Wednesday, 30 March 2016

(vol 3) CHAPTER 06 – “Beta Reading – What Is It Good For”


THE STORY OF A STORY

Working on a book, pouring your sweat and tears into every page, can be an epic story in its own right. And while I prattle on regularly throughout this blog with my ups (a few) and downs (a lot), I have recently had the privilege to cross paths with another author’s story.

Actually, there were three authors.



HELP WANTED!

At the tail end of last year I was approached by Craig Anderson, author of the novella GETTING LUCKY, who asked if I would be interested in beta reading the follow up, LUCKY SHOT. Because I enjoyed the first of the ‘Lucky Beggar Trilogy’ so much (and because I couldn’t turn down early access!) I leapt at the chance to assist a fellow writer, especially one who has supported me since I stumbled into the world of Flash Fiction a couple of years ago.

Then, just as 2016 dawned, I received a similar message from Liz Hedgecock asking if I’d be interested in beta reading her collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, THE SECRET NOTEBOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Although I didn’t have any experience with Mr Holmes, literary or otherwise, I’d enjoyed helping Craig so much, and didn’t hesitate to lend Liz a hand.

And as if that wasn’t enough to be getting stuck into, a quick response to a twitter request meant that next on my list was ROKO’S  BASILISK, an intelligent sci-fi short story by Michael Blackbourn, author of the children’s book CINDERCAST.



BETA BRIAN

And so it was. Spread out over those three months I spent several lunch breaks reading three great works of art, so different from one another, and yet each filled with a clear passion by their individual creators. And while I enjoyed reading them, I couldn’t forget that I had a job to do.

Now, I struggle with giving constructive feedback. On the occasions I’ve judged Flash Fiction contests, the part I find hardest is putting into words what it is I liked about each piece I choose as the winner. I know the one I like most, but it’s a gut feeling. Telling people why is tough. So putting into words the things I felt weren’t working, or what parts just needed slightly altering, was nothing short of daunting. As a writer I know how much effort goes into creating a story, and how difficult it can be to build up the courage and show your work to another pair of eyes.

It’s because of this that I knew I had to be respectful to the authors, three people whose writing and ideas I really enjoy.



FINISHED PRODUCTS

I’m extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity by Craig, Liz, and Michael to assist them, to have early eyes on their precious commodities, and to be respected enough by each that my help was useful to them.

I hope I did a good job. I hope I didn’t offend. I hope that they’re proud of the work they produced.

Below are the links to each of the stories, as well as related works you might be interested in. I can attest that each project, from the Lucky beggar sequel, to the historical collection of short stories, to the brain bending sci-fi tour-de-force, is well worth your time. If you're stuck at a crossroads, undecided about what to read next, if you’re willing to try new things, and if you like the idea of supporting up and coming authors, then look no further than what is laid out below.



Also available: GETTING LUCKY





Also available: CINDERCAST

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

(vol 3) CHAPTER 05 – “On The Cutting Room Floor”

TRAVEL AMENDED

Last year I made a big change to my lifestyle. For years I had driven in to my various places of employment, spending mornings and evenings getting stressed with other drivers, and having the (mis)fortune of being involved in at least three accidents.

But when the offices my wife worked in relocated from the city (and a building thirty seconds from a train station) to somewhere a little more ‘remote’, we decided it was easier if she had the car, and I became a train commuter.

I was sceptical at first because I wasn’t a big fan of trains (an integral ingredient in being a train commuter). On top of that, weather can be a bitch, timetables are mostly irrelevant, and fellow passengers can be, well, a little weird. Not exactly selling points. But I’ve been doing it for almost a year now, and I have to say, the pros outweigh the cons. I don’t think I could go back to not having the one hour total walking a day that I currently enjoy.

You see, as well as losing weight and feeling healthier, my four fifteen minute walking sessions give me an opportunity to let my imagination come out and play.  

A different way to travel


DIFFICULT DECISIONS

It was on one of these walking sessions recently that I made a rather difficult decision regarding my current WIP. While I’m busy powering through the edit/rewrite of CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE RISING DEAD, I’m also looking at the adventures that follow. And while I’ve got completed first drafts of books two and three, I know that I need to work out the end game that the series as a whole is heading to.

So, while walking from my offices to the nearby train station at a little after half past five, happily letting the beautiful soundtrack to The Force Awakens inspire me (movie soundtracks are the fuel to my imagination), I finally worked out how I wanted to tie everything together in a nice, concrete way. I had my big, bad finale.

And while this was good news, I started to see other things unravel. And then I worked out that I would have to drop two main villainous characters from book one. Which was kind of a big deal. For that fifteen minute walk, I was like Gollum arguing with himself in that scene from The Two Towers. They were two of my favourite characters, but things weren’t working, and it was becoming clear that it was their fault. Should I, could I cut them out? Was I brave enough to?

Too many villains spoil the broth


THE THIRD MOVIE PROBLEM

My plan for the CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD stories was for a novella length format. But things in book one were getting crowded. Being the first book that people would read, not only in the series, but as a longer piece of work by me, I was cramming a lot of my ideas in to such a small place.

As I trundled home listening to ‘Reys Theme’, ‘Finn’s Confession’, and ‘Kylo Renn Arrives At The Battle’ to name but a few (seriously; it’s an awesome soundtrack), I realised that the first story in the CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD series was starting to resemble the third movie of a superhero franchise.

In hindsight we can all agree that there are several movies that would have been improved had the antagonist focus been on the few, instead of the many. Spider-Man 3 could have done without Venom. Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t need Green Goblin showing up, Batman Forever felt crowded with Two-Face, and Batman & Robin was ruined by (Joel Schumacher) having too many heroes and villains.

I don’t hesitate to illustrate the errors these movies make by cramming too much into a story that doesn’t need it, so I had to be grown up and make the tough decision myself when it was clearly affecting my own work.

“Blink and you’ll miss me”


EXCESS

What helped my decision to cut the two villains out of book one wasn’t just an issue I had with overcrowding. It was wondering why I wanted a cool character to show up just because they are cool. Not important to the plot. Not really serving a purpose. Just because the characters were ‘cool’. That’s right Captain Phasma; I’m looking at you.

Gwendoline Christie could have been a stand out character in last years The Force Awakens. She was promoted well, and what the actress, and the film's director had to say about Phasma’s role sounded promising. Then the credits rolled, and Phasma had barely been in the film (apparently it's 91 seconds total!). And what little she was in just made her look like a useless idiot.

She was unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong, the character is truly cool, and has so much potential to become something iconic in that universe, up there with Solo, Fett, or Darth Maul (that Sith made a lasting impression). But The Force Awakens didn’t use her properly. She should have been cut, and perhaps saved for a later film.

Which is what I plan to do with my two villains. Throughout vs THE RISING DEAD they mostly act as a go between, taking orders and then passing them down the line to the lower henchmen. Sure there’s a cool action scene just before the finale, and the prologue will have to be completely rewritten (being that they are two of the three characters in the scene). But they’re not going completely. Instead, they will have a bigger and more important role in book five (that’s right, there’s a book five).

Cutting them now is the sensible thing to do. Just recently Jenna Malone’s character was cut out of the theatrical version of the upcoming Batmanvs Superman. Thankfully it has been confirmed that she will be included in the extended cut coming to BluRay and DVD, so it will be nice to be able to compare the two versions and see if the right decision was made.



A LITTLE NEATER
So book one now has more focus, while the remaining villains (the true villains of the piece) have more room to breathe. Only time will tell if I made the right choice, but I think that, when the excised characters return in book five, that they will be stronger for it.

Only time (and readers) will tell.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

(vol 3) CHAPTER 04 – “How Projects Are Born”


LAST MONDAY, SOMETHING AWESOME HAPPENED.

Ideas are great and can come to anyone, at any time. Most are lost, forgotten, never to be realised. However, there are a few minds out there in the world that can’t help but grab onto ideas, no matter how small or fleeting they might be, and do something incredible with them.

One such person previously had an idea that led to a lot of us Flash Fiction writers being able to hold our written words in our very own hands.

And just over a week ago, he went and did it again.



THE HORROR. THE HORROR!!!

On the evening of Feb 22nd, David Shakes (co-founder of the #FlashDogs movement) found an idea drifting through his mind. He could have ignored it, could have let it carry on through the cosmos to be claimed by someone else, or worse, just fade away. But he didn’t. Instead he reached out and grabbed hold of the damned thing. He chewed it over, played around with it in his minds eyes, and then, before he knew what was happening, the idea grew.

But it wasn’t a slow blossom, or a steady unfolding. From the evidence on Twitter, this idea exploded. From a simple Tweet the idea became something solid within mere minutes, reaching out across the digital ether in search of other like-minded folks from around the globe.

“One genre,” roared David. “One book. One story per hour of the day.”

FlashDogs and non-FlashDogs alike pricked their ears.

“I need twenty four authors to aid in this project,” David asked. “Who will stand beside me?”

And in just two hours, the rota was full.



ISN’T TECHNOLOGY WONDERFUL

Everything in this world exists in two ways. Everything can be used for good or evil. Technology is no different.

Last Monday I was part of a small event that showed how cool social media can be when the right minds get involved.

I often moan about sites like Facebook and Twitter when I wake up to find my feed full of stupid Minion memes, or people slagging of strangers because of a single biased news article that’s gone viral.

But on the 22nd Feb 2016, a single man used 144 characters to ask a question, to request assistance. And people dotted all over the globe responded so selflessly, so positively, that it blew me away. In fact, it went so well, the twenty four slots being filled so quickly, that David has a standby list of people ready to step in just in case someone can’t continue.

I’m a pessimist by nature, but damn it if all that didn’t put a smile on my face.

I won’t talk about it just yet. While we have authors, a little art work, and a clear set of instructions from the creator himself (David, not God), it’s still early days. The book is a good few months off yet.

I will say that I have the 6am-7am slot, and have already begun a story called DELAYED. Fingers crossed it meets the level of awesomeness I know the other authors will be bringing to this project.



ON A SIDE NOTE

Before I go, I just want to mention a little bit of good news.

After the legendary Flash Fiction sites Flash! Friday, Micro Bookends, and Three Line Thursday all bid a sad farewell, there was an epic Flash contest hole left for a lot of the #Flashdogs. Thankfully a new contest arrived, a contest called Microcosms, and the world was once again a better place.

Last week’s contest asked authors to take 100 words and combine them with a cat, an underwater setting, and sprinkle in a little romance.

Due to my other writing projects I’ve not written anywhere near as much Flash as I did last year, but the three keys words sparked an idea and I jumped in. Well, I’m chuffed to bits that I did because my story, A GLASS DIVIDE, gave me my first Flash Fiction win of the year.

I’m super grateful to the judges over at Microcosmsfic.com for their kind comments.

Check out the story below, and I’ll see you in a fortnight.



A GLASS DIVIDE
By Brian Creek
“What is wrong, my love?”
Mr Zazzles turned from the port hole. “Nothing,” he purred.
Goldie swam over. “You look so sad.” She kissed the side of the glass helmet enclosing his head. “Do you no longer wish to be with me?”
“Oh Goldie,” meowed Mr Zazzles. “I long to feel your lips upon mine. I can’t bear being trapped behind this.”
“But that helmet is the only thing allowing us to be together.”
“And yet, we are apart.”
“What are you saying?”
Mr Zazzles placed a paw on each side of the helmet. “I’m saying I’ll always love you.” And with that he removed it. “Now you’re free.”