I’ve read many sorts of books and I’ve come to realise that in the English speaking world, it is very common to have stories with themes. A red line that ties the story together. I’ve read a couple of the classics from my own country and I find that we have a very different tradition. Most stories are very “mundane” for the lack of a better word. There is drama, but the characters don’t act as if something of significance has happened. It doesn’t have an epic scale or world shattering consequences, it’s just real life, and in real life, everything doesn’t tie up as neatly or matter that much.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on literature, this is my own interpretation, but I find this way of writing very appealing. What do I care if the ending might be unsatisfying to the reader? All I can do is to find the truth of the story. The most important thing a writer can do is to make sure that the motivations of the characters make sense, just like a real person.
Don’t make the story into something it’s not.
As Hemingway would say, you can write about any subject matter as long as you write truthfully. He also said that you should write living people, not characters, so…
I write from the gut, meaning I plan little ahead, preferably not at all. This might backfire and I write myself into a corner, but this is only true if you try to manage your story, instead of letting it lead you; find the truth. I don’t want to fight the story because of a preconceived notion of what a good story is.
My first story was a 400-page fantasy which I wrote in 6 months. That was 3 years ago and I have not finished a book since. I believe that because I knew so little about writing it allowed me to finish the book. There were no perfectionism or expectations that stood in my way. I’m not saying don’t learn the craft, but don’t take other’s successes as your roadmap – find your own.
Remember, writing is supposed to be fun. Have fun!
© Christopher Stamfors
Considering what I wrote in my last post, you might find it strange that I think plot is the hardest part of writing. Not because I cannot come up with anything but because I tend to get ahead of myself. The plot is always subject to changes, this is inevitable, but you can make it much easier for yourself if you do it right.
A plot doesn’t come out fully formed, it is discovered as you write it, at least that’s how it is for me. But that doesn’t mean you should go diving into the details right away. There’s a difference between working on the overall structure of the story and what the motivations of the characters are. Motivation is the driving force behind the plot, not what you think the story should be. As long as the motivations are true, the conclusion will be satisfying – and everything else is just details.
Don’t make it harder on yourself.
Of course, writing isn’t as straightforward as that and there will be complications along the way. But I have found a personal solution to this, when I write a new story, I treat it like a fairy tale. You write it as simply as you can because small children doesn’t have the patience to work themselves through a long novel. This forces you to omit scenes and dialogue and only add them when they are structurally necessary.
Finding your process is the hardest, and most time consuming, part of a writer’s early career and I hope I’ll find mine soon and I sincerely hope that you’ll find yours too.
© Christopher Stamfors
Ideas, ideas, ideas… Why, they are everywhere, constantly bombarding my mind?! Why is everything so inspiring? I can’t watch a movie, read, or take a walk before something interesting pops up. What am I suppose to do with all of them?
I try to organize them.
It took time to come up with this system, and still it’s not perfect, but this is the best I can come up with, so bare with me. I separate them into three categories: ideas that are concepts, ideas with narration and ideas with plot.
Guess which category most of my ideas end up as?
Concepts are easy, so little is required of you to have them. The definition I use for a concept idea is that it has neither characters nor any sort of narrative, meaning they are the “what if” stories. These types of stories can turn into anything, if you let them, and require the most work. They are also the most fun because the plot hasn’t materialized yet.
Then there’s ideas with narration; they are the next step after the concept. These types of ideas are still very open to change, but there have events that tie it together. The characters are nameless and faceless, at this stage. Things has little consequence because we do not care about the world yet. You might have noticed with my ambiguous talk that this stage is difficult to define because where do you draw the line between concept and plot and is there something in between?
Maybe after further study, I’ll figure it out…
Then there’s those few ideas where, at least, some of the characters have been materialized. They have faces and personalities and there’s an urgency that drives the story forward. Ideas with plot is what every writer strive towards, because without characters we care for, we don’t care about the story overall. Even if the world building is excellent, the scenes vividly expressed, or an interesting topic is brought up, if we don’t care about the characters, the story is without meaning.
So this is how I organize my ideas. Obviously when I pick my next story I should choose the one with a plot already in the works, but sometimes it is liberating to choose an concept and see where it will lead.
© Christopher Stamfors
For four years I have been working towards becoming an author. They say that it takes 5 years before you become one, before you settle into your craft; well, at least somebody said so, I don’t remember who… In one year I’ll have reached that milestone. Whether everything will fall into place or not, only time will tell. Nevertheless, it will be something to celebrate. If nothing else, it means there’s dedication and anyone that is successful today have worked hard, but not everyone that work hard is successful. It’s the sad truth but still comforting in a way. It means there’s just one thing expected of you and everything else is up to luck, or God, if you believe that sort of thing.
When I started, my ambition was even greater than my naivety, which resulted in my first work being a fantasy trilogy. I ended up with a 400 page draft but I knew even then the amount of work that needed to be done. I could not finish such a project while trying to learn the craft. This is where Flash Fiction came in. It was a prefect format to experiment and polish your craft, and most of all, it allows you to finish something.
50 stories I have written. It took a lot longer than I expected but it was a goal of mine and I have reached it. The plan was to publish them in a collection but the quality vary so much I think I’ll not… You cannot find all 50 of my stories on my site as I removed a few particularly embarrassing ones, but that doesn’t matter. There are 50 made and it will be my last – unless the urge itches me again. The format has served its purpose and it is time to do more. From Flash Fiction to Short Stories; a format that’s a bit longer but not as daunting as a novel.
I’m hoping the longer format will force me to think more about plot, to plan ahead where I otherwise would’ve just written from my gut. If I could, it would streamline my work, just a bit, to make sure I can finish as many of my ideas as possible before I die.
© Christopher Stamfors
I come from a prosperous family. This allows me to travel a lot. I’ve traveled along the great rivers and seen vastly different cultures with strange customs. But one thing they have in common, (as with my own) is they all worship the sun. Indeed, there’s never a time when the sun does not shine. It gives life and I could never imagine a land where it did not exist, unless it was dead and void. When I was around 30, I learned of a place such as this, only, it was not dead… In the farthest reaches of the north, there’s a land where people live and thrive, without the blessings of the sun… At this point in time, I had seen much of the world and I was ready to explore something truly alien.
I made my preparations and headed north. Settlements became fewer the further from home I went. Daylight became dimmer and days became colder. It was uncomfortable, but I was determined to see this strange land and headed on. Light became a slither on the horizon and soon there was only darkness. My eyes could no longer see the people but I sometimes heard them in their low voices. These people don’t like to be seen and is hard to approach. They are weary of strangers and they are oh so few.
Contrary to popular belief, they are indeed humans, not nightly creatures of the unknown for they still worship the light. What drove them here to begin with? I cannot say, for they won’t tell me, or perhaps they simply don’t understand me? In either case, there isn’t all complete darkness as there are many singular lights in the sky. When I first saw the night, I was amazed! I could see now what drew them here, somewhat. Was it worth abandoning the sun for the majesty of the night sky?
I stayed with them for many weeks, and already, I began to feel sluggish. I became melancholic and moved slowly and spoke lowly, as the locals. I wondered if this was how I was gonna die because though I longed for home, I dreaded the long journey back. Then, one night, the people urged me through the dark, with a solitary light in their hands they lead me to a large group of people. I was amazed as I didn’t realise they were so many. Despite their numbers, it was all quiet and soon it was entirely dark as they put out their precious light. I felt my mind was going insane in just those few moments when I saw and heard nothing. Thankfully, I felt their breaths and their shoulders rubbing against mine. After sometime, I was begging for light, when, one peculiar star seemed to grow on the nightly canvas. It grew to engulf my entire vision and was indeed as large and bright as the sun itself, if not more so. I closed my eyes and felt it’s warmth and rejuvenating rays on my body. It only lasted for a couple of moments before the sky was mostly black again, but instead of solemn silence, as I was used to, people talked and cheered. They moved energetically to wherever they belonged. I felt a rush too, from complete exhaustion to reinvigoration, I had never felt happier as I was then.
I understood then that this was a way of living. They endured the suffering to be blessed with the gift of light. I never found out how often this occurred, for though I stayed for many months, I never got to know any of them. They accepted my presence, but that was all. It’s the allure of their kind, the mysteriousness, their reclusive happiness that only they could understand.
With my strength regained, I took the opportunity to head home and I don’t think anyone ever believed what I told. Regardless, I saw what I saw and felt what I felt. It is up to others to experience the same thing I did, to visit the north and experience what true happiness surely is like.
© Christopher Stamfors
One day, I just sat by my typewriter wrote what I saw… Here’s the result.
I am here, in this room, a kitchen of a small apartment in suburbia, Sweden. There’s a small kitchen table in the middle of the room. Before me is a window. On the windshield there’s a toaster, a cacti, a lamp, and a mixer. The blinds are pulled halfway and the window is slightly dirty. They will never be cleaned, has never been cleaned, as far as I know. Outside people pass. To where? I haven’t a clue. It is Sunday morning. Where do people go on Sunday mornings?
A man stops and looks my way. The drapes cover his face so I can’t be sure if it is me he’s eyeing. He has not moved for quite some time now. I wonder what he’s thinking about… He’s gone now, save for an empty cigarette pack on the ground.
The grass is green and there’s a dog poop on the sidewalk. I stepped on one once, trying to save a few seconds cutting over the grass. There’s stuff on the counter; a dirty frying pan from yesterday and a pot I used to boil potatoes, also not cleaned. There’s dirty dishes in the tray and clean ones in the holder, waiting to be put in their place. I hate doing the dishes. I also hate how dirty it gets… Is it worth cleaning everyday to to keep it neat? I don’t think so. We all have different priorities. I wish it could be avoided altogether…
There are papers (…) Had to rewind the ink roles on my typewriter (…)
There are papers scattered over the kitchen table, both for drawing and writing. One has become easier and the other more important…
Idea lurk at my periphery. If I look directly at them, they disappear. I’m certain there are people living in the cacti. I see them when I write, climbing the stalk, but disappear when I go nearer to have a closer look. I wonder where they come from…
If I sit long enough, and do nothing, I feel tugging at the sleeves of my pants. Creatures under the table hurrying me on. They are bigger than the cacti people, more bothersome. I don’t see how if I’m writing or not is anyone’s business but my own. Yet they urge me to continue to work, to write them. Why should I write about such ugly creature, I say to them? They don’t have an answer to that… I should stop typing for now. I’ve bother the neighbours for long enough…
© Christopher Stamfors
They talked. The strangest group there ever was of four creatures of childlike stature. Their eyes wide on the man that sat across to them. Well, in reality, it was he who talked and they listened. He were their patron, showering them with words of value, of truth, which is valuable. He said many things, spellbinding things, things only he would say. They were also words of truth for if there was one thing all four of them had learned is that he always spoke the truth. He was also the handsome sort, with a fair complexion; straight nosed, tall, and well built. The opposite of them. He was a rare breed, in these parts. Yet, with all his fairness, he hid his face under a hood. His visage always partly shaded wherever he sat or stood. One would never see his true countenance, not at once. But they, who had listened to his words of truth on many occasions were not concerned with his appearance but what he said, what he could do!
There’s a reason they believed his words and it was because he never said what he couldn’t do or show. There’s profit to be made from his words that danced from ear to ear, their grotesque deformed ears… The room was dimly lit by the hearth of the fire place and murk from pipe smoke that surrounded them in a mist. It was starting to get cold, or maybe it was his words that made them shiver, for this day he spoke of terrible things, things gruesome and void. And what we have already established, he only spoke the truth, which made it all the more terrible, terribly real!
There was a peculiar quirk about his words and that was they could never be recounted. They were words one felt. You didn’t hear them, not a singular word but the whole tale at once. It lingered and only they knew what was said. The stranger left that night, like he always did at the first howl of the night, and left the four ugly creatures to lament. They looked at each other. They knew what the other thought for they had heard the same thing, and they were friends, at least as friendly as creatures, such as them, could be. On the left end of the table, smoke rose and evaporated from the lips of one of them, the one quickest to words, and he said. “He must die.”
The others knew this as well, and nodded slowly in agreement. But the question was how and when? Next time, they agreed. The next time he came to speak, and they to listen, the stranger would die. Then how was he to die? With the means that they were able, for they were all able. Even creatures as small has them had their own ways to make problems go away…
The night came and they acted well enough, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. It was not a difficult feat for whenever they gathered they simply listened, and they listened, like always. And it was in that moment they realised: the ‘when’ and ‘how’ had been determined, but ‘why?’ Why had he to die? Like the strangers tales, it was felt, not understood, and now when they heard his words once more speak of pleasant things, their determination wavered. Why must he die? A man who made their hearts stir so? The only thing they knew was that he must. And so, as they were creatures of emotions, they struck the moment the wolf howled, breaking them from the strangers spell.
The one nearest stabbed the stranger on the side with a long nail hidden in his coat. The one on the left, furthest away, threw acid on him and the one to the right simply stayed his hand, for he was last and he saw that there was no one there. And more horrifyingly, it was not air that they smote, but themselves. Dumbfounded they looked, blood trickling from their sides, their ugly faces melting away until they were no more but one, one remaining horrified and frozen. For a full day, he waited, until there was night again, and the stranger emerged from the shadows. The stranger spoke as nothing had happened, and the creature listened and was lost in the magic that was his words.
© Christopher Stamfors
The man in front of him was the nervous sort. The sort of man that had seen things – still saw them. Someone who didn’t want to believe what they saw, for nobody else did. It wasn’t the first time Arnte had interviewed such people, in fact, he’d built a reputation on them. He didn’t really care if they told the truth because they always had good stories for him to use. He eyed the young man who looked like any other peasant boy; strong built with a bowl cut, only, his mannerism didn’t match his appearance. The young man looked nervously from side to side, his shoulders timidly raised over his ears and sipping sparsely on his beer, even though it was provided for him. Arnte licked his lips and brought out his notebook and said. “So, Herr Frans. I’m ready when you are.”
Frans gave him a quick glance then jerked his head to the right, then to the left. Arnte noticed that Frans body was never fully still, as if he was constantly shuddering. Arnte was getting impatient and he cleared his throat. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’d like to remind you that you requested this interview. You’re wasting both our time.”
Frans suddenly heaved the contents of his drink in one great gulp and placed the mug back on the table. Arnte noticed that Frans stopped shuddering. Arnte sighed and gesture the waiter for another beer. If I’d help him talk… He thought.
Frans touched the mug and drew his finger around the edges and then lick his finger, as if to test if it was poisoned. Then said. “They are in the walls, you know, under the floorboard and even in our pockets if they want to.”
Arnte noted it down. “Who are they, exactly?”
Frans snorted. “I envy your ignorance. They might have left the consciousness for most of you, but they are still around, even if you don’t see them.”
Arnte raised an eyebrow. He was well spoken despite looking like a peasant. He noted that down too. “Can you tell me what they look like?”
Frans took another greedy gulp of the beer and his shoulders slowly slumped back below his ears. “Unfortunately, it would be pointless to describe them since they have no form. They appear differently from person to person, they change shape, and even then, they don’t like to be seen.”
“Have you ever seen one?”
Frans glowered at him. “I see one right now. In the crack on the wall there. Ah! too late, it’s gone.”
Arnte crinkled his lips. This was a mistake, he thought, and reached for the tab when Frans stopped him. “Look, you can’t see them unless they allow themselves to be seen.”
Arnte leaned back against his chair. “What makes you so special, then?”
Frans eyed his empty glass and Arnte called for the waiter, reluctantly.
Frans licked his lips. “Special is not the word that I would use. They keep me reminded that they are always watching… Where I come from, they are normal. It’s a place where few outsiders visit, or leave for that matter… You remember the tales of elves and trolls from your childhood, surely your parents must have told them to you?”
“Well, my village, is where it all began, the origin of these creatures in our world. It is where they like to be, nowadays, now that men are everywhere. Even on the tallest mountains and the deepest forests they cannot be alone, which is what they want in the end… Alone I mean.”
Arnte wasn’t sure what to make of all of this but was intrigued. “Then why did you leave?”
“Look, there are some nice creatures, I’ll admit. And I suppose I could’ve gotten used to the terrors at night once in a while; things disappearing and having to be extra polite to a certain stub near my house; however, I could never get used to the whispers. That was the worst of it. I never understood how the others managed. Perhaps I was just weak like that, perhaps their zealously towards her shields them somehow. Yet, I cannot put my faith in her. I know what she is. How the others didn’t run away with me is a mystery.”
“Where is this place, exactly? What is it called?”
Frans eyes grew wider. “What would you do if I told you?”
“To verify your story, of course.”
Frans started laughing and rose from his seat. “How can you do that if you haven’t even listened to a single word I’ve said?” He finished his beer. “Thanks for the drinks,” he said and walked away.
Arnte scratched his nose and looked as he walked away. He read his notes again and crossed them over with his pen. A bust then… he thought. He paid for the drinks and was about to leave when he turned and peered at the crack in the wall which Frans had alluded before. There was nothing in it and he sighed and looked down at his notes again. His eyes flashed as images popped into his mind and he began to furiously write down his thoughts. It was almost morning before he finally put down his pen.
They had appeared to him.
© Christopher Stamfors
A boy wandered upon an empty road in the middle of the night. The air was cool and fresh and the leaves were turning yellow. After a couple of miles, he turned left into the thicket and went along an old path that had almost disappeared in the undergrowth. After some minutes, he came upon an open field. It was hilly and difficult to grow anything, thus it was abandoned for other, more dreary, purposes. He glanced by his feet and looked with a blank expression upon a wooden cross impaled in the ground. It was half decayed and tilting, yet he could still read the markings on the wood. “Gyordic was favoured by the gods and his life was a happy one.”
The boy smiled ruefully and continued on his path up one of the hills that overlooked the small valley. There were thousands of such crosses scattered across the field. And there were even more of them over the hills which he could not see. He sat on a rock, made himself comfortable, and stared blearily out on the view. His mind was empty, his life void of any great dramas or concerns. His life was simple and he took joy from simple things. He considered himself blessed to be able to take these strolls, while so many others could not. No, they were in no position to move at all.
The wind that had coursed through the leaves had become still and everything was quiet. He heard two dogs bark in the distance, but their howls soon died and the night was still once more.
A yawn escaped him.
Then, suddenly, there was a flash between the trees. It grew slowly, steadily becoming brighter until it shot into the air, almost as if a drop of water falling in reverse. The soul was much like water, he thought, and the light in his eyes became more lively, more awake. He now looked attentively across the sea of graves, hoping to spot another soul being released onto the heavens.
© Christopher Stamfors
Deep in the dark there lay a man. This man has no name, indeed, no memory of his past. He simply is, peering and listening to whatever catches him, for the darkness is always there, like a weight that keeps him from moving. Many years ago, this his man came upon his resting spot, silent and confused. Sometimes he makes noises, sometimes he gets replies, but the voices are low, and broken, but they are words nonetheless.
Different voices comes and goes. Once, he spoke for a very long time to a man, or a woman, he couldn’t tell. The person said that they wanted to be touched, to feel the warmth of skin. He, who did not otherwise move, lifted his arm to reach around them, but there was nothing to feel, not even cold.
The voice disappeared like all the others, eventually, leaving him to be the only constant in this strange world of voices. One day, when he cast his voice out into the dark for anyone to hear, a woman’s voice responded. He knew it was a woman’s voice because it was even lower than the rest, barely a whisper. The voice said that all she wanted was to be heard, and he listened, very well so, for her voice was soothing. Suddenly, things seemed almost well in the land of the voices and his heart began to stir, a single beat of blood coursed through him and when the voice stopped, she was gone.
But she had left something with him, for he now felt cold, in place of nothing. He felt he could move a little, but not by much. Even so, when the next voice came and disappeared, he could move a little more, and even more still, and when he finally stood, he too was gone.
And there was nothing that indicated that he had ever been anything but the darkness that remains.
© Christopher Stamfors
Art by ChrisCold
Bones are that which keeps you here
Turn to dust and your soul will yield
Forgive this old fool
For the mistakes he’ve made
Leave me be and let the past fade
Fire rained over our heads
fume from the rocks seethed out of the ocean
Everything is quiet now
Except the gulls who shrieked and shuffled happily
Their meals now properly boiled