Friday, 10 February 2012

Spare Parts (serial experiments)

I break my main flash fiction blog up into 'seasons', two a year. Not to suggest an overarching narrative, or connection, just to help me keep a sense of progression, a sense of where I am and where I've been.

The last season, the past six months, have actually had something of a theme... serials.

I wanted to branch out, experiment. It's one of the joys of flash fiction, you get to try out different styles and techniques. You get to play with form and function.

A little note on serials to begin with, as there are different approaches. There is the chopped up novel or short story, there is the ongoing write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants weekly serial and then there is the route I took, which was the short, pre-written serial. The distinction being that while they were written in advance, they weren't simply chopped up, but purposefully written in 'episodes' with cliffhangers and plot hooks, to be published weekly.

So, was the experiment a success?

Well... a moderate one.

Godstorm was my fantasy serial about a young god thrust into the politics of older gods. Kind of. (Part 1 - Clouds Like Murder). It was probably the most popular, but while it had a strong beginning and end it lacked much of a middle. It's something I want to expand when I have the chance.

Fifteen Feathers was a supernatural suspense serial. (Part 1) I think it was probably the most successful in a lot of ways. It was very (and purposefully) suited to the serial form. On the first day (episode) Katya receives five feathers, which inexplicably sends her mind spinning. The next day she receives four. Then three...

The countdown worked really well, built in natural cliffhangers, allowed each episode to be a day and let me reveal a few more details and build the character as I went along. I've had more than one request to release the full text as a straight up short, which will obviously lose some of the cliffhanger tension, but I plan to include it in my first anthology, hopefully (all going to plan) out in June.

Then I through in a couple of little'uns...

Haunted. A standalone. But... then it's not a serial, right? Well, technically not. But... wait! It was an introductory piece for my character in an ongoing wbtsoy-pants serial that I got asked to be a part of by a friend (which completely coincidentally came about as I was experimenting with serials).

That serial is a post-apocalyptic story called Dusk. It will get a full post of its own at some point, but for now, pop on over and give it a go. It's fun and slightly mad.

Black and White. A two part conceptual sci-fi. (part 1) I have mixed feelings about it... I love the first part; the second part is where the conceptual side comes in and it almost feels like a different beast. But I enjoyed writing it.

And then the biggie. As many parts as Godstorm and Fifteen Feathers together... The Dorothy Delusion. A near-future techno-thiller, with hints of Baum's Oz and multiple plot threads. (part 1)

The end reaction? Well, it's literally just finished, so... I can't really say. But for me, again, a mixed success. Definitely some positive comments, people like the characters, the pace, the fight scenes. But then because I was weaving multiple plots and much of it hinged on questioning characters' allegiances and motivations I know I lost a few people at certain points because reading it was dragged out over several months.

One twist was definitely too subtly set up for the serial form. Although it was only a page or two back, the hints appeared weeks before the reveal so it fell a little flat. But then... I learnt from that, and that was the point.

I hope people enjoy the conclusion, and ultimately I've enjoyed writing serials. Dusk continues, but I'm looking forward to going back to writing and publishing individual flashes. Ultimately I have a very short attention span and individual flash fictions suit that very well... ^_^

Friday, 3 February 2012

Shark Knight

The point of this blog was a place to ramble and talk about the fiction, while the fiction lived elsewhere. Well, I'm just going to break all the rules and post some fiction here. I know, crazy, right? o_0

This was hastily written in response to Jack K Holt's discovery of a mislabelled Shark (K)Night 3D DVD, which I immediately saw as a writing prompt.

More Shark Knight:
These islands are built on pirate bones
S.H.A.R.K. Knight

And so... the story...

Shark Knight

Karl lifted his grandson onto his lap. His knee would begin aching shortly, but soon the boy would be too heavy to lift at all and he didn’t want to miss an opportunity. Karl rubbed his white beard, and looked down at young Sam.

“Have I ever told you about the Shark Knight, Sam?”

Sam’s eyes went wide, then narrowed a little. He was reaching the age where his Grandpa’s tall tales were beginning to sound suspect, not that he let that interfere with enjoying them.

“No, Grappa. Tell me about the Shark Knight.”

“He’s a wicked thing, cursed by witches. He was a Grail Knight once, but he went bad.”

Sam bounced and Karl hid his wince as pain shot down his shin.

“Knights are good, knights don’t go bad!”

“Oh, he was a good man to begin with, and virtuous. But he was just a man, and time, frustration and failure went to work on him. He spent years searching for the grail with no luck. Then he demanded the witches let him breathe underwater so he could search the seas. He threatened to feed them to sharks if they didn't.”

“Oh,” Sam breathed, “you mustn’t threaten a witch.”

“Exactly,” Karl ruffled Sam’s hair, “you and I know that. So the witches taught him a lesson, they mixed him all up with the sharks, so he had a shark’s head and skin, but the body of a man, that he might scour the ocean beds.”

“Is he still under the sea? Is he still searching?” Sam knew how stories went.

“He is, but on a full moon he comes out of the sea and searches the land instead. Looking for the witches. And woe betide anyone who crosses his path.”

Sam’s eyes went properly wide now, lost in his imagination.

“But Grappa, it’s a full moon tonight.”

“So it is. Well, just be sure you don’t go wandering in the night. If you do... the first thing you see are his terrible eyes, two slits of red in the night. The first thing you hear is the creak of his rusted armour and the bubbling rattle of air through his tattered gills.”

“But how can he breathe, out of the sea?”

“Oh, not easily, Sam, not easily. It pains the beast greatly to do so. But if you see him, if you hear him, just run. Run home fast.”

Sam nodded vigorously.

“Da doesn’t let me out at night, but I’ll remember, if I ever see him, I’ll run.”

“Run from what?”

Karl turned and smiled at his son, stood in the doorway.

“The Shark Knight, Da.”

“Has Grappa been telling you scary stories just before bed again? C’mon, little Sam.”

“Aw, Da.” But Sam didn’t put up a struggle. “Grappa?”

“Yes, Sam?”

“All the witches are dead. Does he know?”

“He knows, Sam. Night.”

“Night, Grappa, look out for the Shark Knight.”

Karl’s son shook his head, there was a world of stories between the two of them that he had grown out of. Though Karl hoped one day he would rediscover them, maybe with a grandson of his own.

Karl said his goodbyes and walked slowly home. Not that he could walk at any other pace these days. The moon was bright and round, fully visible despite the fog that was beginning to drift in from the sea.

When he was home he climbed down the steps to the larder. He shivered as he worked a large side of salted beef off the shelf. It was colder down there than it was outside. He staggered a little as he carried the beef up the stairs and out the back door to his work table.

The back of his house led straight out onto the cliff and the path that ran down to the cove. He sat down at the table and waited.

A short while later he heard a creaking, grinding sound like a rusted gate, and a rattling, bubbling sound like water coming up through a crack. A large shadow was shuffling its way up the path, with just two glowing red slits at head height.

The Shark Knight manoeuvred himself onto the bench opposite Karl. He surged forward and sank his terrible teeth into the side of beef.

When he had eaten his fill he turned his baleful gaze on Karl.

Karl shook his head, “Sorry, old friend. I know you have learnt your lesson and your sentence is long served, but I cannot find a single witch, old or young, to lift your curse.”

The Shark Knight nodded slowly. His breathing seemed more laboured than usual. With a groan of old metal he reached behind himself. He drew out a plain wooden cup, intricately carved and miraculously undamaged despite the barnacles and sheen of green algae. He placed it in front of Karl and then he shuddered and slumped across the table, the red finally fading from his eyes.