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Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David (@breakerofthings) and Debs (@debsdespatches).   We each post a piece of fiction every month, run a writing prompt once a month and are the originators of #secondthoughts. #secondthoughts are reflections on writing, responses to writing and…well, take a look and you’ll see!  If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the ‘About’ page.

 

Upcoming schedule for November 2017:

Sunday 5th: #FF Prompt – post by Friday 10th, 2 pm GMT

Sunday 12th: Short story by David

Sunday 19th: #SecondThoughts by David

Sunday 26th: Short Story by Debs

 

#Secondthoughts: Kill Your Darlings

If you follow the writing community on Twitter, and indeed on other social media I expect, you will frequently see bits of advice done up nicely, almost like a little gem of a motivational poster.  Nice font, an appropriate pic, the whole shebang.  Some are new-spun, most are bon mot or bon juste extracted from the sayings of well-known names, some still alive, some no longer with us and some from quite a long time ago.

I’ve noticed that should you be so inclined, you could probably do a nice bit of meta-analysis and group such advice into a relatively small number of sets.  One of these is “Kill your darlings”, although this is probably an extreme version of “make them suffer”, the point is that you need to be prepared to be horrible to the characters you love, not just the ones that you think deserved to be offed.  This isn’t just a case of editing out a secondary character who just isn’t pulling their weight, oh no.  You might have to kill off a much-loved character…

“Make them suffer” is justified on the basis of making the character grow.  I don’t know how much Dickens actually liked Sidney Carton as a character, but he did “kill off his darling” in order to show how much the character had grown – “It is a far better thing I do now, than I have ever done before”…  But is making your character suffer, and even die, all that it sometimes seems to be?

Two thoughts before we continue.

  1. I watched Strike recently, the TV adaptation of the first two ‘Cormoran Strike’ novels by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling).  I guess I’ve broken the first rule by watching the adaptation before the book, but to be honest, whilst I love a detective novel, when I saw the brouhaha when the book was launched, I really couldn’t be bothered, not even with after seeing this summary.  I quite liked the show: the casting was brilliant, and the key actors brought a warmth and humanity to the whole thing which meant that I didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time watching it. But.  The whole thing was clichéd beyond the point of being ridiculous, and frequently made my teeth itch, which was a shame.  Cormoran Strike, in particular, is such a bundle of “let’s make his life difficult” ideas that it is no wonder that he drinks so much, and incredible that he ever gets anything done.  If an alternate turned up in a Jasper fforde novel, he would probably be there to take industrial action.
  2. Do things always need to grow to be worth reading about?  As an example, lets look at P.G. Wodehouse.  It’s difficult to find as much energy expended to return things to the status quo as you find in a P.G. Wodehouse story once the balance has been tipped, and yet the stories remain popular, to the point that they are almost imprinted on the collective consciousness.

As with most things to do with writing, at least part of the answer is probably to do with your audience.  Sticking with detective stories, sometimes you want something quite cerebral with an unexpected detective being brainy and pulling the strings, and sometimes you want roof-top chases.  Sometimes it’s all about an every-person blundering into things and sometimes it’s the trained detective doing it by the book and getting on with the job (albeit guided by their gut/nose/other part of the body as appropriate).  You could argue that Miss Marple goes through some kind of growth – she has to learn to accept the success of her nephew and the consequent financial support that he provides and she has to deal with her increasing fraility.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that death is a part of life, and we shouldn’t not talk about it – an unexpected character dying in an unexpected way should shock, but not be shocking, if you see what I mean.  But as writers, and indeed as readers, we should be open to other forms of shock, and other forms of growth.  People die every day – the “crude death rate” is currently under 1% (81 people in every 10000 per year) – but it doesn’t affect everyone, everyday.


© David Jesson, 2017

Fire

Fire.  The two-edged sword.  Our ancestors thought they’d tamed it when they started using it to cook their food and to drive the darkness back from the cave-entrance.  (There’s an irony for you – all they really succeeded in doing was creating shadows, but that’s another story).  Fire is never as tame as we think though, and we forget that at our peril.  It’s never good when fire gets out of control and you can pretty much guarantee that if you manage to get away from wild-fire with your life intact then you should thank your lucky stars and think about ways to stop pushing your luck.  If you are on a ship, or an aircraft, then not only is the situation likely to be an order of magnitude worse but there are fewer ways to escape the situation.  It’s easy to say that the automatic systems are going to be correspondingly better, but sometimes that just isn’t enough, and sometimes the automatics are the first things to fail… And when you are on a spacecraft, then things get an order of magnitude worse again.

The automatic systems were amongst those that had been knocked out, but in that whole realm of perversity where you’re never sure whether something is counter-intuitive or not, being in space, whilst making many things more difficult, was going to make putting the fire out a veritable cake-walk.  Sort of.  And yes, there are a number of factors that I’m failing to mention.

One of the first of many drills that those going into space must learn to do in their sleep is to get into their space-suit as soon as they hear any one of half a dozen warning sirens.  I was terribly – nearly terminally – slow getting into my suit.  A disgrace to my tutors and more importantly it nearly cost me my life.  In my defence, things had been a little…trying of late, although this is not an argument that I would want to make to St. Peter, or more likely a bright red chap with a pitch-fork.  Suffice it to say that I had been running a ship that the Board stipulates should have a skeleton crew of three (and deep-space operations are never carried out with skeleton crews), on my own, for over…oh by now about 100 hours.

I’d thought that I’d got things onto a fairly even keel, and taken the opportunity to catch up on some sleep against the time (which I was fairly certain was coming) when I’d need to be back at full alert.  Such as when something (I’ll probably never know exactly what) ended up working a little too hard, sending a shower of sparks over something else already at a critical level and leading to the most recent of my problems.

Should there have been enough of my mortal remains left to find at some stage in the future, the pathologist would have had a tough time choosing a cause of death.  Since fatigue never actually killed anyone except through the kind of circumstances where a man is struggling to put his suit on in an emergency, they would probably have gone for smoke inhalation.  Just before the point where that would have been the only decision left to make, and after all, one that was out of my control, my hind brain realised what was going, and gave me a swift kick in the form of convulsive coughing.  I dragged myself into my suit and felt the cooling flow of air as I sealed the helmet.  There was a worrying moment as my fume fogged brain searched for the leak which my nose said had to be somewhere since I could smell and feel the biting, acrid smoke drying out my nose and throat.  As the oxygen cleared my head I realised that it was simply that the filters of the recirculating system were struggling to cope with the smoke that was clinging to my ship-suit and hair – it had been that close.

As has already been intimated, many of the automatic systems were down – the fire suppression system being the one that I was currently missing the most.  Bits of damage control were still up.  In theory it should have sealed the compartments automatically, but obviously hadn’t.  I said a brief prayer (scripture actually tells us to ask for things – we might not get them, but it’s ok to ask) as I bypassed the subroutine and keyed the doors to close: the alternative was that I’d have to close the doors manually.  There were two things wrong with that.  One I probably wouldn’t have enough time before the fire spread.  Two I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the compartment that was merrily ablaze to close the other hatch.  I’d be in danger of losing half the ship including access to the power and propulsion systems.  I punched the button and mercy of mercies the hatches closed.

Have you ever come across the triangle of fire?  Basically it states that for combustion to occur there must be three ingredients: a source, fuel and oxygen.  Remove any one of these and the fire will be controlled, contained and (hopefully) put out.  It is something that is true for all fires, even those that occur in micro-gravities (and therefore obey obscure physical principles not seen in the general course of life planet-side).

It was slightly drastic, but as I’ve already said, I was on my own and to avoid some of the big risks I was willing to take a few (reasonably) small ones.  I bypassed various connections to the air conditioning system and created a direct link between the department that was being toasted and the nearest airlock, which I vented, removing the air from the compartment and snuffing out the fire.  I resealed the airlock, but left the compartment under vacuum.  Safer, in the long run, as it would allow me to ensure that the fire was fully out.  You’d be amazed at how long things can smoulder for, and residual heat can be a real problem.  Not to mention free radicals.  In ancient times hunters and the like would carry a piece of charred wood, usually still smouldering, in a special container since it is easier to (re-)ignite than even dry wood because the free-radicals reduce the energy required to start the oxidising reaction.   Not that there is that much wood on a spaceship, but the science holds for other polymers of which there are several tonnes worth on even the smallest of spacecraft.

I was in big trouble.  FTL was out of the question and even the ion drives were going to be temperamental at best.  Long range comms were patchy.  I was hoping that my AI companion was still mentally in one piece and that it was just having trouble talking to the ship’s computer.  It would be a while before I could sort that problem out, so for the time being I would ignore it.  Ok.  What are the positives?  Well, for a start I’m still alive…

 

© David Jesson, 2017

Flashfiction -Photoprompt

We’d made the campfire, had something to eat, swapped yarns: the whole thing was quite festive.

The fire was dying down, so we lay down and looked up at the night sky, continuing our discussion about how Earth-like the planet was, complete with the rock shaped by wind and water.  The night-sky was both familiar and unfamiliar – we could still make out the Milky Way, but none of our familiar constellations.

As wreckage from our spaceship made shooting stars,  two questions were in everyone’s minds: How were we going to get home?  Did we want to?

© David Jesson, 2017 (100 words)

#FlashFiction picture prompt

Ta da! It’s our first picture prompt here at FictionCanBeFun. No idea why it’s taken us so long to find one, it’s been on our To-Do list for ages …

Bearing in mind that November is often overwhelmed by NaNoWriMo, I’m going to keep the word count low this time.

 

Word count: 100-750
Deadline: 2pm on Friday 10th November 2017

 

Have fun! And let us know if you’d like more picture prompts.


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’.

#SecondThoughts – Tricksters

The problem with having a slick schedule with four posts a month on specific subjects on specific days is that the calendar throws in some grit into the well-ordered machine…which is why Debs and I have been very thankful to recruit some brilliant guests to contribute posts for the occasional fifth sundays which would otherwise mess up our schedule. So, continuing with this tradition, and with only a very little sleight of hand, we’re dropping in a post by @nerdcactus, with some thoughts on the ‘Trickster’ – one only has to follow her Twitter-feed to know that there is is no-one better to write with both passionate knowledge and knowledgable passion about such characters and their role in a story.


 

Do any of you watch The Magicians? Or have you, perhaps, read the books by Lev Grossman? That is one of the worst examples of a Trickster I have ever seen. In fact, I’d venture to say it might be the worst.

Why?

It is an absolute nightmare of characterization. Reynard the Fox comes storming in, tearing the heart out of people, raping a main character, and just generally being evil in an almost cartoonish fashion. In one scene in the show (I’ll be the first to admit I refused to read the books), he even turns a woman’s cat inside out and keeps it alive. The only piece of characterization that actually fits? He poses as a peaceful goddess and tricks an unsuspecting group of magic users into releasing him.

It’s rage-inducing. Not the least because Reynard the Fox has never been evil. Does he murder? Yes. But only the people who’re going to kill him (or, rather, animals). Reynard is a Trickster, and in this case, a satirical creature lampooning the feudal system and corruption in the Church; those creatures he murders represent the Powers That Be. Reynard is wily; he is the wily fox, a trope so pervasive even Disney couldn’t escape it (twice, actually: Robin Hood and Zootopia both feature cunning foxes, though it’s a much larger part of Nick Wilde’s character). Reynard is, at his worst, an anti-hero and, at his best, the spokesperson for the masses.

And, no matter how bad his behavior, we are meant to root for him. Because he is charismatic, clever, and speaks truth to power. That is what a Trickster is.

But the Trickster is also so much more than that.

If we were to define a Trickster, we would say he (for Tricksters are invariably men) is a mischievous or roguish creature who defies the rules of gods and men, making use of cunning and intellect rather than physical prowess. Very often, the results of their actions are positive, though they can be malicious (Loki’s involvement in the death of Baldur comes to mind). Inevitably, they are caught, but they’ll probably just talk their way out of it again. And they are, down to a man, charming.

Note I didn’t say a Trickster must play pranks on people. Yes, characters like Bart Simpson and Fred and George Weasley are examples of Tricksters, but so too is The Doctor, and he does not spend most of his time playing harmless jokes on people. Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor; this is a prime example of a Trickster subverting the laws of man to do a greater good. He embarrasses the corrupt government officials, fights for the common man, and has undoubted panache. Yes, a true Trickster.

But it’s so easy to turn Trickster into a con-man, a thief, a prankster. It is also easy to turn him into a Madman with a Box, whose plans—if they are plans and not just a thing—are labyrinthine in nature. It is easy to define Trickster by what he stands against. To have him be an outsider to the system, looking in and merely subverting what is.

It is too easy. And, frankly, it doesn’t begin to encompass everything a Trickster can be.

Lewis Hyde, in his book Trickster Makes This World (which I so heartily recommend, I’m thinking of giving it to everyone I know for ALL the holidays), says that “trickster is a boundary-crosser”. Think of all that implies. Hermes is a psychopomp, guiding the souls of the dead to the Underworld. Loki can change shape. Raven can cross between realms. Who the hell knows what kind of animal Set is? Trickster challenges identities and the rules of everything we understand. And, in challenging everything, Trickster changes everything. He makes worlds.

Now. What does this mean for us as writers? What can we do to reimagine a trope that is also an archetype? Think of boundaries. Think of changes. Of new beginnings. Trickster can be storyteller (Anansi is a great version of this). He can be messenger (Hermes’ role as running a UPS-type company is the best thing about that second Percy Jackson movie I never saw). He can remind the gods of their hubris (Loki’s role in the death of Baldur) or get them into and out of trouble (look up the origins of Odin’s horse, Sleipnir). Trickster can be a master or a fool.

Or even a victim. Maybe Trickster is at the whim of his own nature, trapped in a whirl of chaos and at the mercy of himself? A seer like Cassandra, always ignored, or constantly changing form and never able to cease? Maybe he can’t help acting the way he does, and it sometimes causes him to hurt those he loves because of a grand plan he cannot begin to grasp.

What does a world created by a Trickster look like? In my world, chaos is at the heart of creation, and this is reflected in the near-constant natural disasters that racked the planet until divine intervention stabilized it. Order is an obsession with the people of Esmeihiri, and they have a very difficult relationship with their Creator. But she loves them and does her best to be the god they need.

Oh, yes. I said she. Because what is the easiest boundary to cross but the most arbitrary limitation I’ve mentioned so far? Trickster is so much more than a con-man. So much more than wit, charm, or pranks. They might be serious. They might be doolally. Man. Woman. Both and neither. Creator. Destroyer. At odds with the gods and the god themselves. In control or out of it. Perpetrator or victim.

But, whatever they are, they are not whatever the hell The Magicians decided to do. Because, at the end of the day, a Trickster is not a sociopath. They are an appetite that needs filling. And there is nothing more interesting than a character who always wants more from life.

 

© NerdCactus 2017

Short …?

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“Short? Waddya mean I’m short? I’m as tall as you are, cheeky mare …”

The cashier, unable to interrupt Mick, flushed bright pink: “Sir, I’m sorry, I simply meant that your payments don’t add up. There isn’t sufficient coinage to add up to your total.” “Oh, I see. Sorry love. Waddya need?” It took a bit of rummaging round in pockets for Mick to find sufficient of the right coins to balance the paying-in book before he could race back to his car. As he hurried, he could see a traffic warden taking a picture, having just stuck a ticket on his car. “Naw mate, naw. I was only over the time by a minute. If that dopey mare at my office ‘ad cashed up proper, I’d have bin ‘n gawn by now.”

Unsurprisingly, the warden wasn’t listening and Mick ended up snatching the ticket from his windscreen before pulling away with tyres squealing. He punched a number into his phone and shouted “tell that stupid tart Mary she’s just cost me a parking ticket … ‘n she’ll be payin’ it from outta her wages.” Before the startled receptionist could respond, he hung up.

Arriving at his next call, Mick was more than a touch agitated, although he’d never have believed it if you’d suggested so. “Mornin’ love, ‘ere to take a butchers at this kitchen you want refurbed!” he announced in what was clearly an overly familiar tone to the lady of the house. Twenty minutes later, Mick was leaving the house, already on the phone giving hell to his salesman for sending him to someone who was “a right stuck up cow.” “Was she actually rude then?” asked Bob in a surprised tone. “Naw mate, just dead short.” Bob swallowed a snigger “must’ve been something she had for breakfast mate, she was really polite – charming even – with me.”

The day didn’t improve, and nor did Mick’s mood. Calling it a day at quarter to five, he jumped in the shower, changed and decided to pop into his local for a quick one before tonight’s date. He thought he had a really good chance with this one. She was just his type – blonde, bubbly and flirty – with no airs and graces. He chatted with a few of the lads at his local before leaving for the wine bar she’d chosen for the meet.

He was a little late and was about to phone, when he spotted her. There was some bloke chatting to her, which he was a bit narked about to be honest. Going over, he went straight in for a kiss: “looking gorgeous darlin’, what you drinkin’?” Mick saw her visibly recoil before saying to the other bloke: “can you give me a minute Chaz?” Puffing up his chest, Mick asked “’ho’s this Chaz bloke, a mate of yours?” “No” she replied, rather coolly “we was just chatting. In fact, he’d just asked me how come I’d been left waiting on a first date.” “Sorry Babe, I ‘ad to pull over and take a call from a client. It’s been a mare of a day and …” Mick spotted her not even attempting to stifle a yawn. “Whassup with you anyways?” She sighed: “Well, apart from being late, you lied. I mean, if you’re 5’ 10”, I’m ruddy Sofia Loren.” “Wot? Wot you sayin’?” “I’m saying that you’re short mate. Get it? Too … short.” and with that she stalked away to join Chaz.

Mick stormed back to his local and complained about all these women who would only consider dating 6 footers. “Hang on a minute Mick, how tall did you say you were?” one of the regulars chimed in.  “Only 5’ 10” … I weren’t pretending to be 6’ or nuffing.” Once the lads had stopped laughing, one of them managed to get out: “Mick, you barely make 5’7”! Maybe it wasn’t the lack of height so much as the fact that you were telling an outright lie.” “She said it, she said I was too short!” Mick was almost shouting now, so that same guy put a pint in front of him before saying: “Too short of the truth eh, maybe mate?”


© Debra Carey, 2017

#secondthoughts: The Big Bang Theory and Generating your Characters

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My mother loves nerdy TV and she it was who introduced me to the joy that is “The Big Bang Theory” (TBBT). I think we laugh at different bits, but it matters not, she deserves the credit for the intro. The show has played another big part in my life in that it inspired my now partner to contact me when he read of my preference for its nerdy humour in my online dating profile. And yes, we do share a lot of laughter, and giggles, and chortles. We also still watch it together and laugh … frequently out loud!

Growing up, no-one taught me about clever men (I’m looking at you again Mum), only about tall, dark and handsome men. Not that my Dad wasn’t clever, it’s just he wasn’t a geek or a nerd. And with the passing of years, I’ve discovered just how much tickling the brain cells matters to me in terms of attraction. Sapio-sexual I believe the term is, which sounds way more outré than it is, by the way.

I mean, look at the line-up on TBBT: Sheldon – completely neurotic, controlling, Mama’s boy; Leonard – short, speccy, massively lacking in self-confidence; Howard – skinny, sex-mad, spoilt Mama’s boy; and Rajesh – rich, hugely in touch with his feminine side, spoilt Mama’s boy. Hmmm … is there are another theme emerging there? But I digress. Let’s be honest, there’s not a looker among ’em …

And then we have the girls: Bernadette – hot but scary, domineering and downright clever; Amy – gawky and awkward, but patient, kind and also downright clever; lastly Penny – pretty, blonde and not (clever that is). Except that after dating Leonard, she realises that she can’t tolerate stupid men anymore. And all her friends are clever too. Clearly not that dumb, eh Penny …?  Again, I digress, my point is those guys are really lucky to have these girls.

One of the many things I found laughable was how these incredibly clever men with their serious academic jobs could get so caught up in gaming and role-play (and I realise I’m not just talking about TBBT). I’ve never tried it and I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge the potential for addiction … but I just don’t see the draw. It’s like gambling. I understand it’s addictive possibilities … I just cannot be bothered to try it. It’s too damn dull.

I think the first time anyone ever suggested games other than Scrabble (best game ever), Monopoly (dull, dull, dullest) and Trivial Pursuit (fun, if frustrating when played against those clever men) was Risk. I had no idea what the other players were doing, or talking about. It was all going right over my head and I mentally checked out as I was quickly bored. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a competitive bone in my body (other than with myself), so maybe that’s part of it. But people tell me I should be able to get involved in the world building and role playing aspects. So far, I’ve just given them “that” look …

But, having read David’s piece “Generating your Characters” this January – you know, properly read it rather than just skimmed, I can see how role play and gaming could help in the planning and developing process for fiction – especially in fantasy or science fiction with world building, but even for “straightforward” fiction with character development.

So, while I was busy being snotty and snooty about the gamers and role players, they were racing streets ahead of me in terms of planning and developing a novel. Do I ever feel dumb …

 


PS: As this is my #secondthoughts on a piece of David’s #secondthoughts, does that still make it #secondthoughts, or do I need to apply a multiplier?

© Debra Carey, 2017