[ 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.
Two o’clock in the morning. She woke, as usual, to the distorted audio from the monitor on the bedside table, the little green and red LED lights flashing in time with the baby’s wailing.
“S’your turn,” she mumbled, nudging the husband-shaped lump of duvet next to her before rolling back over onto her side.
Several minutes passed and she lingered somewhere in the limbo between sleep and consciousness; when she woke again it was to a blessed lack of noise from the monitor. The only sounds that came now were a voice whispering calming little nothings and the gentle susurrus of the baby’s breathing.
“Thank god,” she murmured, dropping her head and letting her eyes drift shut again just as her husband let out a muffled snore into the pillow next to her.
For more information on “In For A Penny”, or for further entries, click here.
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.
NB: So for some reason scheduled posts stopped working, meaning the last three entries didn’t post at all. Just gonna keep going as normal because now I have a three-day backlog. Here’s Monday’s.
“Get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich,” he says.
I sigh exasperatedly, heading into the kitchen. I stand in front of the counter, palms upturned to the heavens, eyes pitch-black as I invoke the darkest magicks to help me with this task.
There is a strangled sound of alarm as he realises that he is suddenly smaller and more rectangular. His skin is shedding golden-brown crumbs, his tongue is now a slice of wafer-thin ham, and where he once had hair there is now a small handful of organic lettuce.
I have made him a sandwich.
For more information on “In For A Penny”, or for further entries, click here.
NB: There’ll be no In For A Penny posts on days when I do “proper” ones. Found this bit of flash-fiction in the depths of my documents folder. I’m counting it as an unofficial addition to “Tales of the Number 52 Bus” because it’s based on a thing that happened in my first term of uni.
The little girl next to me is the spitting image of my baby sister back home. I watch her out of the corner of my eye, see the way her lower lip sticks out, the way her eyes crinkle at the corners as she cries, and suddenly miss home.
I snap right into maternal mode as the girl’s wailing hits a new pitch, digging around in my bag and producing a small cuddly bunny keyring. Her mother watches reproachfully as I make it do an odd, jerky little dance along the edge of her pram and wave one slightly tatty paw at her. She sniffles, wiping her nose on her sleeve, and makes a grab for it with her pudgy fingers; I let her have it, her mother letting out a tut next to me as she presses the stop button.
“Now, Laura, it’s not nice to grab— I’m sorry,” she adds, shooting me an apologetic expression before she turns back to her daughter. “We’re getting off now, you need to give the lady her bunny back—“
“It’s fine,” I say, waving a hand vaguely and smiling. “You keep it.” Laura lets out a burbling laugh and cuddles the toy closer. Her mother smiles at me gratefully.
“Isn’t that lovely? You say thank you to the nice lady,” she says, maneuvering the pram towards the door, and Laura blows me a smacking kiss.
I watch them get off the bus, and resolve to call home when I get back.
When I was a little girl, my father brought his ladder out to the end of the garden and told me that every night, after he tucked me into bed, he’d put the moon in the sky himself. I believed him for years.
The day he passed away, I spent the night at Mum’s and went out to sit at the end of the garden, half-expecting not to see the moon at all… but there it was. Dad was still doing his job, I realised; it was just so much easier now that he was all the way up there.
For more information on In For A Penny, or for further entries, click here.
A great and terrible dragon was rampaging its way through the back garden of number 42 Pemberley Road. It sent a pile of frost-covered leaves scattering as it reared its head, bared its teeth and roared, a cloud of smoke pluming from its mouth and lingering in the air. The dragon grinned, satisfied, as next door’s cat let out a wail of alarm and hopped off the fence.
The back door opened and a far larger beast stepped out into the cold. A cloud of grey dragons breath lingered around its head as it roared:
“Joseph, it’s time for dinner!”
To find out more about In For A Penny, or for further entries, click here.