Tag Archives: fiction

Flash Fiction: To Infinity and Beyond

This week’s flash fiction challenge on TerribleMinds is to write a 1000 word story where time travel is a prominent feature. I had a great time with this challenge, and really hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I’d like to dedicate this story to my friend Pete, who assisted me with some of the technical details. Thanks, Pete, for answering my odd questions in the middle of the night, without even asking for reasons or context!

To Infinity and Beyond

The place is just the way William remembers it – a crappy wooden shack with holes in the roof, snakes under the floorboards and enough weed in the garden to keep him and Theo toasted every day of high school and beyond. It’s quiet, but he knows what he’ll find inside. He’s been here before.

He slides his hand into the deep pocket of his trench and feels the comforting weight of his Colt Anaconda. He closes his hand around it then walks up the garden path to the gaping doorway. He pauses outside and listens. He wants to wait for the right moment.

“No, man, first we go to one of them hippy festivals in the sixties. All the chicks were easy back then.”

“Yeah! Yeah, man. That’s, like, sick.”

“Yeah… And then, right, then we, like, go back to when Kurt Cobain was about to shoot himself and we, like, save him. And then we totally rock out with Nirvana.”

 “That would be, like, so cool!”

“I know, right? We could be, like, gods. You know? Like, saving some people and killing other people and shit.”

Another pause. “You know what we should do first?”


“Right, the first thing we do when we invent a time machine is… we come back here… and we, like, tell ourselves that we invented a time machine.”

William ducks his head and walks into the ramshackle hut. That’s his cue. “Hello, boys.”

The two teenagers leap to their feet and away from him, immediately protesting their innocence. 

“We weren’t really…”

“Didn’t know that it was…”

William holds up his left hand and smiles. “Relax,” he says. “Theo. William. I’m from the future.”

They both stare at him, eyes like saucers. “Woah,” says Theo. “We totally, like, did it. Do it. Done it.” He pauses, looks confused, then tries again. “We totally made a time machine. Didn’t we?”

“Yes,” William says with a smile. “William, I’m future you.”

Past-William’s eyes widen. “Oh man. Are you, like, here to warn me about the future? Does some robot, like, come back and try to kill me?”

“Yes. And no.” William steps further into the cabin, advancing on the boys. “You remember Laura Mackenzie?”

Past-William smirks. “Aw, yeah. I know her.”  The two boys snicker and high five each other. “She’s smokin’.”

“Yeah, she is,” says William. Had he really been such a loser as a teenager? What the hell had Laura even seen in him? He cuts that thought off quickly and refocuses on the kids. “She’s smart and funny and sexy as hell,” he says. “And you fall in love with her.”

Theo sniggers. “Dude! You fall in love…”

“Shut. Up.” William pulls his right hand out of his pocket and points the gun at Theo’s head. Then he keeps talking to Past-William. “You go out of town to college, but you and her stay in touch. When you come back, you propose to her. You get married. It’s the happiest day of your life.”

Past-William’s eyes are huge. “Wow. That’s awesome. But… why am I telling myself this?”

William continues, “You work hard. You do everything for her. She’s your life. Then you have a baby. A little boy. You name him Theodore. Everything is perfect.” He spits the word out a second time. “Fucking perfect.”

His right hand is shaking a bit, but he keeps going. “Then one day you find out the truth. You catch them together. You find out that your son isn’t really your son. You find out that your wife has been screwing your best friend for your whole fucking marriage. Ever since college. No, ever since fucking high school.”

“Man, that’s fucked up,” says Past-William. “What do I do then?”

“You take the time machine you and Theo built and you go back and make sure it never happened,” says William. He looks at Theo and tightens his finger on the trigger.

“Thought I’d find you here,” says a voice from behind him.

William spins around, releasing the trigger. There’s Theo, leaning against the rotten doorframe with a gun in his hand.

“I’m going to kill you,” says William. “I’m going to kill you in the past so Laura will never be yours. The minute I pull this trigger, you will have been dead for fifteen years.”

Theo just smiles. “You think I didn’t think of that, Billy-boy?”

A second Theo walks through the open doorway. This one has his gun pointed at Past-William. “You shoot Past-Me, and Other-Me shoots Past-You before he has time to die.” First-Theo smirks. “Or maybe I’ll shoot Past-You first. Save us both some time.”

Second-William walks in, his gun pointed at Second-Theo. “Two can play that game,” First-William says. “When I kill Past-You and the you cease to exist, I’ll go back to the future and come back enough times to stop you stopping me.”

“Wrong,” says First-Theo. “By the time this is over, you’ll be dead. So when I get back to the future, I’ll keep coming back enough times to stop you killing Past-Me. Then I’ll kill Past-You and Laura won’t even remember your name.”

The two ex-friends stare at each other. Another Theo walks in, gun raised.

Then another William. Then Theo. William. Theo.

“Dude,” whispers Past-William. “This is whack. We’re gonna kill each other. But… If one of us is dead, only one of us can go to the future and set stuff up for when we come back to the past.”

“Dude,” whispers Past-Theo. “We’re, like, so baked.”

William. Theo. William. Theo.

The cabin is overflowing. Future selves spill out into the clearing.

William. Theo. William. Theo.

The clearing is full. The woods teem with Williams and Theos.

A voice. Disembodied. Androgynous.

“Memory full. Infinite loop detected. Reality will restart in 5…”

Williams and Theos look at each other.


“Dude!” Past-William says.

“Dude!” Past-Theo says.



“Fuck,” say Theos.


Williams pull the trigger.



Filed under Flash Fiction

Writing about Sex, Religion and Politics

When I was a teenager, someone gave me the advice that I should never talk in public about sex, religion, or politics. I remember thinking, “But, why? They’re the most interesting things to talk about!”

Now that I’m older, I realise that I answered my own question. The reason we’re generally advised not to talk about these things (especially with strangers) is exactly because they’re interesting. They’re the topics that we all think about, care about, and have passionate and steadfast opinions on. They’re the things that start arguments, feuds, and wars.

And they’re exactly the things that, as fiction writers, we should be making sure we include in our books.

Possibly everyone else already knows this. Possibly I’m so late to this particular party that everyone else has already packed up and gone home, and there’s just a few scattered Solo cups left scattered around the furniture. Nevertheless.


Sex is one of the most fundamental of human needs. From the time puberty hits, we think about it on a regular (if not daily or even hourly) basis. I’m not suggesting we all need to embrace our inner E.L. James, rather that we need to remember that sex, and the search for it, is a driving force on human behaviour.

There’s a lot more to sex than the physical act, of course. There’s love, romance, intimacy, vulnerability, heartbreak, attraction, affection, unrequited feelings, and all the trials and tribulations that come with a relationship as it grows or falters. Regardless of what genre you’re writing, these are things to consider. In real life, we’re all influenced by these things every day — and our characters need to be influenced by them just as strongly.

Even my five year-old son wants to know the name of the girl he’s going to marry!


Religion is not just about a Church or a God, religion is about a system of beliefs. Your religion defines you in ways you don’t even realise. Your moral code is probably borrowed from your religion. Your values and priorities and prejudices are influenced by your religion. Your entire world-view is affected by your religion. So it’s important our character also have religion.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, or Protestant, or some other flavour of Christian. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or Muslim or Heathen or Buddhist or Pagan or Jedi. Whatever your religion, it colours your viewpoint and affects your life.

And to the first person to say, “I don’t have a religion, I’m an Atheist”, I have this to say: Your Atheism colours your viewpoint and affects your life.

Your characters should be affected by their religious beliefs. You never have to actually state what they are, or what religion they follow, or if they follow any kind of religion at all. But I can almost guarantee that if you don’t consciously consider your character’s religious beliefs, they will automatically take action based on your own religion. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of.

So while you may not specifically be writing about religion, the very fact you’re writing about people means that religion will feature — if only as background noise.

(As a note: religion may change significantly over time, but setting your novel in the far, far future doesn’t mean there is no religion. People want something to believe in. People need something to believe in. Perhaps in your world that isn’t a God or Gods. Perhaps it’s science or a system of government or a TV show. But it will be something. Better that you decide what that something is.)


Politics: Who gets what, when and how.

If you want to have an uncomfortable evening, try starting up a conversation about politics with someone who disagrees with your point of view. Or, for even more awkward moments, try sitting at a table where two people argue back and forth about the relative merits of political parties, policies, or procedures. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there and done that, and I’d prefer to avoid it in the future.

We all get passionate about some aspect of politics. For some of us, we’re passionate about who should be leading the country. For others, we’re passionate about how the government should be spending our tax money. For still others, our passions go into overdrive when we hear about school curriculum changes or healthcare reform. There’s something that hits you right in the passion-bone.

But in this context, I’m not just talking about the politics of governing a country. I’m talking about who gets what, when and how. Who gets to learn magic? When is a 3rd tier Septacorn permitted to try for a promotion to 2nd tier? How do you get an invitation to the coolest party ever so you can hit on the girl of your dreams?

Politics don’t just exist in the capital. There’s office politics, social politics, schoolyard politics, and in the case of spec fiction, often supernatural politics to consider.

Unless your character is in charge of the world, s/he will inevitably run up against politics. Someone else controls who gets what, when and how. That’s either going to help or hinder your character. Either way, it will play a part in their thoughts, feelings, passions, and story.


“Don’t talk about sex, religion or politics.”

It may be good advice for social settings, but it’s terrible advice for a writer.

Talk about it. Talk about it a lot.


Filed under Writing

Flash Fiction: It Takes Two

The flash fiction challenge at TerribleMinds this week was a tricky one. A really tricky one. Mr Wendig gave us the opening line of the story and left the rest to us. The opening line provided was: “The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.”

Really tricky. But I came up with something, and I hope you like it!

It Takes Two

“The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.” Charles spoke slowly, being sure to enunciate each and every word.


Charles leaned closer and repeated the phrase. With the heavy beat of the music reverberating around them, it was a miracle the woman heard him at all.

She sneered and muttered, “Fuck off.” Then she turned her back on him and walked toward the bar. He watched her go, a look of confusion on his face. This was followed in quick succession by embarrassment and resignation.

I watched the exchange with some amusement. Poor Charles. It can’t be easy being a virgin at his age. I almost felt bad for setting him up.

A minute later he was approached by a tall blonde woman wearing a black dress that was barely more than a promise, and a killer smile.  She stood way too close to him, breathing in his scent. It was a miracle she’d resisted him for this long.  “Hey, stranger,” she said. Her voice was low and husky. I could barely hear her, even with my hearing cranked. “What’s your name?”

“Uh… Charles.”

Poor, clueless Charles.

Blondie leaned forward and whispered something in his ear. I didn’t hear what it was, but the starry-eyed look on Charles’s face told me enough. “Sure,” he said, the word sounding slurred and distant.

Blondie slid her arm through his and led him to the bar. I adjusted the controls on my VampAmp 7 (Patent Pending) hearing augmentation and waited. Blondie had Charles right where she wanted him – pushed up against the bar, her tongue in his mouth. Charles looked awkward about the whole thing. I didn’t blame him. Now I just had to stop him turning into a corpse.

Five minutes. It took five minutes for Charles to agree to go home with her. I didn’t know if that was a mark of her prowess with the tongue hockey or of his desperation. Either way, I was happy. Maybe I’d get home in time to watch Supernatural after all.

They walked out together, his arm placed carefully around her shoulders and her hand jammed into the back pocket of his jeans. I followed.

I switched off the VampAmp 7 (Patent Pending) when we hit the street.  Then I followed, waiting to see what kind of car Blondie had. I bet myself it would be a sleek, black Jag.

I was wrong. She didn’t have a car. She led him into an alley. Seriously, an alley? I sighed and followed, chalking it up as yet another reason she needed to die. A fatal lack of class.

When I caught up with them, Blondie had him pushed up against the wall. Her mouth was pressed against his, her fingers unbuckling his belt.

“Hey, Blondie,” I called. “Hands off. He’s mine.”

Blondie’s head whipped around, her eyes glowing red. “Leave us,” she said.

“Don’t think so, Vampgirl,” I said. I drew my silver blade with my right hand and my stake with my left.

She was quicker than I expected. Much quicker. So quick that she’d knocked the stake out of my hand and slammed me into the opposite wall before I could react. She leaned against me, her fangs mere inches from my throat. “You smell like food,” she hissed.

“Wait. Who’s that?” Charles. Poor, stupid Charles.

His voice broke Blondie’s concentration for a fraction of a second. I used that time to slam my knee into her groin. Her grip loosened and I pushed away, raising the silver weapon between us. Charles was watching, his eyes wide and scared, his hands desperately trying to tuck his shirt back into his trousers. “What— What’s happening?”

I didn’t answer. It was a stupid question. Blondie had fangs and glowing red eyes. I had a wooden steak and a short sword. What did he think was happening? Instead, I kept my gaze on Blondie and said, “You’re CharlieBear69. I’m BuffyGirl42. Nice to meet you.”

“Judy?” he asked. The he broke into our pre-arranged code. “The noticed android—”

“Yeah, yeah, wondering chamber, blah blah blah,” I interrupted. “Little busy right now.”

Blondie attacked. I was expecting it. I’d been fighting vampires since my Dad took me on as his apprentice when I was twelve. I knew all their tricks.

Except this one.

She leapt at me, fangs extended, claws outstretched. I raised my blade, aiming at the void where her heart should be. Then she disappeared. Vanished. I stumbled forward, the unchecked strike throwing me off balance.

That’s when she grabbed me from behind.

Her breath was cold on my neck. Her fangs were sharp.

I did not want to be killed by a vampire. But I’d rather that than be Turned by one. I saw what happened to Dad when they got to him. It took four of us to take him down.

A cloud of ash exploded behind me, covering me in the sooty, smoky smell of dead vampire. I clapped my hand to the side of my neck and spun around. Charles looked at me, eyes wide, dead vampire in his hair and a wooden stake in his hand.

“That was a vampire,” he said.


“She tried to kill you.”


“She almost… I almost…”


He looked at me, then at the stake, then back at me. “So… Are we still on for that date?”

I considered him for a minute. “Yes,” I said. “But first we collect the fangs. Ain’t no bounties paid on promises.”

He smiled uncertainly and watched me dig around on the ground until I found two sharp, white teeth. I took a silver box out of my pocket and put the fangs inside. Then I stood up and took Charles’s hand. “Ever want to be a vampire hunter, Charles? You may have a natural talent for it.”

“That would be… cool,” he said.

I smiled. “Great. There’s only one catch.”

“What’s that?”

“How do you feel about staying a virgin?”

 Those of you who’ve been around for a while may remember Judy from a previous flash fiction. You can check out Touched for the Very First Time if you’d like to read Judy’s previous adventure — and find out why she was looking for a virgin.


Filed under Flash Fiction

The Casual Vacancy

So, I was browsing the interwebz and came across a blurb for a new book due to be released in September. You may have already heard about it (word on the street is it’s going to be a best seller). Check it out:

The Casual Vacancy

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils… Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?

What do you think? I have to admit, it doesn’t speak to me. In fact, even with the helpful description that it’s ‘darkly humorous’ doesn’t make me eager to read it. I think I’ll put this on me “Don’t Bother Reading” list.

Oh, wait. Maybe this will help:

Does seeing that it’s written by J.K. Rowling make a difference?

I can’t help but wonder how popular this 512 page mammoth of a book would be if it wasn’t written by Ms. Harry Potter.

The cynical side of me wants to blow a raspberry at consumerism and complain that people shouldn’t buy a book based solely on having liked the author’s previous work, with no care or regard for the quality of the new book.

The more intelligent side of me says, “Woah! Just chill it on out. When you’re a best-selling author, you’re going to want people to buy your new books based solely on having liked your previous ones. So shut up and like it.”

Hmmm… Put me down for two copies, thanks.

What do you think of Ms Rowling’s first adult book? Do you intend to buy and/or read it?


Filed under Reading

Tuesday’s Top 5

Have you ever written a post and then wondered why you haven’t had any comments on it, only to discover that you forgot to hit the ‘Publish’ button and it’s been sitting as a draft for almost a whole day?

Yeah, me neither.

On with this week’s Top 5.

Anthony Lee Collins is one of the most regular commenters on my blog, and an incredibly interesting person. He’s been writing in the same world, with many of the same characters, for the last 22 years, and he does so in an incredibly interesting (and unusual) fashion: he posts each chapter online as he writes it. This means that he is writing novels in a serialised format. I’ve long been interested in his process and his reasons for writing this way, and this week my curiosity has been assuaged. The always-amazing Laura Stanfill hosted Anthony Lee Collins for a guest post titled Writing and Publishing Fiction One Piece at a Time.

I’ve recently come across an interesting new blog called Already Not Published. The author (I’m afraid I haven’t come across her name as yet) has a great post about unintended meanings in fiction. As she says: “The meaning that was intended, the messages the writer wanted to impart are secondary. Once you put it out there, there’s no telling what people will read into your words, what messages you have unintentionally portrayed.” Check out the whole post: Ride the Lightning.

Have you ever stopped to think about what your core values are? Ever tried to write them down? Kim “The G is Silent” Pugliano wrote about Core Values this week when she tried to help a friend and found herself thinking, “I don’t even know what my core values are; how am I supposed to identify hers?  What the hell ARE core values, anyway?” As always, Kim’s post is funny, touching, and a all-around great read.

If you know anything about Bridget of Twinisms, you know that her life is one long, wine-fuelled adventure after another. So when she went for a nice, quiet dinner at her friend Christin’s house, it should come as no surprise to find that things weren’t quite as peaceful as she would have hoped. Midway through the meal, the smoke alarm informed them that carbon monoxide levels in the room were at dangerous levels. Read all about Bridget’s Deadly Dinner to find out what happened next.

Janelle, the resident Renegade Mother, has a sense of humour that I can’t help but love. When she recently read the Occupy Wall Street Official Statement, the first thing that occurred to her about it was that many of the statements could so easily be applied to the way children behave in the home. So she brings us the official Occupy Single Family Homes with Children statement, which includes such gems as:

  • They have sold our privacy by telling inappropriate facts about our family to their friends’ parents, mostly in the form of what mommy said to daddy last night, without concern for what that behavior may do to our future as respectable figures in the eyes of the community.
  • They determine economic policy without concern for our savings, selfishly eating obscene quantities of food every.freaking.day, outgrowing their clothes on a regular basis, and demanding character-building activities such as sports, music, and social events, which they enjoy for 3 weeks and then refuse to attend.
  • They keep tight control of the media by demanding the same freaking book every single freaking night and requiring us to watch shows that don’t say “fuck.”


Filed under Top 5

Narrative Structure: Breathe In, Breathe Out

Much like Stephen Watkins, I don’t like giving writing advice. I am, on the other hand, happy to talk about the way I write, the tips and tricks I’ve learned, and my opinion on anything from crime writing in the 1930s to the future of ebooks. (That doesn’t mean I’m always right, of course, it just means I’m opinionated.) So that’s how I found myself writing about Proactive vs Reactive characters last week.

I’m really glad that people found it useful reading, and I was delighted to have as many comments as I did. Amongst the comments was this statement from Ben Trube:

I’m struggling with breathers and where to drop into the action in my current revision right now, and would love to see an expansion on that theme.

So, because I’m opinionated I care, this week I will again be sharing my opinion on an aspect of writing.

First: Learn about narrative structure. There are a number of different ways to structure a story, and I’d suggest reading about all of them. (Although they all really break down to: Stuff happens, then it gets worse, then it seems to get better but really gets even more worser, then it ends either well or badly.) Some structures will suit you better as a writer, some will suit this story better than that story, and some you’ll read about and promptly forget because you think they’re stupid.

As a starting place, allow me to recommend Janice Hardy’s post explaining the Three Act Structure. You can find it in two parts: here and here. (Plus, Chuck Wendig just posted 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure. How convenient!)

Second: Find a way to think about narrative structure that works for you.

I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you what works for me. If my method appeals to you, use it. If not, please don’t tell me I suck — just move on and find something  else you like. And feel free to share it with all of us.

I like to think of a story as a living thing. A good story, whether it’s a book, movie, episodic TV show, joke, comic books, computer game, or roleplaying games, should have a life of its own. It should breathe.

And that’s how you work out where to put your rising tension, and where to give everyone a break.

Breathe in; breathe out; breathe in; breathe out.

What’s do you do when you’re startled or stressed? You breathe in.

What do you do when you have a moment to rest or relax? You breathe out.

A good story will breathe. There will be conflict, tension and surprises (breathing in), and there will be quiet moments to plan, recover, and celebrate (breathing out).

Do you know what happens if you keep breathing in without pausing to breathe out? Me neither. But I suspect either your lungs explode or you have a heart attack. Neither is good. If every scene is full of tension and suspense, and the poor characters never have a chance to catch their breaths, your readers won’t either. If your reader is exhausted by halfway through your book, what do you think the chance is that s/he will finish it?

Do you know what happens if you keep breathing out without breathing back in? You pass out. In life, your body is starved of oxygen. In reading, your mind is starved of excitement. But whether your reader is dying of suffocation or boredom, s/he is probably not going to leave your book unfinished.

Now, the rhythm of every book is not going to be the same. The breathing of a thriller is going to be very different to that of a sweet, coming-of-age story. So, how do you (or really, how do I) make sure the story is breathing at the pace it should?

  1. Write the book. Keep this in mind while you’re writing if you like, but get your first draft on paper. This is more useful for revising.
  2. Make a list of all the scenes in your story.
  3. Note next to each one either “in” or “out”.
  4. Look at the pattern. Are there a whole string of ins or outs? Is the flow different at the beginning to the end? Is there anywhere that you think inserting an extra breath in or out would improve the flow of the story?
  5. (Optional — I do this, but my sanity is sometimes questionable.) Breathe, following the pattern of your book. See how you feel — are there any places where you’re breathing in too much without respite? Are there any places where you find that you don’t have enough breath to breathe out for as long as you’re supposed to? Also, don’t hyperventilate unless you’ve got a paper bag handy.

Note: I came up with this method while running roleplaying games. When you’re crafting a story with a group of people, you have the opportunity to watch their facial expressions and body language with each new character, plot point and twist that you reveal. After a while, I realised that I could tell when I needed to arc up the tension or introduce some down-time just by taking note of the players’ breathing and the set of their shoulders.

It took quite a bit of experimentation to get it right — but that’s what you do with a group of friends, right? Experiment on them?

When writing, there’s no “instant audience”, and no way to easily tell how the tension will affect a reader. It took me a while to put together this breathe in; breathe out method of tracking scenes, but it’s worked well so far.

What do you think? Does this sound interesting, or just plain insane?


Filed under Writing