The idea is to write a story contained in a single page of writing. I've even seen exercises that ask for pieces of 50 words or fewer. It may seem that writing a short, short story would be easier than a long one. You just plop it down on the paper and be on your way. It's like that awesome book that 75% of the population knows is inside them if they could just get it down on paper, but without all that pesky getting it down on paper business. One page. Bam! You're done.
It's actually pretty difficult. It forces you to focus on a single scene, but instead of that scene playing into a larger whole, surrounded by and contributing to the overall context, the scene must be self-contained and yet still significant. You are critically limited in your choice of words and details, so it's a great exercise in editing and--if you're, ahem, prone to wordiness--concision.
Today's New Activity: Timed Fiction Writing Challenge
I haven't thought about flash fiction for some time. But as I mentioned last week, I'm looking to attend some more open mics and perhaps actually READ something at some point, and the sub-genre seems particularly suited for that sort of thing.
One main challenge is that I haven't written any fiction at all since I took a for-fun writing class a few years ago at De Anza College. I'm super rusty. What's more, I decided to time the exercise, which was the new part of the activity. This was mainly because I had only limited time before I had to pick my bro up from the airport and I wanted to ensure I wouldn't get distracted by Facebook and all the other internet time sucks.
The Challenge: 1 story, 1 page, 45 minutes.
Again, 45 minutes may seem like a decent amount of time in which to produce a single page of writing, but it's the editing that's the difficult part.
I ended up writing a story based on something related to me by a friend a few years back. I'd told her at the time that it made for a good short story (though not necessarily a great short, short, short story) and I'd considered writing that story at the time. But I wasn't writing at the time, so today was the day. I resisted posting it here because I don't think of myself as a fiction writer and it's scary to put stuff out there (!), but in keeping with new things:
Three days into their vacation, and finally recovered from Illinois-to-Hawaii jet lag, Lia was ready to do the sightseeing thing. She was ready to delve into all the activities she and Amber had ogled in the flier that got them interested in this vacation in the first place.
She may as well have been a hundred thousand miles from home—her first home in the suburbs of Addis Ababa. That was how far she felt, mentally, from the idea that she was actually here. Actually in the paradise she’d heard of in her youth. Actually on vacation with her girlfriend, her fiance to be precise…a real life woman, out here in public where all could see.
They walked from the beachside hut they’d rented to a larger hut midway down the beach from the ocean, where a retired former tech manager from California had set up shop renting snorkels and flippers and wakeboards.
“What do you wanna try first,” she asked Amber.
“I don’t know hon. I guess the snorkeling seems pretty cool.”
“We should rent one of those waterproof cameras, you know…so my family will believe me when I tell them about this.”
“Yeah,” said Amber, “we probably should.”
When the women were both flippered up and their bodies acclimated to the water, Lia took Amber by the hand, looked at her and smiled as they set out together skimming the surface of the water.
Lia was clumsy at first, struggling to swim smoothly and quickly enough to keep the snorkel’s air hole above water. At first she remained close to Amber’s side, but it wasn’t long before Amber, a former high school swimmer, was off and out of her underwater sight.
Lia stood up and took her mask off and watched as Amber glided off, further and further out into the water. It was 25 minutes before she returned to the shallows where Lia was now sitting, scooping the slushy sand up and letting it drift back down. She swam up, took off her mask with a shake of her short pixie hair and said, “Oof. Great idea hon. That was amazing.”
“Why’d you swim off so fast?” Lia asked.
“Oh,” said Amber with genuine surprise at the question. “I saw a really beautiful school of fish and I wanted to follow them. I got some great pictures too. Can’t wait to show ‘em to you!”
Lia thought of the pictures she’d had in mind to take, of each of them posing in front of rock formations, of the two of them smiling together, underwater. As quickly and as clearly and as sadly as any a thought had ever come to her mind, Lia was suddenly sure that this would never, ever work out.
The story was 459 words long and fit onto one page (once I'd done some minor margin editing). In the end I believe I stumbled into one of fiction writing's worst blunders...the tell-don't-show maneuver. The idea in writing good fiction (I'm told) is to let the story speak for itself in details and actions. You don't wanna beat your readers over the head with a lesson or a moral of the story; if the story is told well enough they will ideally arrive at conclusions on their own.
That, for me, is the biggest challenge in flash fiction. You have to communicate that there was a point to telling the story without saying "and here, dear reader, is the point of the story:"
Still, it was a fun exercise and it felt good to do any sort of writing outside of my daily blogging, which sometimes devolves into blaaaahging. And it made me think of hosting a flash fiction reading event. They often have themes but I'd start easy and make it a free-for-all. Be on the lookout for the Facebook event ;)