Flash fiction. What is it? And why do we need it?
In a nutshell, flash fiction is a form of short story classified according to its extreme brevity. How brief? Generally anything less than 1000 words is considered flash fiction these days.
Some people sub divide this further into: micro fiction (300 words or less), postcard fiction (can fit onto a postcard), smoke-long (can be read within a one smoke timeframe – seems excessive to me!), uber short short story, and the list goes on. The point is, it’s short. The fiction writing equivalent of a Haiku poem. The definitions are, quite frankly, irrelevant. As a writer, all you need to know is how much word ammo you’ve got to work with. The objective remains to give your reader an experience, just a very brief one.
I have very recently been introduced to this form of writing through a Facebook group, Short Story Day Africa, which aims to promote better writing across Africa. They are currently running a Facebook initiative under the banner #Writerprompt. They invite micro-fiction of up to 200 words. They supply the prompt: a sentence, a photo, whatever, and you write whatever comes to mind. You can post your story to the Facebook page and receive comments and critiques from other postees or from Joe Public. You typically have a two week deadline. The entries are judged and the winner gets some exposure. It’s a great initiative! And an art-form in its own right and I would encourage all writers to give it a go.
Firstly it gets you writing! It really does get the creative juices flowing.
Secondly, it teaches you to write to a deadline!
Thirdly, the word-count means you get to practice cutting dead wood from your prose: virtually every writer I know, myself included, uses too many words when we write. It’s amazing how few we actually need to retain the essence of what we’re trying to say.
The word-count constraint is tough. It forces you to think, to evaluate every word. You’re aiming for maximum impact with minimum resources. I believe good writing boils down to two things: imagery and tension. With a 200 word word-count it’s a tall order to hit both those targets. I have not mastered this art yet so I’ve tended to aim for one or the other element with my #writerprompts to date.
Below are a couple of my attempts:
So, this is how it ends
He was forty, I was eight.
A father shouldn’t play with his daughter like this.
But he was drunk.
“Take it off,” he said.
My face burned. My ankles crossed. My little knees squashed tight.
“Off,” he said, slowly wiggling his pointy finger, mocking me.
My hands made little fists beneath my thighs.
A tear slid down my cheek.
I took it off.
He leaned in, his face all beery leery.
My eyes brimmed with shame and anger.
His hand slid over to my side.
He placed it down carefully, too carefully for one so rough, and slurred his usual taunt, “Checkmate in one.”
As always, this is how it ends.
Post mortem: I decided to focus more on tension with this one and less on imagery. I wanted to demonstrate how a reader’s emotions can be manipulated through written words. Take them down a dark path and then lead them briefly into the light, before leaving a lingering grey uncertainty. At first we head down the dark path of child molestation, then swerve away into the ambit of a harmless chess game, and yet there is a sub-text. The father drinks heavily in front of his young child, he seems to delight in taunting her. These are not signs of a healthy relationship. Perhaps the voice of the child in this piece is too old?
What gave me the idea? I play chess with my young daughter. Sometimes I have a beer while we play. In the beginning she was a terrible loser. Tears, shouting, red-faced anger: she did it all. I thought, taking this to the extreme and twisting it, might make a good scenario with which to try and lead my reader astray.
This was a tough one to write and even tougher to post on a public forum but, the feedback I got was positive and I learnt a lot from it.
This next one relied on a photo as the prompt (a pair of trainers dangling from an overhead telephone line):
Drugs? Shoes on a wire don’t mean drugs.
Don’t mean high school’s finally done and dusted either.
Or that some teenybopper just popped their cherry.
In my neck of the woods shoes on a telephone line mean one thing.
Someone saw, or heard, something they weren’t supposed to.
And I should know.
Last week it was high heels. The kind you find walking Point Road at night.
Week before that, it was fake black Armanis, so polished you could see your soul in them. Before that, green and white zip-up trainers. Not even as long as my hand, Ben 10 written on the side. The kid even looked like the cartoon on the shoe.
In my neck of the woods it means someone just got a free entry to the Great Comrades Marathon in the sky. No cut-off time or finish line in this race. Just an ‘up-run’ or a ‘down-run’, depending.
It’s a twenty-first century gibbet. A head on a stake.
And I don’t have a problem with that.
The problem I have, is that the shoes up there now, are mine.
Post mortem: I had fun with this one. We happen to have a pair of shoes dangling from a telephone wire just down the street, as most of us do, I’m sure, and this got me to thinking about all the urban legends surrounding these shoe-tossing incidents. Although I had to chuckle at the “American” accent which came out. The piece makes use of quite a few frags (fragmented sentences) which somehow just read better in American. Denzil Washington came to mind when I posted this yesterday. Funnily enough, ‘Training Day’ was on the box last night! The accent was not quite what I was after since I reference elements which are very much part of Durban culture, “Point Road” and the “Comrades Marathon.” In any event, I liked it and gave myself a pat on the back for this one.
I’ll be doing more of this Flash Fiction in the future. It’s fun and it’s constructive. I’ll post them up here under the banner Flash Fiction.
Hope you enjoyed!
Hope you enjoyed! Have a great weekend!