Flash, Errrrm… and – It’s National Short Story Week!

It’s National Short Story Week. Nearly over… I can recommend Kathleen Jones’ blog on the subject of the short story. National Short Story Week: Last Days, Lost Ways.

To celebrate the week, I have been playing with some flash fiction. It’s one way of writing five short stories in a few days.  Flash is something I have not much explored, but seems to offer the chance of a short, sharp word work-out for a word-weary writer. Erm, indeed…

Flash stories perhaps have a hundred words, or fewer. Sometimes just a handful.  There are various definitions.  Despite the shortness, there must be some kind of narrative arc.  I won’t say ‘beginning, middle and end’ as we are ploddingly taught in school, but some recognisable movement, some foregrounding, some sense of resolution. The language has to work overtime. It is a great exercise in story craft.

For better, or for worse, I have had a go at some 100 word flash. My first offering follows a traditional story format, told rather as an anecdote, using conservative language – no verbal fireworks.  A loss, a chance encounter, and someone gets his comeuppance.  Although it is a very conventional approach – no tricksy tropes –  I will make a remark about the naming, as a name is a shortcut.   I originally had my protagonist as an unnamed woman, on the basis she could be anyone. However, I wanted my reader to feel some sympathy for her, so called her Sarah. Not Aurelia, nor Boadicea, nor Agnes nor Pamela. These are obviously very distinctive names. You could argue that ‘Sarah’ has strong resonances too, but I chose it as it is a common name in the social context of the story, almost – but not quite – invisible, but it reins in the story a little and gives a subconscious placement. Feel free to disagree. I could, perhaps, have used ‘Ann’, or ‘Jane’. But these are almost generic female names, maybe too indistinct. The man in my story I have not named, as Sarah rubs him out in the end. Oops – a spoiler!

 

Consolation

Sarah’s boyfriend dumped her for a more successful woman, more his style.

To console herself, Sarah bought a handbag costing more than she earned in a fortnight.

Broke, she walked to work. Passing a smart-looking agency, she noticed they were hiring. Shouldering her smart new bag, she walked in and got hired.

A year later, Sarah went to a bar with her smart new colleagues. By then, she could afford new clothes, and another new bag. Her old boyfriend was there, drinking alone.

‘Good to see you,’ he said. ‘You look great.’

‘Do I know you?’ she replied.

 

*****

I have put some asterisks underneath, so that you know it is the end of the story… It doesn’t exactly knock your socks off. But the idea can be developed. One idea is to give it a theme. And since we are approaching Christmas, I’ll give it a festive spin. A theme is another way of framing a story and setting up a reader’s expectations. It can also liven things up.

 

Consolation

Sarah’s boyfriend dumped her for a flashy woman he met at a Christmas party. To console herself, Sarah bought a designer handbag in the January sales, but it still cost more than she earned in a fortnight.

Broke, she walked to work. Passing an advertising agency, she noticed they were hiring. Shouldering her new bag, she walked in and got hired for more money.

The following Christmas, Sarah went to a smart party.  She wore an elegant dress, and had another new bag. Her old boyfriend was there, standing alone.

‘You look great,’ he said.

‘Do I know you?’ she replied.

*****

The story  has been made more concrete by the theme. It is less of an anecdote. The nuance has shifted from ‘success’ to ‘style’ – flash to elegance.  A few words altered and a story morphs. Anyone who has edited a long piece will know this can propagate a big crack in the fiction! However, in a little story like this, a single word out of place will stick out like a sore thumb.

I have not been very adventurous with language in either of these stories. I have also kept my distance from the character, which allows me to do a grand sketch and move on freely. But it is all  rather dull.

The bag is a means to an end. It could have been something more exciting, like a tattoo, a nose job, a motorbike. Or I could have found a killer punchline for Sarah. Maybe I’ll try it. Here is a version where the girl gets a bit of a makeover, but it ends rather differently:

Consolation

Kevin left Cazzie for Katie. Cazzie wept for a day, pulled herself together and went shopping. She bought a new dress. Cazzie walked back, past the beauty salon where Katie worked. She made an appointment.

‘I want to look like you,’ she said to Katie.

Afterwards, Cazzie took a selfie and posted it on Facebook. She got 20 ‘likes’ and a handsome guy she sort of knew asked her out. She wore the dress.

On another date, Cazzie saw Katie, standing alone at the bar. She wore the same dress that Cazzie had bought.

Guess what happened next?

*****

Now, let’s change the situation to something more edgy, and see what happens.

 

Headlights

Left by the roadside at night after the argument with her boyfriend, Mandy hitched back to the city.

The driver said she was foolish to hitch. It was dangerous to leave a vulnerable girl by the roadside at midnight. Headlights washed over his face. She thought he smiled at her. She didn’t feel quite OK with that.

‘Leave me at the next town, I’ve friends there.’

Headlights flickered on his face. She saw he smiled, but not at her.

‘Let me out.’

‘This is a very dark stretch of road. ’

There were no more headlights.

*****

This little story also works in the first person present – I think I prefer it:

Headlights

She stands alone by the roadside after the argument, holding up her hands to the dazzle of headlights.  A car stops. She gets in.

The driver says she is foolish to hitch. It is dangerous for a vulnerable girl at night. Headlights wash over his face. There is something crooked about his face. She thinks he smiles at her. She doesn’t feel quite OK with that.

‘Leave me at the next town, I’ve friends there.’

Headlights flicker on his face. He smiles, but not at her.

‘Let me out.’

‘This is a very dark stretch of road. ’

It is a very dark stretch of road.

*****

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Flash, Errrrm… and – It’s National Short Story Week!

  1. I love flash fiction, and the challenge of writing memorable complete stories within a tiny wordcount. What fun to share the evolution of your stories above, which demonstrate clearly how powerful subtle so few words can be.

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