Companions in Misfortune

birth-1

(micro-fiction, one minute read)

Jim was thoughtful and silent all evening. He left his laptop unpacked in the hall, missed his favorite program on television, never changed into his favorite home suit, and — what was the most upsetting, of course — did not even come up to the fridge!

Smokey watched him with growing concern. Two times he approached Jim’s leg, rubbed against it and meowed, then he tried to climb up on Jim’s lap, but his friend remained  unresponsive.

Then he spoke on the phone.

Having finished the talk, Jim sat down on the couch and buried his face in his hands.

“She just gave birth to a triplet,” he said though his fingers to no one in particular.

Smokey came up and sat near Jim. He wanted to help. He wished he could share his point, but all he could do was rub his head against Jim’s elbow and pur, which meant:

“Come on, pal, don’t panic. I’ve been there. Some day you’ll give them away!”

birth-2

 

On The Immaculate Conception

(micro-fiction, one minute read)

The reason of your daughter’s sickness is simple,” said the doctor and threw a short glance at the older of the two women sitting in front of him. “Your daughter is pregnant.”

There was a moment of silence.

But how is it possible?!” The mother exclaimed. “My daughter has never been with a man! Darling,” she turned to her girl, “have you ever…?”

No, Mother,” the girl protested, “I never did anything of the kind! I never even kissed anybody!”

The doctor stood up and slowly walked to the window. There, he stopped without saying a word and froze facing the morning sun.

The two women also sat in silence for a while, looking at the doctor’s back, fidgeting impatiently in their chairs. Finally, the mother broke the silence:

Erm.., Doctor! What are you doing there at the window?”

I am waiting,” the doctor replied. “You see, in a case like yours, we should be seeing a bright star rising in the East and three wise men descending from the hill…

On Immaculate Conception

On Structuring Public Speeches

sav_angel

(micro fiction, one minute read)

When the world was new, Savior Angel shared universal wisdom with people.

Whatever happens,” he said, “do not forget the ultimate rule of life: while young, share energy; in the age of maturity, share beauty; when old and gray share wisdom, and always– are you listening? Always share–”

Alas! People were not listening. They were too busy exploring their awesome new world.

Years flew by. Time ran away so quickly that people had no chance to enjoy it. One after another, they grew old and died, until only one woman remained alive. She was weak. Apparently, she was dying, too. Savior Angel came down to share some wisdom with her.

You, people, could survive,” he said, “if you had listened to my words about sharing love. You should have shared love. All of you. At all times.”

But the woman died before he finished talking.

Uh-huh. Now, I need a new world and new people– again!” Sighed the angel. “I guess, I should open my speech with the words about love; this will at least induce them to reproduce!”

baby-feet-with-angel-wings-b-1

Not His Worst Valentine’s Day

(micro fiction, 1 min.read)rodinka1

It was exactly twelve months since Ivan’s previous date: that incredibly sexy blonde with a mole on her lip ran away from the bar… with his wallet and keys.

It took Ivan almost a year to recover after the stress. Still, that wasn’t his worst Valentine’s, he had to admit. At least, they cuddled and kissed, and she called him “My Captain”. Twice. 

Ivan lit a few candles and opened the wine. Luda was to arrive within minutes. They’d been speaking online, and now they decided to meet on the Valentine’s Day for the very first time.

I am making the right choice this time, he assured himself as he waited. She is honest and kind, she is smart, and she’s never been late for a chat...

At two minutes to six, a knock on the door made him start. Ivan’s heart started hammering, he hurried to open.

The first thing he saw were his keys.

Hi, Captain!” said the voice from the chat, and the mole on the lip made a short sexy dance as she spoke.

Ivan gulped and stepped back. She walked in.

Happy Valentine’s Day!” She exclaimed and dropped Ivan’s keys on the table. “Hey, Captain, come on, stop staring and pour me some wine! Let us talk…”

Mitya and the Climate Change

(micro fiction, 1 min.read)pest-control2

Minutes after TX-1 turned him into a fly, Mitya was already soaring around the lab like a bird. Flying gave him the sensation of freedom and impunity. He buzzed into the Professor’s ear, tickled his young assistant’s velvety neck, took a bite from her sandwich, pooped on Global Transformations Bulletin, and– felt bored. Now, he was waiting for another experiment to begin, so he could fly through TX-1 beam again and turn back into a humble trainee Mitya Somov.

But strangely, no one was going to start the new test. At a quarter to three, the team was preparing to leave!

Mitya panicked. He landed on the Professor’s nose, but the old man waved him off, mumbling: “That climate change must be real, even flies are up this winter”, and left.

Mitya dashed to the closing door, and there, he finally spotted a note: “No afternoon tests: the lab will be closed. Pest control.”

pest-control

Writing with a Good ‘Flow’

write

How much of rhythm should prose have? It is obvious that achieving a certain rhythm (I would even call it a ‘beat’) is critical in poetry, but in prose… should we care at all?

Dictionaries, which, in fact, are perfect antithesis to poetry, say:

In writingrhythm is defined by punctuation and the stress patterns of words in a sentence. Long sentences sound smoother, while short sentences make your content snappier.

Well, honestly, this definition does not look complete to me. Some significant component is missing here, because this definition speaks only about the mechanics of writing, but says nothing about the author’s talent of creating individual ‘beat’ that makes every sentence sound like this author’s unique, personal accent.

When we describe our most favorite books of fiction, we often say, among other things, that “they are easy and pleasing to read and have a good flow.” Critics usually say that “this is all down to the structure and length of sentences”, as well as to the amount of syllables in each chosen word-combination, and the breaks / pauses which the author puts on certain places. [Richard GilbertBen Smith]

writing that flows

When the authors of prose discuss their work, they like to brag about ‘making it sound nice’,  but unfortunately, with tons of books being published today, readers are becoming less and less interested in having it ‘flow’. And writers in their turn, stop paying attention to the ways they put words together.

Still, some people are used to reading fiction aloud in their heads, I am one of them. This habit makes us look for the desired rhythm in the first place. We would never finish a book which ‘is not good in the sound and rhythm’, and to my mind, it is the sound and rhythm that immeduately gives away a talented author. It is the rhythm that will either keep the readers turning pages, or bore them to a stop.

Let us look at a few examples, I just made a little analysis for this article:

Rhythm and Sound in W.S,Maugham’s Prose

It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.” W.Someset Maugham

.._._._._;._._…_, …_._.

[A] [Y] [A] [A]  [jU]  [E] [E] [A] [E]

Rhythm and sound pattern: [a]-[a]  [e]-[e]  [a]-[e]

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, (pause) no one knows what they are.” W.Someset Maugham

.._ _._.._.; ._..(pause) ._._.._

[E-U] [A] [A]  [O] [O] [A] [A]

Rhythm and sound pattern: [a]-[a]-[o]  [o]-[a]-[a]

Love is only a dirty trick (very short pause) played on us to achieve continuation of the species.” W.Someset Maugham

.._._._(very short pause) _…_…_._

[A] [eO] [Y] [A] [Y] [A] [Y]

Rhythm and sound pattern: [a]-[y]  [a]-[y]  [a]-[y]

In W.Somerset Maugham’s writing, the rhythm is complex, but you can sense the patterns which he follows in every sentence. There is a whole set of such patterns, but the set is unique for every individual writer.

This is what we call ‘авторский почерк’ (author’s unique handwriting or style) in Russian, and I am sure this is true for every piece of literature in every language of the world: the combination of rhythm and sound is the main criterion of every talented author’s unique manner of writing.

Here are a few more examples:

Rhythm and Sound in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Prose

What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?”

Rhythm and sound pattern: [a]-[o]  [o]  [o]-[a]

When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.’

Rhythm and sound pattern: [a]-[a]  [a]  [a]-[a]

Morning comes whether you set the alarm or not.’

Rhythm and sound pattern: [a]-[a]  [e]  [a]-[a]

Of course, rhythm is especially important in certain genres of prose, like fantasy, or — if we think deeper — also in mystery, in suspense, in romance, in… ah, everywhere!

Look at Neil Gaiman’s sentences: aren’t they truly poetic?

Rhythm and Sound in Neil Gaiman’s Prose

It is a fool’s prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak.’

Rhythm and sound pattern: [u]-[o]   [a][u]   [o]-[y]

Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.’

Rhythm and sound pattern: [a]-[e]   [a][e]   [a][e]   [a]-[e]

‘Sometimes that’s enough to see you safe wherever you go. But mostly, it’s not.’

Rhythm and sound pattern: [a]-[a]   [a]-[o]   [o][o]

Well, every talented author has a unique signature rhythm that keeps her readers turning pages. I think every writer should continuously explore their personal rhythms of writing. It is also very useful to study reader responses to different rhythms, melodies of speech and beats if we want to develop unique ways of writing and become recognizeable by our writing style.

writing-roller-coaster

‘One Man’s Meat…’ (A few words about clichés)

hack5

Every EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher always feels happy to find a new frequently used word or a popular phrase and share it with her students. As I was looking through recent publications about the art of writing this morning, I ran across an article called ‘The List of Clichés You Should Strike Down in Editing‘. The article offers great tips on writing for authors and provides “a non-definitive list of clichés to avoid”.

My first thought on seeing it was: “Oh, it is good to know for my future writing experiences.” But the longer I studied the list, the more interested I became.

“Wait a minute,” I said to myself, “as a foreigner, I didn’t even know that some of these word combinations have a reputation of hackneyed phrases, and probably people in other English speaking countries wouldn’t find them ‘hackneyed’, either.

hackneyed (1)

Then I thought that, as long as these phrases have gained the reputation of being used too often, they are probably well-understood and accepted by thousands of people, which means… that my students need to know them!

Really, what can disgust an editor becomes a desired tidbit for a teacher and her students. Here is the list from the article. Learners of English, enjoy!

Chip off the old block
Loose cannon
Ace up his sleeve
Scared of his own shadow
Add insult to injury
Avoid like the plague
Let the cat out of the bag
Bad to the bone
Cross that bridge when we come to it
Bald-faced liar
Trial by fire
Bark is worse than his bite
Beggars can’t be choosers
Armed to the teeth
Bee in her bonnet
Ugly as sin
Bent out of shape
Bend over backwards
The bigger they are, the harder they fall
Let off some steam
Burning the candle at both ends
Caught red handed
A checkered past
Until the cows come home
Take the bull by the horns
Fit as a fiddle
Chomping/Champing at the bit
Come hell or high water
Cute as a button
No stone unturned
The devil is in the details
All your eggs in one basket
Don’t rock the boat
Down in the dumps
Beat around the bush
Driven up the wall
Keep an ear to the ground
Level the playing field
Barking up the wrong tree
Everything but the kitchen sink
For all intents and purposes
Force to be reckoned with
In the nick of time
It goes without saying
Knock it out of the park
Neither here nor there
Bite the bullet
Nothing to sneeze at
Older than dirt
Open a can of worms
Pleased as punch
Quiet as a mouse
Weed them out
The whole hog
Go the whole nine yards
Work like a dog
Get up on the wrong side of the bed
Yanking your chain
Nip it in the bud
Tough as nails
At the end of the day
When push comes to shove
No use crying over spilt milk
Back to the drawing board
Phone it in

hackneyed

Very Short Prose: A Present

I ran across this photo and could not help writing the story below.

ivanka_trump_in_chinchilla

Ivanka Trump in chinchilla

A Present

He carefully put a large silver box on the table. Its silky red ribbon trembled enticingly.

Must be a fur coat, she thought. Oh, my God, he is awesome!

“Make a guess. What is there?” He asked.

She frowned feigningly and touched the box with her perfectly manicured fingers.

“Something furry?”

He nodded.

“Something delicate?”

“Very!”

His eyes were glowing with fondness.

Must be chinchilla, she thought. Those coats are devilishly expensive!

“You did remember I wanted it, didn’t you?” She said, and pulled the red ribbon.

He nodded again. He waited.

Oh, she was so excited!

“Darling, I’ll marry you! You are wonderful!” She cried out.

The ribbon slipped down, the box opened up.

She recoiled. She stared at the gift. She fell speechless.

Two small furry balls with shiny black eyes were staring at her from the box.

i-chin

Learning to Outline

book_outlineIn the Soviet time, when I studied at school and later at university, no one ever bothered to teach us any methods of writing. We never did any training in organizing or planning compositions, not to mention such things as structuring book plots or writing marketable outlines. As far as I know, the situation has not changed much since then in the post-Soviet educational establishments, so many of my compatriots, even those with diplomas of journalists (no universities have ever had any programs for fiction writers here) have a good understanding of how to plan, or structure, or organize a text. So, I have been learning to do this from A to Z, previously as an academic books author and now as a beginner in fiction writing.

I really loved to study K.M.Weiland’s book “Structuring Your Novel” and I have her brilliant novel structure scheme on my table all the time:

RESIZED-structuring-your-novel-visual-chart-screenshot My other favorite guide is the 3-Act Structure guide, which is skillfully described by Emma Johnson  and a number of other experts in methodology of writing.

Three-act-structure_1

Yes, I prefer to call it by a boring word methodology, because in fact, it is always a method that turns any action into a skill.

Method is the only tool that can turn a spontaneous action into a skill.

In my culture the learners of this kind would be called “samouchka” (“самоучка”, Rusian: a self-studying person), which means that I often have to develop my own methods of doing things. So I do.

I have developed a convenient scheme of outlining fiction books for potential marketers, based on the existing novel structuring methodologies, which I mentioned above. Below, is my little scheme (or model):

A Novel Outline Model

With [some unusual condition that distinguishes him] [the main character’s name] is looking forward to a [the main character’s primary intention or goal]. Instead he walks into [First Disaster], and [Point of no return].


[The second main character’s name] has been [the 2-nd main character’s condition in the beginning of the book]. But [his/her initial intention/goal] is confounded by [the conflict of the story].


[The main character’s name] becomes involved into [Second Disaster (The Midpoint: the main character’s push to action, his move to different circumstances)], so he/she is seeking [the main character’s new goal]. Instead, he/she discovers [the 2-nd Pinch point event, when the antagonist’s power is reaffirmed], and faces [Third Disaster (an event that provokes the inexorable course towards the Climax].

I have played with the model, trying to create outlines for my books, and it seems to work well! With this structure (plus some time spent on polishing of the outline) I can create outlines a lot faster than just by doing it out of my mind. You are very welcome to try it, and please, tell me if you can think of improvements for this model.

I will greatly appreciate any comments and suggestions. Thank you!

author

End of the World

doomsday

(micro fiction, 1 minute read)

The missiles were approaching. People panicked.

“Dammit,” men whispered.

“Oh, Lord,” women sobbed.

“Get me more funding! Quickly!” Yelled the Minister of Defense.

“Didn’t I warn you?” Shrieked a Nobel laureate.

“Oh, God. Why now?” Cried a middle-aged woman in a wedding dress.

Senators and their secretaries sobbed silently.

Only the President retained his composure.

“It’s over, but I am with you, my friends,” he typed and twitted the message.

For sure, a man like him was not elected for nothing!

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