…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

Tag Archives: Flash Fiction

…or maybe not. You know me, right? The title was a clever way (if I do say so myself) of warning you as to what I am about to expound on. Short Fiction.

A woman once waved me off, saying, “I never read short stories. I like to get lost in a novel.” So I told her to get lost. Had she given my work a moment’s consideration, she might have reconsidered. Or, I could have sold her a first draft edition of my short stories with a guarantee she’d get lost in them. I often do. But that’s why first drafts are followed by second, third, and as many drafts as necessary to cut and polish a rough stone into a sparkling gem.

Another thing. There are times and places that make it nearly impossible to get lost in a novel. The bathroom, for instance. Enough said about that. Offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers—bank and supermarket lines all are examples of great short story reading areas. You can’t get lost in the novel because you’re always wondering if you’re going to be called next and if you’ll have enough time to get your stuff together without looking like a klutz. I’ve tried that. I fumble my book or glasses or pens or everything, and end up (literally) picking them off the floor. Later, under no pressure, I reread the chapter. Carrying a short story anthology with you is more efficient, beneficial and potentially less embarrassing. Sure, carrying a Kindle is cool, but real readers know that an old-fashioned book won’t run out of battery power at the height of passion, leaving you—uh—let down.

Short Fiction is fun. It’s sort of like religion. Every time you turn around, there’s a new one. Or a freakier, funnier, or more intriguing spinoff than the last. For example, you can neither pin down the exact nature and number of angels, nor get a solid word count for what a short story is. The genre’s arguably-accepted word count ranges from 1,000 to 20,000. Always check the guidelines for the contest or periodical you intend to enter or query. Their number of angels on the head of a pin may differ from yours.

Fewer than 1,000 words is called short short story or flash fiction. “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn,” created a wrenching story image attributed to Ernest Hemingway. However, in 1921, a columnist wrote that a classified ad, “Baby Carriage for sale, never used,” exemplified the plot of a story, and his example, it is believed, may have given rise to the Hemingway tale.

Sometimes the challenge comes in a number of sentences or lines. Here’s an old five-sentence story I entered in an online challenge:

WAVES  

(Five Sentence Fiction)     Virginia Nygard  6/23/15

I sit in the dust outside Mabel’s Beauty Parlor while Mama sits inside getting a Marcel wave.

She come out so beautiful I bet the stars will hide in shame tonight…just like me.

Picking her way ‘cross the wooden sidewalk, she pats my head, kisses my cheek and then sashays to the shiny Ford Model A, just panting at the curb for her.

Mr. James Windsor Whitehorn don’t never come ‘cross the tracks unless he come to pick up Mama for doing the town like he say.

I know what you be doing, my eyes say whilst I wave them away into the night.

 

So, writers, stretch your mental muscle and play with various kinds of short fiction while you’re working on The Great American Novel. It could be your bread-and-butter while you’re waiting for the Great Ka-ching!

And you out there afflicted with Short-Attention Span Syndrome, Short Fiction might be the short fix you’re seeking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

…a free verse that is really free. I remember learning “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer when I was in eighth grade. At that age, one usually wonders what on earth good memorizing a poem will be… while joyfully memorizing all the pop lyrics that come along. Hello, young Me? Most lyrics rhyme, like the trees of Kilmer’s time, and they are poetry! In fact, Kilmer’s poem is often described as a lyric poem!

In six rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter, Kilmer’s poem also introduced me to personification—something I knew intimately, but hadn’t the word for, since being introduced to characters like the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. And I remember my elementary teachers at Read School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with great fondness. They saw past the glasses and pigtails and the insecurity to the potential and promise in the plain little girl before them.

Miss Helen Carroll was the one who assigned the memorization of “Trees,” and so grateful for the excellent teacher she was, I kept in touch with her beyond my college years until she died. Her encouragement led me to dare to contribute to school newspapers and yearbooks, and to continue to learn and love literature.

Being a bit of a respectful rebel all my life helped me understand the drive behind inquisitive, creative, and daring minds. So it was I found a kindred spirit in Edward Estlin Cummings (E.E. or e.e., depending on your stance in the debate) and was intrigued with his free verse works as well as abandonment of conventional grammar and punctuation to create a more compelling expression of thought beyond his traditional works.

At last we come to the connection between “Trees,” E.E., me, and free verse. I think. Free verse tends to be like natural speech, but the poet can use such elements as rhyme, meter, alliteration, assonance, symbolism, ambiguity, and so much more to convey his message. So my reaction to Robert Frost’s comment that writing free verse was “like playing tennis without a net” is that it’s still tennis. It’s still a game requiring the clever and effective use of tools and skills within certain boundaries to attain a win. Boundaries? Of course. Two people cannot expect to play tennis with “A” at one end of a football field, and “B” at the other. One can’t write a Trigonometry textbook and call it poetry, unless it has poetic elements.

There are some forms of the poetic art that drive me crazy: those that seem like a flash fiction challenge, and those that appear to be internal dialogue that zig-zags across-the-ball-field. Okay, so I know not all people choose vanilla ice cream as their favorite, as I do, but I’ve learned to live with their lack of taste. Pun intended. Still, please employ a modicum of decorum when you play the game, and act as if the net were there. Thank you.


Been reading prompts from Lillie McFerrin Writes (lilliemcferrin.com) and found a few minutes (WHAT? How did THAT happen?) to try one today! Lillie issues a five-sentence story prompt via my email. Today I jumped into a story that dictated itself to me – which turned out to be quite unlike the photo on her website…but here it is:

WAVES…..5 Sentence Fiction……..Virginia Nygard 6/23/15

I sit in the dust outside Mabel’s Beauty Parlor while Mama sits inside getting a Marcel wave.

She come out so beautiful I bet the stars will hide in shame tonight… just like me.

Picking her way ‘cross the wooden sidewalk, she pats my head, kisses my cheek and then sashays to the shiny Ford Model A, just panting at the curb for her.

Mr. James Windsor Whitehorn don’t never come ‘cross the tracks unless he come to pick up Mama for doing the town, like he say.

I know what you be doing, my eyes say whilst I wave them away into the night.

(There you go. Hey, I write only what my characters tell me to!)


Taking a minute to share my short story in the required maximum 700 word count, published in The Florida Writer, Summer 2014/Volume 8, Number 2.

The Flash Fiction genre seems to have a problem with its weight. I’ve seen requirements as slim as 50 words, and as obese as 1,000 words. And for short, nothing beats the one attributed to Hemingway: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

If you come up with one, let’s hear it!

A quick lesson: something like this can spark a longer story, a variation in setting, maybe a series of lessons learned by the characters involved.

So, here’s a middle-weight with a pretty good BMI. Enjoy!

IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
by Virginia Nygard

I strode through the sand and tufts of grass where jabbering neighbors clustered outside the white picket fence. The Cape cottage, white with green shutters, gleamed in the sun like a jewel. It looked no different than I remembered from childhood visits.

Trotting up the front steps, I flashed my badge at the young officer. “Where are they?”

“Upstairs, detective,” she said, pushing the door open.

I paused in the hall to rub the newel post as I had every time I visited here when we moved in next door—the year I started kindergarten. I jogged up the stairs thinking that nothing about Abe and Essie Pinkerton should surprise me. Not even this, but it did. They were known to be at home but not responding to neighbors’ calls. Someone finally phoned 911.

Growing up next door to the feisty Yankees, I’d learned much about life while observing their raucous relationship. It was probably part of the reason I waited until I was forty to get married—once I’d found the right girl.

Abe and Essie were oil and water. Each had firm opinions, often clearly and loudly enough expressed for Mom and Dad to understand through our kitchen window. Most of it I paid no attention to, but whenever Essie got to shouting about hussies, and Abe’s denials rose an octave higher, Mom shooed me off to my room. Hussies was the first word I looked up in the dictionary—when I learned how to use one.

Not blessed with children of their own, they doted on me. To my parents, I was always Daniel. To the Pinkertons, I was Danny-boy. When Essie baked sugar cookies, she knew I’d appear at their back door as soon as the scent tickled my nose. Eventually, I figured out I’d become their little flag of truce. Quiet reigned during cookie time with them. But when I shut the door on my way out, their voices escalated in a rowdy ruckus over kitchen cleanup.

Reaching the second floor, I spoke with the officer in charge and peered into the tiny bedroom where EMTs scuttled about and murmured. Only two figures were silent. One in the bed, and one in the rocking chair. The stench of decay owned the room.

Rocking, staring into space, Abe ignored the bustle around him. I’d lost touch with the two of them since my marriage, and this frail, vulnerable old man bore little resemblance to the wiry, tough Yankee I remembered.

“What happened, Abe?” I asked softly. His red-rimmed stare seemed to peel back the age that years had layered on my looks.

“Danny-boy. We’ve missed you.” He glanced at the bed. The EMTs zipped up the body bag containing Essie’s remains and removed it on a stretcher. He looked back at me with watery, sunken eyes. “Woke up a couple of days ago, and found her wide-eyed and stone cold.”

“I’m sorry, Abe.”

“Mm-hm. Me, too. Love never got lost in the bellowing, Danny-boy.” He focused on me again. “When I knew she’d passed, a sound worse than our blasted bickering swallowed me.” His eyes shimmered. “Silence. The only sound this old coot can’t live with, now Essie’s gone. It’s like the closing of my own coffin lid.”

I patted his shoulder. I didn’t have the heart to tell Abe I didn’t see silence that way. My wife was born deaf, and though she scolds me in sign language, whichever of us survives will always treasure the love that flourished in the sound of silence.
###