Category: fiction

Flash Your Fiction Workshop Writeup

Day One

worddiceLast night’s Flash Your Fiction class at Howard Community College went great!
 
We talked creativity, freedom to create, and sparking the flame. We put a little science in our fiction and did the Cloud in a Bottle activity and it applied perfectly. (I am just starting to incorporate different aspects of the activity into every presentation I do. It applies to them all.)
 
Then, we wrote flash fiction from a prompt word (they had one minute to write a story). And then prompt pictures (ditto). And they did great. It was hard for them to start but once they did they hated having time called on them. But the urgency of having such limited time bumps you into fight or flight and if you decide to stay and fight, the words become your playthings and then the writing explodes!
 
Interestingly, all but one of the students were willing to read their work out loud. The last one had trepidation and downright fear about it. But then, I found a solution. I used a modification of the excellent Mobius Corpse activity (created by my friends John Cooper or Jacob Davenport or some combination of the two) and had the whole class write a single story collaboratively. Then, they read the entire circular story out loud. Once the student realized she was part of a team, she was able to read the rest of her stuff aloud perfectly well. You never know what will push past the boundaries and break through the fear but when you hit on it, it’s magic!
 
After that, we gambled and threw my Word Dice (object, location, profession) and Word Cards and the students got homework to do writing sprints with their word cards and also to eavesdrop shamelessly everywhere they go. Like my “Overheard” project, they will hear tantalizing snippets that will yield story ideas if not outright novels.
 
Next week, we continue with more exercises using the Word Dice, and we will discuss plotting, compelling dialog, pacing, and characterization and how to access those before you edit.
 
We will finish up with some editing exercises and resources before I send them off to their new writing lives. Exciting!
 
Really, I could have taught an entire eight-week class on this and had material left over, but I’m glad I’m going to leave them wanting more. 🙂

10-26 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt words: horror and ratio)

“Done!” Haley shouted as she hit the Enter key. She collapsed against the back of her chair and removed her headphones.

“Are you serious?” Orson stuck his head in the booth. “We’re finished?”

“Yes, sir, we are outta here, Styled Hunter VII is in the can!” She grinned.

“Mallory DeMarco hunted and trapped The Hatchet Man once and for all, and never faltered on her Dolce and Gabbana strappy sandals. He’ll never attack the fashion industry’s hemlines ever again.”

“So, what’s next for you?” Orson popped open a beer.

“I think Mallory is taking on ‘The Hair Cutter.'”

“What, he scalps people?” He asked.

“Nope. He sneaks into their homes, drugs them, and gives them horrible haircuts.”

“You know, sometimes I think we’ve taken the ratio of horror to fashion too far to one side.”

“Yeah, I miss the good old days when serial killers actually killed their victims.

(Tee hee. There is something fun to me about serial killers who do things like shorten hemlines or give terrible haircuts. The challenging part of today’s story was figuring out the names of the movies and villains. I wanted them to have potential for true horror but be obvious in their fashion consciousness. I hope you enjoyed it.)

9-25 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt words: decoration and pod)

“There! That’s perfect!” GCH11878 nodded to itself. It narrowed its eyes and studied the angle of the decoration that now hung from the top of its sleep pod. It had found the shred of shiny paper on garbage duty and hidden it away in its smock pocket.

“Not quite there,” it whispered and repositioned the bright red, blue, and white scrap so the markings in the center were in a straight line.

Twwoooeep Twwoooeep, the alarm reverberated throughout the Domicile. The whir of a Watcher sounded outside 11878’s pod.

“GCH11878,” the Watcher buzzed. “We have detected contraband in your pod. Remand yourself for reconditioning while your pod is sanitized.”

11878 gripped the outside of the tiny space and pulled itself out.

“Ouch,” it said as its fingers scraped against the markings on the outside of the pod.
G-I-R-L C-H-I-L-D H-U-M-A-N, the strange markings felt familiar, but it knew it would never remember what they meant.

(Yikes! Dystopia seems to be my inclination recently. The tough part about today’s micro-story was figuring out how to reveal what GCH stood for. I hope you liked how I did it and that it wasn’t revealed too early.)

Oh and if you are curious about the piece of paper? It was this: 9781419706325

10-24 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: institute)

“Look at this place,” Miano breathed. She turned a full circle in the main hallway and marveled at the prisms reflected from the millions of crystals embedded in the walls.

“How are they doing that?” Banner twisted this way and that.

Each reflected a different set of colors. Some blazed deep reds and golds. Others projected inky black. One sent blues and purples along with the ultraviolets that pierced Miano’s vision. Gasping, she stumbled towards it.

“Welcome to the Institute of Inner Learning,” the robed figure materialized in front of them.

“I am Nanor,” it continued. “Have you made your Prismic Selection?”

“Prismic Selection?” Miano whispered. She extended a shaking hand and froze with her palm on its smooth surface.

“Ah, I see you have chosen the path of the Universal Traveler,” Nanor turned a page on its clipboard, made a mark, and nodded. “Yours will be an interesting journey.”

“Traveler?” Banner squeaked. “Wait where is she going? Miano. Miano!” He screamed.

“Do not bother,” Nanor said. “She is already gone. And now,” Nanor advanced on him. “I wonder where your journey shall take you.”

(This one gives me shivers. Here’s the thing. The tone of the entire story hinges on changing two words. In the last paragraph, I have Nanor advancing on Banner. It sounds ominous, doesn’t it? When someone advances on you, it is almost always for some nefarious purpose. But what if I had the words, “Nanor turned to him?” Would that make for a more lighthearted ending and therefore story? This entire exercise of writing a micro story every day thrills me for just this sort of reason. I love seeing how judicious use of words and phrases can pivot an entire tale or even book.

Putting the editor’s hat on for a second, I’d love to ask you a question. Does the ending work? Or should I perhaps have ended it with the sentence, “She is already gone.” Does that work better? Is it more ominous? Less? What do you think?)

10-23 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: excluded)

“When I was in college, we ended up doing a guerrilla production of a show” Amanda took a sip of her latte.

“How do you do that? A clandestine production under the cover of night that no one knew to go see?” Charlie laughed.

“No, to protest that the theater department decided to a show with ten male parts and only one female, we decided to do our own since that excluded most of the people in the theater department from even auditioning.”

“That wouldn’t fly nowadays,” Charlie emphasized his statement with a salute of his coffee. “Hell, today, everyone auditions for everything. Look at Laverne Cox playing Frank N Furter in the Rocky Horror remake.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Amanda rolled her eyes. “That movie did not need a remake.”

“True, but that’s not my point. It’s still progress. To progress then,” Charlie raised his mug.

“To progress!” Amanda clinked her mug with his. “Even if it does leave a ‘bad remakes are bad’ taste in my mouth.”

(This one is sort of autobiographical. We did mount a guerrilla production of Antigone [with three different Antigones trading off the role] when Sam Shepherd’s “City of Angels” was the play. We had a lot of women in the theater department and that play only had one female role. And they weren’t going to gender swap any casting so all the women had to vie for one role.

I didn’t audition. Instead, I assistant directed, and I had a blast. But I do remember that feeling of disappointment in the theater department for choosing something that felt so exclusionary. And the characters are right, I think. I don’t think it would fly nowadays. At least I hope it wouldn’t.)

10-22-16 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: certified)

You jerk awake. Into darkness. The spasm explodes in you, and you retch onto the sticky floor.

“What the hell is going on?” You whisper it to yourself because you are alone.

The black is relieved by one square of gray light. You crawl on bleeding hands and knees to the tiny monitor on the far wall.

“Jeremiah Smith,” you read your name on the screen. “Certified: Unpatriotic.”

(Yikes! Is this what comes out of me when I sleep too little and spend too much time looking at political writing before I go to sleep?

And somehow the second person present has a voyeuristic patina to it, don’t you think?

Today’s prompt word could have gone numerous places. It grabbed my hand and took me to a scary 1984-esque land. I don’t know anything about Jeremiah, but I hazard a guess to say he is not a scary man. Rather, his society sounds horrific from just these few words. It could be the beginning of a second person present dystopic novella. I might just have to write it. Someday.)

10-21 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: iron)

“Hey, Mom,” Jeremy cries. “Look at me!” He grabs the iron fireplace poker and ties it into a neat knot.

“Honey,” Doris Jameson sighs and picks up the twisted mass. “Now what am I going to do with it? I can’t use it for the fireplace anymore.”

Jeremy screws up his face in concentration.

“I know! You can use it as a trivet.”

“Jeremy,” she walks to the cupboard and opens it. It reveals twelve other mangled metal shapes. “I know your powers are getting stronger, but just how many trivets do you think I need?”

(I decided to play again with present tense. This doesn’t feel quite as compelling to me, but then the story itself is a bit more whimsical. How would a mother deal with a Super son who is growing into his powers but doesn’t have the reasoning capability to figure out not to behave like a typical five-year-old? If kids are always going to be kids, how do you deal with their lack of mature thought processes? I guess you end up with a lot of trivets. 🙂  )

10-20 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: steps)

“I can’t take it anymore. You do what you want.” Josh steps away from Hannah and rushes out of their New York City apartment.

The sun trickles in through the skyscrapers but still leaves everything in shadows.

“Good,” Josh says aloud to no one. “I prefer the dark.”

“Is that true?” The woman is so close, her breath fans the back of his neck.

“What?” He doesn’t turn, can’t move.

“Do you prefer the dark?” He detects a faint accent.

“Today, I do.” He swallows and inhales her scent of pressed roses. He sways against her.

“How about forever?”

His eyes flutter closed as she sinks her teeth into his neck.

(Well, hey, look at me writing a vampire flash fiction. Don’t get me wrong. I like vampires just fine. I just haven’t had much occasion to write about them, and this was fun. The interesting thing about this story is I decided to write it in the present tense. It feels strange. I have heard it said that present tense writing is more immediate, more compelling because it is happening now. I’m not sure I agree. What do you all think?)

10-13 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: haunt)

“Okay, now that you’ve got your morning coffee, I want to ask your advice,” Ashley curled her voluptuous form in the overstuffed chair at the Java-Mukti cafe.

“What do you think of this?” she handed her phone to Anna.

“You are my why. You’re my one and only. You haunt my dreams,” Anna read the text and rolled her brown eyes.

“Seriously? This guy is supposed to be some greater writer? He’s a walking, talking cliché!” She sat back and sipped her mocha.

“So you don’t think I should meet him?”

“Sweetie, I don’t think you should even reply to him.”

(This is the second time the Java-Mukti cafe appeared in one of these flash fiction tales. I think it sounds like a super cool place, and if I were of a mind to open my business, I could see opening a free trade cafe like that.

I already like the denizens of the place. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this entry in my year-long flash fiction challenge. I write these stories from a prompt word. The bones of the story must be done in a single minute. I can edit to my heart’s content afterward, but the initial tale must be finished in that minute. The last time I did this it revolutionized my writing. I hope this time the project will have a similar effect.)

10-12-16 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt words: Venus and treat)

“Thank you for the treat, my darling,” Venus smiled her thanks at the beautiful young man who knelt before her. His bronze skin glinted in the sunlight of the Mediterranean summer.

He raised his chocolate brown eyes to the level of her dainty feet, lay prone on the warm stone, and kissed every toe.

“You are so very sweet, my darling,” she closed azure eyes framed by dark lashes and reclined to bask in the warmth of the day and his mouth on her skin.

“How else may I serve, my Goddess?” He murmured against the sensitive skin of her inner wrist.

“I want another treat,” she opened her perfect lips for another peeled grape, which he slipped into her mouth from his own.

(Whew. I didn’t expect this to slip into the romance/erotic realms. But then again, Venus is the Roman goddess of Love so, I guess anything is possible. 🙂

The hard part for me about writing romance is not dipping into schmaltzy territory. I hope this story stayed in the realm of possibility, especially since the goddess of Love is involved.”