"There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder"
- Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, (1911 - 2004)
Flash Fiction are great writing exercises. Most calls for this format come by way of competitions, although you occasionally discover other opportunities. Remember, as a writer, pushing boundaries is what it's all about. All instances come with restrictions on what and how you can write. Sometimes, if you are lucky, it's just a word limit; however, sometimes there's more...
I recently entered an unusual writing competition with the story below (originally written in Spanish). The flash-fiction competition, run by a newspaper, called for an original tale of 150 words or fewer, not including the title, which had to include the name of the newspaper (2 words).
Writing a story in so few words, especially when my novels are 90,000+ words usually, was a challenge but, being me, I decided to use this opportunity to make things even more interesting. Writing in the first person Point of View is always complicated for any writer. Writing in the Present Tense as well, just adds to the difficulty. This is something that would be almost impossible to do in a full-length novel, but I thought the format imposed in this competition might allow the possibility, give me an opportunity to do something I've not done before, and be fun!
Once I had decided to write in this time-frame, the subject matter almost immediately presented itself.
This is the translation of my competition entry. It has a slightly longer word-count in English (154) and I have deliberately omitted the name of the newspaper.
The Sins of our Fathers
Smiling like a madman, I scribble the math formula in the margin of the newspaper’s front page, making my way to open the door. There she stood; thirtyish, thin and tense, holding a huge pistol. Pushing me inside, she talks, between sobs, of 2043; of how my radical new theory makes time travel a reality. It also brings weapons so powerful, war is inevitable; a cruel, vile war; only one million left alive… in the whole world. Then the war crime trials, and a sentence both pragmatic and severe. “This is madness!” I cry, “It’s all made-up!”
“You want proof? You’ll have your proof,” she says, her tears cascading upon her cheeks. In these last seconds, I hear “Good-bye, Dad”; I feel the hammer-blow of the bullet hitting my chest; I see my future daughter dissipate in the air; I hear the pistol fall to the floor. I die...
... and a new future unfolds.
This one was even more fun... and had even greater restrictions.
A fellow writer had the idea of compiling a book of Flash Fiction tales of 100 words or less which had to be inspired by music the writer likes to listen to when they write, ...and it had to be on YouTube!
I sent in the following:
1) Inspired by Eric Clapton’s 1992 version of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", an old Blues standard from Jimmy Cox, originally penned in 1923.
Title: Down, not out.
Rain sluicing down my neck. Soggy newspaper around my legs. The old coat, no longer warm. This is not my dream. Not too old to turn things around. That’s what I tell myself… every morning… as I down breakfast from the wine carton. Just need a little luck. Maybe find the gold that litters the sidewalk. Maybe. Meantime, can you spare some change for an old soldier. I maybe down, but I ain’t out.
2) Inspired by “Ain’t No Sunshine" the Bill Withers’ original from 1971.
Title: Dark Days.
The bed is a cold, vast space occupied, in one narrow strip, by my sadness. The door closed, not on her leaving, but on my life. Still don’t know why. She left; so did my smiles, my enthusiasm, my giving, my soul. These are dark days for the lonely. Even the dog doesn’t want to play anymore; just shows me her teeth. What did I do? What didn’t I do.
3) Inspired by Eric Clapton’s 1992 version of "Rollin’ and Tumblin’", from his ‘Unplugged’ album, originally a 1929, 12-bar Blues classic attributed to Hambone Willie Newbern. It really gets the juices flowing when I write an action scene. Only problem I have with it: it’s not long enough.
Title: Sleigh Ride.
Riding high above the wheels, her left foot tapping the rhythm as the guitar man pounds the blues from vibrant steel strings. Echoes of home in her mind. Thunder from the engine, counterpoint to the beat. The eighteen-wheeler transporting her to her daughter’s Christmas laughter. Tight hugs, doting clinches waiting at the end of the road. Presents on the seat beside her. Headlights fixed on a deer. Wheel wrench; crimson on the ice. Cargo and gifts strewn afar. Too fast; too late; too slow; no date.
As you can see, I am a fan of Eric Clapton, blues music and dark short fiction!
This one was even harder.
In the run up to Halloween, there was a Horror-themed writing event going on in Twitter. You had to write a tweet, using the hashtag #ST140, with a very short piece of horror flash fiction. Less than 140 characters! This is the one I did:
#ST140 Darkness. Stale air. Damp soil on the coffin. Pain. I feel pain! I’m alive! Help! No one hears… Buried!
Now if you've read Book 2 of the CULL the above may seem familiar - it was where I the inspiration for the opening chapter of Bloodstone was born - just goes to show how great trees from little acorns grow - 140 characters to a full length novel.
This has been a very busy year so I've not done much Flash Fiction writing - it takes much longer to write than to read, believe me.
This one was a competition entry too. The target was less than 100 words. This is 98 (whew!):
Title: The best laid plans…
“A noise, downstairs” Before she could reply, his legs swung from the bed. Carpeted stairs muffled his decent.
Imagination seeking to fill the void?
Little time, much to do. Reaching the front door, unlocking, swinging it open. Two steps outside, the stone waited. A crash of glass; entry established.
Back inside, at the desk, seeking the illegal gun bought weeks before. A robbery gone badly in the making.
A stranger levelled his weapon. A silenced shot.
The new widow stood at the top of the stairs as the killer left the house…
If you've read 'Facets', this may also be familiar. It just felt like a bigger story.
All fiction Copyright: Eric J. Gates, 2011, 2012 & 2013.