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I have always intended to be a science fiction writer. This may strike those who have known me since childhood (or know me now) as strange, but here's the reason for it. When I was writing fairy tales, I still considered myself more of a storyteller than a writer. Odd given that I wrote more short stories than some famous writers (though none are publishable quality but hey, I was 7-10ish), but this is a fact I only realize in the past tense. Had I considered myself a writer then, I would have known that a strict diet of science fiction was not for me...or a strict diet of anything.

But when I discovered authors as a fascinating species of people who told wonderful stories, the authors I discovered were science fiction (ignoring the fact that several have been reclassified as fantasy based on new standards of what counts :p). Had my sister any idea of how much of an absolutist I could be, she would have varied my introduction into books as fun a bit more because this led to years of frustration on her part as I scorned fantasy writers.

Needless to say, if you've been following this LJ at least, I no longer box myself so completely into a single genre. I wrote a bunch of literary stories while taking creative writing in college because that was expected of me, but they in no way impinged on my image of my writer self. I was a science fiction writer and that was that.

Then I discovered that the one author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, who had done the most to capture my imagination with her sociological science fiction actually published writers too. It was not much of a leap to my plan to succeed, a plan still ongoing despite her death because others have picked up at least part of her tradition. The only trouble was that she chose to publish fantasy not science fiction. What should have been an insurmountable barrier to the absolutist me, became instead a challenge. I went cursing and screaming my way into writing fantasy.

I was lucky enough to get all but one rejection with a kind note, something I didn't realize was lucky until years later, but ultimately I could not manage, still can not manage, to write what she's looking for. On the other hand, had she not pushed me to writing fantasy, there are a number of novels under my belt that would never have been written, so overall, I think I came out on top.

What's the relevance of that story? Well, it all becomes clear when you see the statistics that came out of my Story A Day challenge.

I wrote ten stories. The average length was 3,036 words with the longest coming in at 4,765 and the shortest at 1,124.

Of those ten stories, six were science fiction and four fantasy.

The science fiction stories were, on average, shorter (2,776 words) but that was because two of them were less than 1,300 words. The longest was the longest overall.

The fantasy stories averaged 3,427 words, with the shortest being 2,555 and the longest being 4,387.

Therefore, though I had more science fiction stories than fantasy, I had more fantasy word count overall than I did science fiction.

I can't say, at this point, which are my favorite stories because the most recent ones resonate the most just because of proximity, but I will not be surprised to discover some of each genre making it to my top list.
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Not quite an analysis, but here's a blow by blow description of writing my last three stories. I got home from BayCon (which involves a five hour drive through the mountains) on Monday night with three stories still to go and the end of the month looming.

Back from BayCon. I'm tired, but had a wonderful time. Survived my first moderation stint thanks to wonderful panelists and participants. (10:22 PM May 25th)

Today is my birthday! I'm bleary eyed and non-productive, but I have a smile on my face :D. (12:10 PM May 27th) Note: I actually started the story on the 26th, but didn't get very far after unpacking and all.

Short story up to 1800 words. That's about it for the day. (12:10 AM May 28th)

More progress on the story, though it's still not done. I think I broke it, to be honest, but maybe editing will patch it back again :). (12:28 PM May 28th)

Time for me to shut everything down and get to bed. Okay, past time, but got into a good programming kick. Sadly, the story remains in progress. (11:52 PM May 28th)

I did it! 4,765 words and has issues, but the story is done :D. (10:17 AM May 29th)

Odd statistic: I have written 95 short stories for Forward Motion's Story a Day since it began in 2003. (12:26 PM May 29th)

And started story 9. It's building as it goes. Not sure exactly where that is, but up to 800 words. (8:49 PM May 29th)

Umm, forgot to update, but as of 1am, story 9 was complete at 2555 words. And this one I didn't break :D. (10:16 AM May 30th)

Since I seem to be updating as I go: Story 10 is conceived, outlined, and about 500 words. I really like this one. SF culture conflict. (1:16 PM May 30th)

Like most writers on a deadline :p, we chose today to rearrange two bedrooms and my study. Furniture, vacuuming, even buying a mattress. (4:16 PM May 30th)

Hmm, good thing there's one more day to go. 10th story stands at 920 words (about 1/3rd), move about 1/3rd done, and I've lost my voice. (11:16 PM May 30th) Note: unrelated loss of voice as I was not using Dragon for these stories.

And DONE! 10 stories in one month. I swear it gets harder each year, but I love the challenge. (11:16 AM May 31th)
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Story 7 - Life on the Line (Speculative Fiction)

I have been doing Story a Day since 2003. Some years have been easy, some hard, and some, like this one, just filled with too much other stuff to be able to concentrate. However, analyzing the process is proving quite interesting. For example, SAD 7 has been waiting for me to do something about it forever. It's the 20th and I got the prompt on, I believe, the 8th or 9th. Now there was a lot going on in my life to account for, but ultimately I didn't have even an idea to jot down, though I had some rumbles rolling around in my head.

Today, I sat down with an "or else" hanging over my keyboard and produced an interesting little story, and I mean little at 1124 words, based on that group of random thoughts. It's not a bad story, but neither is it one I feel will cause me, or others, to sit up and take notice. So what's the difference between that and some of the prompts that have haunted me for years because I ran out of time to write them (and do plan to someday)?

Simple. This is tripping over something I already knew (and even mentioned in the Story 6 analysis) but hadn't really nailed down. Prompt writing works best for me when I get a visual of a character. Curve of Her Claw, my story in the Cloaked in Shadow anthology, came to me in a rush as the words "dark elves" gelled around a very distinct figure (which, btw, the artist did an excellent job of capturing). From there, it was just a matter of nailing down the story.

In contrast, From the Ashes, my story in Triangulation 2004, with "hard port," or Unique Worlds which won the Confluence 2007 writing contest, with "fewmets at the end of time," came very slowly, almost teased into existence. In both cases I almost didn't have a story in time for the deadline.

Characters bring their story with them for me. Ideas do not. I do write idea stories, but they may take years to come together and are written in snatches here or there rather than as a concentrated whole pouring out as quickly as I can get my fingers to move (well, on the good days ;)).

What purpose does this serve? I now have a better idea of which generators are the safer to use during SAD, but this extends beyond that. I know if I want to do a themed anthology that offers ideas not characters, there's a good chance it will take me longer to put something together. There's always the idea stories that rush out and kidnap a character into them, but I can't count on those as easily as I can character stories that will shanghai ideas to wrap around. I also know that when on a strict deadline, I should focus on finding the character however the story came to be.

What prompted this analysis is:

A Quick Story Generator:
The theme of this story: dark comedy. The main characters: clumsy novelist and stressed astronomer. The major event of the story: surgery.
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Story 6 - Prospects (Science Fiction)

What did I learn from this story?
Well, if you'd asked me two hours ago, I would have said that I could NOT write a short story based on something as thin as this even though I generated two characters to make it better:

The tired, rude gigolo who fears people think he/she is a fraud.
The graceful time travel technician.

However, I came up with an idea. I hate writing idea stories. They're much harder, slower, and require more work in the edit.

However, about a third to a half of the way through, Pierre came to life, took hold of the story, brought it over the edge into risque so I had to excerpt a little bit to post on Forward Motion, and I happen to think it ends with a kick in the gut...

The answer then? If I let myself be open to it, even stories I craft rather than create can take on a life of their own and bring me joy.

Of course it's at a WAY nasty length. Too long for flash and too short for anything else :p.

The prompt generator was:
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Story 4 - A Ship of the Line (Science Fiction)

This one was the perfect story. I got the prompt the night before, came up with the idea, was too tired to jot it down, and when I woke up in the morning it was still there. So I wrote up a 558 word synopsis to keep it from escaping. Then my day kind of went crazy and it took all day to get to the end, but still, this is why I love SAD. The feeling of getting a solid idea in a flash is a thrill, and then making it happy that same day? Just wonderful.

This story came from here:

Story 5 - Balance (Fantasy)

This story was an interesting one. I set it down first as a synopsis with two POVs. Then as I was writing it, I thought it would end up too long, so eliminated one of the POVs and futzed with the outline to fix it. Didn't write much of anything most of the day, and panicked at the end. I finished all but about 400 words out of 3,338 using voice recognition (saving frequently but it didn't crash...possibly because I wasn't using it in Trillian and had cleared up some system resources). Where I had noticed before that I tended toward dialogue with VR, this story is oddly not quite narrative but certainly not dialogue heavy. It's a mood piece I guess. I'll see what I think when it comes time to edit.

However, with this one I definitely broke through any worries about Dragon crashing and worries that VR was going to be dialogue heavy.

And whoops, I used the same generator twice: I guess it really works for me :).  For those who might have read it, this generator brought both Purity, which got an Honorable Mention in the Oceanview Short Story contest, and Ties That Bind, which got an Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future.
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Story 3 - Community Service (Science Fiction)

Now for this one I cheated. I'm not proud of it but this is the truth.

I try on the first pass to get one prompt from each generator...just to test things out. I know I'm supposed to use the first prompt I get, but the adventure game generator has never worked for me. On my good days, it offers a novel-length work in synopsis. On my bad, like today, it stymies me entirely. (

I got the prompt last night before bed (so at 12:20 am), and couldn't even manage to read through the whole thing. Then, this morning, I read through everything only to remember that it provides not just prompts but full plot concepts. And not just one of them but several. In the last few years, I bullied my way through to something, but this year I didn't have the will. So...when nothing much would coalesce into anything useful, I chucked the prompt and skipped to the next generator. Before breakfast was over, I had the beginning to a very odd little story that hits most of the concepts of the prompt and ignores some of the big ones, but it was a fun write.

The prompt I did use was:, another that has given me novels, but some short stories as well, like Community Service.
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Story 1 - Independence (Fantasy)

So...what did I learn in this story?

I learned that I have to hit SAVE even when using Voice Recognition :p. I also learned that I tend to go dialogue heavy through VR and maybe I should try and focus on my storytelling more.

I also learned that trying to recreate the sweet parts from memory after a loss is a sure way to make me avoid writing. And even more importantly, that if I just let the story unfold again, it may be stronger in parts than the lost original.

I used the new Zettercise generator for this one:

Story 2 - Sweetentime (Urban Fantasy)

Unlike the previous one where I didn't know where it was going, this story came together rather quickly in the shower. I actually raced out with my hair in a towel and in my robe to jot down the beginning and a synopsis, to make sure I didn't forget anything. The difficulty with this one was to come up with a way to tell the whole of the story without a lot of mechanical description of how the elves were doing what they'd done or even this world. I think I managed to show the interactions between the worlds okay. I skimmed the other and may have to change that in the revision.

What I learned? Well, I'm still a little iffy on the urban fantasy side. I write contemporary romance and fantasy, but I think the balance of the mundane with the fantastical is very difficult in UF.

This one came from Kat Feete's generator:
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As some of you may know, I descend into the heart of muse insanity each year for my birthday month. In 2003, Holly Lisle started the Story A Day challenge on Forward Motion,, as a one-off dare to produce 31 stories based on online story generators in a single month. I pushed as hard as I could and only managed 25, many of which weren't worth editing. But the rush of ideas and creation and just pure lunacy was addictive.

At this point I don't remember whether I influenced the decision to keep it as an annual event or not, but I certainly appreciated the fact. However, the reoccurring version came in a softer form. You can still drive for the 31 stories, and some do, but there are also levels from 10, 15, and 20 stories in a month.

For the past three years, I have managed only 10 stories, but still, that's more than I write the rest of the months combined. And some of my more solid stories, stories that have reached the final consideration pile in several pro markets, came from this extravagance.

However, between the fact that my son's big school musical always falls in May, and BayCon, a Northern California Science Fiction convention, also does, this challenge leaves little time for my other writing projects.

You won't be hearing much from Molly, for example. And though I hope to finish consolidating the crits for Selkie at least, that may not happen until June.

So, to keep you all busy, I'm copying over my notes for the Advanced Writers Board challenge on Forward Motion. On top of writing the stories, the challenge on the second board is to consider what each story taught you and tell everyone else about it. Sometimes the lessons are trivial, and sometimes they're a real kick in the pants.

I'm starting out behind, so I may combine a few of the shorter ones, but you'll probably see more posts from me because of this than ever before. I just hope you enjoy them, and maybe even learn something about your own process in watching me question mine.
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Things are trucking along in the new and improved Margaret world, progressing if not catching up to where I wanted to be.

I've written 13 of the 15 Story a Day short stories I have made as my more reasonable goal, and one might even be perfect for an upcoming anthology.

The proofread of Heart of the Crystal is moving along at a good pace with only the last 15k or so remaining. Regardless of my plans, if I were to get a full request, I could easily turn it around in less than a week, so there I'm feeling much more secure.

I'm also about a third into my latest novel critique and keeping up somewhat with short story edits.

Do I regret all the things I had to cull from my list? Of course. However, they weren't getting done any faster for all that they were screaming in my ears. Now their muffled pleas make sure I won't forget them while not interfering with what I need to get done.

So a much calmer, saner, me is now in command of this blog ;). Of course someday I really should make a novel-specific update, right?

Oh, and to give this post some meat, here are short summaries of my SAD stories. It should give some sense of the breadth and depth the SAD challenge offers and maybe a hint into why I try to do it every year. There's SF, fantasy, and contemporary fantasy all mixed in :).

1: A village witch takes in an injured stranger at the changing of the world from peasant to industry.
2: An alien mining consortium being sold for pieces from the perspective of the employees just finding out.
3: A rebellious boy discovering the truth behind his people's religion and learning it isn't quite as fabricated as he'd believed.
4: A mutant child left isolated by her mother's death must fend for herself despite her village.
5: A self-aware power grid takes care of humanity.
6: A wizardry student discovers history as written wasn't exactly true when the spirit of the first major wizard corrupts him.
7: A guilt-ridden monk relives the past when his brethren were slaughtered even though that time is over.
8: The last survivor of a mining colony who was raised by aliens is restored to human hands.
9: A gun-toting outlaw who had been a slave sold as pleasure girl finds just what she deserves.
10: A woman struggles to meet the demands of a demon she's inherited from her father.
11: A young woman named a valkyrie has to find a dead hero and judge his right to go to Valhalla.
12: A slave bound only by his word has to find a way to get released without breaking his promise.
13: A fairy who loses his wings because he helps a human regains them by bringing the two people together.
14 and 15 are still to come :).


For those who don't know, Story A Day is one of the monthly challenges over at Forward Motion. Participants post raw versions of their stories in a password-protected section of the site for the fun of proving they put out 10, 15, 20, or 31 stories in a month. Oh, and the stories are supposed to come from a series of idea generators listed within the challenge.


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Margaret McGaffey Fisk

April 2017

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