flash fiction made simple

 

Flash Fiction –
noun

very short works of fiction that are typically no longer than a couple of pages and may be as short as one paragraph.

 

Flash fiction is an incredibly clever and nuanced art, to tell a full story in so few words suggests a skill that I am yet to cultivate. It never really occurred to me that it was possible to do so but I am learning and it is working.

My first attempt may have started as a piece of flash fiction but the next thing I knew it had sprawled across most of a notebook and was pushing 10,000 words with fully-fledged characters and a couple of subplots… not so much a short story then.

But, I persevered and my second attempt was better, it ended up at only 5,000 words…

So I decided to read some other people’s attempts and see what advice they gave for writing flash fiction, it was an enlightening experience! Apparently flash fiction only needs a couple of characters, who knew? But after reading many (MANY!) different pieces of flash fiction, everything from a love story at a laundrette to a horror story about writer’s block, I decided to give it another go. And this time?

It worked.

1,000 words exactly (well… give or take a couple!).

This was a massive achievement, a complete plot in only 1,000 words? It’s such an incredibly clever way of writing as it relies so much on subtlety and reading between the lines at the rest of the novel the writer didn’t put into words. As it was (and is still, really) something I struggled with, I thought I would share my tips for writing flash fiction for beginners!

  1. CHOOSE YOUR GENRE
    • It’s important to choose one that you can fully do justice in less than 1,000 words, horror or romance work well but probably don’t attempt fantasy or a crime thriller because you just do not have words to flesh it out
    • This is something I struggled with as I usually write fantasy or thriller, it was an interesting experience for me – I chose romance, not something I write very often.
  2.  NO SUBPLOTS
    • Focus on the main story and don’t go off on a tangent for anything else, the plot is the single plot that tells the story, we don’t need to know anything extra.
    • Again, something I struggled with, as soon as I get an idea I want to write about it, develop that too, but that’s absolutely not viable in flash fiction, you have to limit yourself to one thing. I’m sure that this has also made my other writing more readable and less Victor Hugo-esque (the king of irrelevant tangents!).
  3. YOU ONLY NEED A COUPLE OF CHARACTERS
    • Seriously, be really strict with yourself, you need two – maybe three – characters and that’s it.
    • If you try and include too many characters you end up in subplot-heaven but flash fiction-hell.
    • I found that forcing my two main characters into a situation where they were alone was one of the only ways to stop me adding more characters and plot-points… either physically (broken lifts work well) or  emotionally (the middle of an argument perhaps).
  4. NARRATIVE VOICE
    • Go for either 1st person or 3rd person focalised.
    • Do not try to do 3rd person omniscient, there is always too much going on with too few words to do it all justice, it’ll just end up feeling messy and rushed (that’s what I’ve found anyway… maybe you’re all a lot better at it than I am!)
    • Just focus on the emotions of one character – 3rd person focalised still shows all of the action, it just shows it through the perspective of a single character.
    • Another interesting one to try is the ‘onlooker’ approach where your story is narrated (in either 1st or 3rd person) by an outsider not actually involved in the action which, whilst not the easiest to pull off, is a brilliant way of keeping the tangents to a minimum.
  5. THE END
    • Leave the ending ambiguous, leave the reader with a cliffhanger, end it on a question or a single action that makes everything clear.
    • Just because it’s short doesn’t mean that it has to have a clear end in 1,000 words, leave it open-ended, suggest that these characters have lives outside of your snapshot.

 

Here are a few ideas to help you get started! Good luck and if you do publish anything, drop them in the comments so I read them all! Because who doesn’t want a story you can read in ten minutes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“time is not a line”

I recently finished reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and something in it struck me. It is an incredibly well-written novel that is focused on a mental health ward in the late 1950s. It is upsetting, and in places horrifying, as it shows the awful ways in which people were treated and has a vivid description of the electro-shock therapy that they were given.

I think one of the most disturbing things about it is the characters’ acceptance of it, they see all of these things as simply ‘part of their lives’ and do nothing to change it until McMurphy turns up. This kind of apathy is what I found the most troubling.

But I don’t want to talk about mental health treatment in the 1950s, I want to talk about the way that Kesey plays with time in his novel. It occurs over a relatively short space of time, but it appears both a much longer yet also much shorter length of time. There are references to the ‘the next day’ or ‘the next morning’ but then it is said that McMurphy has been there for a week. The timing doesn’t seem to match up.

This is at least in part because of Nurse Ratched, who Kesey says has the ability to change the speed of the clocks on the ward either making a single day last for weeks or making a day consist of a single hour. The control that she has over time clearly affects the characters and therefore this could be the reason that the timeline is difficult to follow. Either, that she is manipulating time throughout the novel or that the changing time has affected our narrator in such a way that he struggles to comprehend how much time has actually passed.

 

Time is an interesting one and is often used in novels as a symbol or a plot device. One such novel is The Great Gatsby (which I adore) in which time plays a crucial role as both symbol and plot device. Jay Gatsby spends his life trying to ‘repeat the past’ and this is then symbolised by things such as the falling clock. Another example is Shakespeare’s Othello (if you are a Shakespeare fan, I wrote a post about it a short while ago, you can find it herewhere the long/short timeline is used in order to make the story work, there is the timeline that the play actually follows which is only a few days and the timeline that Iago appears to create which is much longer and more detailed.

There was a novel I read recently that used time in a different way. Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye is a story of woman looking back on her life. It begins with a short prologue regarding time which states that ‘time is not a line’ and that we look down through it ‘like water’. This idea is developed and explored throughout the novel in the way that the character – Elaine Risley – remembers different things at different times during the story and that memories are brought to the surface by specific events. The idea of time – and also in this case, memory – as something fluid brings up interesting thoughts about it’s consistency and perhaps the ways in which it can be manipulated.

I think that time is an extremely clever thing to use but that it can be difficult to use well… if done properly, however, it can really make you think about the way in which time affects your own life and maybe even how you can affect time.

Let me know what you think! Can you think of any other novels that use time?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Starter for Ten

Sometimes you just need to read something that is easy-going and enjoyable, without any horrible twists or difficult plot lines. A novel that doesn’t try to be anything more than it is, which is in essence what makes it so great. Something funny and simple with a happy ending and likeable characters.

And I have found the perfect one, it is a novel called Starter for Ten by David Nicholls. Now, I read One Day and didn’t enjoy it very much but this one caught my attention because it was about a nerdy guy that was pretty much socially inept, this caught my eye because I can relate to this on a spiritual level.

But joking aside, it was an enjoyable novel with a happy ending and I even managed to learn some things.

Three stars! (there are clearly going to be spoilers)

PLOT – 

The plot was simple and easy to follow. Young, socially inept ‘genius’ boy goes to university (surprisingly NOT Oxford or Cambridge!), meets some people, falls hopelessly in love with a girl guaranteed to break his heart, she – inevitably – does and the novel ends with him falling for the girl he should have chosen from the beginning. Very much a basic, happy-go-lucky rom-com. But sometimes, that is exactly what you need.

Luckily, Starter for Ten also has the added bonus of the University Challenge aspect as socially inept Brian Jackson joins the team for his university. The competition follows alongside the more mundane storyline and makes it way more interesting – you know, if one is interested in the inner workings of a University Challenge team.

The plot is not altogether predictable – the girl breaking his heart is completely inevitable but the rest of it is actually not as easy to guess.

(spoilers here!)

Continue reading “Book Review – Starter for Ten”

let’s talk about Shakespeare

Shakespeare is often written off by young people and adults alike as dull, long-winded and hard to understand. This is at least in part because we are forced to believe that Shakespeare is for the elite, the kind of people that read poetry for fun and carry books everywhere they go – I can mock, I am one of these people – but it was never meant to be that.

In Shakespeare’s time, the working classes options for entertainment were bear-baiting, drinking or the theatre. Not exactly the high-brow, middle class event it appears now. Seriously, if it is put on the same level as bear-baiting that should surely tell us something. And that something is that Shakespeare was meant to be enjoyed by the masses and that is something that I think we need to get back.

Let’s destroy this idea that Shakespeare is only for avid historians and bored school students. Shakespeare was a great writer but he was writing for the masses, not the elite.

If you actually go through his comedies you find that they are as packed full of innuendos, puns and ridiculous exchanges as many modern comedies. Some of it is straight-up slapstick. Even his tragedies have many an interesting line if one takes the time to appreciate it. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, for example, whose main purpose seems to be to make inappropriate jokes and then die. Even in his death scene does he manage a pun, that is not what I would call particularly ‘highbrow’!

The other mistake I think people make with Shakespeare is that they try to read it, this is most prominent in schools where Shakespeare is taught in seemingly endless English classes with no sense of the passion and enjoyment that it should have. If you’re lucky you might get to watch the film version, but even that is pure chance – and not necessarily any better. If we insist on teaching Shakespeare in English then we need to teach it as it is supposed to be!

Through performance!

Shakespeare wrote plays to be enjoyed not poured over with a magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb. Thus, you will learn more about Shakespeare sitting in a theatre and simply appreciating the acting than you ever will sitting in a classroom.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t study Shakespeare, because his plays truly are works of genius that deserve to be appreciated, just that I feel like it needs to be studied in a different way in order to make the most of these incredible pieces of literature and to get rid of this idea of Shakespeare being high-brow.

Because I, for one, don’t think he would appreciate it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Applicant

First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,
Stitches to show something’s missing? No, no? Then
How can we give you a thing?
Stop crying.
Open your hand.
Empty? Empty. Here is a hand
To fill it and willing
To bring teacups and roll away headaches
And do whatever you tell it.
Will you marry it?
It is guaranteed
To thumb shut your eyes at the end
And dissolve of sorrow.
We make new stock from the salt.
I notice you are stark naked.
How about this suit——
Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
Will you marry it?
It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
Against fire and bombs through the roof.
Believe me, they’ll bury you in it.
Now your head, excuse me, is empty.
I have the ticket for that.
Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
Well, what do you think of that?
Naked as paper to start
But in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,
In fifty, gold.
A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.
 
It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
You have a hole, it’s a poultice.
You have an eye, it’s an image.
My boy, it’s your last resort.
Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.

I adore Sylvia Plath’s poetry but I think that The Applicant is probably my favourite.  It’s a poem that talks about the roles of men and women in the late 50s and early 60s. It is not the only poem of its kind, however I think that it is possibly the best, everything is presented in a frank, slightly humourous manner with a real underlying sense of wrongness.
The poem is mainly focused on marriage and yet appears as an interview, this suggests the falseness of marriage and also introduces the idea that it is simply a transaction, a theme that runs throughout the poem. One of the ways in which this is made more effective is by the use of the direct address with ‘you’ – this puts the reader into the position of the applicant regardless of age, gender or time of reception (even read now, 50 years later, it still holds the same sense of wrongness and we no longer live in the world that Plath inhabited). The poem begins with the questions about the applicant’s physical health, this could be linked to the idea that a woman’s role was seen as the mother, these questions regarding the physical workings of her body examine that – ‘Do you wear… Rubber breasts…’, the reference to ‘breasts’ and then later in the same line ‘crotch’  add to the idea that a woman’s job was to have children.
The idea of marriage simply being a transaction is also explored in the fifth stanza (though it begins in the fourth) with the phrase ‘Will you marry it?’ being used, not in regards to a person but instead to a sale of a suit. The suit could be seen as a metaphor for marriage, it is said to be ‘stiff’ and ‘not a bad fit’ this links to the idea of marriage being the expected norm of the time, that regardless of whether or not the suit fits, it is the one that they will ‘‘bury you’ in. It is the one that you – as the reader and the applicant – are expected to wear forever.
Again, the idea of it being a sale is repeated in the sixth and seventh stanza with the references to ‘paper’, to ‘silver’ and then to ‘gold’. These are actually references to the anniversaries that marriages go through but the way it is presented suggests that marriage is simply an investment, one gets a product  – in this case, a wife – early and then in time the value of it increases. Not a particularly romantic or happy image to portray, but sadly the truth for so many people at the time.
I find that the most difficult part to read is the part about the things that the woman will be expected to do. Not because of the hugely gendered roles, but instead for the use of ‘it’. ‘It can sew, it can cook’. This is dehumanisation at its finest. A woman is reduced to nothing more that the physical actions that she can perform, and she is not even given a name… or even a proper pronoun. It is the word that we use to describe objects, ‘it’, this could be Plath using a single simple word to show the objectification of women. They are nothing more than ‘it’, they are nothing more than an inanimate object for a man to invest in.
It looks positively on neither men nor women. Men are suggested to be cold and calculating, worried only by money and whether or not the applicant is aesthetically pleasing. Women, passive and weak, a mother waiting for a child and a vessel waiting for a man.
This is by no means a full analysis of the poem but I feel that I gave explored the main points that I feel are the most important. This post is a little different to the others, so if you liked this then let me know and I’ll do a few more like this!

always my favourite series

I have always loved Harry Potter, I read the first three with my parents at a very young age and then aged eleven, I read them for myself again. Slightly later than a lot of people but clearly the perfect time to do so. I read them all in less than month and then two months later, read them all again. I then devoured anything linked to it, reading the Tales of Beedle the Bard, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch through the Ages. I bought the Cursed Child on the day of release and read it in a day. Harry Potter was – and is – a massive part of my life and a major reason for that is because of the messages they hold.

You could simply dismiss them as children’s books and leave it at that but in doing that, you miss out on some crucial lessons and an incredible world. The Wizarding world is widespread and encompasses more than simply Hogwarts and Diagon Alley. If the new Fantastic Beasts film has taught us anything, it is that the Wizarding world stretches across time and cultures, each being slightly different but all as wonderful as each other.

It was watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them that inspired my to write about Harry Potter. I felt that because they can be easily dismissed as children’s books that they weren’t books that I could write about but I was so wrong and watching Fantastic Beasts reminded me why.

Fantastic Beasts reminded me of the wonderful world that JK Rowling created and all of the parts that sit in the background and make it all work. The way that she can develop and add to it so easily because she made a world that blends so seamlessly with our own. The plot of the main storyline were the perfect basis for the events in Fantastic Beasts and the events of Fantastic Beasts are the perfect complement to unanswered questions in the original novels. The American Wizarding World appeared so effortless, as if it just had to be different in the exact ways that it was and illustrated how in-tune Rowling still is with the world she created.

And don’t even get me started on the characters! Newt was the exact scatter-brained, animal-loving guy that I feel came across so brilliantly in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them book that Rowling released for Comic Relief and Tina and Queenie were honestly incredible. I love strong female characters and Tina fits into that idea, she’s not perfect but she is amazing, she fights for what she believes, damn the consequences (even if to start with this only seems to get herself and Newt in trouble!) and Queenie is sweet but strong, the ultimate combination. Jacob was a sweetheart and I fell completely in love with him from the very beginning.

I also loved the way that it left the storyline so open and ready for the next four films, I was a bit uncertain about that to begin with. Five films based on Fantastic Beasts? Sounded impossible but then I saw more information about what the films were going to cover and I came around to the idea more. Credence was amazing, the obscurial idea was amazing and Grindelwald was so much more than amazing!

This all shows that JK Rowling isn’t done yet and neither is the Wizarding World and I, for one, can’t wait!

I loved the film and can’t wait until I can read the screenplay! (hopefully I’ll have it by the New Year! Fingers crossed for Christmas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

all seven-year-olds deserve superheroes

(there will be spoilers)

 

The title of this one is a lovely quote from a wonderful novel that I recently finished called ‘MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS & apologises’ by Fredrick Backman. It is the perfect novel for a book lover because the entire premise is about the power of words and stories and the way that they affect our lives so magnificently.

It starts with a little girl, Elsa, talking about her grandmother and all of the amazing things about her. But the main basis of the story is Elsa completing some quests for her grandmother after her death. These mostly include delivering letters to the people that live in their building.

The important part though is that each of the people corresponds with one of the characters in Elsa and her grandmother’s imaginary world of the Land-Of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. The interweaving of reality and fiction throughout the novel works perfectly and is only improved by the lovable characters. My favourite has to be Elsa the seven (nearly eight) year old that is the protagonist but the crotchety, taxi driver Alf is a very close second.

A sweet lovely read that perfectly blends the two worlds and teaches even older readers important messages about friendship and the influence that adults have on young children.

Anyone who is a fan of fantasy, fairytales, mystery or even stories should give this book a chance because I can guarantee that you will fall utterly in love with these amazing characters and the wonderful storyline.

Because really, all seven-year-olds deserve superheroes.