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I recently came across a thread somewhere on the internets that lead me to a new book – The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field
by Tara L Masih
There’s a rather long introduction all about the history of flash fiction, which, although interesting, I ended up skipping most of so I could get to the real reason for purchasing the book. The exercises!
Each chapter is written by a different person (author, editor, teacher etc) and has an exercise in writing flash fiction with a finished example. Today’s Flash Fiction Friday post is from the first chapter example by Pamela Painter, called “He said, she said.” I’m already going to say I recommend this book for the insight this first chapters has given me into the writers craft and the importance of doing exercises.
And her is my first attempt at this exercise…
The Pet Shop Debate
He said: Dog person, I bet he wants a dog.
She said: Hmm, but she’s defiantly more into cats I think.
He said: I wonder who’s going to compromise?
She said: They could always try something different, something neither of them considered before.
He said: Nah, I can’t see this guy settling happily for a fish or a hamster, he’s heart is set on a dog.
She said: Oh, but look how happy she is cuddling the persian, they look so right for each other.
He said: Bet you he wont even touch the cat, look how he’s edging towards the puppies.
She said: He could at least try.
He said: How do you know he hasn’t?
She said: Because most men think that “trying” means thinking about it for five minutes and not actually putting the effort in to make it work.
He said: And women think it means the man should just put aside what he really feels and let her have her way, again.
She said: She’s probably going to be the one who does all the work for the damn pet, so it only stands to reason that they get something she’s willing to care for.
He said: Sure, sure. Maybe if the guy, for once, got his way, he would put in more of an effort.
She said: Maybe if the guy really knew what he wanted, he’d put in the effort.
He said: He looks like he knows what he wants to me, he just doesn’t know how to tell her. It’s not his fault he can see they want different things and compromising isn’t going to work anymore.
She said: It would make her so happy if he wanted the same things as her.
He said: It’s not his fault he doesn’t feel the same way, the heart wants, what the heart wants, you know?
She said: Yeah, I know. He’s going to leave her, isn’t he?
He said: He doesn’t want to, but he thinks its best for both of them.
She said: She knows. She just not ready to stop trying, and, if it didn’t work, at least she wouldn’t be all alone.
He said: I get that, but it wouldn’t be fair to them or the pet if they split later. They should accept how it is and move on before they complicate things further.
She said: I think she knows that, she just wants something to remember him by, when he’s gone.
He said: He’ll never leave her totally, he still loves her, he’s just not ‘in love’ with her anymore.
She said: I’m taking my lunch early, you close up okay?
He said: Okay, sorry.
I was going to write a post about how I really had no excuse for not having written anything this week, how I’ve totally failed my first week of Camp NaNo July and blah blah whine whine. Then, I thought, ‘no, I’ll see if I can find a random word generator and use it to get a bunch of words and actually write something’. Only to discover something even cooler, and creative procrastination fun.
It’s a website called Creativity Games.net. On Monday’s they release a new game where you play along by leaving a comment for that days game. So this week it was The Heaviest. They give you three random words and you have to explain which and why one of them is heavier then the others and you can’t use the same word as the comment before yours. The week before was A Murder Mystery.
They do actually have a random word generator too, with some cool features I’m yet to fully explore, I kind got distracted with the rest of the site.
On Wednesday’s they post resources for honing your creative skills. The last one was using CodeBreaker to predict ability. Now, this brings us to Fridays on their blog, Creative Challenges day. They use hieroglyphs and you have to guess what the object is. This week it was an animal you might find at the zoo. I’m not sure that I’m so interested in this part of the site, but the rest is awesome and I think I might dedicate the rest of July (shhh, don’t mention Camp NaNo) to Creativity Games.net.
I’ll try to do their Monday and Wednesday challenges but Friday I might use the generator or their prompts tool instead of the hieroglyphs. That’s if I can manage to organise my life so that I can fit in all my current projects. Meep!
Anyways, go check out the website and have some creative writing fun.
It had been my intention this month to work on character development. I had a plan that would start with building a character sheet on Monday. Then I was going to write a letter from that character on Wednesday (why? I have no idea any more) and I was going to conclude that character’s contribution with a flash piece based on that character.
Well, I’m not going to do that now. Basically because last week and the first half of this week were, shall we say, compromised. So instead I’m going to just attempt to write a flash piece based on the follow prompts I gave to my Scribophile group – “The Projects”
The line: “I have no idea.”
The object: A pencil sharpener
My parents had split and the house was being sold. The upstairs bedrooms were still crammed with the belongings of my little sister Laura, now 25, and my own, now 28. You walked into those rooms, and it was like we had never left. Posters of hockey stars, my own artwork, flags and other bits of flotsam-and-jetsam littered the walls. Faded a little, but otherwise just exactly how I’d left them when I moved out ten years ago.
The bookshelves were a little bearer then when I’d occupied the room, I’d taken the best pics with me, leaving school text books and rubbish novels I’d never even finished. The desk under the window had draws packed full of stationary, trading cards, gum wrappers and who knows what else.
It was when I pulled open the bottom draw that I found it. A pink pencil sharpener in the shape of a butterfly.
“Whose is that?” Laura asked, leaning over my shoulder.
“It was a gift.”
“Who gives a guy a pink pencil sharpener, who gives anyone a pencil sharpener? Lame.”
“It wasn’t for me. It was from me. It meant something deep at the time.”
“Who was it for?”
“Just a girl I liked, you wouldn’t know her. Man, she was an amazing artist.” I walked over to the bookshelf, memories stirring. On the top shelf was an oversize atlas, the big A3, hardcopy type that nobody bothers to crack open now we have Google Earth at our fingertips.
Inside the heavy covers I found two images I hadn’t thought about in years. Both were city landscapes. The first was of a city in devastation. Giant waves crashed against buildings, trees bent in the wind or were scattered across roads. Like a hurricane had ripped the place apart, I’d drawn that one. The second picture was of a pristine city. Two thirds of the page was dominated by the cityscape, but in the left hand side of the image, where the sky was blank, floated an iridescent butterfly. Our prompt had been “chaos”.
“Those are very cool. Can I have them?”
I closed the cover of the atlas, sealing them away again.
“Not on your life.”
“What happened to her?”
I shrugged, “I have no idea.”
“Did you have a lovers tiff?”
“No, we never got that far. I was going to ask her out. We heard the ambulance during math but didn’t think much about it. When I got to art next period, she wasn’t there. Mr Higgins said she’d collapsed in PE. A few weeks passed and she didn’t show up. I heard a rumour that she had cancer or leukaemia or something and they moved to the city, to be closer to the children’s hospital.”
“Did you try calling her?”
“Didn’t have her contact details. We’d only started talking that term, when we were assigned as partners for our term project.”
“So that’s it, you just never saw her again?”
“You need closure. Google her.” I looked at my little sister dumbfounded and smiled, feeling a weight lifting that I’d never realised was there.
She stared at the envelope on the desk in front of her. Picking it up she held it towards the light streaming in through the open window. She tried to peek at the results through the paper, as if that would change something, make it less permanent, a less certain calculation then if she were to draw out the sheet of paper inside and read the black printed result.
She laughed at the whole Schrödinger’s cat metaphor that popped into her head, uncertain if she even had the analogy straight. Logically, she knew that opening the letter, reading its contents, knowing the truth, wasn’t going to alter it in anyway. Thousands of people around the world had set about trying to alter their fate after reading their predictions. Many of them realising too late, that by doing so, they had actually brought about the inevitable conclusion of their life.
When the machine of death spat out that prediction, you couldn’t change it. That was how and when you would die. End of story. Your final day etched in ink.
She could open the envelope, find out that she would die today or in seventy years from now. Find out that she would die peacefully in her sleep or be chopped up by a wood chipper next week. Knowing wasn’t going to change it. She wasn’t obsessed with wether or not she could change the outcome. What worried her was how knowing would change her. Would it alter the way she lived her life? How she felt about, well, everything? Would it make her a better or worse person?
She had run the scenarios in her head. Knowledge of a long life made her wonder about becoming complacent about living, knowing that she was going to have years upon years could result in her not actually living her life to the fullest, always putting things off. She hoped that it might mean she’d plan for that long life. Work hard, invest well and set herself up to really enjoy the years. Knowing she was going to have a short life might mean she really lived her life, did the whole ‘bucket list’ shtick. Or, maybe she’d end up spending those last days like so many others, desperately trying to figure out how to cheat fate only to waste the time she had left.
Endless possibilities, life and death sealed in an envelope at her finger tips.
Her phone rang as she continued to stare at the opaque white rectangle, she answered it.
“Hey aunty Lee, wanna come to the zoo today?” The voice of her five year old nephew chirped out of the phone, causing her to smile, the envelope forgotten in her hand.
“Sure pip-squeak, I’ll even buy you some fairy-floss.”
She threw the letter into the rubbish bin waiting on the roadside to be collected, before climbing into her car. It didn’t matter ‘how’ or ‘when’ she decided, what mattered was ‘right now’.
The original concept for The Machine of Death stories came from here. This machine only told you the manner in which you would die, cancer, chocking, poison etc, not when, I altered it for the purposes of my story. I’ve also just discovered that the anthology of other Machine of Death stories is now available free as both a PDF and Audio format, released under a Creative Commons Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 license download them peoples and have a read, I know I will now that I’ve written my own flash piece.
Her lip was split, right arm almost definitely broken, and her body generally battered and bruised. Mud, leaves, grass and twigs cackled one side if her head where she had slid along the ground a few paces before finally stopping, face down in the dirt of the meadow.
The stallion snorted, tossing his head and poring the ground with his hoof, looking rather pleased with himself.
The morning had started off beautifully. The new horses had arrived the previous evening, and everyone was excited to see them. Not even the threatening grey clouds heading across the hills could dissuade the whole family from coming out to the stables to ogle.
The stallion had looked so magnificent towering over everything. With his sleek midnight coat and long mane flowing down that silky neck. She ached to slid her hand across those thick muscles. He was by far the most beautiful horse she had ever seen.
“I’ll have him.” She’d told her father, green eyes shining with desire. He laughed, as though she’d told him a good joke.
“He’s too much beast for even you my girl. No, that ones not for riding, all fire and no brains he is. But, he’ll make a fine enough sire.”
He really should have known better, nobody told her, she couldn’t handle something, wasn’t big enough, strong enough or even smart enough. Not unless they wanted to see her try.
Brushing herself off as best she could one handed, she regained a small measure of composure. Gritting her teeth against the throbbing pain in her right arm, she walked calmly over to the beast that had taken it upon himself to teach her to fly. Forcing herself to remain calm and in control, careful not to show the damned animal any measure of fear, she took hold of the dangling reins with her left hand. The manor house was about an hours walk away. Resolutely she focused on placing one foot in front of the other, wincing as the movement caused her body to point out all its badges of ill treatment experienced upon it today. One foot, no fear, one foot, no fear. She repeated the mantra over and over again as she walked. Flatly refusing to think about how her parents would react when they saw her.
No, what would be worse, far worse then her injuries or the riotous anger from her father, would be that look of worry and fear in the princes eyes when he saw her. The one that would stare at her unspoken. She had the right to test herself however she saw fit, that didn’t mean he had to like it, but he would never say so. Never let anyone think he disapproved of her in any way, never go out of his way to bring her to task for her stupidity. But it would all be there, in his eyes, in the stollen embrace that evening, in the way he would kiss her ever so gently like a piece of fine porcelain he expected to crumble at his touch.
Damn him, damn the horse and damn her own stubborn stupidity, she kicked at the ground with the toe of a riding boot, hitting a buried rock and regretted the abuse as a new pain surged through her foot. The rain began to fall in earnest.
“Ahh, right then, hello. I am… well, actually I don’t know exactly who I am. Which, I guess means I can be anyone I want to be really. If you could be anyone you wanted, who would you be?” Kaitlin’s eyes followed the strange man as he rushed around the room, babbling. She corrected herself, substituting ‘strange’ for ‘crazy’ inside her mind.
“I’m not sure,” she answered finally, the skin between her eyes furrowed, something she did often enough that, at the age of eighteen, she already had permanent wrinkles lines etched into the skin.
“Me either,” he stopped suddenly in front of her, arms akimbo, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “We could find out, together I mean.”
“I’m afraid I can’t go anywhere just now.” Kaitlin gestured to the machine behind her, tubes and wires spread out from it like thick spider webs attaching to various points on her head, arms and torso.
“Oh, right.” The man sucked his lower lip as his eyes flicked quickly between the machine and her body, as though he was trying to work out how he could get around it all. “Ah, I think I can take care of that, yes, yes I can.”
“No! Stop, don’t touch anything.” Her voice on the verge of hysterical, her eyes large with alarm she shook frantically shook her hand in front of the little man.
The man froze, for the first time since he had appeared in her room, he moved not a single bit. Even his chest seemed to stop rising and falling, as though he had stopped breathing, when his face started to turn red she realised he really had stopped breathing.
“Breathe you idiot.” He sucked in air loudly, but made no further advancement towards her. “Why are you here?”
“Where else would I be?”
“In a mental asylum?”
“Why on earth would I want to be in one of those? Terribly depressing places, and they also haven’t existed for around 453 years, give or take.”
“I think they should bring one back, just for you.” The cheshire grin split his face once more.
“You know, you might be right about that. Still, I can help you.”
“Nobody can help me. Especially not someone who doesn’t even know his own name.” She sank back into the pillows, her gaze sliding off the little man to stare blankly out the window. “I’m dying you know. If I’m being honest, the truth is that I’m dead already. If they turned off all these machines, I’d just stop, like a clockwork doll that’s wound down.”
“You’re right, I don’t know my name, or who I am, but I do know I can help you.” Kaitlin turned away from the window, a strand of chestnut hair falling limply over her shoulder. She could never decide if her hair made her face look pale or if her pale face made her hair look darker. She couldn’t remember how any of it had looked before the accident. She had been stuck in this room, in this bed for almost a year now. Her parents poured money into the machines that kept her ‘alive’ but they hardly visited anymore, she never saw any of her friends either. Of course they had all called and visited in the early days, once the machines had revived her to a conscious state again. But as the weeks and months passed, they all got on with their lives. Nobody wanted to be stuck at the bedside of someone that wasn’t really alive, who couldn’t venture out beyond the confines of her bed to share in their adventures.
She’d turned off the link following their social buzz just as soon as they had stopped visiting. It had taken just weeks for her past connections to cease their existence. If she had siblings they might have visited her still, but she was an only child of two busy parents. Parents who had to work even harder so they could afford to run all the bells and whistles inside these four walls.
“How can you possibly help me when all the money and science in the world can only keep me in this bed, breathing, thinking, seeing but not living. How did you even get up here?”
He chose to ignore her last question, he didn’t really have an answer for it anyway, all he knew was that he was here and so was she, and he could help her.
“I can take care of you.”
“Are you here to kill me?” Kaitlin felt a little regret at seeing the horror suffuse his features at her words. For a moment she had actually liked the idea of him bringing her death, release from the monotony. She watched him edge closer to the bed, small mincing steps, like he really wanted to jump to her bedside but was desperately trying to control his enthusiasm. She didn’t stop him this time.
He had looked taller from further away, standing beside her he appeared to be no more then chest height, if she had been standing. His eyes were round, like he was permanently in awe of whatever he was seeing, the pupils were passive green, gentle, soothing eyes. She fell into their depths, seeing nothing but the soft, reassuring world within his face. A cool hand pressed against her brow, but she ignored it, lost in the swirling mist that began to surround her.
Slowly the mist began to clear, Kaitlin took a step forward, her toes sinking into the verdant expanse of grass beneath her feet. The sun cleared its way from behind a cloud and she lifted her chin, allowing the warmth to fill her completely. Her next step disturbed a flock of butterflies that rose up around her in their dozens, their soft wings tickling her skin before they flew off to find a new resting place.
“Shall we find out who we are then?” The caretaker asked, appearing beside her to slip his tiny hand into hers.