STORM Experiences – Learning

When I started out writing for STORM I was rather self assured of my writing skills. I was sure that I could write up something that would blast my fellow contributors away. It took quite a bit to bring me back down to a position of humility.

But, back to today’s story… I asked a fellow writer, Richard, to help met out with a bit of beta reading… And did he beta read. My oh my. He came back with criticism of 8 pages on a short story of just over 9000 words. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

Now, usually when you get feedback on a story, you have to steel yourself. You have to take a deep breath and remind yourself that they are not criticising you, they are criticising your work. (Fat lot of calming down that does. :P)

Richard’s feedback was thorough; it was honest; heck, it was a good read…. But most importantly, it was edifying and positive.  I’m not sure how he did it, but after reading his feedback, I wanted to know more. I wanted to talk to him and find out what he could teach me, what we could figure out together.

If all beta readers could help writers like Richard did, I think more people would make it through the editing/rewriting stage. I really hope that I can provide the same kind of feedback to other writers who ask me to beta read in the future. 

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My experiences: Writing for STORM

Since last year October, I have been working on and off on short stories for STORM (Pretoria Writers Group’s anthology coming out in June 2014). It’s been a strange ride. When I just started out, I thought to myself: This will probably be fun. I don’t have any trouble writing flash fiction, how different can it be?

Funny thing is: A short story is not just 500 words.

As you can see from the short stories I’ve put up on this blog, I have tried my hand at stories of 250 words or shorter. Ye olde flash fiction. If you want something that actually hits harder than a kitten’s paw, you’ll have to cut out anything that isn’t absolutely essential to the story. It really breeds a certain mindset.

Short stories, on the other hand, are actually closer to 5000 to 12000 words or so. You really have to think differently to write something of that length. Unlike flash fiction, you have time to reveal a little more about your characters; you actually have time time to describe some scenery…but you still can’t just put in everything. It has to move at sufficient speed to present a whole story in roughly a tenth of a normal novel. (When I say normal…I mean normal young adult fantasy…i.e. 300 to 500 pages or more.)

To me, writing a short story feels like writing a story with only three or four chapters.  As a matter of fact, that’s how I structure them in yWriter5. I create three or four chapters (usually, unimaginatively called “Beginning”, “Middle” and “End”), I make sure the initial exposition goes into the chapter 1 scenes, the story develops in chapter 2 and things wind down (or up, as is the case in Beyond) in the last chapter. (In retrospect, that’s kind of a no brainer, yes?)

But I digress. What I meant to say is: Writing short stories takes skill and developing that skill on the fly is no mean feat. I’ve burnt my fingers more than once. I’ve had more success than I expected. All in all, I’ve learned a lot and I’m grateful for it.

Come June this year, you’ll have the opportunity to see me in action. STORM is coming! And nothing will be the same again!

Dreams

Something I have learned to avoid talking about in mixed company – being defined as company that includes “normal people” and “people like me” – is my oneiric adventures. If you don’t recognise the term, you probably have boring dreams compared to those of us who sometimes wonder why we bother waking up to the dreadfully uneventful and colourless world of everyday life.

Ever since I was a small child, I dreamt vivid dreams that haunted me during the day. Some dreams were exciting and beautiful, some dreams were terrifying and hideous. But one thing that I knew from early on was that my dreams were definitely not ordinary.

I think sometimes that, despite the fact that I never touched a drug more hardcore than your common cigarette or hooka (no marijuana or alcohol in there either), I most definitely know what it feels like to be high. Not only do I have a mild to moderate level of synesthesia, my dreams often look like, and sometimes even crazier than, the movie representations of acid dreams.

In some of my following posts I will share some of the dreams that have stuck with me from as early as age six.

Then, on to a related topic: I have spoken to people who have tried for years to obtain the “lucid dream” state. As far as I understand from such discussions, it is when you realise within a dream that you are, in fact, dreaming. That was something I made a project of when I was 10. After about one week, I could reliably realise I was dreaming every night. Of course, it helped a lot that I very often dreamt that I could fly. Sort of a dead give away, if you ask me.

Also, knowing that you’re dreaming makes it a lot easier to wake yourself from a nightmare – something I have done nights beyond counting. The trouble is when you fall asleep again…it is ridiculously difficult to not end up dreaming the same terrifying dream or just continue where you left off – this is something I really struggle with.

Something else that people often aspire to during this kind of awareness in a dream is to control the dream. To paraphrase what I just found on the topic of “controlling” your dream, it is when you will yourself to dream something specific. The best I’ve managed with this is to fall asleep dreaming something almost like what I wanted to dream and then having it degenerate into the crazy loops and plot holes that my dreams usually consist of. Which means, I dream the “target dream” for maybe 5% of what I can remember dreaming that night.

Otherwise, the moment I gain “control” of my dream, the other “characters” tend to put no effort into their performance. It makes for rather unsatisfactory, hollow oneiric experiences that have taught me to avoid taking “control” at all costs… The costs often pertaining to nightmares and waking up in a cold sweat.

You want an example of a dream? Well, here is about (what feels like) four hours in dream-time of a dream I had three nights ago:

I dreamt that zombies were once again making an appearance. In this dream they are these blue-skinned, black-clawed creatures (in another dream, they looked a little more like weresquids). The “disease” is spread through the usual savage biting and clawing that you see in movies, except that the zombies in my dreams are always exceptionally fast and well coordinated.

I run around in the streets, trying to get others to avoid contact with these surprisingly beautiful (in a scary way) undead. After what feels like hours, I see people becoming zombies (also a lot faster than you ever see in movies), people I had tried to warn earlier. Within five minutes, I am surrounded and they get me. You’d think the dream would end there, right?

Once I become a zombie, I feel socially obligated to savagely attack uninfected individuals and feel a deep-seated need to be better at it than any of the other zombies.

When I finally woke up, it took about three hours to shake the sheer pleasure of ripping through the flesh of my victims…with my teeth…to get over the sensation of chewing raw meat and letting the blood run out the corners of my mouth and over my skin.

 

Now, tell me again how your dream about being naked in a classroom or board meeting is weird. I dare you.