In 1842, the gunpowder might of China’s Qing Dynasty fell to Britain’s steam engines. Furious, the Emperor ordered the death of his engineers—and killed China’s best chance of fighting back…
Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him.
Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause.
But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…
Lin presents a non-traditional steampunk perspective in Gunpowder Alchemy: that of an empire in decline. British imperialism had adverse effects on the already-troubled Chinese. The world is a fascinating mix of historical accuracy (Crown Prince Yizhu, Opium Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, Soling gets away with being of good birth but having unbound feet only because she is Manchu) with floating ships and clockwork technology.
The story presents many questions about conflicting loyalties and what it means to be a person of virtue: Soling tries to be a good daughter, serve the Emperor, and serve her country at the same time. Soling's adventures will continue, so there's no happily-ever-after here, but she and Chang-wei slowly build the beginnings of a relationship in a convincing fashion.
January has been a busy month for short story contests. Mash Stories offers an on-going flash fiction contest. Writer’s Digest offered a short, short fiction contest earlier this month (and , Simon and Schuster held a fan fiction contest, Baen has a near-future science fiction contest, and the Chicago Tribune has a short fiction contest open until January 31, 2016.
This week, I’m participating in the 10th Annual Short Story Challenge offered by NYC Midnight. It’s tremendous practice.
Here are three tips I use for writing better short fiction.
1) Pick one main event. Streamline the story so that everything points to that one event – even after the climax, the story finish still points to that one event. The plot can be as simple as cooking dinner or as complex as sky diving from a space elevator. Don’t stuff in extra details. Often, the beauty of a short story is rich characters, full of depth, but a plot that exists within a small space and lower word counts. Short stories, even though a different experience than writing novels, are great practice in streamlining.
2) Limit characters. Pick one or two. Don’t name anyone else. If the main character is on a crowded bus, blur the extras by providing little-to-no information about them. Include only the details that are necessary to move the plot forward for the main character. Character naming is similar to adopting a stray dog. Once it has a name, it wants to stick around in the readers’ mind.
3) Limit Point of View. In short fiction (whether flash fiction – 1,000 words or less – or a novelette – up to 17,500 words), there is a limited amount of time to hook the reader. Begin close to the inciting incident, but keep it simple. Story creators often want to keep all the viewpoints, include the antagonist’s reasons or mention the main character’s last love interest. Don’t obscure the great words with superfluous ones. Increase tension and interest, limit readers’ knowledge to only what the main character knows. Pick one character that is central to every situation, jump in that head, and stay there.
Just remember: first drafts don’t count. Get the story down. Get the words out. Don’t worry about rules or tips or editing. After that first draft, go back and edit it into shape. And whatever happens, keep writing. Your uniqueness enhances our own.
What are some tips you have for writing better shorts?
I’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
(All views expressed in this post are that of the author and not necessarily that of The SFR Brigade.)
Bokerah Brumley is an award-winning writer from West Texas. She is the Publicity Officer for the Club while simultaneously addicted to Twitter pitch contests, writing contests, and social media, in general. She has too much planned for this year, but is doing it anyway. She lives with her husband, five home-educated children, three dogs, and two cats.
'Dogwood Sprocket' by Bokerah Brumley
A SciFi Steampunk Romance Novelette Available for FREE in "Seasons: A Multi-Genre Story Collection."
The prison ship Perdition, a floating city where the Conglomerate’s most dangerous criminals are confined for life, orbits endlessly around a barren asteroid.
Life inside is even more bleak. Hailed as the Dread Queen, inmate Dresdemona “Dred” Devos controls one of Perdition’s six territories, bordered on both sides by would-be kings eager to challenge her claim. Keeping them at bay requires constant vigilance, as well as a steady influx of new recruits to replace the fallen. Survival is a constant battle, and death is the only escape.
Of the newest convicts, only one is worth Dred’s attention. The mercenary Jael, with his deadly gaze and attitude, may be the most dangerous criminal onboard. His combat skill could give her the edge she needs, if he doesn’t betray her first. Unfortunately, that’s what he does best. Winning Jael’s allegiance will be a challenge, but failure could be worse than death… This book is dark and gritty. Tensions and brutality run high: a fight-to-the-death dueling pit addresses grievances, and Dred has to do some extreme deeds to keep order in her territory while she and her allies fight off threats of other criminal fiefs. There's plenty of gunfighting and concerns about provisions, weaponry, the basic survival needs. Dred's the star of the show, hiding herself and some of her talents behind her persona because to show weakness or difference means the crumbling of any kind of civilization on the ship. Jael has never known loyalty or much about friendship, but the way Dred and her crew treat him inspire him to be a more worthy person. Dred, Jael, Dred's inner circle, and even the enemies are all memorable, multidimensional characters. They're not nice people: they're convicts on a prison ship. If you can live with that, you're in for an intense read! The romance is well-integrated into the plot, and I loved how Dred and Jael come to respect and care about each other through their actions. Author site: Ann Aguirre Author