This month, inspired by one of my absolute favorite authors, I set out to write 12 short stories, using prompts selected by Neil Gaiman. I later found out that this kind of short, quickly written fiction is known as “flash fiction.” (Look at that! I was part of a thing and I didn’t even know it!) I’ve never participated in this kind of writing exercise: the last time I wrote fiction in response to a prompt was in the one creative writing class I’ve ever had, which was in high school and acted mostly like a therapy group for teenage angst.
Twelve stories. It took me nearly a month to complete the challenge (though I never went over an hour in writing each one, so mission accomplished. Technically my writing time was the same as Gaiman’s, though I didn’t have the luxury of three consecutive days of writing–thank goodness I also didn’t have the camera crew). While I loved it, I’m also glad I don’t have these unfinished prompts hanging over my head anymore!
What I’ve Learned from the Calendar of Tales
- Prompts are great
Like I said, I haven’t written from a prompt with any regularity in awhile. I don’t remember liking prompts, but these were nice and juicy and open-ended. I enjoyed having something percolating in the back of my mind. In fact, I often chose to work on the Calendar Tales because of the intriguing prompts..meaning I sometimes neglected my longer fiction pieces (I still love you guys, promise!)
- Short fiction can be liberating
Maybe I’m just a little backwards, but I’ve heretofore preferred longer fiction. I just didn’t see the point in sitting down to write something I knew was going to be short; better to use that energy on a longer project that can pack more punch. But the short word count on these was great: I could say whatever I wanted! I didn’t have to bother explaining where everything came from or making sure each little loose bit was tied together. I just needed to say enough to establish the scene and the problem, and get out of the way. In a lot of the stories, I’m imagining a lot more that just didn’t fit, and I’m okay with that. I hope the reader enjoys filling in the broad strokes, too.
- Accents are hard
For the August tale, I knew I wanted a twangy Texas grandma as the narrator. It’s an accent I thought I could fake pretty well, but I ended up spending the most time on that story out of all of them as I struggled to figure out how to spell the words the way they should be pronounced. I wanted her to be twangy and kind of like Gertrude Beasley, a plain-speaking sassy-as-hell real woman from the barren 1920s of west Texas (My First Thirty Years is a tough read sometimes, but it’s now available to download on Kindle, if you’re interested). I had the hardest time figuring out how you might say “child” with that accent! I think I got it, but it took a lot of trial and error. I have a lot more appreciation for those who write accents frequently.
- Ducks Can be Scary
I don’t watch horror movies. I don’t read horror novels either (except for when I’ve started a book without realizing it’s horror but can’t stop because I have to know what happens), and I struggled to make it through 75% of Joe Hill’s excellent Horns on audiobook before I couldn’t take it anymore. So I didn’t really think I was going to be writing horror. But the April story–I just knew it needed to be terrifying, because the idea of scary ducks was both absurd and believable to me. I think it did a decent job at it, but I think the better lesson is that it’s good to try things even if you think it’s beyond your abilities.
- Beta readers are good people
I fit the writer-as-hermit stereotype pretty well, but it’s something I know I need to work on. Just before starting this venture, I met some great folks at ConDFW, one of whom was just foolish enough to say he’d be a beta reader for me. (Hey there Bryan!) After I wrote each piece, I sent it over to him, giggling like a fiend and hoping he found it just as funny/clever/scary/whatever. And biting my nails when I didn’t get an email back instantly. I’ve been leery of sharing my work before, but this project was different. Bryan caught some dumb mistakes and I’m really grateful for his help. Lesson learned: Beta readers = good.
I’m glad I took on this challenge, and I think it produced some fun and interesting results. I hope readers enjoyed them, too! Read all of the calendar tales.
What writing challenges have you participated in lately? What do you learn from them?