Featured

Welcome

Hello! Thanks for stopping by!

Add a heading (3)

Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David (@breakerofthings) and Debs (@debsdespatches).

We started the blog because we wanted to practice writing stories, and to talk about what writing (and reading) means to us.  Over the last few years we’ve showcased a number of short stories of different lengths, genres, voices, and you can find these via the Index.

We run a monthly prompt for #FlashFiction (used here in both senses: a short story that can be read quickly, and one that is written within a short period of time).  We like to go with quirky prompts (again, have a look at the Index!), and we mix in a few photoprompts together with one of our USPs, the Gutenberg Prompt – have a look out for these.  We’d love to get more people involved with these, so do spread the word.

We post every Sunday, following a regular schedule.  As of January 2020, we’ve revamped this slightly.  We’re still presenting our stories, and one of our other USPs, #SecondThoughts, but we’ll be adding some features on the items on our Resources page, together with a new series of articles written by guests on how their chosen genre is entwined with their normal life.

If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the About page.  Or you can send us a message via the Contact page or our Twitter handles (above).

Our (revised) regular schedule

1st Sunday #FF Prompt – submission deadline the next Sunday @ 8 am GMT
(or use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page if the deadline is too tight)

2nd Sunday #FF stories

3rd and 4th Sundays

Either:

A #SecondThoughts piece from David or Debs (except for those occasions when we’ve been able to persuade a guest to write one for us!).

Or:

A focus on one of the resources on our resource page, or on something else of writerly interest.

Or:

Occasionally a short story from one or another of us.

Exactly what turns up will depend on what we’ve been doing, and what is going on in the wider world.

5th Sunday On the occasion when these occur, we’ll be posting our guests’ musings on the intersections between their life and their chosen genre. (Do get in touch if you’re interested in writing one yourself).  The post that kicked it all off is here.

#WritersResources: Hemingway Editor

Last month we kicked off a new series of posts looking at some of the resources that we’ve gathered together in one place here.  The inaugural post looked at the process of using text to create a word cloud, with the added benefit that you could look at the list to see if there are any ‘crutch’ words that are over used.  It’s a nice tool: it has a functional, if slightly focused, role in support of editing AND allows you to produce some fun graphics that are tailored to your work in progress (WIP).

Today though, I thought we’d continue with the editing theme but get a bit more fundamental with Hemingway Editor.  There is a paid for version (which I have not used) that can sit on your computer, and apparently it had the ability to import and export to Word etc, and you can publish direct to WordPress and Medium.  One of these days I might shell out the $20 (less a cent) that it costs, but as there is a free version that is available via the web, I haven’t splurged yet.

I don’t use Hemingway for everything, and I have some issues with a few things – which we’ll come to in a minute – but I do use it frequently (and have it in a pinned tab on browsers on both my home and work computers), and in my day job I frequently recommend it to students.

So what is it? And how does it work?

Hemingway Editor is a bit like having Jiminy Cricket sitting on your shoulder, but this conscience is only interested in making sure that you use clear English.  In terms of the programming that underpins, I can’t tell you how it works, but it flags difficult and very difficult to understand sentences, adverbs, and use of the passive voice.  Lets see what I’ve written so looks like:

HA_1

Eeek!  That’s a lot of red!  If we look at the right hand side, we can see the stats: 15 sentences, over half of which have been flagged as problematic, and I’ve used too many adverbs.  On the plus side, the passive voice index is happy.  Also worth noting, it reckons the whole piece is at Grade 9 – this is a piece of software coming out of the US.  I don’t have a firm idea of what the Grade level indicates, but I do know from using the software that a lower number indicates work that is easier to read.  Personally I take some of this with a pinch of salt.  I quite like adverbs for example, and I think that people have taken the anti-adverb rhetoric to an extreme.  That said, there are a couple that I could edit, and the shading of the text has helped me to see that I used frequently twice in the space of a couple of sentences.  Oops.

What’s to like

This is an easy to use piece of software which you can just dump a chunk of text into and it automatically highlights the various issues.  I haven’t stress-tested it with a big lump of text, but I’ve edited chunks of a few thousand words with no problem.  I like the colour map produced and I think that it forces you to look at what you’ve written in a slightly different way.  Simply breaking up the text can highlight things that you missed when it  was a uniform block of black and white.

What’s not to like

There’s really very little not to like about this piece of software – as I’ve said, I recommend it to students regularly.  The caveats that I give when using it are that passive voice is not necessarily a bid thing in academic writing (I’d quite like to be able to turn that feature off from time to time, and that you need to use your critical faculties when you are revising – it would be handy if the app came with a health warning in this regard.  This is the downside of having something relatively simple – the software does not suggest any changes (which is probably for the best) but neither does it give very much detail as to what is wrong.  Why is that a hard to read sentence?  Is it just that it is very long?  It should also be noted that Hemingway Editor will not pick up typos (such as if you were to forget to close parentheses) so you do still need to do some careful proof reading.

All in all a useful tool in your writing toolbox, but one that needs to be used with discretion and as an active rather than passive mindset.  But what do you think?  Have you used Hemingway before?  What did you think?

 


© David Jesson, 2020

#FF Photo Prompt

wp-15778286860684773978805777053341.jpg

The Glow

She was sure there’d been something there, something she hadn’t seen for a very long time. From back when the world was … well, what it had been before they’d had to start over. But when she’d woken Sam up and dragged him out of their little cabin, there was nothing to see, and now he was acting all hyper vigilant and careful around her again. She knew why. It wasn’t like there hadn’t been episodes before. But she was confident this wasn’t one of those. There hadn’t been one for ages – which could mean she was due one. She knew Sam – and the rest of the community – hoped that her body’s chemistry had changed and settled. How she hoped the same.

The cravings had been bad when it first happened, she’d never have survived without Sam and his friends. Her friends had bailed pretty darn quick and, despite their scorn of Sam’s survivalist way and his prepper friends, it was they who’d taken her in and coped with the onslaught of her emotions running rampant without drugs to modify them. Mercy didn’t doubt it had been a mighty big ask. She didn’t remember all of it – what she did remember was grim enough – but ever since, there’d been those half-spoken exchanges, words and phrases which seemed to mean so much to everyone else … but nothing to her. She’d asked Sam, but he’d brushed it off, insisting it was nothing for her to worry about. When the frequency of the episodes has settled down, she’d pushed him on it. Eventually, he’d cracked, insisting that if it didn’t matter to them, it really needn’t matter to her. Over time, she’d come to see the truth in that statement, choosing instead to be appreciative and grateful for their acceptance of her.

Working hard when she was well, harder than she needed to, Mercy felt better for pulling extra duty in return for those times she hadn’t been able to do her bit, indeed when she’d added to the heavy load everyone already carried. So, when there’d been nothing for Sam to see that night, she knew to keep quiet. Once Sam relaxed, Mercy started going for a stroll in the night air before bed. The summer months had been hopeless, for it was too late when darkness finally fell, but Mercy steeled herself for the wait till autumn returned. It wouldn’t be that long, for one thing they’d all had to get used to in this new world of theirs was waiting – for the seasons to change, for crops to be ready for harvesting, for planting time to come round, for the ice to melt so they could fish, for the long winter to pass so wild animals didn’t get hungry and hang around their little group of cabins.

With autumn, the evenings started to draw in and Mercy caught sight of it a few times – far off in the distance – just the briefest of glimpses. But, ever careful not to arouse Sam’s suspicions, she hugged the knowledge of it to herself. Until she was sure it was what she thought it was, she was saying nothing.

The nights and mornings had been frosty for a few weeks when they had the first of the big snow falls. As Mercy put on her outdoor garb, Sam hurried to join her. Curbing the desire to be alone, she accepted his company with good grace, holding his hand and chatting while they walked in the fresh snowfall, their footsteps crunching beneath them. There’d been the odd flash, and Mercy saw Sam had noticed something – though he said nothing. She accepted the wisdom of his desire to wait and see before saying anything to the others, even to her, but her delight grew – she wasn’t having an episode.

After a while, Bob and Julia tapped on their door asking to join their stroll. Mercy feigned surprise, but she’d noticed Sam and Bob deep in conversation over chores the past few days. Julia took Mercy’s hand as they walked out, leaving Bob and Sam to walk together. Right on time the flashes appeared, leaving Bob and Julia gasping aloud. The next night, another couple joined them, and so it went on till the whole community was out of doors walking, waiting and watching.

Then, just as suddenly, the flashes stopped. It wasn’t long before worry set in. What were the flashes, who’d made them, what were they going to do now the flashes had stopped? The little community’s mood plummeted and no-one was sleeping well. Mercy and Sam still went for their night time stroll, but now they weren’t alone, for the community had re-instated their watch rota.

It had been a few weeks of solo strolling and no flashes when it happened – and this time it wasn’t just a flash, but a truly magnificent sight. Rapidly shouting for everyone to join them, Sam and Mercy gazed at the unmistakable sign of not just of life, but intelligent and innovative life. One not simply able to simply generate electricity, but having a desire for beauty and decoration. The size of the display left reflections in the broad expanse of lake which lay between them. As some of their number gazed in joy and awe, others worried how they’d not known another community lay so close by? While they’d stopped searching a while back …  it’d only seemed a year or two ago, till Julia remembered their last search had been the night her youngest was born, and he’d just celebrated his 13th birthday.

Activating those old plans for rapid reaction to such signs, morning saw an advance party setting off to trek around the lake. Nervously, the remaining community members gathered by the lakeside at dusk. With darkness came the light display, then – unmistakably – two flares. Two to indicate success and safety. Relief turned rapidly into joy, as they broke into loud cheering. Lighting the large bonfire they’d sent the day preparing, they remained outdoors until the lights went out.

Mid-morning saw the return of their advance party … and they brought with them new friends.


© Debra Carey, 2020

Everyone knew about the tree in the middle of the field.  Knew it so well that they didn’t really think about it.  A tree had stood in that field, it was said, for thousands of years.  The pedants and the know-it-alls would say it couldn’t possibly be that old, it wasn’t big enough, very old trees like that don’t grow in this part of the world.  The local wisdoms would point out that it had never been said it was that tree, just a tree.  At least, those were the sort of conversations that would be had, if anyone remembered to have them; but whilst everyone knew about the tree, no ever talked about it.   People would notice the tree as they passed by, dredge up some half-forgotten lore and then – nothing.  As soon as the tree was out of view, it fell back into whatever cellar such memories languish in.

****

Katy was walking home.  It was inky black, but she trusted her own knowledge of the of the paths hereabouts, and the pepper-spray in her bag, more than she did the slightly drunk friends she had left behind.  There was no Moon to guide her way tonight, but she triangulated on the flood lights of the church, up on the hill, and those of the manor house away to the right and across the fields, as she emerged from the copse of beech trees.  She took a moment to listen to the rustles of small creatures shuffling through the undergrowth.  There was a coughing sound which meant a hedgehog was exclaiming its ownership of some part of the hedgerow, and the bone-chilling yowl of a fox.  The path continued between a double row of hedges, a thorny demarcation separating two fields and using the right of way as a buffer state between two unfriendly neighbours.

She nearly missed it.  Out of the corner of her eye something seemed out of place; another step and it would have seeped away from her.  Some unexpected firing of neurons caused her to step back, to see what she had only glimpsed before.  She hadn’t imagined it: in a slight dip of the hedgerow she could just see the tree in the middle of the field.  In the darkness of this night of the new moon, it should have been invisible, but no.  It was lit up in the light shed from a strange, squat building that stood near its base.

She pulled out her phone, shook it to activate the torch and set about finding a gap that she could squeeze through.  It took her a minute or two, and when she wasn’t looking at the tree she found her mind becoming fuzzy, wondering why she was doing this.  She persisted: the fox she’d heard earlier must have a trail around here, and she found the hole that it had made.  She squeezed herself through, breathing in, and popped out into the field.

Ahead of her, the tree reached up into the night.  As she got closer, she realised that the lit-up structure was some sort of pergola, festooned with strings of fairy lights.  There was no consistency to these: some were bauble shaped, and others had been decorated with bits of plastic to look like butterflies.  Closer still and she realised that she could see a figure, standing at a distance of some 25 metres or so.

“Ah, that you, young Katy?  Thought we’d be seeing you here some time.”

“I’m sorry, who is that?”

“No need to be sorry, young’n, powerful dark night, and these blame lights don’t actually much do they. It’s me, Bill Darrow.”

“What are doing here Bill?  What’s going on?”

“Ah, well, that’s all of piece, really.  Vicar’n tell’n more’n I, but this be one of those thin places you hear of.  We never know much ahead of time when the door opens, but it’s always on’t a new moon.  Vicar’n me’n a few others come up here to make sure none get lost. N’I been thinking for some time that you’d be joining us, eventually.”

They stood together for the rest of the night.  Bill offered her hot, sweet tea from a thermos, and squashy fudge from a paper bag.  The inky night faded to the colour of much washed jeans, and tendrils of red threaded their way across the horizon.  Despite her scrutiny, afterwards Katy couldn’t remember whether the lights had gone out, whether the structure had faded or simply winked out.

The little group formed a knot and headed back to the vicarage – apparently a full English was on offer to the watchers, and Katy was invited.

“I have questions” Katy said to the Vicar.

“I’m sure you do” she replied, “I’m sure you do”.

© David Jesson, 2020

#FlashFiction – Photo Prompt

The photoprompts are normally Debs’ demesne, but I took this at Christmas on a trip to the RHS Wisley’ Glow – a display of lights around the gardens. (And I confess to being quite pleased with it).  I thought it might make a good prompt…

wp-15778286860684773978805777053341.jpg

So, any style, any genre, just nothing NSFW – otherwise feel free to branch out as you wish.  Tell us your tale …

 

Word count: 500 – 1,000 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Sunday 9th February  2020

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

#WritersResources: Wordcloud

 

Welcome to the first in a new series that we’re starting here at Fiction Can Be Fun.  We’ve been running a resources page for a while now and it seemed like a good time to a) give this a bit of a refresh and b) take a closer look at these resources and see what you might want to do with them.

The first one we’re going to take a look at is actually one that is a relatively recent addition and one that we became aware of thanks to the lovely @KMPohlcamp over on Twitter. (KM is the award winning author of Apricots and Wolfsbane, as well as being a Flight Controller for NASA; you can check out her blog here).

Cutting to the main feature, today we’re talking about WordClouds.  The idea of producing a picture based on the words used in a document is not a particularly new one.  (One wrinkle on this idea that you sometimes see in galleries is some kind of iconic image from a book which is formed from the text of that book).  The neat trick that KM pointed out though, was to use the frequency analysis to point out words that are being overused.  You’d expect the names of characters, for example, to be high on the list, but are there words that you rely on with out noticing?  The literary equivalent of the y’know, like, and um that fill conversations when people are trying to think of what to say next.

wordcloud_November Deadline

The most straight forward thing you can do is to just dump a load of text into the analyser and let it do it’s thing – which is what we did to get this image. The text we used comprises a little more than half of the manuscript of the novel that we’re working on, and that generates a word list that looks a bit like this:

nd_wordlist

Because I’m still getting used to this, I’m not sure if using ‘one’ 181 times in ~50,000 is too many, but something that is probably worth looking at it in the editing round… the word list goes all the way down to anything that is used two times or more.

What’s to like

The website is incredibly intuitive and straight-forward to use.  Even better, there is an amazing wizard that takes you through the steps involved, with direct links to the separate tools that you use to get to the end result.  There’s a great range of shapes to get you started…

nd_shapes

…and you can upload your own images should you want to.  There’s a lot of functionality to help you customise the wordcloud:

nd_squareND_carot

 

What’s not to like

It’s very easy to lose valuable writing time playing around with making the wordclouds!  In all seriousness, it’s hard to find anything to criticise.  There are a couple of things that don’t necessarily make 100% sense: there is a slider bar to make an adjustment, but it’s not really clear what it is changing.  I think that the slider changes the overall size of the words, which means that you can fit more into an available space, but it bugs me not knowing if that’s correct.  Despite how easy the tool is to use, I’d really like some kind of help, even if it’s just a rollover.

 

Let us know if you give this tool a go, and what you think of it – we’d be interested in what you create with it, and if you find it useful (or not).


© David Jesson, 2020

#secondthoughts: Mysteries & Thrillers

At the end of last year, I decided to do some themed reading but, rather than selecting a Christmas theme, I went for the wider option of wintry titles. Whilst browsing the wide range of titles available, I found myself being drawn to mysteries and thrillers – some old-fashioned, and some modern. A few of my choices proved to be exactly what I’d hoped, others were not, and while I put that down to the usual variances in individual books or in an author’s style of writing, I later read an article which led me down a a different path.

But let’s start at the beginning. As a young teen, I was brought up on thrillers – everything from police procedural in the form of Ed McBain, via the crime suspense works of John D Macdonald, to the adventure tales of Alastair McLean. Despite later developing a taste for literary fiction, I’m on record as being a lifelong fan of Dick Francis as well as the early works of Tom Clancy, and a mystery or a thriller remains one of the options I’d choose to read in-between (what I call a sorbet read).

More right less might (2)

More recently, I’ve been dipping into the works of the original mistresses of mystery writing – Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers – and initially they required a degree of adjustment on my part to accommodate old fashioned societal norms. But, somewhat to my surprise, I’ve developed a growing appreciation for the genre on my part. Why surprising? Well, because I’ve not really found modern mysteries or thrillers satisfying in quite the same way. Bestsellers such as Her Name was Rose, Friend Request, Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train from the popular genre known as psychological thrillers should be right up my street … but somehow weren’t. Even when really well written, with an interesting and believable plot, I ultimately still found them not fully satisfying due in large part to the lack of a central hero.

With the death of Dick Francis and the drift in quality of the later works of Tom Clancy (and his subsequent death), I’ve spent considerable time seeking out replacements, without finding any immediate winners. One example of this search is that despite finding a Scandi-noir TV production to be pleasant viewing, I’ve not been reliably gripped by the written form (with the exception of Iain Kelly’s 2017 A2Z Challenge which I’d love to see published).

So, what’s missing?

Time then to return to that article, for Crime Read’s Revising the Traditional Mystery for a 21st Century Audience gave me food for thought, in particular, the article’s subheading “Traditional mysteries used to be all about restoring the status quo. Now, they’re just about good people, striving.”  I spent considerable time analysing whether I was truly more comforted by the cosy society presented in the older mysteries than unsettled by the old-fashioned societal norms they depicted, as I’d initially believed … and, being honest, there was some evidence to support this view.

Something Himself and I watch regularly on TV is Midsomer Murders – set in the small villages of Oxfordshire, they’re full of bucolic images  – pretty cottages, village greens, country pubs and huge manor houses. It’s not challenging viewing, and its saving grace is that it gently takes the mick out of the two central detective characters. In my defence and to refute this possibility, I offer the fact that Himself finds television the ideal way to wind down at the end of the day, and I hugely prefer this option to his more usual rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ action/violence-fest choices. For while I’ll allow television viewing to be mindless, I’d be extremely unlikely to read the books upon which the show is based as my reading choices are more mindful than mindless.

Back to that question – why? What is it about the traditional mystery that I find more satisfying? It’s the second part of that subheading which is spot on “now they’re just about good people, striving.” Our heroes are now more nuanced and flawed, more ordinary and hardworking than brilliant and insightful. More tales now end with a crime being solved but without right being done and with the day not being saved. And while that’s reality, in a world containing too many leaders who embody might rather than right, there’s something reassuring about an old fashioned hero.

A friend recently told me that her psychotherapist had suggested she steer clear of world news due to her anxiety being at a level described as explosive. I must admit that I too, for some while, have been giving the news a fairly wide berth – not because I suffer from anxiety, but because I’d like to avoid adding it to the litany of troublesome issues I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I work hard to remain positive, which is helped by the belief that – even if it’s only in the fiction I read – there are heroes who are not just good people, but clever people, who won’t get hoodwinked by those who are not.


© Debra Carey, 2020

#FuriousFiction – The Hunter

wIRe thE MoNEy tO THIS account

k33P Ur moUth z1pPed – TEll No 1

OR elS3

 

The note was a cliché, pure and simple, the latest in an attempt to blackmail my client, and followed the well-worn convention of text cut from a newspaper. The use of l33t-speak, replacing letters with numbers, was an evolution: the blackmailer considered themselves rather sophisticated and was attempting to prevent an analysis of the note from the perspective of the source of the text.  Mind you, if the black mailer was as smart as they thought they were, the newspapers used to produce this sequence of letters had been destroyed by now.

In practice, it didn’t matter.  One detail told me more than the blackmailer realised.  Perfect squares had been excised with a craft-knife rather than scissors.   It told me exactly who we were dealing with.

This blackmailer considered themselves to be the equal of Charles Augustus Milverton.  Following my wife’s suicide, I vowed to become Sherlock Holmes, to track them down.  They were a spider, sitting in a global web of agents and proxies.  I would need to become the same.  My wealth bankrolled digital knights, hunting down trolls and cyber-dragons, exposing them to the light.  We tracked down the individuals who made the world worse for their own benefit.  Most were easily dealt with by the authorities.

But there are those who will never face justice.  Those who are clever and cunning in their lairs.  Those for whom the evidence has been made to disappear.  How will these barbarians at the gate be brought to justice? I do not condone mob rule, even for those who prey on the weak and vulnerable. I took responsibility.

There is always a weak link.  They had given the account details, a Cayman Islands one, naturally, but the money didn’t stay there for long. An electronic handshake and it was off on a magical mystery tour.

It took 13 years, but every victim gave me another piece of information. My white-hat hackers finally tracked the blackguard to a sleepy English village, where he was playing at being the lord of the manor.  I tracked him from the cosy pub, where he had been spilling largesse into the eager hands and mouths of the locals.  I hunted him across his own estate, confronting him on a bridge.

There were 11 rounds in the clip of my custom-made pistol.  The rounds are rather special because – well, perhaps I won’t give that little bit of intelligence away.  Not just yet anyway.  As I say, 11 rounds, but only one was needed.   In the dark of the night, he staggered backwards and fell over the railing.

Beneath a crescent moon the body floated on the river and went over a weir.

© David Jesson, 2020


I submitted this story to the Australian Writer’s Centre monthly writing competition, #FuriousFiction.  The competition provides a prompt (typically much more intricate than the ones we offer here!), 55 hours to turn around a 500 word story, and AUD$500 as a prize.  This time round the prompt was to include an interpretation of five emojis (see below), to finish the story with an anagram of the first word, and to include the phrase “There were 11 ____ in the____”, to be completed as the writer sees fit.

The emojis to be included were:

emojis