. I know, that’s not an earth shattering revelation. But when I’m writing short stories it’s almost a mantra. Almost like a vertically challenged version of Keep It Gay from The Producers.

Maintaining depth and progressing the plot while being economical with words is really really hard. I’ve often heard it said that when writing short your words have to multi-task; and it’s true that they do. But I’ve found that there are a few little tricks that can, depending on the story, maintain depth without adding to the length.

Sticking to One Point of View:

It’s simple math. It takes time, and words to introduce each character to the reader. The fewer characters your story has, the fewer words there will be. By sticking to one point of view you can use the words that you would have spent on developing another character on delving a little deeper into the one. Or if you’ve already delved deep into the character’s mind you can use this trick to cut down the overall length.

No Room in the Wings:

When I was still acting, every theater I performed in had space issues backstage. Some of them had fairly large wings but once you added the moving set pieces — some of which were quite large — furniture, 10-20 actors, props, the stage manager and their crew, and dressers there was barely enough room for air. Even Noah would be hard pressed to fit all of that into such an ark.

Often the solution to this is to do the play with a smaller cast and crew. Some of the chorus and supporting cast members are given two, sometimes three minor roles to play. One of the dressers might double as a stage hand. The stage manager might help move set pieces. It can be a bit crazy and hectic but really it’s an efficient use of resources. There’s never a dull moment. Everyone is busy.

I do realize that it’s not that easy to make characters play multiple roles like that. Not obvious roles anyway. If your protagonist needs a foil to make them more likable then why can’t their best friend play that part too? It’s also possible to trim a few side characters whose presence doesn’t move the plot.

Writing in First Person:

I know some of you cringed. Believe me, I LOVE writing in third. But first person when done well can open up a character to the readers. Part of this I think is because of the word I. I believe that it makes everything that happens to the viewpoint character more personal. It may only be a subconsciously but that’s enough. Should you write all of your short stories in first person? Heck, no. If you feel it’s going to be better in third then write it in third. But if it’s the kind of story where you want the reader to really feel the character’s plight then try writing it in first person.

Wordplay:

I’m not talking about clever quips or prose. I’m talking about the associations that certain words have. For example: Lisa walked through the neighborhood. Vs. Lisa walked through the ghetto. The first one is pretty neutral and nondescript. The second brings an image of dilapidated buildings and cracked sidewalks to the reader’s mind. It also makes the reader concerned for Lisa’s safety since there’s always danger lurking in ghettos. All of that just by changing one word. Not only is it a more specific word, it has a negative connotation that gives is extra power.

By having an understanding of the imagery, and associations that you won’t find in a dictionary you can use those words to greater effect. It’s hard, and it takes a good deal of study so it’s definitely a skill to develop over time.

 

These aren’t hard and fast rules. They simply tricks that I’ve found useful. It takes some practice, and possibly a few drafts to really get the hang of it but once mastered they can definitely add depth to your short fiction.

 

Kim May

Since You’ve Been Gone

A guest post by Nick Ruva.

Since You’ve Been Gone

The street noise is louder now that you are gone. Horns and sirens blare their warning through glass. I do my best to tune out the life animated below my windows as I hide under sheets for just-five- minutes-more, two hours longer. You once told me this city suffocated you. It drowns me.

My Furry Reason

With an impatient look, and a whine, I know it’s time for a walk. You’re my furry reason to leave the house. Somedays, the only reason. Your exuberance is one I haven’t felt in years, one I fear I may never know again, but through you. You force me to slow down, hurry up, live.

Summer in the City

Bleating notes to chaotic downtown streets through a reed that sounds far past its usefulness, you point your horn to us and squall. As a kid, I watched your predecessors blow to subway cars and transit authorities. Today, most avoid your squeaking overture, steering around you. I close my eyes and listen to you wail.

Nobody Is Watching

Did I ever tell you my dad and I saw a UFO one late night in an Albertson’s parking lot? That was when XXXXXXXX was still XXXXXXXX. That was before he told me the government was watching his every move. Perhaps the only reason they don’t watch mine is I didn’t believe him.

 

About Nick Ruva:
Nick Ruva is a Superstars Writing Seminars survivor, two-time champion of procrastination, computer automation specialist (who has effectively replaced himself with a very complicated but elegant sorting routine), and fulltime maker-uper of tall tales… He lives in Los Angeles with a little dog named after a character in Watership Down… Not one of the rabbits though, because that would be too obvious.