Flash Fiction Main Characters

I read something a while ago that has been bubbling around in the back of my brain. I’ve read a lot about flash fiction and I’ve read a lot of flash fiction. I read something that said the person who wrote it assumed all flash fiction main characters were stand-ins for the authors.

I was stunned and confused. Was this person reading the same flash fiction I was?

I’ve read flash fiction with characters that have more depth than some of the epic novels I’ve read.

Writing flash fiction can feel like a way to just dash something off quickly. But great flash fiction evokes a lot of things in just a tiny little space. You are basically creating a world from white space.

I will say that I far prefer flash that is sci-fi and fantasy because it opens the world wide. The contemporary flash I’ve read does feel a little different, so maybe the person who thinks that all flash fiction main characters are author stand-ins.

lightning flash
Flash!

Finding a way to develop a world with brush strokes that all draw your eye far beyond the edges of the canvas is the magic of flash fiction.

Thinking specifically about those main characters and how I build them.

Main Characters

Sometimes they are characters from larger stories. (An Axe is a great example of this in my work since I’ve been working on putting some more polish on the novella about that character.) Those stories are often small bites, more information of the character, side stories that didn’t belong in the book. I love doing these, they are fun, they let me explore other sides of a primary character. They give that character the chance to show other sides of themselves.

Side Characters

I don’t often run between a ton of POVs. My novels tend toward a single POV. Doing a flash fiction lets me explore what other characters are seeing. I often write these just as I’m doing planning work for the novels, I’ll write a handful of these for each of the characters to see what I’m thinking about them, most of these never make it past my drive, but sometimes I’ll really like one and clean it up well enough to send it off into the world. A Meditation was very much that. Jana was a character who was sort of a mash of things and I had done a couple of scenes with her separately. This flash came out of that. It was significantly rewritten, but it was partly about me learning who Jana was in the first round, and showing a little more of her in the final.

Somewhere else

I listen to a lot of podcasts. I will often find bits of inspiration, a situation, a story, a news article. I’ll pause and let this play around in my head until I’ve got characters and situation developed. Most of the time this sort of dies on the vine. But sometimes these become stories.

But…

Thinking back to writing my first stories, I’ve sort of always been a shorter fiction writer. At least I don’t recall a time I was a tome writer. So, I’m sure there was a time when I was doing a lot of that. I hope these days I don’t do that nearly so much. I think of parts of myself in some characters. But some are clearly someone else. The Thing About the Future? That’s a mash of a handful of people I know plus a few stereo types carved into an actual character. On Fire? That’s a few characters from books and a few heartbreaking true stories I read all mashed together and then carved and molded. But Relics? Yeah, there are shades of me in there I suppose. Discovery? Not really, but I had a couple of people I know in mind, if you take this from that person and this from that person and yeah that person hates science (don’t ask me, I don’t get it) but that part.

So maybe sometimes there is shades of the author, but I think that good flash fiction is like all other fiction. Sometimes there will be shades of an author just like there are shades of people they know or celebrities or the personality test they took for a character. It is always a mash, carved and molded to be a unique character.

PS…

I’ve read flash fiction that doesn’t have people/aliens/monsters/ghosts as characters at all. Environment only. Or beautiful descriptions of ships. Or processes. I  suppose you would argue that the author as the person who decides what to show you is the main character. But then you’re really saying that the author is always the main character in a way that is sort of no longer worth talking about. You literally can’t create anything without being the main character in that way. So it doesn’t really seem relevant. So sometimes there is no main character.

This all makes me want to read more flash fiction though.

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S1.27 A Meditation

A Meditation is written by Mariah Avix.

Read more about Heather and her transformation in Oak Stream Hollow. Out now in ebook and audiobook.

Mariah Avix is the creator of 600 Second Saga. A space for developing authors to explore the realms of science fiction and fantasy in 10 minutes or less every week.

Mariah writes magical tales of how technology will change our world, and technologically laced tales of magic, that probably isn’t real.

She is currently working on a series of novellas about shapeshifters who fight wildfires, a trilogy about a woman who refuses to admit that she has the M word (magic), and endless flash fiction.

When she’s not writing she walks along the rivers and parks throughout her city looking for inspiration.

Music is provided by MADS.

You can support 600 Second Saga by giving us a 5-star review on iTunes.

Listen to 600 Second Saga

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Bird Brain

Birds and brains and bird brain, oh my!

Brain

Memory and the brain endlessly fascinates me. Everything I read about it makes me want to know more.

Forgetting seems like a bad idea, but remembering seems even worse. An article from Sci Am about Why We Forget?

The combination of both forgetting processes means that any message is unlikely to ever remain exactly the way you wrote it.

Read the whole thing but this line really sticks with me. I always try to keep this in mind. I think, but I might be misremembering it.

Birds!

ʻalalā
ʻalalā with it’s brilliant brain

Go watch these videos. This is a from Nature about the species wide tool use in Hawaiian crows. There are 6 videos of ‘Alalās using tools. They are extinct in the wild and only exist in captivity but they still use tools. They make their own, they pick the right one for the job.

I know humans who can’t always do that! Seriously, the videos are mesmerizing. (You have to have a subscription to read the whole article, though your local library may have you covered on that, check, librarians are your friends, but the videos are all there for the watching.)

Lest you think it is just the corvid that has a brilliant bird brain, no dear friend, the pigeon is happy to get in on that too.

I think we need to reconsider the “bird brain” insult. I can’t detect cancer cells on a mammogram. And sometimes I write nonsense…Hm.

 

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Book and iPad Pro

Oak Stream Hollow Rect

Lots of good things! A book (a novella really) comes out on Friday and I got my iPad Pro.

iPad Pro

I love it. Oh it is so nice. I have a few small things to work out still. But I can do all the updates for what happens after an episode goes live on the iPad Pro. This means I don’t have to be at home every single Friday night. I have to be at a connection to do all the “It’s Now Live!” stuff. The keyboard is great. The pencil is super natural. I keep sticking it in my hair and grabbing it out which it does well. It is smooth and a great weight.

It has all the features that I wanted, I’ve got a lot of things installed. I really feel like I’ve got it set up well. I still might have to reorganize the screens a bit to make it feel natural for what each screen is for. It works well to write in the spots I need to write. I can post and social media and all the things.

I still of course need the workhorse to record and edit the podcasts, but I can manage the rest from the iPad Pro.

And I got a fancy decal and case with the 600 Second Saga logo!

Book: Oak Stream Hollow

It officially releases on Friday, and there will be a podcast episode as well. But it is out early in audiobook so you can check it out on Audible now. If you’d prefer ebook format your usual purveyors like Amazon should all have it for preorder now.

Heather lost her job, her house is in foreclosure. All she needs now is a huge medical bill. But when Heather finds herself transforming, will she find anything in the world worth keeping?

This urban fantasy novella was a lot of fun to write. It is a single stand alone novella. Not one of a series (which I also enjoy and will have some of coming out next year) or something that will be a novella companion to a novel (which I’m going to hopefully have in an anthology later this year). But just a story. I like stories. I like telling a wide range of them and sometimes that means letting a story be over. Sometimes that means digging deeper and deeper into the world. I hope if you pick up Oak Stream Hollow you enjoy reading (or listening!) as much as I enjoyed writing.

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S1.26 Moscow on Neptune


Moscow on Neptune is written by Stefan Budansew.

Stefan Budansew has been storyteller his entire life, however he only started writing the stories down in 2013. Initially encouraged by Nanowrimo, Stefan published his first short novel in 2015, and has several other works in progress.  Look for Stefan to appear this fall in an upcoming anthology of Urban Fantasy thrillers, along with a few other authors who have appeared on the 600 Second Saga. Stefan has a love of science fiction, old-school tabletop gaming and video games. He also assists with the 600 Second Saga podcast and encourages others to share all the stories which they keep inside.

https://stefanbudansew.wordpress.com/

Works: Immersion (2015 – Amazon, Kindle)

Music is provided by MADS.

Please support 600 Second Saga by giving us a 5-star review on your podcast tool.

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Utopias

Utopias are an interesting thing, and quite often a topic of lots of sci-fi. (And their more dramatic half dystopias.)
Atlas Obscura has a great map of failed utopias in the US. 

I was kind of surprised by the nudist colony in the 1900s. And apparently not just one of them but there were lots? What? Huh. It does reinforce the idea that we just aren’t that shiny or new. There are lots of things that seem progressive that have much older roots.

I did get lost in the wikipedia article on utopias, I’ll just share the list of fictional ones.

They are nearly always used as a background for satire, political or philosophical discourse. I can’t think of anything that is a true utopia (not a GASP! It’s really dystopian!) that is a romance or is a thriller or a myster. Utopias must have romances, but maybe they don’t have the misunderstandings that lead to drama? Hm.

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Peeves?

A couple of interesting posts about pet peeves when reading made me think about it a bit. (Thank you Allison Maruska and the link she shared to A Writer’s Path!)

My pet peeves

I think these change.

Mary Sue?

I’m currently kind of unbothered by Mary Sue and I have thoughts about how much is that really a problem in the way that we hate the character, and how much is it a problem in the way we talk about women being all over badass in society. Especially looking at some of the characters who get lambasted for being Mary Sue, but they have problems and they aren’t flawless.

I also think there is a bit of learning curve. It’s ok to write Mary Sue as you are learning. Or if you feel like you have very little agency and feel shitty about your life? Write all the Mary Sue you need. Go for it. Live your life. Share with others. Not all writing is about being a giant big name author. Some of it is about learning about yourself, or escaping into a fantasy world of your own creation. I think that’s ok.

If I don’t like it I won’t read it. But that doesn’t mean people should write it.

The words the words

Grammar and spelling bug me when I can’t understand what the author mean. But right now that concern is way down the list. I care if it sounds good. If it is perfect grammar and spelling but it is stumbly and confusing to hear? I don’t care that it is perfect. I’d much rather have “ok” or even “eh” grammar and good flow. I would say writing that spends more time and focus on “correctness” than how it sounds and flows is my biggest pet peeve right now.

That could be a little bit because I have a podcast and I do audiobook narration. When I’m recording and something makes me fumble over and over? That is frustrating.

Even when you read silently to yourself you are subvocalizing (unless you are speed reading and you’ve worked specifically to try to get rid of that, but if you are doing that with fiction I don’t know why you are reading this post, seriously, I have nothing of value for you, move along) which means you are making those sounds. You are reading aloud. So having something that reads smoothly is really valuable.

Overpunctuate if you need, if it will make your sentence flow better. Throw in more commas and whatever else. I would also put things that are unintentionally alliterative in this words peeve. One or two instances can be cool and can give it a boost. But there is a big space between that and something that starts to arrive at Seussianly cool on the other side where entire blocks of text are alliterative.

POV

I feel like this might be the peeviest peeve on my list. I’ve been reading a lot of things lately that play fast and loose with the POV. One minute you can hear what Sally thinks and the next John. Even though it isn’t an omniscient narrator. Scene breaks. Expressions. Something. But stop cheating! Stop dipping into someone’s brain when it is convenient and then moving on. I have no idea why this bugs me so much but it does really crawl under my skin in an irrational way.

That said?

I make all of these errors. Frequently I’m sure. When I’m recording audio for my own work and I stumble, I have a good swear fest at myself. (Releases the frustration and – bonus – gets the wrong way of whatever was happening out of my head.) Then I rewrite it. But even though I am the one who read it, I will still listen later sometimes and get frustrated with how clunky it sounds.

I’m sure I’ve screwed up POV.

And I know I’ve both written Mary Sueier characters and bashed them.

I’m trying to be better on all the things.

Bonus

Having an arc ship or a rebuild society plan with nearly all dudes and no uterine replicators. MATH PEOPLE! 9 men + 1 woman = 10 babies in 10 years, maybe maybe. Try 9 women + 1 man… Seriously. Before you fill your apocolypse with dudes who can’t carry babies, check out the numbers for the next 100 years and how many babies you can make. I know you want something like well over 10K to not have it be a horrible disaster of inbreeding, but I’ll let you hand wave that with science. But either say you have a tech that lets you make babies outside of the female body or bring more bodies that can have babies.

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S1.25 Discovery

Discovery is written by Mariah Avix.

Dangerous Metal by Mariah Avix is now available for on Audible, iBooks, Amazon, and more.

Mariah Avix is the creator of 600 Second Saga. A space for developing authors to explore the realms of science fiction and fantasy in 10 minutes or less every week.
Mariah writes magical tales of how technology will change our world, and technologically laced tales of magic, that probably isn’t real.
She is currently working on a series of novellas about shapeshifters who fight wildfires, a trilogy about a woman who refuses to admit that she has the M word (magic), and endless flash fiction.
When she’s not writing she walks along the rivers and parks throughout her city looking for inspiration.

Music is provided by MADS.

You can support 600 Second Saga by giving us a 5-star review on iTunes.

Listen to 600 Second Saga

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Take a break!

Stop and take a break! Everyone needs one sometimes, frequently even. We need big and little breaks. This is about little breaks. “micro breaks”

Breaks article at 99U

One of the things they very specifically call out to not do, is make your break like your work. I think this applies especially to writing. Taking a break from writing to do a blog post? Not actually a break. Taking a break from editing to go and do social media promotion? Not a break.

At my day job I try to take actual breaks in the am and pm and when I’m stuck. I go for a walk, a few blocks, about 10 minutes. It is awesome for steps on my fitbit. But is is also awesome for getting into the right head space. I know that people sometimes get the side eye for this, especially when things are busy. There can be pressure to work through lunch (which the article talks about specifically too) or skip breaks. But taking them makes such an enormous difference in the quality of my work. I’m not making widgets, it isn’t just tab a into slot b, but even that needs breaks. To come up with creative solutions to problems (which is my job) requires a lot of effort. A walk makes a huge difference, I put on headphones and listen to a podcast and try to stop thinking about work. I may look at my phone too much during my breaks and I’m going to try to cut back on that a bit again.

I find myself running into the same thing with writing. I’ll come home from work and try to get a little writing done but my brain is still stuck, I had a short walk home, but I haven’t really taken a solid break. I know I always do better if I stop and make dinner first, like actual cooking seems to help. Clears my head, creates space for my brain to shift gears.

On the weekends where I write the most I try to actively build in get out of the house breaks. A walk to the coffee shop, a walk to get groceries, a walk along the river. I’ve got lots of parks and things nearby. I need to take even more advantage of them than I do. Just stuff my phone with my podcasts in my pocket, and head out the door.

I feel like I can still sometimes think about writing (and I’ve had to quite often stop the walk to take some notes on my phone) but I don’t always do that, sometimes I try to shift out of that mode entirely. When I’m having a writing problem I try to specifically not listen to fiction podcasts or audiobooks but instead trying for something else, usually science because I love science. It helps to clear my brain so that the problem can work away at the back of my brain.

Naps too.

Future me: Take a break! Get off the computer, get off the phone, get away from screens, don’t even pick up a book. Take a short 5-10 minute break. Your work will thank you.

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Missing

What real life things are missing from fiction?

Jocelyn at 52 Letters wrote a great post about the Top Ten Parts of High School she wishes YA authors talked about more. Really good to think about, but fantastic if you write YA. I don’t write a lot of YA at least nothing that happens in high school.

missing piece
Missing puzzle piece

I’ve been thinking a little about what is missing from other fiction. (I’m also a bit inspired by the great series Elizabeth Rose has been doing about heroes and heroines.)

Finding things that are missing seems slightly harder than I expected. Part of it is that I don’t really want my fiction to really reflect real life. No one wants to read “And then she slept moderately well for a couple hours and then woke up to use the bathroom and then went back to bed and tossed and turned before finally falling back asleep.”

All of this kind of comes back to the voice thing as well. We don’t want a real voice, we don’t always want reality in fiction. There are some elements though that are valuable, or at least could be more interesting or dramatic.

Missing Drama

Real financial trouble

I feel like financial trouble in books (and tv) is weird and fake. People will go from having trouble eating one day (and they never have to eat the last bag of rice that might be old at the back of the pantry, just don’t have anything) to taking a fabulous trip the next day. This seems a bit better in books, but there are still a lot of times where I roll my eyes. If you want to hand wave and make someone obscenely wealthy, fine. But don’t pretend someone is super poor and then have them never have actual consequences from that.

It also seems to reinforce this idea that poor people are poor because they want to be. Not that there are situations that make it hard, like not having enough gas money to get to work and losing your job. That’s drama.

Sibling/Family humor

Not exactly drama, but even with siblings you hate (which is common in fiction) or who you are fighting with (also common) you share a great bit of history. You knew the same people, have the same reference points. Like it or not, you probably even have in-jokes with those siblings or family members. Why don’t more of them use it? Having moments of shared points leading up to something, not just, “We are from the same blood.” but more like, “Remember the time when mom was super tired and washed the red shirt in with the whites and you had to wear pink shirts to school for a week.”

Giant drama over tiny things

Fiction often has giant drama over giant world-ending things. People create drama over tiny things. People scream and fight like crazy over the remote or dinner or other things that mean nothing. Usually, because there is something else giant and stressful in their lives. These moments can be such a good way to show so much about a person. It can make a person look petty, but I don’t think it has to, it’s about how you tell that story.

Does the person break into tears because they forgot the sourdough bread and the sourdough was their daughter’s favorite and she’s sick and all the stress of dealing with that is just overwhelming? It can be touching.

What else?

What other things could be done more/better in fiction? What do you feel is missing from the things you read?

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