Friday, 11 May 2012

#FridayFlash - The War

I dreamed of the bombers again last night. Their steady drone filled the air, and orange flames tore open the skies. I woke up with my hands clamped against my ears, fighting to block out the banshee wail of the sirens. I thought I smelled the damp earth of the shelter, and I expected to see my mother bent over me. But my eyes adjusted to the gloom and made out the pink floral wallpaper and old wooden dressing table.

I lay in the darkness, waiting for my breathing to slow. Sirens still screamed in the street, like the perverse nocturnal mating call of the police. Fire tore open the world, but these flames came from the hands of youths, and the glass bottles they wielded.

I switched on the radio, hoping to block out the sounds of violence. Baton on bone, fist on flesh. I burrowed into the strains of Chopin, leaving behind the cacophony of war. Not my war, not back in the good old days when the baddies hid in castles on the continent and we fought over decency and common sense. No, this war is alien to me, fought between citizens on the same side. Or what used to be the same side.

I sniff back a tear. I never thought I would be nostalgic for that old Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. I loved the old boy, until he left for France and never came back, but in a way, I'm glad my dad isn't here.

It would kill him all over again to see what's become of the country he died to protect.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Photo Prompt 84

New prompt available!

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The 84th prompt is Hitching a Ride.

All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Ever decreasing word counts

I was having a discussion on Twitter about the fact that flash fiction seems to be taking precedence over short stories, but additionally, the length of flashes themselves is also reducing, resulting in more drabbles appearing online. The big question seemed to be...why is this?

I think there are two main reasons behind the decreasing word counts of stories. The first is the perceived reduced attention span of readers. There are clearly more demands on a reader's time these days, and shorter stories are welcomed as a result. These demands range from work and home based commitments, as well as the increasing proliferation of stories online. In the days of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, there were not only fewer authors available, there were also fewer formats for literature, and also fewer things for the leisured upper classes to do. These all combined to provide the opportunity, and the option, to read much longer stories. It's hardly a surprise that many of the books written before even the 1950s can often take longer to get started, since readers were not so inclined towards 'instant gratification' as they are now. Perhaps the demand for 'bitesize' options stems from the desire to consume fiction between activities?

The second perceived reason is that of the reduced attention span of the writers themselves. They too have more demands on their time, and when we're constantly being urged to make as much work available as possible, we can feel harassed into producing more work that is shorter in length in order to satisfy demand. Moreover, word counts are less of an issue in a purely electronic format - a reader won't pay £8 for a 30,000 paperback, but they'll happily pay £2 for a 15,000 collection of short stories. Tied into this is the possibility that we're being slowly conditioned by the format of television or film narratives to except stories to delivered in a faster format.

So what should you do? Common sense would dictate that if the market tends towards shorter stories that you should follow suit, but it's often good business practice to do something to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Therefore, if everyone else is offering shorter work, you offer longer work to satisfy the demands of the niche who still crave longer work. After all, the popularity of George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, containing truly gargantuan paperbacks, attests to the fact that people will still quite happily plow through a book with a word count well over 100,000.

As I'm odd, I worked out the word counts for my last eight Friday Flashes. They range between 121 words for Silhouette, my most recent offering, to 979 words for The Jar By The Door. Only three of the eight are less than 500 words long, and all of them are longer than 100 words. The average is 555 words per story. I'd conclude from that that I simply write to the length required by the story. Will I always do so, or will I start writing shorter stories?

Only time will tell...