Friday, March 25, 2011

Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction is something I don't do particularly well, so I make myself do it every once in a while to get better at it. As you could probably tell from my blog posts, I am a bit verbose.

Flash Fiction is a short story, a very short story, that fits into less than a thousand words. If you read a garden variety paperback, you could guess that each page is 250 words, so Flash Fiction is usually about four of those pages long. The hard part is making a complete, engaging story fit into that short of a space. Some Flash Fiction is even as short as 50 or 100 words - but I find that to be completely impossible.

Hemingway wrote one of the shortest (and best) stories ever. 6 words.

"For sale. Baby shoes, never worn."

It is a complete story. We can all imagine what it means.

All day, every day, I see or hear or think of something that would make a good story. Since I started writing, it has become the way I think. Maybe I always thought this way and just never identified it as storytelling. As a kid, I spent an inordinate amount of time in my room, by myself, grounded for various and sundry reasons by either of the wicked step monsters, and I had to entertain myself somehow. So, I made stuff up.

I think everyone can do it, it just gets nurtured in some and ignored in others. The talent is in compressing it, molding it, fine tuning it enough so that other people want to hear the story.

Something as simple as "a white picket fence" can set me off into composing a story about the fence. I wish I had more time to think, but for some strange reason, I find that being busy makes me more creative - in a more condensed fashion - than in the past two years. Go figure. Less time - better writing.


I don't recommend it. I think real writers need to do just that - write. But, as I say in my bio, I'm a writer in my unreal life.

In a few days or perhaps a week, I'll post the "white picket fence" story. It should be about 500 to 800 words or so. I just started it last night and I know everything except the ending. I start stories very well and agonize over the ending. I always read the last page of a book before I start reading it and I never knew why. Still don't, but perhaps it has something to do with how I compose a story. One beginning, many possible endings. Maybe I should collaborate with someone who always knows how to end a story, but struggles with the beginning.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Sorry, I digress.

I love things that have symbolism so ingrained, and yet subtly different for everyone. The "white picket fence" topic is one of those, and it will be interesting to hear how others interpret it.


Jo Taylor

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Characteristically Falling Down

I named this blog Characteristically Speaking for a few reasons. The most obvious reason is that I talk a lot and it seems quite characteristic of me to be speaking. The other reason was that most of my writing revolves around character, so I had high hopes of being able to write about character development and other things as I learned them myself. Teaching something is the best way to learn it.

Besides those two things, I found from the very beginning that somehow my character's strongest impact was from their voice, their way of speaking and of telling their story.

But if there is something that is also strongly characteristic of me - it's that I fall down. Right about now if my former medic partner John is reading this, he will have spit beer (or coffee - depending on the time of day) all over the screen as he remembers the numerous times I fell down, literally, on the job. For no reason. I would be standing there, and then I would fall down.

Now this is not a weakness kind of fall, but a fall only the most klutzy among us can master. That would be me.

We were standing in a patient's living room, and I fell down. I wasn't even moving. I still swear it was an earthquake. John just looked down at me and laughed.

Another time, I turned from a patient's bed and a very helpful Volly (volunteer fire) had wrapped the EKG cables behind my legs and I fell forward towards the slightly ajar bedroom door with enough force to cause my left hand to slip off of the door frame into the void, swiftly followed by my right hand pushing the door closed on my left hand hard enough to break my ring finger. The five aghast family members sitting on the sofa watched in silence as I simply elevated my bleeding hand and walked out.

There have been more, but it's probably a blessing they are long forgotten.

However, I did it again the other day.

I was cleaning the shower (and this is PROOF that housework is bad for you) and I was squatting down (jeez, I hate that word -squatting, but that's what I was doing) scrubbing the tile floor with a scrubbie pad. Minding my own business. Trying to clean. That's all.

Suddenly, my feet went out from under me - sideways (think of Bambi on ice and that's pretty close), and I hit the inside of my left knee on the tile so hard that I sucked all the air in the universe into my lungs. The next thing I thought of was how cold the water was going to be if I couldn't get up. What can I say - I'm a survivor.

I love to think of myself as graceful and all that, but it just isn't true. Three weeks later, my knee still hurts. And my walk is less than graceful. Waaa.

Graceful isn't just in the way we move, but in the way we are. Sometimes these blogs are not about the smallness of my world, but really they are about documenting the bigger world and what is going on in it.

Japan has been knocked to it's knees, and her people are showing an incredible amount of grace in the face of immense tragedy and gigantic obstacles. I am sure they will get up, and walk gracefully through to the other side. The other side which we call "normal."

I've been crybabying about my silly sore knee and this last week of watching the news has made me realize that my problems and aches are infinitesimal compared to theirs. My grace, which I want to believe I have at least a small amount of, pales in comparison to theirs. My prayers are for their continued strength, and for me to learn something from them.

We Americans love to characterize ourselves as survivors, fighters, winners (OK, now that word is forever ruined thank you Charlie Sheen). Japan and her people are an example to me of grace. If there were any quality I would want to cultivate, it would be characteristic grace.

Bless you Japan.


Jo Taylor

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Miss . . .

I miss lying on the grass and watching the clouds for hours.

I miss a poet I know only as Jonathan because he doesn't post anymore and I still want to read what he has to say.

I miss my baby's neck - he's 13 now and his neck doesn't smell or feel the same.

I miss being able to eat an entire pizza.

I miss a quiet house. My son did not talk until he was 2 1/2, and since then he has not shut up.

I miss the passion I had for changing the world.

I miss the crunch of snow beneath my feet, but I don't at all miss anything else about it.

I miss my friend Kevin. I still hear his laugh sometimes.

I miss caring for patients who were nice, or funny, or brave.

I miss the excitement of Christmas Eve and pressing my nose against the cold window as I looked for Rudolph.

I miss being fascinated by ants.

I miss sitting on the swings and talking with my friends.

I miss my characters when I finish their stories.

What do you miss?


Jo Taylor