[ Bit of context: I’ve been working on a longer-term writing project over the last few months, and in a bid to expand that particular universe and keep the muse going I’ve written a few bits of flash fiction focusing on the minor characters. This is the first of them. ]
In the house on the end of Newton Avenue, a community of wanderers and left-behinds arose practically overnight. Families formed wherever there was space: blood pacts and brotherhoods, sisters and mothers and cousins.
Miss Terezhkova sat on a battered sofa surrounded by the littluns, who within just a few hours had taken to calling her “Ma”; she sang a lilting nursery rhyme in her mother’s native language, idly bouncing the youngest of them on one knee. The toddler cooed and grinned toothlessly, pulling at her necklace with pudgy fingers. In the far corner the Novak twins (only just clear of their teenage years, all bruised cheekbones and male bravado) sat watching Mr Perkowski’s weather-beaten hands as he whittled a crude model of a wolf out of the remains of a broken chair leg.
Nina and Yara were already walking everywhere arm in arm and calling each other “sister”– and for all anyone under that roof knew, they might have been. The fact that the two of them had been total strangers only the previous day, huddled together behind a crate at the Hainsley docks and hardly daring to breathe lest they be caught, was unthinkable to anyone.
It seemed the stars had aligned to bring them all together to their own crowded little corner of the universe, and they gravitated towards each other, comfortable – for now – in their orbit.
This post is a counterpart to a video I did over on my YouTube channel, detailing some useful pieces of writing advice I’ve picked up over time. Here, I’m going to look at some of the best free websites and programs for helping with the writing and editing process– I know it says top five, but really they’re not in any particular order.
#5 – Oneword.com
Oneword.com is a brilliant exercise in flash fiction/microfiction. You’re given one word as a prompt, to be interpreted any which way you choose, and a single minute to write as much as you can in the text box provided. It’s great for writing short stories and poems in a very limited time frame – several of the In For A Penny entries came from this website – but you can also take what you’ve written and use it as the opening paragraph or stanza to a longer piece.
#4 – Hemingway App
The Hemingway App is one of the most useful editing tools I’ve come across. Using Hemingway’s writing style as a model, it highlights common mistakes and elements of the text that might hinder it like overuse of the passive voice, adverbs, and overly complex sentences. Not only that, but it also grades your writing on a scale of reading difficulty and suggests alternative word choices where necessary. It’s not one hundred percent foolproof– while often inadvisable, adverbs and complex sentences can have their uses– but it works under the principle that if a piece of writing can be simpler or more concise, it should be. You can paste in previous work or write from scratch, using the app to edit as you go. Hemingway app is available both online and in desktop form.
#3 – Writesparks!Lite/WriteThis2
Okay, so I’m cheating a bit by lumping two together but these two programs are very similar in design and function, and both equally good. Both of these programs are first line and prompt generators with their own built-in text box and timer. I think of these as more advanced versions of tools like oneword (above). Writesparks!Lite has a smaller range of prompts to generate than WriteThis2, being the free version of a purchasable program, but there are more options as to what kind of prompt you want. All in all the difference between them is negligible and they’re both useful for getting the creative cogs turning again.
#2 – WritePlus
It’s very easy, when you have work you’re procrastinating from, to spend ages fiddling about with the formatting or minor changes and feel like you’ve accomplished something. Write is completely simple and uncomplicated, with the bare minimum of options which does wonders for combating distraction and maximising the amount of time spent writing. It’s only available through Windows 8 (boo, hiss) but it’s still pretty decent.
#1 – Storybook 2.1.15
Holy wow do I love this program. This is built for far longer projects, and if I were to try to list the vast number of functions it has we’d be here all day. Put very simply, however, Storybook is a database designed to help you organise every single little facet of your story – characters and their relation to one another, locations, time frames, background details, the list goes on. It makes it so much easier, when piecing together a longer project, to keep track of what you’ve written and how it fits into the story; making it easier to write out of chronological order. It can be complicated to use at first, the user interface being rather crowded with a million and one options, but once you get the hang of it, it’s so so worth it.
She still gets giddy when she sees a firefly.
Every day, he forgets a little more of their sixty five years together; he never tells her, but the thought terrifies him that he might one day wake up next to her without her name ready on his tongue.
But when their children and their children’s children have gone home, and they sit huddled together on the porch swing, he just has to see her eyes light up – like the sky spared a star to light up the back yard just for her – and he’s right back at the start again.
Once before, she dreamed you had wings twice as long as your arms, one of them crooked when you landed in her back garden with a crash and the splintering of apple tree branches. She rushed outside, barefoot in the dew-soaked grass, and patched you up with a strip torn from the bottom of her nightgown. This time you hover at the end of her hospital bed, counting down the computerised beeps of her heart monitor and clutching a new white robe to replace her old one. In the morning, the nurses make up her bed for a new patient.
Actually I lied about it being the end of the “Dreamers” stories– I found a couple that were cut out to keep the word count down.
She tells the stage hand that there’s been some sort of mistake, that she’s not supposed to be performing, but he’s having none of it. He gives her a firm shove and she stumbles out onto the stage, the red curtain rippling behind her. Her throat goes dry, tongue far too heavy like a beached whale behind tombstone teeth as she realises she can’t remember the words. You sit forward with your fingers steepled, brows furrowed, and tell her sternly that “we’ve gone through it a hundred times, if you haven’t got it down by now then you never will.”
You push your fingers into the spaces between hers, lead her out onto the floor and into the very centre of the crowd. She casts a glance behind her at the man she should be dancing with before you turn her again, the other dancers obscuring him from view. The rest of the night passes in a blur of stolen kisses and little golden lights hanging from the archway; in the morning she lies awake with her head pillowed on her husband’s chest, listens to his quiet snoring, and can’t help but feel guilty when she wants the dream back.
There was a time when you would visit him every night, with rusted metal claws and skin grey like cigarette ash; he used to try and run, only to feel you still breathing smoke thick as tar down the back of his neck with every step. He drew you in the margins of his school books, a stick-thin biro scribble with sharp teeth and wide, empty eyes, until the headmaster sent him to a Very Nice Lady who gave him a sheet of white pills to pop like bubble wrap. You still visit him, but he doesn’t run any more.