Posts Tagged ‘Tammila K. Wright’

How Can Flash Fiction Improve Your Writing?

By: Tammila Wright

Flash fiction fascinates me. Some think of these micro-stories as sloppy attempts at writing. But I am consistently blown away by these condensed pieces of art, precious Picasso’s earning their rightful places in the Louvre Museum. Flash fiction authors can take an entire essence of a story and reduce it to one breath. One “breath” that the reader can consume in seconds or minutes rather than hours. Talent with the ability to clarify what most of us would require many pages. How?  By adopting their Voodoo of clarity to reduce extra words can enhance all genres of writing. Their unique ability instantly captures the reader’s attention with the subtilty of a jackhammer. The reader is encouraged to ask questions, and their imagination is left unhinged. Can’t we all benefit from such genius?

What is this “gold mine” called flash fiction?

Flash fiction goes by other names such as microstories, micro fiction, sudden fiction, or short-short fiction with a word count of somewhere between six and 1000 words. The stories are tight and clear, sucking the reader in quickly, with each sentence moving the plot forward. It contains a complete plot, the beginning, middle, and conclusion involving only one or two characters.

The beginning of the flash fiction contains the hook, the main moral dilemma, and the character’s needs, as in a traditional full-length story. The middle speeds toward the obstacles, moral or physical,  which the character is experiencing. And the end shows the character’s goal completion but with a surprise or a twist which sets it apart from a prose poem or vignette. The overarching theme is complete.

An unknown author created one of the most famous micro-fiction stories:

 “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

Ernest Hemingway may have comprised the micro-story, but historians disagree. Regardless, it is a simple example of flash fiction containing a beginning, middle, and an end.

In Alex Keegan’s short-short fiction, Bones, he gives us a great example of leaving the reader wanting more:

“He had twenty-three minutes, a third of an hour and then a twentieth, thirty-three-and-a third percent of an hour plus five-per-cent. Find the bones, they said…”

Where I believe we get bogged down is character descriptions. Show not tell is our mantra. Does your audience need to know what your character’s first dog’s name was? Yes, you are cool for creating the deep back story, but all of that takes precious word space. Micro-fiction can push us to summarize feelings or emotions tied to an event instead of needless backstory. How can you go wrong with creating instant physical descriptions so the reader can immediately envision the characters and move on to the juicy bits?

To improve my screenwriting, I found a treasure trove in flash fiction.  In screenwriting, an entire scene must be four-line paragraphs, including character descriptions. James Cameron is many things, but you might not know that he is a master of character description in his scripts. For example, perusing the first pages of Titanic, Cameron’s description of the centurion, Rose Calvert:

“The old woman’s name is ROSE CALVERT. Her face is a wrinkled mass, her body shapeless and shrunken under a one-piece African-print dress. But her eyes are just as bright and alive as those of a young girl.”

For other characters, Cameron uses actions such as “sings softly in Russian.” We instantly understand the submersible’s pilot is Russian without looking at his name. What about the character, Brock Lovett’s description?

“…a salvage superstar who is part historian, part adventurer, and part vacuum cleaner salesman.”

The full Titanic screenplay is available online for free, and I encourage you to review it even if you know the ending.

How can flash fiction help in other areas of writing?

How about during the editing phase? By reading and writing flash fiction, we can develop a knack for identifying unnecessary words. Stephen King says he writes his first draft for himself and edits his second draft for his readers. He understands the need for unrestrained creativity but reels it in for the second draft. Also, by developing a “flash fiction mindset” during editing, you may discover information that we commonly repeat. Get rid of it.  

As an exercise, take a random sentence from something you have written. Reduce it to ten words. Now five words. Three? Hand it to someone to read. Ask them if they are confused or want to read more? Can you reduce it to two or one? You might have found your title. Consider these examples, Jaws, Brave, Elf, Rocky, It, The Godfather, Gone With the Wind (yes, that is four, but the novel is HUGE). Flash fiction titles are a study all of its own. The authors make stunning use of every word that delivers a punch. For example, Joyce Carol Oates’s, Widow’s First Year,  is about surviving grief and, Damon Stewart, Déjà vu You Too, Champ, the main theme surrounds reincarnation.

By training us to whittle down our character description, their actions and intentions become clear and concise, improving our reader’s experience. Hopefully, the story will prompt the reader to think deeply about the story’s true meaning instead of drowning in a sea of useless descriptions dragging down the pace. Decongesting the story creates room for the addition of a twist at the conclusion. A twist that might change their understanding of what the story meant instead of confusing them. A twist that answers the central question by surprising the reader rather than frustrating them. Please make sure to include the character’s reaction to the resolution, so you fulfill the reader. 


Tammila K. Wright

Tammila K. Wright is a fifth-generation Colorado Native and self-proclaimed history geek. She writes, talks, and even acts out her love of history. She is a commissioner for the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Commission, contributing articles for the Pikes Peak Bulletin Newspaper. Her past production projects allowed her to work for The History Channel, Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS, and Animal Planet. Her screenwriting has paved the way for two exciting projects in 2021, soon to be announced.  She is a staff blog writer and member of Pikes Peak Writers.

Tammila resides in Manitou Springs with her husband of 32 years, an astonishing daughter, and operates The Feather W Bird Sanctuary. Catch up with Tammila on her website.

Setting Writing Goals

By: Tammila Wright

Think back to New Year’s Day. We were optimistic. Were you setting goals with your writing in mind? I was. Armed with a new topic and one book set to launch by March, my excitement mounted, and then, COVID-19. Daily uncertainty became our new reality. Would anyone have money to buy books? Then, a new horror went to the extent of people using books as toilet paper! With the world on “fire”, how could I focus? Will there be an entertainment market left? We don’t know what is coming, but I do know that when everything calms down, I will have something, maybe a lot, to deliver.

Get Control of Your Life By Setting Goals

Goal setting is crucial to success in all areas of our lives. It is one of the few things we have control over in our new world. But first, how about dreaming by identifying what you want your life to look like in a month, and then, a year. It has been all the rage to look at a five-year plan, but for now, with so much uncertainty, lets focus on no more than a year.  What do you want? Why do you want it?

Dream Big

Some of the best scenes created are written backward. Why not goals? Start with what you can see for yourself first in the end, a big commission check, or holding a finished book in your hand. Analyze multiple paths that lead to the result you want. Think hard, jump on the internet to research. What do the goals look? Maybe you will expose a path that would have lead to nowhere because you didn’t have the correct tools, but now you know.  

Create a plan with small steps and write them down to make them real. Remember that old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. Here is a little secret. Word count goals do not work for me. Oh, spitting out 2,000 to 3,000 words is easy, but my quality suffers. As a result, I set a scene completion goal and celebrate when I’m done. I did it. Find an easily measurable goal fitting your writing style. Some writers like a “consequence” if they don’t complete a goal in a certain amount of time. For example, one author writes a check, gives it to a friend with instructions to deposit it if they don’t reach their goal. The check is written to the political party they hate.

My Goals Are Haunting Me

Create a vision board and place it somewhere you have to see it. Place a picture of a trigger object that represents your book’s subject, along with items that remind you of the result of your goal list. The vision board doesn’t have to be big but obvious. For example, place a small vision board on the bathroom mirror where you brush your teeth, morning and night. Don’t worry. Your family is used to your odd behavior because you are a writer.

Before March 2020, I would have encouraged everyone to set a time limit on your goals. But the one thing that we have learned from the pandemic is that we can’t add time to the mix. Time is the one unpredictable factor for now. Which leads to “expectations”.

Managing Expectations With Flexibility

One cannot talk about goal-setting without mentioning managing expectations. Summers filled with swimming pools of happy, splashing children, picnics filled with tons of family, fireworks on the Fourth of July, and lawn concerts. It is what we expect. My book was supposed to be released in March. But it is delayed. Most things are delayed or canceled. Of course, our goals will come with expectations that we placed on them. But, say hello to flexibility. Check your goals each day, week, or month to see what changes need to be applied. “Life” is a toddler with pudding covered hands heading your way. It’s cute but messy. Flexibility gives you a choice to get out of the way, laughing at the absurdity of it all, or stand there and get messy too.

You Are Not Alone

Even though we have to social distance, finding an accountability partner is easier than ever. Someone you can set writing goals together and motivating you to write. Pikes Peak Writers is a great source by connecting to their Facebook page and posting a request. Joining as a member of Pikes Peak Writers will give you access to an entire local writing community at your fingertips.

Time to Get Defensive

You have your list of goals, you know your path, now defend it. Here is your license to protect your path with a vengeance. Because if you don’t believe in it, who will? Respect your goals, and others will respect them too.

We are all going to make it through this new reality because writers contain a unique mental edge. Not because we are social distance masters but because we can focus on our projects, keep moving forward, and thrive during the pandemic.

Here are a few additional resources to help you set your goals:
Set SMART Goals
The Benefits of a Crash and Burn
What’s in Your Planner


Tammila Wright

Tammila K. Wright is a fifth-generation Colorado Native and self-proclaimed history geek. She writes, talks, and even acts out her love of history. She is a commissioner for the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Commission contributing articles for the Pikes Peak Bulletin Newspaper. Tammila has been involved in projects for Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS and Animal Planet. Her first full novel, Mirror Memory, will be released in May 2020 and is a member of the Scriveners of Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak Writers. Learn more at Tammila’s website.

How to Tell if a Writing Contest is Legit

By: Tammila Wright

            I have several short stories that would be perfect for entering into writing contests. The notoriety would be nice, and, of course, a cash award would great, too. Right? My quest started by diving into an internet search for writing contests. Wow, look, here is one that offers a prize of $10,000! Sign me up. The entry fee is $75.00, ouch. But wouldn’t that amount of a fee guarantee the contest is legitimate because why would anyone enter? But in my gut, something seems off.

A Writer's Guide to Entering Contests

WHO IS THE SPONSOR?

Something called “vanity publishers”, will use contests to attract paying customers. As a marketing tool, it doesn’t sound so bad if you win. Most of the time, the winner will receive free services, but if you’re an entrant, you will become the object of a persistent, relentless marketing drip. Ugh, don’t we get enough of that already?

Watch for literary agencies that may or may not charge a fee but are also trying to attract clients similar to vanity publishers. But with a twist, they will represent you, but YOU get to pay upfront, inflated editing fees. Oh, and there are the agencies that hide behind false names. The winner will be required to sign up with the actual agency for a steep fee. Another detail to watch is if the company is disclosing the exact amount of semi-finalist, meaning everyone that enters has won a prize.

If the contest is sponsored by a magazine, it must be reputable, right? Wrong. Similar to literary agencies, they will advertise disguised under several different names and URL’s to attract entrants. If a magazine offers monthly contests, it probably is running a contest mill and won’t be to your benefit and waste of your time.

WHAT ABOUT THE ENTRY FEES?

A high entry fee may be a clue to “scamville.” It appears to be a rule that high entry fees of $50 or more, must have a logical prize attached to it. Awarding an “honorable mention” on the sponsor’s website is sad without prize money, maybe in the form of a gift card, or the attention of a genuine literary agent. Where did all that entry fee money go? The standard fee to legitimate contests usually is between $0 and $25. Even at $25.00 Where is that money allocated? Certainly, you should NOT be required to pay more money AFTER submission. You should not have to purchase ANYTHING; critiques of your work, entry into some secret author society, credentials, or BUY your trophy, NOTHING.

HOW MUCH REVENUE CAN A CONTEST GENERATE?

Here is an example of how much revenue a contest can generate. One site explained that a media company runs dozens of conventions and “festivals.”  Here is the math for one festival in 2014: 2,832 entries, charging $75.00 per entry equaling $212,400. If the company is sponsoring 20 or more events, with only $50.00 per entry and a conservative estimate of 2,000 entrants, they are bringing in over $2 million in entry fees alone! Then, they bring in additional revenue from merchandise and professional services such as critiques, $2.5 million in business off of writers.  The Better Business Bureau is a great place to check for open claims by spurned entrants and winners. The allegations read like a horror show for a writer.

LOOKING CLOSER AT “PRIZES”

How about thinking you won a contest, but you find out your reward money is based on the number of entrants? That doesn’t sound that bad because the entry fees can be $25 to $50 or more, right? The thousands of dollars in prize money they advertise for top winners most times is an illusion. The funds are paid AFTER all the company’s expenses known as a “pro-rated basis.” Why gamble?

What other prizes can be a local benefit? Being published in an anthology sounds cool. Wouldn’t that give me bragging rights? Yes and no. Yes, there are companies publishing collections of works, poems, flash fiction, short stories, and essays, but your precious work is assembled into a compilation and sold back to the very writers that initially contributed to the issue for a required fee. Sounds a little communistic, don’t you think? “We love your work. You beat out thousands of other contestants. We want to publish it. Now, about our purchase price…” 

WHAT WILL A REPUTABLE SPONSOR’S CONTEST CONTAIN?

            A reputable writer’s contest will have a few categories directed at a specific genre or market classification — not a lump sum of short stories, poems, or novels. The rules and deadlines will be easy to understand. Your rights regarding copyrights are clear and contact information readily available on the entry site. The prizes are without substitutions, or if a replacement must occur, what is the reason? You need to know precisely the future of your submitted work. How will your name be used? Is the contest an annual event?

            Look at this example of a legit writing contest. The guidelines are easy to understand, with no entry fee, the prize of $10,000 awarded rewarded as an advance on sales of the manuscript, and the contest is offered once a year specifically for one genre at a time. The sponsor is a publisher operating internationally within eight divisions and been in business since 1813. Sounds good.

            Here is a quick checklist to scrutinize a contest. Also, there are many non-profit sites expressly set up to verify contests and grant programs available to writers. With these tools, I’m encouraged that I won’t fall prey to a scam.

A BEWARE CHECKLIST

  • Do an internet search on all sponsors and professionals attached to the contest.
  • An entry fee of over $25.00 needs an inquiry.
  • What is the winning prize? Can the sponsor substitute the prize for some reason? Is it on a “pro-rated” basis? How many winners?
  • What will happen to your rights regarding your submission copyright?
  • Will you be spammed following the contest?
  • Is the number of categories logical? Short stories not lumped with novels.
  • Research internet reviews on the contest. If there’s been a bad experience by an entrant, their review should be easy to find.
  • If the contest frequency occurs ten or more a year, RUN!
  • No additional fees following your submission.
  • A lack of a cash prize doesn’t mean scam, but the award should be worth your time in creating your masterpiece.

PPW’s Zebulon

Editor’s Note: Of course we couldn’t post about contests without including our own Zebulon. Although this contest is closed until 2021 it is certainly one of the “GOOD” ones. The Zebulon simulates the real process of submitting to an agent, serving as an excellent learning experience. Do you have what it takes to get published? The Zebulon will help you find out.


Tammila K. Wright

Tammila K. Wright is a fifth-generation Colorado Native and self-proclaimed history geek. She writes, talks, and even acts out her love of history. She is a commissioner for the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Commission contributing articles for the Pikes Peak Bulletin Newspaper. Tammila has been involved in projects for Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS and Animal Planet. Her first full novel, Mirror Memory, will be released in May 2020 and is a member of the Scriveners of Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak Writers.

Tammila resides in Manitou Springs with her husband of 31 years, an astonishing daughter, and runs The Feather W Bird Sanctuary.