Smile (Flash Fiction)

(Flash Fiction: Every fourth Monday, I’ll share a flash fiction story.)

denny-muller-532461-unsplashThe cupboards were nearly empty, and within a few days, they would be.

Melody, sluggish from hunger, dug through the last cans of tuna and bags of stale chips. The electricity had died a couple of days ago, so she needed something she didn’t have to cook. So much for her dreams of culinary school. Filet Mignon and chocolate Chambord cake were things of the halcyon past.

Sighing, she settled on a bag of chewy cheddar popcorn a few weeks passed its expiration date. Lacking the energy to make it upstairs to her bed, she plopped herself down on the couch. She wrapped a blanket around her shoulders – the heat had wilted with the electricity, and it was nearing the beginning of winter. Soon, it would snow.

She had nothing to do but stare at the wall and a blank TV screen while stale seeds got stuck between her teeth. Her eyes wandered to the pictures lining the stairwell. Her mom, her dad, her older brother. The End had taken them away six weeks ago, and now their faces only existed behind the glass, flat and still.

Melody’s gaze watered without her permission. She clamped it shut while soggy popcorn sat on her tongue. Her days were as empty as the kitchen shelves. She cherished no one and nothing, and no one and nothing cherished her. She’d used up all of her sorrow and all of her fear…now her insides were as empty as her outsides.

Another Melody smirked at her from the photos, her eyes as bright as the summer sun behind her. That version of herself also remained only within wooden frames, as dead as the rest of her family.

Melody laughed, the noise leaving her mouth as if her lips had taken on a mind of their own. The girl in the photos had thought she’d had a future. So had the millions the End had taken. She’d –

A giggle echoed from somewhere outside her curtained windows. At least, she thought that was what she’d heard, before she realized she had to be mistaken. Her gaze shot up, her ears waiting intently with every expectation of disappointment.

But the sound came again, followed by a second joyful voice. It was muted, but she wasn’t mistaken. There were people. Other people. Other survivors.

Melody got up and ran to the door, her body reacting before her mind could. She reached out for the knob, sucked in a breath, and broke the seal protecting her house from the rest of the world.

Her eyes stretched wide when she saw them on the street. Men. Women. Children. She managed a noise – a wordless squeak – and one man looked at her, his arm wrapped around the shoulders of a young boy who eyed her curiously through sunny blue irises. Fellow strangers followed suit, and for the first time in weeks, she was seen in the eyes of someone else.

“Hello there,” the man stepped closer and held out his hand in greeting. “Didn’t think anyone else was still holed up around here.”

She saw something on his face that she hadn’t in a long while – a smile.

Melody fought back her tears. Her future wasn’t gone. All she had to do was seize it and start a new story.

She smiled, too.

Writer’s Block Kit

(Story Craft: Every 3rd week of the month, I’ll post writing/editing techniques that I’ve personally found useful.)

While we all experience it for different reasons, writer’s block is a universal experience for anyone who commits words to the page. Sometimes we might be unable to focus due to other events going on in our lives, sometimes we might be writing an emotional scene we’re not quite sure we’re ready for, and other times still we might simply be unsure about what plot developments should unfold next. There are countless reasons why we might put off putting down words, but regardless of where your blocks tend to come from, here are some techniques for breaking through them that I’ve personally found useful:

Capitalize on your Imagination for Inspiration

  • Deeply visualize the current scene using all of your senses. Walk through a few moments of life in that scene. Experience it.
  • Imagine you are a character within the current scene – how do you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally in the current moment?
  • Roleplay (even if just in your head) as one of your characters in your present moment – how do you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally in the current moment?
  • Imagine asking the characters what they want to do next, and their response.
  • Imagine what might happen between the scenes in your story – in the moments without conflict, when the characters are simply living their lives. What does this say about the characters and the world? Can any of these ideas inform existing scenes or start new ones?

Consider Story Structure/Brainstorm

  • Put yourself in your ideal reader’s place. What would they want to happen next? What would they expect? What would surprise them? What happens to each of these ideas when you subvert them to their opposite?
  • What narrative role does the current scene serve? What goals are you trying to accomplish by writing it? What is the most important thing a reader needs to take away from this scene? How can you emphasize this in the scene?
  • What goals does each character have in the scene? How can these goals drive the events?
  • Conflict moves plot. What internal or external obstacle, however minor, is your POV character trying to overcome in this specific scene? If there isn’t one, can you add more conflict to drive the events?
  • Sometimes a change in pacing is what the story needs to build momentum. If the story’s recent events have been low intensity, is there a way you can ramp up the intensity in this scene, or vice versa?

Free/Speed Write

  • Free write about the scene you’re stuck on, working through your worries and letting out whatever ideas pop into your head.
  • Free write about entertaining or interesting moments that take place in the unwritten spaces between the scenes in your story.
  • Free write about why you love the project you’re working on and why you want to finish it.
  • Try setting a timer for 5 minutes, and in that time, continue to write your scene without stopping, even if the words coming out are drivel. Think of it almost like an attack on the block. Move the plot forward no matter what it takes. There will be time to edit later. After the timer goes off, take a breather for at least 2 minutes, then if you’re still stuck, set it again and repeat the process. Software that forces you to write without stopping can help. It can also be fun to check how many words you wrote in each 5 minute session and jot down your “high score” – then try to beat it!
  • You can use a similar process to the above with the longer, more relaxed Pomodoro Technique, which uses 25 minute work sessions and 5 minute breaks. Sometimes the simple promise of a break can help ease the tension of working through a block.

Change up the Environment

  • Listen to different background music.
  • Meditate for 3 – 5 minutes.
  • Stand up for 1 – 3 minutes.
  • Grab a snack.
  • Move from your current position to a new environment. For example, if you’re writing at home, try taking off to a cafe or library to work, or perhaps sitting with a notebook in a park for a while. Even something as simple as moving from a couch to a desk, or vice versa, can help.

Take a Break!

  • Sometimes you’re simply overtired, burned out, need some time to think, or occupied by other responsibilities, and that’s okay. Write a few ideas in brackets at the place of the block if you can – even if they’re iffy – then take your mind off writing. Make sure to get some rest too: our minds mull over ideas subconsciously when they aren’t busy, so the new insight you need might just pop into your head when you least expect it, so long as you give your thoughts some breathing room.

Of course, there comes a point where if you want to break through a block, then all there is to it is to keep on writing. Release yourself not just from your inner editor, but from the imagined expectations of your future audience, and get the first draft done. Editing comes later. All you have to do now is tell yourself the story.

“It’s very hard to tell, at the end of your writing day, whether you’ve done great work or bad work. The quality of the writing is hard to judge until you’ve had some sleep and got some perspective on it. And the more I learn about the writing process, the more I suspect that there is no such thing as a bad day at the keyboard.

The good days are when you perform; the slow days are when you learn to perform better. The only bad days as a writer are the ones when you are too cowardly or too lazy to sit down at the keyboard and give it everything you have.”
— Chris Cleave

One Song (Poem)

(Poetry: Every 2nd week of the month, I’ll post a poem or atmospheric piece.)

javier-allegue-barros-493611-unsplash.jpg

One Song

Stars flicker uncountable,
like the notes in a silence song
sensed only on the outskirts of hearing,
even while our bodies play the melody with
our drumming hearts,
and with each    rest    beat we exhale –

every decision we make
is a step in our dance,
watched by the wondering Universe

while we write lyrics with our life story
and send the    echoes    into

everything.

New Weekly Schedule

Hello readers! Today was my first day back at school for the fall, so to make keeping up with the blog a bit more manageable, I’ve adjusted the schedule. From now on, there will be a new post every Monday, as well as monthly project updates and occasional misc. posts.

Look for new content according to the following schedule:

Monday Blues (1st Week of Month)
Monthly media recommendations
Poetry (2nd Week of Month)

Short poems or atmospheric pieces.
Story Craft (3rd Week of Month)
Tips for writing, revision, or game design.
Flash Fiction (4th Week of Month)
Flash fiction and a weekly prompt.
Monthly Updates (Last Day of Month)
Project previews and updates.

Thanks for sticking around throughout the recent schedule changes. Have a great September filled with good books and strong tea!