Friday Fiction: Flash Fiction #2

Having finished a first draft of my middle-grade novel, I am awaiting editing comments from a beta reader.  I’m not ready to delve into another large project, but I do enjoy continuing to write fiction.  Thankfully, there are some great short fiction challenges out there.  I am eager to try the 5-Minute Fiction challenge that Leah Petersen hosts every Tuesday, but once again I have taken on a Flash Fiction challenge from Haley Whitehall.

Here are the rules: 

  • You must start your story with the sentence: ”He should have never been there in the first place.”
  • The story must be 500 words or less.
  • Your story needs to have a clear beginning, middle and end.

The challenge ends June 1st.

Wounds

Confederate Soldier

He should have never been there in the first place, Matthew thought, holding the cloth tightly against the wound on his brother’s leg.  The Conscription Act of the Confederacy designated eighteen as the earliest age to serve, but Matthew was seventeen – old enough to know what he was getting into.

Meanwhile, Edward was only fourteen – still growing so that his pant hems now grazed the top of his lace-up boots.  Why had Edward followed Matthew?  Why was he there?   The question plucked at Matthew’s mind for the one-hundred twenty-third time since they had left home three months earlier.

Thus far, they had encountered brief skirmishes with Yankee soldiers, and both brothers had held their own with rifles wielded from childhood.  Of course, shooting a deer and a man had a different feel.  But day-to-day concerns of eating, staying well, finding a place to relieve themselves, and more deflected their thoughts from the three adversaries who had died at their hands.

Edward groaned.

Matthew yelled over the clamor, “Don’t move!  The doc will be here soon!”

The handkerchief was scarlet-soaked, and blood oozed through Matthew’s fingers.  He pulled the cloth away briefly to see Edward’s shin ripped open like a blossom of flesh with muscle and bone exposed.

The cannon boom echoed to the right, and rifle blasts, battle cries, and wounded screams cut through the smoke-filled air.   Just feet away on either side, gray-uniformed soldiers fired at others once deemed fellow countrymen.  A navy-clad combatant over the hill had sent the bullet that had blown Edward’s leg apart and had him gushing and mumbling incoherently in the ditch.

He should have never been there in the first place, he thought again.  Number one-hundred twenty-four.

Matthew knew that nothing could be done until the fighting ended.  He couldn’t carry his brother off the battlefield, and medics wouldn’t arrive until the exchange of gunfire eased.  Yet every passing minute meant greater blood loss and the likelihood of losing limb or life.

“C’mon, c’mon,” Matthew muttered through gritted teeth, wringing out the cloth.  Then tossing aside his hat, shotgun, ammunition, belt, and jacket, he wriggled out of his shirt and balled it up to the wound.  Edward muttered under his breath, reached out, and pulled Matthew close to his face.

“We are foolish, brother,” Edward breathed with a crooked smile on his face.

Matthew crinkled his brow and checked the wound again.  It continued to flow.

“Foolish,” Edward whispered.  “We don’t even have a slave.”

“What?” Matthew asked.

Edward chuckled.  “I just lost my dang leg to keep a slave we don’t own.”

Matthew rocked back on his heels, reapplying pressure to the small bleeding crater.

The sound of gun shots subsided.  Was one side winning?  Was the fighting nearing an end?  Or were soldiers merely reloading?

Matthew considered the words Edward had choked out amidst his pain.  He thought once again, He never should have been there in the first place.  But then, should either of them have been there?

***

Round of Words in 80 Days: I haven’t given a decent update in much too long!  So a reminder of my goals, along with my progress:

1.  5,000 words per week on middle grade novel.  I kept up fairly well with this goal, especially thanks to wordmongering, and completed a first draft.

2.  If first draft finished, edit through once.  I edited through once and sent my manuscript this week to my wonderful beta reader, Alison.  She will read and comment on whether my story is worthy of America’s bookshelves or Gallagher’s Sledge-o-Matic.

3.  Three blog entries per week.  If you follow me, you can see that I’m doing okay with the deadlines here.  Like it or not, you are hearing from me three times a week!

Best wishes to all of the other ROW80 participants!

Monday Musings: Gently Prodded

Once you finish your first novel, you think, “Hey, I’m a writer!  I can do this!”  And you bask in that warm sunshine for a while, getting a nice tan and feeling pretty darn good about yourself.

Until you start Manuscript #2.

When I’ve chatted with other authors, the general sense is the more you write, the easier it is – to a point.  It’s still a matter of coming up with an idea, creating characters, putting together a plot and a timeline, and then putting one word after another on the page in a particular order that makes sense and tells the story in the best way possible.  There are no shortcuts to what’s been called “butt in chair” writing.

It’s wonderful to write, and I can lose myself for hours in the process.  But it’s hard to write, and even harder to start writing.  If I want to see consistent progress and meet my writing goals (see my Write Challenge post), I must force myself to sit down and do this word-by-word thing.

Here are a few tools I’ve discovered in the last month that are much more encouraging than the cattle prod I was otherwise going to purchase:

Round of Words in 80 Days.  Round of Words in 80 Days is a challenge to make personal writing goals to meet in the next eighty days.  Through a blog post, you set out what your desires are for the length of the challenge.  Is it finishing a work in progress?  Editing a novel?  Starting another book?  The reason that I like this particular challenge is that it is flexible to the author’s circumstances.  You write your own goals, post your progress through Twitter and/or your blog, and have a group of fellow writers doing the same.  It’s great to see a post like, “So excited you met your #ROW80 goal this week! You’re really making progress!”  Or even one that states, “Don’t worry about missing your #ROW80 goal this week.  Rooting for you this week!”

1khr.  This is a Twitter hashtag (#1k1hr) which challenges authors to write 1,000 words in one hour.   After one hour, you post your word count and see how the others in your #1k1hr group did.  Sometimes you might exceed your goal of 1,000, and sometimes you’ll end up with less.  But there’s an absolute guarantee that you’ll have more words written at the end of the hour than when you started!  (Even if you edit half of them out later. *groan*)  One hour is a lengthy time to write without giving yourself hand cramps, and it’s wonderful to report to others cheering you on just as you are doing for them.

Wordmongering.  “Wordmongering” is a challenge to write for thirty minutes, then take a break for thirty minutes – like writing sprints.  After each half-hour session, the author posts his/her word count on Twitter and receives attagirls or attaboys from other participants while cheering them as well.  Wordmongering allows you to write in short bursts, have some accountability, receive encouragement, and see constant progress.  To join, writers simply use the hashtag #wordmongering on Twitter.

For more information about how well this works for other authors, see recent blog posts from Monica-Marie Holtkamp, Sharla Scroggs, and Michael Reynolds.

Write or Die.  Through another author (Leah Petersen), I stumbled upon the website Write or Die.  This online program permits you to choose a length of time to write, a word count you wish to reach, and how persistent you want those reminders to get your rear in gear (Gentle, Normal, Kamikaze, Electric Shock modes).  I tried the program for a half hour and turned out 784 words (a great result for me).  If I stopped writing for a few seconds, the screen turned pink, then red, and then the program beeped annoyingly as if to say, “Where did you go, you slacker!  It’s time to write, write, write!”  And that was on the Normal Mode.  (I fear the Electric Shock mode.)

Flash FictionHaley Whitehall posted an April Flash Fiction challenge on her website.  Flash Fiction is a style of writing for extreme brevity.  The writer receives a prompt (e.g., “She had been warned, but now it was too late”) and a word limit – usually 250, 500, or 1000 words.  Then it’s time to write a story within the parameters given.  This is an excellent tool for honing one’s ability to grasp a reader quickly and make every word count.  I wrote my first Flash Fiction story through Haley’s April challenge (she has a May challenge out now) and hope to participate in other Flash Fiction opportunities to polish my writing craft.

So what tools are you using to keep yourself on track?  What has worked for you?  What hasn’t?  Do you like being accountable to others?  Does community help you stay on track?  Or personal goals?

Share your secrets!

Round of Words in 80 Days Update: 5,169 words last week (goal: 5,000); two-thirds through first edit of middle grade novel; blogged three times last week, plus a bonus post for Flash Fiction. Had a great week using tools above!

Bonus Post: Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction is a style of writing for extreme brevity.  I found a great Flash Fiction challenge posted by fellow author Haley Whitehall.  Here are the rules of the challenge, with a May 1 deadline:

    • You must start your story with the sentence: “She had been warned, but now it was too late.”
    • The story must be 500 words or less.
    • I’ve read a lot of flash fiction stories that express an incomplete idea so for my challenge I am challenging you to make sure your story has a clear beginning, middle and end.

Without further ado, here is my first ever Flash Fiction story (at 497 words – 3 words to spare!): 

Just Desserts

She had been warned, but now it was too late.

Notes and printouts scattered across the floor like unraked autumn leaves.  Tracy had sifted through every page, gasping with each revelation.  She slumped against the wall, cushioned by dresses and coats on her side of the walk-in closet, and moaned.

The heady eight-week romance had dragged her from a mundane life to a miraculous one; Joe was everything she didn’t know she wanted.   When the tall, athletic accountant proposed, Tracy knew that Fate was finally delivering her just desserts.  In fact, Joe was a red-velvet cake with creamy white icing, chocolate shavings, and a scoop of French vanilla to boot.  Despite her sister cornering her after the engagement and insisting that “Something isn’t right about this guy!,” they eloped, honeymooned, settled in, and began married life with odds in their corner.

Now less than a year later, she studied her wedding ring in the dim glow of a 60-watt bulb and wondered where she owed allegiance.  Legally she couldn’t be forced to testify against her husband, but morally could she let a crime go unanswered?

Tracy’s cell phone rang and Joe in a Rangers baseball cap smiled at her from the screen.  She let the call go to voicemail, then listened to his message: “Hey, Sweetheart. Getting off early.  Be home soon. Love you.”

She gathered and stacked the papers in order, dropped them into the box, and sealed it carefully.  Using the stepstool, she returned the evidence to its place on the dusty shelf.

***

Her text to Joe was brief, “Found the papers. Called the police. Leaving.”  It had been a grueling week deliberating her options, but her conscience had prodded her like a woodpecker’s beak.  Principle trumped passion.

As Tracy ambled with her suitcase down the driveway, a taxi pulled up and Joe jumped free before it halted. “Thank God I caught you!” he yelled. “Got your passport?”

Panting and perspiring, he ran with eyes blazing and suit coat flapping at his sides.

“What?”

“Passport.  You’ll need it.”

“Joe,” she whispered.

“Tracy,” he said breathlessly, “I’ve been gathering that info to turn it in.  Our phones are bugged. They’ll be coming to kill us.”

“What!” she shrieked.  “Who?”

“Can’t explain now.  We’ve got to go!”

Joe grasped her wrist and pulled her toward the house.  Tracy’s brain vacillated between anxiety about Joe and the word “they.”  But familiarity trumped fear.

She ran up the steps with him, watched him toss basics into a duffle bag and grab the box from the closet, and wheeled her suitcase out the front door a second time.  Before exiting the house, Joe yanked passports from the study desk.

***

She held his hand and looked through the smudged airplane window.  Joe had insisted on getting out of the country before contacting the FBI.  Three times, Tracy’s life had changed in a moment – meeting her husband, calling the police, trusting Joe.

Time would reveal whether Tracy’s devotion trumped doubt.