To Cut a Short Story Short – The Book!

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I’m very pleased and excited to announce that the ‘best of my blog,’ in the form of 111 stories, has just been published on Amazon in paperback as To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories.

All the stories have been rechecked, and revised where applicable, and the book has over 250 pages. It also includes a 4000 word ‘bonus story,’ a ‘horror comedy,’ which will NOT be appearing on my blog. It is priced at just £8.99/$10.99.

A Kindle eBook version is also available at only £3.69/$3.99 and features a clickable contents list for quick access to any story.

In both versions the word count for each story is given in the contents table for ease of selection.

Description:

A young magician in a pub opens his hands to release a cloud of tropical butterflies; a female bookseller is forced to attend a dance in drag to atone for a misdemeanor; a lonely man searches for a mysterious woman on a cruise; four school friends experience terror on a caravan holiday, and a macabre stranger wanders the streets at midnight, stealing dreams.

Ranging from just 100 up to 4000 words, these and 106 other memorable little stories are found in this eclectic and tantalizing collection by Simon J. Wood.

To Cut a Short Story Short preview

Bound in Morocco

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The longest story on my blog (which is not included in the collection above) has recently been published separately in paperback and Kindle eBook. Entitled Bound in Morocco, it has 36 pages in the print version. It is priced at just £4.69/$5.99 for the paperback and only £1.99/$2.99 for the Kindle eBook.

Description:

Marcus Slater decides to forgo the cold, wet, wintry weather of England to join a walking party in the sunny climes of Morocco. There, against a backdrop of the curious, ancient towns of southern Morocco he meets the enigmatic Sylvia and finds himself embroiled in a game he cannot possibly afford to lose.

Bound in Morocco preview

Both books are available in paperback and Kindle eBook form on Amazon, worldwide.

Flash Fiction Matters

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I’ve had a few requests to detail how I write the stories on my blog, To Cut a Short Story Short, so here is an article explaining just that, with the hope that the reader may find something herein they can use or adapt  to help in their own writing.

I’ve divided it into two sections. 1. Ideas and inspiration and 2. Mechanics of writing (‘my system’).

1. IDEAS AND INSPIRATION.

The stories on my blog are generally written in response to two kinds of prompts. Either to use designated words to start and be included in a story (for example, Everybody to start the story and must and celebrity to be included elsewhere) or a theme, such as, ‘write a 500 word romantic comedy.’

All the 100, 200 and most of the 300-600 word stories were written using designated words (for a writing group). Most of the others were written for flash fiction competitions using a theme.

Sometimes the theme/starting word etc. will suggest an idea. Other times I’ll have an idea in mind and adapt it to the theme/starting word etc. The rest of the time it’s down to hunting through story prompts, looking for an idea that will fit the words/theme.

Sitting down and actually writing the story requires the leap to inspired thought – maybe visualizing a scene, hearing dialogue in the imagination, ‘seeing’ characters interacting, having a story line (maybe very simple) flash into the mind. This is an imagination-based process, and as such, improves with practice.

Sometimes this leap occurs spontaneously. A story scheduled for 3rd June, Angels and Cards, just came into my head, even the ‘punchline’! Sometimes, it’s a minimal stimulus. Just seeing a word (‘Dreamstealer’ led to Steal a Little Dream) or a scene (seeing my father’s grave led to Scene in a Lincolnshire Churchyard) or thinking ‘what if?’ (What if I had a nuclear bomb in my car boot? led to The Biggest Bang!)

Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to dream the whole story (The War and Starvation Diet, Flip Side, Don’t Know What to Write?). 

So where have the ideas come from for the stories on my blog? Well, I’ve had a look through all my posts and identified the genesis of every story/article.

Inspired by starting/designated words to be used

41

Autobiographical/personal experience plus fantasy element – ‘what if?’

22

Writers’ Digest (Brian A Klems)/miscellaneous prompts

14

Writing group assignments

13

Almost wholly autobiographical

11

Competition theme

11

Other

7

Miscellaneous ideas from fiction/videos

6

Inspired by true events (not personal)

4

Dreams

3

WordPress blogging course

3

135

A vague prompt isn’t enough of course. ‘Write a 500 word romantic comedy’ isn’t much use. Adapting it to ‘Write a 500 word comedy about a divorced female piano teacher who is middle-aged, not unattractive, scatty, forgetful and has two enormous dogs.’ Then you’re in business! Not hard to think of what someone like that might get up to and the result was Clarissa’s Missives and Clarissa’s Missives – Part Two.

An example of a story that was stimulated by the starting word I had to use, Communion, was Here Comes the Sun. The song Communion with the Sun by Todd Rundgren came into my head. That features the lyrics Ra!, Ra!, Ra!, and I imagined the sun rising, a huge orange disc, above a mountain plateau and a sacrifice to the sun god. Then I visualized a man and a woman walking up a mountainside trail carrying torches. That was enough to get going!

Once an idea has made that leap to inspired thought, I’ll either write it down for further investigation, even if it’s just an outline and a couple of lines of dialogue, or preferably make a start on it there and then.

Often I don’t know how a story will end. That will usually come as I’m writing. If not, then an ending has come to me subsequently, often in the shower, which is where I’ve had some great ideas! Something to do with running water, warmth and relaxing I imagine…

Once I’ve got some thoughts on what I’m going to write, I start typing and usually find ideas really start to ‘flow.’ For instance I write some dialogue and I can imagine someone answering it. Whilst doing that I might suddenly have insight into what could happen later in the story, and so on. As mentioned in the second section of this article I personally don’t do much editing on the first draft, I just let the ideas flow and get them down, with an eye half on the word count! I think regular practice helps here. I’m finding it much easier and quicker to write stories now than a year ago. It hasn’t done my editing skills any harm either!

As flash fiction is so short I don’t normally write out a plan but with the longer stories I sometimes write a list of scenes in advance and allocate a word count to each.

I would just add that I’ve found the ability to touch-type invaluable, and if you are relying on the ‘hunt and peck’ system I highly recommend learning it. The time spent will be repaid time and again.

To end this section, here are some books and websites I used that you might like to check out.

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed  Della Galton

Busy Writers Guide series  Marcy Kennedy

Master Lists for Writers  Bryn Donovan

The Five Minute Writer  Michael Geraghty

Solutions for Writers  Sol Stein

Stephen King on Writing  Stephen King

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

http://www.writepop.com/category/1001-story-ideas

http://www.wordola.com/

2. MECHANICS OF WRITING (‘My System’)

I’ve developed a system of writing flash fiction which I’ve found very helpful, and which can be applied to longer works too with some adaptation. 

The basic procedure, in a nutshell, is to write freely up to about twice the word limit I’m aiming for, or a bit more. Usually I’m writing for a 300 word limit (with a view to posting a longer version on my blog) so I may write 500-800 words. Then I will create several versions of the story by editing out 100 words at a time, usually one a day or sometimes one in the morning and one at night. This makes it a whole lot simpler and easier!

Having reached the final 300 word version I’ll then go back through the versions, from shortest to longest, incorporating improvements found at the shorter levels. As this generally means that the versions will be shortened I can then borrow a phrase or two from the next longest version up.

Finally, I’ll check all the versions from longest to shortest and make sure they are consistent. Then I’ll post the shortest version in the 300 word story group I run, the longest (usually) on my blog, To Cut a Short Story Short, and the intermediate versions are available for flash fiction competitions etc.

That probably sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, so here is an example.

Away with the Fairies

With this particular story (scheduled for June 18th) I had to write a 300 word story beginning with the word ‘Everybody’. In this instance nothing came to mind for a few days so I looked in Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan. There I found – ‘The outlandish thing a ‘crazy’ person kept insisting was real? – it’s real!’ Nice prompt! But what crazy idea? Soon the idea of someone insisting they have fairies in their garden came to mind.

The first draft was saved as ‘300 story 16-2 first draft 780 words’. It’s very important to keep track of all the versions!

I don’t spend time editing the first draft, I just focus on getting the ideas down. I’ll keep an eye on the word count but if it runs on a bit, then I’ll let it. Then I’ll correct spelling and obvious grammatical mistakes, save it and forget about it. If I fancy doing more writing I’ll work on something else.

Then, the next day I read through the first draft, make obvious corrections and, in this instance, saved a copy under the filename ‘300 story 16-2 700 word version’ (which seemed a good target for the ‘blog’ version, bearing in mind Stephen King’s received wisdom, 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%). I went through this, cutting out redundant words/sentences and rephrasing others, until I got it down to 700 words. Once again save and forget!

The next time I look at it, usually the next day, I’ll repeat the procedure. In this instance, first save a copy and name it ‘300 story 16-2 600 word version’. Then go through this, again cutting out 100 words. Sometimes aspects of the story have to be completely cut out, but I know they are in the full version so can be posted on my blog!

The next day, save a ‘300 story 16-2 500 word version’ and cut another 100 words out. Once again, save and forget!

I’ll repeat the procedure until I arrive at the 300 word version, simply entitled ‘300 story 16-2’ in this instance. Sometimes this stage is a bit trickier, particularly if starting at 600-800 words! But I’ve always managed it and kept the essence of the story, except once when I had to rewrite a slightly different version.

Which begs the question, which is the real story? Is the 300 word story a cut down version of the long version or is the long version an expanded version of the 300 worder?! If you didn’t know how it was created you couldn’t tell.

So, now I have a streamlined 300 word version for my writing group, hopefully still containing some of my favourite sentences.

Now, I’ll start a process that I’ve termed ‘back-editing.’ This entails getting the 300 word version and the 400 word version on the screen, side by side, and copying and pasting improved phrases/words from the 300 to the 400 word version. As the story is being streamlined I usually find more concise and sometimes better ways of saying things.

This process can be done in odd moments and I often do it lying in bed!

So for example, in the 500 word version of Away with the Fairies I had this:

In another draw I found a bulky sketchpad. As I turned the pages I was astonished to see page after page of well-executed pencil drawings of fairies. Some had been competently coloured with watercolours. I noticed a number had been dated and on some there were notes. ‘Seen over pond,’ ‘Tianna, sat on bench,’ etc. – 56 words

In the 400 word version it became:

In another draw I found a bulky sketchpad. Turning the pages, I was astonished to see page after page of well-executed drawings of fairies, some competently coloured with watercolours. Many had been dated and on some there were notes. ‘Seen over pond,’ ‘Tianna, sat on bench,’ etc. – 48 words

Finally, in the 300 word version it became:

In another draw I found a bulky sketchpad, full of well-executed drawings of fairies, some expertly coloured with watercolour. Many were dated, and some annotated, ‘seen over pond,’ ‘Tianna – sat on bench,’ etc. – 34 words

Essentially saying the same thing.

So by plugging this into the 400 word version it allows me to ‘borrow’ 14 words (48 minus 34) from the 500 word version that had originally been edited out. And of course, plugging it into the 500 word version I would be able to borrow 22 words from the 600 word version (56 minus 34) etc.

Then I’ll do the same with the 500 and 400 word versions etc. Finally, having repeated this procedure up to the 700 word version (which would probably allow me to incorporate another 20-30 words from the original first draft) I will then check back down through the versions, from longest to shortest to ensure consistency. This is quite a quick process and I might do them all in one session of about 20-30 minutes.

With practice the above procedure is a whole lot easier than it sounds and is quite ‘painless,’ compared to trying to edit, say, 550 words down to 300 in one go. And that would only give one version too.

In the case of Away with the Fairies, writing and editing the story, as detailed above, took about three and a half hours in total, spread over a week. The end result was five versions of the story, from 300 words to 700 words in length, and (I think) a tighter, smoother story in every version, with no ‘typos’ and very few (if any) mistakes in grammar or punctuation.

Of course, one could simply keep a close eye on the word count and not go so far over the limit, then the number of versions would be less, as would editing time. However, personally speaking, I enjoy the process so I don’t mind.

Finally, the finished version is copied and pasted from my word processor, Mac Pages ’09, into WordPress and the formatting adjusted. I schedule at five day intervals so I’ll then slot the post in at a suitable future date. The day before it’s published I’ll have a quick read through just to check it’s OK, then the next day you can read it on my blog!

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 130! 
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If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

This Post is Dedicated to You, Dear Reader.

Blogging Fundamentals: Day 4 – A post addressed to my ‘dream reader’. (in 500 words)

dream reader picWhat happened to Day Three you may ask? Well, that task was to go to the Reader and find five blogs to follow. There were so many interesting ones though, I’m still undecided. So WIP on that one!

If you are also doing the course then, like me, you may be confused over the changing name/length. What started out as Learning the Fundamentals (the 14 day course I signed up for) seems to have morphed into Blogging Fundamentals, variously described as ‘a two week course’ and ‘a three week course’ and also seemingly called Blogging 101!
The three week course is five days a week so 15 in total. The contents appear to be the same as LTF with an extra task ‘Blog Events’ inserted towards the end. Guess I’ll just have to miss out on that one!
Anyway, getting down to the nitty-gritty, ‘today’s’ task is to write a post addressed to my ‘ideal reader’ – you perhaps? – and to include a new-to-me element too.
Well, I must admit I’d never given any thought to my ‘dream reader’, just writing for myself and a few friends. However, in posting existing stories to my blog and writing some new ones I have started to give more thought as to how they would seem to a hypothetical reader. Do they make sense? Would anyone really say that? etc.
As covered in my last Blogging Fundamentals post, the To Cut a Short Story Short menu displays the different story lengths: 100 words, 200 words, longer stories (300 to 7224 words), stories, poems and essays done for a writing group (TASWG), and an index of all stories with their lengths.
If you select 200 words (say) then all the stories are visible, most recent first, and you can enjoy reading a few at a time. As you have to scroll down to read them from where you left off it might be easier to choose them from the index after a while though.
I personally find myself baulking at long stories and novels, whereas I don’t mind reading something half a page long or so. A very short story can also be memorable and thought-provoking of course.
As the WordPress.com sites are optimized for mobile and tablet viewing they are ideal for reading on a bus or train, and in bed.

So I guess my ‘ideal reader’ would be anyone who enjoys very short stories of a quirky nature covering different genres. So, if you fit the bill, why not give To Cut a Short Story Short a try!

Oh, and for the new-for-me element, I just learnt how to get a YouTube video to run from a certain point (thanks to a WordPress tutorial). So, not much to do with this blog really, but here’s a very entertaining video of mind-bending, zany public statues and sculptures, set to run from a giant clothes peg! (of course you can rewind and watch it from the beginning!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm3R7RzVrL0&feature=youtu.be&t

Again, If you made it this far, many thanks for reading – see you with my next blog!

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 100! 

Titillating Titles and Tantalizing Taglines.

Blogging Fundamentals: Day 2 – ‘Take control of your title and tagline’ (in 300 words)

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Well, day two’s assignment of Learning the Fundamentals was to pick a new title and tagline. Hmm, not something I’d given much thought to, merely using my name and what the blog is about, namely ‘flash fiction’ i.e. short/very short stories.
Looking on WordPress Reader revealed a myriad of witty/attention-getting site names. OK, so I could see the point but wouldn’t it mess with Google’s indexing?
Twenty minutes of searching later, and none the wiser, I decided not to worry. After all, surely WordPress wouldn’t recommend we chose tags and titles that’d make our blogs LESS likely to be found, would they?!
The first thought that came to mind, for no reason at all, was Jelly on Wheels. A quick search revealed things called Jelly Wheels. Seems they’re used on skateboards. Too similar…
The next idea was the title of one of my stories, Dream of a Stone Horse. I like that but it sounded like it might get hits from the riding and sculpting fraternities.
Another thought was Inside the Mirror. On second thoughts, perhaps not…
Re-reading the WordPress ‘tips’ article, they suggested rejigging a phrase or a book or song title. Suddenly, To Cut a Long Story Short by Spandau Ballet started playing in my mind. Hang on a minute! What about To Cut a Short Story Short?! My blog is for ‘flash fiction’ which according to Wikipedia was previously known as Short Short Fiction. No entries for that title on Google. Good news! So, a new site name was born.
A tagline? Well, Curious Flash Fiction sounded good (it’s not Della Galton after all) and I thought I’d keep my name in there too. Job done!
Again, If you made it this far, many thanks for reading – see you with my next blog!

Onwards and Upwards…

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Blogging Fundamentals: Day 1 – “Who am I and why am I here?” (in 500 words)

Well, Learning the Fundamentals, day one (of fourteen) and day three of my very-short-story blog – simonjwood.wordpress.com – going live!
I waited until the blog was up and running – now I’ve got some spare time again! Looking at the assignments ahead I see there’s still much to learn, so onwards and upwards…
Why am I here? Principally to get some readers for my stories!
Who am I? Well, a guitar teacher, but read on…
It’s been a sharp learning curve since starting my blog four weeks ago, at first rereading and re-punctuating 90 stories, copying and pasting them from Mac Pages into the WordPress editor and thinking ‘this is easy!’, then previewing and finding all my indents and paragraphing had disappeared!
Perhaps you know the feeling?..
There’s too much info on-line. I just wanted someone to say “look, this is how it’s done…”
Some ‘workarounds’ did the trick though (maybe I’ll detail them in a future blog) and I think my site works well now.
If you’re in the same boat, try and get a friendly geek to help – it’ll be considerably less painful!
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I started writing almost a year ago (joining a monthly 100 word story group in September 2015) and I find the creative process interesting and enjoyable, the editing less so!
I soon wanted to write another story, and another… so I started a 200 word fortnightly group that October. It’s still going, but with only two authors at present; several others are ‘interested’ but ‘don’t have time right now’, hmm
With the blog set to ‘private’ it seems my visits whilst building the site were counted. Consequently I’ve amassed nearly 3000 views! On ‘public’ they don’t count. Straight away I had some ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ (whoopee!) but now my posts have presumably dropped off the WordPress reader I’m waiting for Google to kick in.
I submitted my site map to Google and Bing to expedite things but it didn’t quite work like the articles said (no surprise there!), so not sure if it’s helped.
Incidentally, my story index is a post. After going live I updated it and received an avalanche of e-mails, one for each story! Seems I shouldn’t have selected ‘allow ping-backs and trackbacks’!
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What do I hope to achieve with this blog? Well, in addition to gaining readers, it should help me develop, by writing for a (potentially) larger audience and seeing the bigger WordPress ‘picture’. Maybe I’ll get to interact with some ‘proper’ writers too?!

Over the next six months? Well, I aim to publish twenty six 200-300 word stories and about ten longer ones, plus twelve Tetford and Salmonby Writing Group assignments starting in October, when we meet again.
I’ve entered some competitions too – ‘first time lucky’, but nothing since, unfortunately. I’ll keep trying though!

Paraphrasing our TASWG slogan – “who knows where my writing journey could take me?”

If you made it this far, many thanks for reading – see you with my next blog!