Two Easy Foolproof Tricks on Writing Flash Fiction When Not a Single Idea Crosses Your Mind

Take some advice from T. C. History Gal. Get past the white screen by studying history.

How to Get Past the White Screen Syndrome

Have you tried writing Flash Fiction? Do you suffer from white screen syndrome?

I do.

Why I hate writing Flash Fiction

I love to write, but for me fiction writing on command is like test-taking.

Years ago my dad took pictures of his teddy bear doing silly things. My job was to write a story about Teddy’s antics. In reality Teddy just sat there with a dumb grin on his fuzzy face doing nothing. He/she/it sparked nothing. Teddy had no background, no name and the pictures were only so so.

To please Dad, I tried and tried to write something. No results

He’d ask me how it was going. I’d try again. Nothing.

Finally even Dad gave up on making a million from his cute Teddy pictures and my adoring story.

I thought I would go back to it after Dad died as sort of the last legacy for his the 10,000 slides he bequeathed me.

Blank.

That was before the internet.

Two Tricks So Simple Your Pre-schooler Third-Grader Could Do It

Trick #1 Ask Google

  • If you can’t make up something, find out what really happened.
  • Everything has a background, even Dad’s Teddy.
  • Wikipedia is amazing. Wiki has researched it and given you links to trace back anything.
  • If you’ve never been to a place, fear not. Google has been there and taken pictures.

Trick #2 Read Another Entry

  • Don’t be the first to enter a challenge.
  • Reading other entries will not only spark your imagination, it will encourage the other person
  • It will grow your blog traffic.
  • It will grow your challenger’s blog traffic and make them look upon you more kindly than a random participant.
  • It’s fun.
Flash Fiction Routte 66

My Non-Flash Fiction Entry

In a stranger’s comment box I wrote. I even spelled her nickname wrong. It has 3 o’s.

Hi Sooz, I read Debby’s Flash non-fiction entry and thought I check out your website. Nat King Cole Trio recorded Get Your Kicks on Route 66 in I946 before there were 45s, before there were interstate highways, and before most of us were born. ………   

I’m sorry I got distracted researching about Route 66 in the middle of my comment. My husband and I talked about it, and we found out that Bobby Troup had intended to write about US 40, but his wife pointed out that Kicks rhymes with six, so he changed his tune.

We wondered together what kind of kicks they were getting on Route 66 in 1946. On the Historic Route 66 website –  https://www.historic66.com/, we scrolled through countless events going on from Chicago to Santa Monica – car shows, the battle of the bands, museums, art fairs, Octoberfest, just to name a few. In 2020, you can get your kicks on Historic Route 66 every weekend and most weekdays from June through December 31. Only a few of them have been canceled due to CVD – 19. 

The Route started in 1926, the year my parents were born, to create a road from an 1857 wagon trail. Some of it would not be paved until 1938. Before it was paved fights erupted between politicians over naming the road 66 rather than 60 or 62. Some things never change.

Can you imagine the excitement when the road was finally completed? Publicity for the road started with a footrace schedule in 1928 from Los Angeles to New York. The $25,000 prize was more money than winning the lottery dream home is today. Runners got, even more, kicks when they met movie stars stationed along the way. Will Rogers got involved in the scheme integrally tying his name to the highway’s legend. 

Then the Dust Bowl forced hundreds of thousands onto the flat highway to escape their bad fortune in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas seek prosperity in California. History tells us the road was hard to travel. John Steinbeck’s penned his famous Grapes of Wrath novel blemishing Bakersfield and Visalia, CA so much that the book was banned for several years. 

Teenagers sat google-eyed two feet from the television drooling over Martin Milner and George Maharis as the two handsome guys in their classy Corvette got their kicks on Route 66.

But your readers can learn all of this from Wikipedia and put flash fiction magic into a scene somewhere along the 2,488-mile road and at some time between 1926 and today. The historic highway has captured the imagination of many creative people, event planners,  photographers, songwriters, authors, runners, restaurant lovers. No fountain of creativity springs out of my head onto the computer screen when I see a road sign. Nothing trickled through my synapses – except curiosity. And now, until I can no longer use my brain, I will know more about Route 66 because of a picture of a sign on your website and my blank, uncreative mind. So thank you for that suggestion that kept me reading and writing for over an hour, not approaching the 750-word mark. It may be the longest comment I have ever left in my life. I hope you and your readers enjoyed the fruits of my curiosity. And now we know the roots of Route 66. 

Marsha Ingrao Always Write
Mr. D's Diner near Kingman on Route 66

Her Response

Soooz

Marsha, thank you so much for this comment. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this iconic location. I’ll include this on the entries blog post as a non-fiction comment. Again, thanks so much for participating.

Suzanne Burke AKA Soooz

My First Attempt at Flash Fiction

Get Your Kicks Right Here

“Cinnie, settle down back there. Where’s Teddy?” Bobby smiled at his two-year-old bundle of energy. “Put your blankie over you and cuddle up with Teddy.”

The bathroom break took forty-five minutes but Bobby didn’t care. He winked and grinned at his wife as they pulled away from the gas station. He was going to be a movie star.

“Are we almost there yet?” Cinnie asked bouncing up from her mattress laid across the back seat of the 1941 Buick.

“Honey, sit back down. Do you want a fruit cup?”

She and Bobby dreamed of going to California. He wanted to write songs after he got out of the military.

It was early May of 1946. Cynthia was due in late June. Bobby suggested they take a cross-country trip and check out Hollywood possibilities before she had the baby. Cynthia could barely turn around and touch Cinnie in the back seat.

“How long do you think it will take, Bobby?”

“It will be quicker if we take US 40 all the way to San Francisco,” he answered. 

“True, but I’ve always wanted to see what the big deal was about Route 66, too.”

Cynthia handed Cinnie her book, The Carrot Seed. Tiny fingers thumbed through the well-worn pages as Cinnie recited the words to herself.

“She’s such a good girl. I can’t imagine doing this trip with a baby, too,” Bobby smiled, his white teeth flashing as he handed Cynthia the map.

“I can’t imagine trying to get this map to lie down flat on a a stomach bigger than all of Cinnie.” 

Cynthia punched the map, wrestling with the folds, turning it right side up to read the names all the small towns they would be going through. She trailed her finger trail along Route 66 reading the names out loud.

“Galena, Tulsa, Elk City. I wonder if we could get some pictures of elk. Shamrock, Amarillo, Tucumcari. I really want to go on Route 66, Bobby.”

On the third day away from home, the threesome drove through the green corridor from Pennsylvania to the Smokey Mountains. At lunchtime, they pulled to the side of the road and took out their sandwiches. Other lunchers stepped out of their cars and snapped pictures of their babies on the backs of the wild bears who had come to the road for food.

“Me want big bear, Daddy.” Cinnie jumped on her mattress, hitting her head on the headliner of the Buick.

“Too dangerous, Cinnie. We need to go. Let’s sing a song. Better, let’s write a song about our trip. Which one, Westward Ho on US 40 – Let’s Go or Motor Best on Sporty Forty?” 

Bobby couldn’t get the crazy tune out of his head. Over and over he sang, “If you ever plan to motor west, Travel my way, take the highway, that’s the best. US Forty, Forty, Forty it’s so sporty, sporty, sporty.

Cinnie chortled. “No, no, no. Sing journey song.”

Bobbie cruned, “‘Gonna take a sentimental journey. Gonna set my heart at ease.” That one, Cinnie? That’s what we’re doing.”

Cinnie sang along until she fell asleep.

Two days later they had to make a decision, to finish the trip on US 40 or veer off onto Route 66. A cool, dry breeze blew through the open windows. Cynthia felt bigger than when she had left home. Cinnie woke up from a nap and laughed as a gust of air blew up Cynthia’s skirt almost blowing the rumpled map out the window.  

Cynthia patted her map and started reading city names, “Winslow, Flagstaff, Oatman, Amboy. What about Get Your Kicks on Route 66?” she said humming the first strand of Bobby’s song. “If you ever plan to motor west, Travel my way, take the highway, that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66. It rhymes.”

“It shore do, beautiful lady.” Bobby reached over and took her hand. “It winds from Chicago to L.A. More than 2000 miles all the way,”

Five days later they arrived in Los Angeles. Bobby and Cynthia finished the song. 

“I have a feeling this is going to be the one,” Bobby said as he wrote the last words in his journal. “Won’t you get hip to this timely tip When you make that California trip? Get your kicks on Route 66!”

And he was right.

Word count 728

It helps to know something about the topic before you start to write. Thank you Google and Wikipedia. Thank you Deb.

“Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Week #4. Image Prompt: Join in, have fun, and let loose your creative muse.#FictionInAFlash @pursoot @IARTG #ASMSG #WritingCommunity.

Thanks for reading. Encourage others to write – pass it on.

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Writing to a Prompt Is Necessary for Everyone to Know How to Do

The WP Prompt: Take a complicated subject you know more about than most people, and explain it to a friend who knows nothing about it at all.

If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

Ernest Hemingway

writing with students

 

Writing an Essay to a Prompt

Writing to a prompt is a complicated task even for adults. As I think about my professional life, I probably spent more time writing than almost any other single activity either writing essays myself or grading students’ and teachers’ essays for over 20 years. Writing professionals have boiled essay writing down to a few steps which can be easily explained to someone who doesn’t write. While most people THINK they know how to write if they can put words down on paper, it has been a shock to me to realize how many people, including me, struggle to write even a simple five paragraph essay to answer a prompt.

Steps to Writing an Essay

Essays usually convey information and not to tell a story, although they may use facts to persuade or convince readers to take action as well. New writers need to know that an essay consists of only three parts:

  1. an opening paragraph,
  2. the body,
  3. and the conclusion.

Simply outlined, the opening paragraph restates the prompt stating three or more examples or facts. The next three paragraphs expand on the three or four facts stated in the opening paragraph. The concluding paragraph points back to the opening paragraph and summarizes how the paragraph addressed the stated prompt.

Tips to Start Writing to a Prompt

These steps sound simple enough. However, often a prompt asks the responder to write about a topic about which the writer has to search the depth of his memories to create a coherent response. Usually, there is no time or material with which to research a topic. Other times the writer must research the topic to write an intelligent essay. Notice that the first thing that I did to prepare for THIS essay was analyze the prompt or break it into pieces. I didn’t just start writing. I asked myself questions such as, “Of all the complicated things I CAN do, what ONE thing can I do WELL? Of those possibilities, what can I write about in a few paragraphs?” Next the prompt asks me to explain it to a friend, so I asked myself, “Who is my audience?” Before I write anything I take a few minutes to ask myself questions about the prompt. I usually jot down some notes in an informal list or outline.

Now Get Started

Writing to a prompt is complicated for many reasons. An author who does not know much about the topic may cut corners and merely copy the prompt word for word, and preface it with the words, “Today I am going to write about…” This might be acceptable in first grade, but beyond that, writers need to display more sophistication in their writing. It would be better to start with a quote or a definition instead.

On the other hand, if the author has too much information about a topic, writing becomes complicated. In this case, writing can take many turns and twists because, according to the brain laboratory at UCLA, people have more than 70,000 thoughts per day. One short essay can’t utilize all these thoughts, so the next step is deciding which thoughts are keepers. When writers struggle with this, the result is that their writing is unclear. That is the reason if I am writing under pressure on a topic I begin with brainstorming, then move to an outline. I may do this in my head, but it is more effective if I write it out.

Finish Work – Clean It Up

Finally writing to a prompt is a formal process. Vocabulary and style become issues. My blogging style is rather informal, uses simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and is often funny. My formal writing style as I would use in a writing prompt differs from that in several ways. I use a more academic lexicon or vocabulary, and vary my sentence structure, and I am usually more serious. Each sentence starts with different words. For example, after I have written this essay, I will go back over it and circle all the initial words. If I have more than two of the same beginning word, they need to change. Examining how many of the same words I use within the sentence helps as well. Word processing programs, as well as the internet, have dictionaries and a thesaurus at the writer’s fingertips, so there is no excuse for repeating the same word multiple times.

Summary

Once I have thought out my topic, analyzed the prompt, brainstormed facts, organized the facts into similar paragraphs I started the actual writing process. Next, I wrote a clear and concise opening paragraph. Following in next three or four paragraphs I developed the topic. Finally, I closed the essay with a summarization. After writing, I checked to make sure that I didn’t repeat myself or use all the same type of sentences. I proofread my piece one last time before considering it complete. If you do these simple steps, you will have a passable essay for any exam or job application. Although a writer may not be a best-selling author, he or she can follow some simple steps to become an expert in writing to a prompt.

More writing tips

If you have other tips please share in the comment section or link to one of your own posts.

Find this helpful? Please share! 🙂

 

Which Works Better for You Deadlines Or No Deadlines?

I don’t know about other writers like you, but I find NaNoWriMo grueling.  I’ve had a birthday, and today is V’s birthday and his son has come to visit.

 

Other minor interruptions-Thanksgiving, a cold, pink eye, a five-day 5,000 mile trip to DE, and  a trip to AZ planned starting the 30th have ground me into pulp trying to finish writing 50,000 cogent words by Nov. 30th. My breakout novel is destined to be pulp fiction reflecting the state of my brain.

pulp-fiction-poster

 

I wanted to keep up with a commentary on my blog with how things were going and what I was learning as I wrote. But guess what? I can’t sit that long. I’ve run out of procrastination hours. I need to write 5,000 words a day to meet my deadline. I can barely snap my fingers on my mouse hand. I’ve gained another three pounds on top of the ten I already had going into the month. My normal sleeping pattern, which is asymmetrical at best, disintegrated in the wake of the NaNoWriMo deadline.

All deadlines fossilize me. The whisper directly into my endocrine system. “You have to get up to go to Kiwanis, Marsha.”

Result  – I blog all night and oversleep on Tuesday morning.

learning, writing, blogging, reading, pets, dog

“You must go to the store today.”

Result – I dither around the house trying to plan my itinerary, deciding which stops to make when I go into Visalia until it’s time for dinner. Then I call Vince to bring home some take-out from Subway.

In the case of NaNoWriMo my back, shoulders and butt tell me to walk away from the computer, take a long, hot bath – or until I have a hot flash –  and head to bed by 8:00 pm This forces Puppy to move off my pillow to the center of the bed. At 10:00 pm my sore body parts scream at Vince to give me a massage. Puppy gives me a respite if he puts enough smelly stuff on me. As soon as he finishes,  she crowds all ten pound between us and pushes with all her might against my back forcing both of us to sleep on the edge of the king-size bed. Then my brain, or Puppy Girl’s pressure against my kidneys, wakes me up at 1:30 am and threatens to kill itself if I don’t go back into the office and sit down at the computer and start writing again.

kalev7

Vince asked my why I had to do this. After all, I’m retired and still young. (though I’m not feeling it today – pink eye in both eyes) I have a whole lifetime to finish, right? Right? Of course he’s right, he usually is – annoyingly so, but then so am I, so why do NaNoWriMo?

Deadlines motivate me. When I wrote Images of America Woodlake, I started from scratch collecting pictures and information about Woodlake. I worked eight or more hours a day to finish by the six month deadline. About half-way through the writing process the publisher wrote me an email, “You’re doing a great job. We’ll give you an extra five books free if you finish in five months.” I ramped up production to get those five extra books – about a hundred-dollar value – so I had more to give away before I had to buy any to give away to all my contributors.

My amateur diagnosis – there is definitely something wrong with my brain. I guess it’s the reporter-brain training I had as a kid that is just now kicking in.

brainfreeze

Motivations like due dates didn’t work on me when I was a kid taking journalism and working on the school paper. Nothing motivated me to finish something that other people besides a teacher would read.  Going public with my thoughts, narrow as they were, petrified me. I feigned illness if the deadline came, and I wasn’t ready – an unpleasant characteristic flaw of mine. No worries If you’ve known me for more than a couple of minutes, then you already knew there were holes in my perfect persona.

After I missed my first real assignment on the high school paper, covering the first football game of the school year by moving to another state 2,400 miles away, I made sure I stuck to more important beats. In my new school I covered the library. I thought nothing exciting happened in the library because I only talked to the librarian, stupid kid. How dumb was that? I just needed to look between the shelves, but that’s another story. The interview and fear exposing myself during the publication process terrified me for six years, and deadlines did not motivate me to do more than get sick.

 

Deadlines and contact with real humans who need me to accomplish something by a specific date still make me sick, but without them my life would be chaos. Dishes would pile up, beds would be unmade. No one would have clean laundry. I might leave the house, and might not. I would spend the day in bed reading one good book after another until my eyes withered into the back of my head. I would eat until I ran out of ice cream, potato chips and protein bars. Oh wait, I’ve just painted a picture of my life now when I do have a deadline.

chaos

The best thing about having a deadline is that it puts an end to something you are driven to do. They validate saying, “It will never be perfect, Marsha. You can stop now. You made it. You got the sticker for your blog. Now go clean your house and fix a nutritious dinner.”

And I do.

What works for you? Deadlines? No Deadlines? Tell me YOUR stories. 🙂

Thanksgiving

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, FRIENDS!

Flying Across the United States Is A Great Time to Read

I could have watched movies if I had downloaded the United app on my computer or iPhone BEFORE the plane took off. I downloaded it before I boarded to go home, but I was already engaged with Winn-Dixie, and it was more trouble than it was worth to figure out how to use the free movie service.  Books are more accessible.

You  can read Because of Winn-Dixie by Katie DiCamillo in about an hour and a half. Mama Cormier suggested this book because she thought it sounded too similar to the one I am rewriting now. Di Camillo uses a simple style which includes repetition without being unbearable. I enjoyed Opal’s adventures, yet is well-suited to a ten-year old’s reading level. It reminded me of a picture book for younger children only the author used words instead of drawings.

Opal’s mother left her with her preacher-father when she was young. At age ten she and her father moved to a new community.  Opal’s new misfit-type friends made her feel welcome as she introduced them to her new dog found in the grocery store, Winn-Dixie. Opal, in turn, drew these strangers together into her new community, enriching their lives.  I wish I’d written this one!

Because of Winn-Dixie

I finally finished Writing the Breakout Novel by  Donald Maas. I do this every time I sit down to write – read about writing. It makes me indecisive because I start one thing, then hate it, and start over. My manuscript gets chewed up before it even gets halfway done.  Nonetheless, I think it improves some each time. At this point, I haven’t written a good word in a week, which is 1/4th of the time I have to write. I can’t blame that on Donald Maass. This might be a better book to read between writing exercises, rather than during NaNoWriMo. But DO read it.

Writing the Breakout Novel

Finally, Change of Life by Anne Stormont lapsed over into my regular schedule because my iPhone tells me it took five hours to read, and I started it just before we reached San Francisco.

I would have been happy to write this book also. With an enlarged family of characters and only a few outsiders Stormont manages to inflict everything horrible on the heroine that can possibly happen. She does things to that poor woman, that I just couldn’t bear to do in my Girls on Fire novel. She’s not very nice to her husband either. I cried a few tears with her, but I didn’t put the book down until the resolution. I think the worst secret, saved for the last pages might be little overplayed, for today’s reader, but for the time period in which it happened, not so much. Her husband kept the secret until 2009, and by that time, I didn’t think it should have had the painful impact on the heroine that the book seemed to imply that revealing the secret would cause.  I recommend this book, especially for women battling breast cancer. If I  am diagnosed with cancer, I’ll give this book to my husband!

Change of LifeThe other book I started to read, and closed quietly was The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. I thought this book would help me write a successful first page to my new novel, but it drug me all over the writing process.  It would take me an agonizing two hours and fourteen minutes to complete the remaining 81% of the book. Instead I opted to try to sleep my way to Philly with my seatback fully reclined at 89 degrees, every itchy inch of my dry skin making me want to crawl out of it, and shivering in the controlled airplane climate under layers of thermal and flannel wrapped in a down coat.  Sorry Noah.

How to Write a Synopsis for Your Next Big Project: A Synopsis

A fallen ego maniac, I had the idea that because I am so old and have written for so long that I must know how to do what I do every day – WRITE — and be pretty good at it.  hahaha Teachers think that, you know. In our defense, we have to or the kids would eat us alive. Frankly, we spend our whole careers learning to teach writing, so we should know something. But the truth is…

BOV 2013 Purple 5

After tackling one new writing project after another….

  1. First a blog, (I’m still learning new things every day.)
  2. I braved a NaNoWriMo novel.
  3. Carol convinced me to take a children’s story class, and I wrote several (almost ready) children’s picture book stories.
  4. Then a local history book for Arcadia Publishing Co.
  5. Now back to my novel.

SFW misc Benches 2

…I admit there are a few many things that  I don’t know. (duh!) Now I’m checking first with other experts to see what they say.  Writing a Synopsis is a link to a Writer’s Digest page – links to several articles about how to write a synopsis. Here is a synopsis of my favorite by Beth Anderson.

Does your writing meander?
Does your writing meander? Writing a synopsis ill help.

Seven  Sentence Synopsis

  1. Write a sentence that tells what your book or article is about, and names the major characters.
  2. Explain the beginning in one sentence.
  3. The third sentence tells the end of the book. Don’t pull any punches here. Spit it out. The boy gets the girl. The gorilla dies. The tooth fairy drops all the children’s teeth into magic water, and they change into dentures.
  4. Write a sentence about each major point of action in the story, and put those between step two and three.

That’s it. Step one, done.

Step Two – Write a One Page Synopsis

  1. Use your same opening sentence, then describe the beginning in a paragraph.
  2. Write two or three paragraphs describing the major points of action.
  3. Finish with a short paragraph about the end of the book.  Again, you don’t try to trick any readers here. A synopsis is to sell your book to a busy agent.

Step Three – Write a Three Page Synopsis

Add more action points and obstacles. Add secondary characters. Tell, don’t show!

Step Four – Write a Six Page Synopsis

Add more action points and obstacles. Add secondary characters. Make sure the road-blocks get more obstacally as the plot thickens. Characters never come out unscathed until the end of the book where they emerge scratched and smiling, prize in hand, and not a hair out-of-place.

Step Five – Write a Twelve Page Synopsis

By the time you add more obstacles and action points, your book is finished. All that remains is to add the dialogue and describe the setting. The best part is you know how it’s going to end.  Those pesky characters can’t sneak up on you and write their own script. Oops. They can?  Yep, these experts say they can, so watch out.  However, you have it pretty much in control.

No David's nose