Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How to write 'flash fiction'.

Writing Flash FictionBy G. W. Thomas
With the advent of the Internet, editors are looking for shorter works, more easily read on a computer screen. The current term is "flash fiction", a tale between 300-1000 words long. Longer than micro-fiction (10-300 words) but shorter than traditional short stories (3000-5000 words preferred by most magazines), flash fiction is usually a story of a single act, sometimes the culmination of several unwritten events.This article will offer several strategies for writing flash fiction. Used by themselves or in combination, the writer can focus their story to that brief, interesting event.

1) The small ideaLook for the smaller ideas in larger ones. To discuss the complex interrelationship of parents and children you'd need a novel. Go for a smaller piece of that complex issue. How kids feel when they aren't included in a conversation. What kids do when they are bored in the car. Middle child. Bad report card. Find a smaller topic and build on it.

2) Bury the preamble in the openingWhen you write your story, don't take two pages to explain all the pre-story. Find a way to set it all in the first paragraph, then get on with the rest of the tale.

3) Start in the middle of the actionSimilar to #2, start the story in the middle of the action. A man is running. A bomb is about to go off. A monster is in the house. Don't describe any more than you have to. The reader can fill in some of the blanks.

4) Focus on one powerful imageFind one powerful image to focus your story on. A war-torn street. An alien sunset. They say a picture worth a thousand words. Paint a picturewith words. It doesn't hurt to have something happen inside that picture. It is a story after all.

5) Make the reader guess until the endA little mystery goes a long way. Your reader may have no idea what is going on for the majority of the story. This will lure them on to the end. When they finish, there should be a good pay off or solution.

6) Use allusive referencesBy using references to a commonly known story you can save yourself all those unnecessary words. Refer to historical events. Use famous situations from literature. If the story takes place on the Titanic you won't have to explain what is going to happen, who is there or much of anything. History and James Cameron have already done it for you. Beware of using material that is too obscure. Your reader should be able to make the inferences.

7) Use a twistLike #5, the twist ending allows the writer to pack some punch at the end of the story. Flash fiction is often twist-ending fiction becauseyou don't have enough time to build up sympathetic characters and show how a long, devastating plot has affected them. Like a good joke, flash fiction is often streamlined to the punch-line at the end.Let's look at these techniques in my story "Road Test". I wanted to write a story about taking my driving exam. I didn't mention the pre-test or practicing. Just the test. (#1 THE SMALL IDEA) This narrows our subject down to a manageable scene.I didn't have room to describe the driving examiner in detail. I set my main character in two sentences.(#2 BURY THE PREAMBLE) "The man in the government-issued suit sat down without looking at the person across from him. We've established the main character and his chief flaws. (He's mediocre and probably hates his job.)I started in the middle of the action by having the driver very quickly go from good driving to dangerous driving. Johnson, the driving examinerrealizes the driver is not human but goat-headed (#3 START IN THE MIDDLE). "He had changed. The beard was longer, the skin darker and two large curved horns crowned his skull." This creates tension and has created an image: a man trapped in a speeding car with a monster (#4 A POWERFUL IMAGE). It pushes the reader on because they want to know what will happen next, maybe why is it happening? We won't tell them until the end (#5 KEEP THEM GUESSING).The monster keeps yelling the same word, "Pooka!" Johnson begins to understand. He knows the old fairy stories about the Pooka, about how they pretended to be horses so they could drown their victims. (#6 ALLUSION)Now is the time for resolution, our great twist ending that no one sees coming (#7 TWIST ENDING). As the monster crashes the car into a pond, Johnson realizes a modern-day Pooka wouldn't look like a horse, but would use a car. The car crashes and we finish with: "They would die, only Johnson would live long enough to feel those large goatish teeth chewing the flesh from his bones. The souped-up V8 hit the slick surfaceof the pond like a fist into jello. Windshield collapsed under tons of water, washing away the high, shrill laughter of the driver.""Road Test" clocks in at 634 words. It is essentially a man gets killed by a monster story, but the crux of the idea is "How would mythological creatures adapt to the modern world?" This is really the small idea. The allusions to the Pooka will work for some, but I gave enough explanation to help those that don't know about the old stories.This example story was chosen because it illustrated all 7 methods. Using only one in a flash story can be enough. Writing flash fiction is a great way for writers to write everyday, even when larger projects seem to daunting or they are pressed for time. Using these short cuts can have you writing in minutes.-----------------------------------------G. W.

Thomas has appeared in over 100 different books and magazines. His micro story "Nano-Hunk" won the Zine Guild Award for Best SF Micro Fiction 2000.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A story for my students - 'The Eye-witness' - Part One

The eye-witness
Part 1


Robert L. Fielding
Students - read the first part of the story and answer the questions at the end.

Annie was playing the piano. Her mother was in the kitchen making dinner. It was 5.30 in the afternoon and most of the kids were still outside.

Annie continued to play her piano. She was trying to play a tune her music teacher had taught her. She was concentrating and looking at the music on the sheet in front of her.

Annie turned her head towards the open window. It was just beginning to go dark and the kids were going home to for dinner. Annie was an only child – she didn’t have any brothers or sisters.

She stopped playing the piano. She thought she heard her mother’s voice.
“Mummy,” she shouted.“ Are you OK?”

There was no reply.
“She must be cooking,” Annie thought, and looked back at the music. She began to play again.

Gill, Annie’s mother, was in the kitchen preparing a salad. She liked to hear her daughter play the piano as she worked.
“Those piano lessons are expensive,” she thought, “but they are worth it. Annie is improving. She has talent, she can play tunes easily and she learns very quickly, and she’s only 11 years old.” Gill smiled to herself. She was proud of her clever daughter.

Dinner was nearly ready. Gill opened the oven door to look at the chicken roasting gently. It was nearly done. She knew Annie would be hungry. She was hungry too.

The music stopped. The house was suddenly very quiet.
“Annie,” shouted her mother. “Dinner’s ready. Stop playing now, let’s eat,” then she added, “But wash your hands first, please.”
There was still no sound. Gill moved towards the kitchen door.
“I thought she said she was hungry.” she said to herself quietly.

As she opened the kitchen door, she heard her daughter crying out.
“Mummy, they’re hurting me!”
Gill rushed into the lounge. Annie wasn’t there. The front door was wide open. Annie’s sheets of music were lying on the garden path outside. Annie had disappeared.

Q1. What could have happened to Annie?
Q2. Where could she be?
Q3. Who could have taken her?
Q4. Will she be OK?
Write and let me know what you think are the answers to these questions.

Send your answers in a short paragraph to me at
Robert L. Fielding

Friday, September 05, 2008

Scottish poetry # 1

Poems from Scotland

When we went to the grammar school the teacher said,
‘You A-stream girls will go out in the world and be doctors and lawyers.
You C-stream girls will go out in the worldand be typists and mothers.
’But when we left(tossing our hats in the air), beyond the school borders,the streams overflowed and the dams broke with the water hoarded in our hearts and all the girls flowed out in the world in alphabetical disorder.
Diana Hendry

The blue ribbon of a river,
too deep to ford,
a great chattering of water a hundred feet across,
and on the far bank a cottage fluttering smoke.
No-one crosses here without the ferryman’s consent:
king or commoner,
all are in the same boat -
thirty years he’s criss-crossed the river for the one coin
a coin for a crossing but for silence also:
the man who travels under cover of owls always to meet the girl who is not his;
the boy who’s running away,
whose eyes are full of ships and storms;
the priest who carries more than he came for.
That coin is worth its weight in gold,
to seal the slip of a tongue,the spread scent of a secret.
So he has learned to say nothing,
the man with the bracken hair and the big hands -
to let out no more than where the best trout lie.

Kenneth Steven

We’re building the ring road round Beijing,
helping to support Olympic dreams.
Green beans and noodles twice a day.
Yes, we’re building the ring road round Beijing.
Twenty of us in the dormitory.
Family back in Hunan Province wait.
Three hundred yuan a month we send them back.
We see beggars shoed off the avenue.
We see new tramps every week.
We watch the giant billboards change.
We see the new underground open.
We’ll return to our fields when roads are done,back to our peasant farming lives.
But we know now how city people live.
Clean fingernails, leather shoes,washed clothes every day.
Girls go by in high, high heels,speak into mobile phones.
China has so many new roads now.
We wait to see where they will take uswhen we’ve built this ring road round Beijing.
Liz Niven