Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The 'Flash' of Inspiration

I had a difficult time getting much work done last week after my 8-year-old broke his big toe. By Friday, I was fried and practically jumped for joy when I scored a rare tandem nap for my baby and 4-year-old. I had two precious, completely quiet hours to use any way I wanted. I had a list of potential clients to contact, 8 loads of clean laundry to fold, and an empty bed that begged to be napped in, but I decided instead to take a shot at writing a "flash fiction" story.

If you're unfamiliar with flash fiction, it is basically a very short story -- usually around 1,000 words or less. The idea is to write a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. A very famous example would be this six-word work by Ernest Hemingway:

"For sale: baby shoes. Never worn."

Not to knock Hemingway, but most of the flash stories I've read seemed more like they should be scenes from a larger work. The few I've seen that read like "complete" stories varied wildly as far as how satisfying I found them to be. But as a writer, with so much competing for my time, the idea of a small project that maybemightpossibly be finished quickly was appealing. And, weirdo that I am, the challenge of writing in so few words sounded like fun.

I decided my story would be about -- drumroll please -- a woman deciding what skirt to wear to a job interview. Zzzz. Snore. (I'll be the first to admit it falls way short on The Excitement-ometer.) To avoid the trap of writing a scene, and not a story, I knew I had to be able to clearly state what she wanted at the beginning of the story, and if she got it at the end. But to do that --, and without a clear idea of who this character was -- I zeroed in on what led to her decision to wear that skirt for this interview. I focused on her emotions -- how wearing the skirt made her feel versus another wardrobe option -- and tapped into my inner Carrie Bradshaw describing the details of the clothing. I enjoyed writing it, and discovered that by taking such a tiny moment and magnifying it, I got to know a great deal about the character, Annabelle, and -- in the process -- located my story's beginning and end.

I finished the story (and after some editing, in under 1,000 words -- Snoopy Dance Time!). But after getting to know Annabelle, I felt inspired, and wanted to know more. Does she get the job? What happens with the boss? What happens with her family? And her kids? I can easily see way more (and more interesting) story beyond the skirt. This story could easily become a short scene in a larger, longer story -- a story that never would have been inspired if I had not written the flash.

I'll definitely be writing more flash in the future -- for fun, for the challenge, and for the inspiration that comes with it. Or to sum up in six words:

Write flash stories, then write more.

1 comment:

  1. Challenging. I am sitting here (at 3:30 am) racking my brain for a decent one sentence/1000 word story.

    31 words, not sure it has the B/M/E:

    "She sat on the edge of the divan in the balcony, icy cosmo in her right hand; making sure not to block her left eye's view of the burlesque show below."