This month I have completed yet another revolution around the sun and found myself in a strange mental space that has mostly produced disconected thoughts and notes and journalings rather than anything with a distinct form. There are many fragments that may become coherent, possibly blog posts or sections of future newsletters, but nothing has yet coalesced enough to be shareable.
As such I found myself wondering whether it might be better to skip April’s newsletter altogether, thinking that the risk of missing a month was a much less risky risk than sending you all something unfit for anyone’s eyes but my own. After all you might not notice if the newsletter didn’t appear in your inboxes but you’d certainly notice if it turned up and was awful.
Then I remembered that back in December one of the things I said I might talk about in these monthly missives was my fiction writing process. And I also remembered that and there was one thing I’d begun at the start of the month that could be shaped into something that, if not exactly instructional, would at least be interesting.
So this month instead nothing you get a glimpse into my notebook. I’m going to share some parts of the creation of a piece of fiction, starting with where the initial prompt came from and going through to the rough draft of flash I ended up with, including some explanation of the thoughts behind the words and musings on what I might do with it going forward.
So where did the prompt for this come from? The answer is Writers’ HQ.
Every Saturday morning they publish a prompt on their blog for their weeky Flash Face Off challenge. The prompt is usually in the form of X vs Y, with some related quotes and photographs, and the challenge is to either write a microflash (to be shared in one single tweet the following Monday), or write a flash fiction (up to 500 words) to share during the week on the WHQ forum for feedback. You can also do both, and if sharing isn’t your thing just keep what you write entirely to yourself (FFO is all free, you don’t have to be a paying member to access the prompts or the FFO forum, so if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, do join us).
Since the end of June last year I made a pact with myself that I’d write and share a microflash from the prompt every week for at least a year. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re so-so, but finding a way to create a tiny thing in response to something I didn’t chose myself always gets my creative juices flowing and posting it regardless is both liberating and keeps me accountable (you can find them all on my blog if you’re interested). Plus, although the only thing I have to do with the weekly prompt is the microflash, sometimes the act of doing that sets off a train of thought that cannot be derailed and I get two stories for the price of one. Which is what happened earlier this month.
On April 8th the WHQ prompt was Slings vs Arrows.
“The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” line from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy was the first thing that appeared in my brain when I read those words. Yet by the time I’d finished my morning walk, which had been rather muddy, the term slinging mud was what had captured my attention fully. Freewriting on that lead me to barbed words and pointed sentences and thus resulting microflash read as follows:
Well what did she expect? Flowers? I mean it’s obvious. You sling enough mud at someone and they'll retaliate. Maybe she thought their barbs wouldn’t be so pointed but they were razor-edged with truth and right on target. Pierced her right to her core.
The picture I’d initially conjured in my head to unpin this little fiction was a cross between an office clique and some sort of Real Housewives drama. However between drafting it on the Saturday, editing it on Sunday and posting it on the Monday the setting had segued from the modern world into the back-biting poisonous atmosphere that was the French court during the 17th and 18th centuries. This probably had something to do with having seen the trailer for the new Three Musketeers film over the weekend, the viewing having left Eva Green as Milady de Winter occupying a not insignificant portion of my thoughts.
After I’d posted the microflash I still had the words “outrageous fortune” circling my brain, not as Shakespeare had used them in the soliloquy but as a description for money earned from blackmail. There are so many ways that those two words could be applied in such cases and, given how ambiguity and word play delights me, I couldn’t leave the idea alone. So during my daily writing time I abandoned what had been on my list to start and instead put flesh on the bones of the microflash, playing about within the 500 word flash limit until I had something that made sense and had the feeling I was looking for.
That something was popped into onto the WHQ FFO forum and this is it, unchanged bar a few tiny tweaks I had to make when I noticed a couple of errors after pasting it here:
If you asked Vivi what she did for a living she’d just press her lips together in a moue of faint disapproval and murmur something vague about the vulgarities of trade.
Most people didn’t ask.
They were either too busy being dazzled by her wit and beauty and assumed she came from wealth or, more often than not, they didn’t notice her at all, far too busy discussing the absolutely scintillating new gossip that had arrive just about the same time she had. Not that they’d noticed. The amount of times an entire tavern full of people had no eyes or ears for anything but the fall from grace of one of the local aristocracy and she’d been able to sit unremarked in their midst, not even questioned as to her purpose, was truly remarkable. Except it wasn’t remarked upon at all, which is exactly how Vivi liked it.
She hadn’t meant to become a professional character assassin but growing up in the court of the Sun King had given her both a deep unquenchable desire to get as far away from Versailles as soon as she was old enough to do so, and a very specific skill set that meant her options for earning her way were limited but deeply lucritive. She’d watched Louis’ favourites sling large quantities of metaphorical mud at each other in their scramble for position and favour and had noted how it usually slid right off. The only accusations which stuck were perfectly wrought barbs, made razor-sharp and diamond tipped with truth, aimed to perfection so they pierced their target to the core and shot at the precise time when such an attack would cause maximum damage to the targets social standing without the shooter being in any way implicated.
Such abilities, she’d seen immediately, could be leveraged to give her the life she wanted. So leverage them she did.
There’s no-one with a secret anywhere in Europe who does not live in fear of the Lady of Whispers and her barbed tongue, for she is as illusive as she is vicious. No one can say what she looks like, no one knows her real name. She is a shadowy presence who is neither summoned or banished but comes when she will and takes all that she wants with neither care nor conscience.
Her ruthlessness and anonymity made what the only lover to whom she’d ever told the truth of her life had called “her outrageous fortune”. She’d seen the avarice in his eyes and vowed never to let intimacy override her common sense again. Not that she’d had any problem dealing with him. He’d fallen asleep with her praise at his clever word play ringing in his ears and woken in an empty bed to the hollering of the hue and cry and, shortly thereafter, the loss of his liberty and his life.
After all, sex is just sex but silence is golden and there’s no purer silence than the silence of the grave.
I like Vivi (a contraction of the name Genevieve) a lot, she intrigues me as a Milady like character who is set squarely in Versailles during the adult reign of Louis XIV (rather than during his father’s reign and his mother’s regency during his own infancy, as Dumas’ Milady is). That said I don’t actually think that this works as a flash. There’s a depth and coherence missing that means to me it feels more like a character sketch than a story. I certainly wouldn’t spend time attempting to polish it for submission as it stands.
I do want to spend more time with Vivi though. I can see the hazy shape of a plot in which she could shine, which I think might be a sizeable short story or maybe even a novella. Not that I’ll be doing anything more focused with her right at the moment. My knowledge of that period of French history is almost all from historical fiction and the research I’d want to do to in order to build her and her world properly, from the ground up, requires time I currently do not have. But I’m not abandoning her either, every so often I find myself adding little thoughts and possibilities to the bottom of the word document containing the flash, so I don’t think she’s willing to remove herself from my line of sight any time soon.
Now if, having read all that, you’re somehow still in the mood for more of my work, these four posts all went up on my blog in April:
New Beginnings - the fourth tale in my Flashes of Feathers series.
And lastly, as always, here is a tarot card drawn to give us all a little insight into what we might bring to May, or what May may be bringing to us:
I’ve used my Prisma Visions tarot deck this month for the simple reason that it is where I am and my Wildwood deck is not. However it also fits nicely with the theme of this newsletter in that it is a deck created specifically to tell stories; if you lay out each of the four suits in the minor arcana in order from ace to king you’ll see four tales woven with and around the traditional meanings of each of the cards.
But we have been given one of the major arcana for May: The Moon.
What songs are the wolves singing to the sun’s nightly reflection? Are they happy or sad or somewhere in between? Does the river amplify their song to the sky or does it pull it into its depths, taking it for an offering to the otherworld that all water is a gateway to?
Does the card call to you, make you long to clamber into the boat and push it from the bank? Is it time for you to make the journey through the mirror, to met yourself as you are and learn who you might become?
Or are you already on the other side of the reflection? Have you already made the journey in and now it’s time for your return upstream to join the wolves in singing who you are to the world?
Either way, this is a sign that finding some time in May to check in with yourself, and see how you feel about where you are, is going to do you the world of good.
Until next time, take care of yourselves and may May bring you all the energy and creativity you desire.
Oh, and if you do happen to have any thoughts about Vivi, Lady of Whispers, please share them with me!
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