Kathy Fish has been writing, teaching, and editing flash fiction for over 20 years. She has published five collections of short fiction, most recently Wild Life: Collected Works from 2003-2018. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Copper Nickel, Washington Square Review, and numerous other journals, textbooks, and anthologies. Fish’s widely anthologized “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild,” was selected for Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018 and the current edition of The Norton Reader. She is the recipient of a Ragdale Foundation Fellowship and a Copper Nickel Editors’ Prize. Her free monthly newsletter, The Art of Flash Fiction, includes a craft article and writing prompt. Subscribe at artofflashfiction.com .
Let’s feel the power today, friends! I don’t know about you, but I could use a Super Hero right now. To that end, I want you to consider… this sheep:
“This sheep escaped a farm and spent 6 years in the mountains, during which time he grew 60 pounds of wool. Wolves tried to eat him, but their teeth could not penetrate the floof. You don’t have to turn hard to survive the wolves, just be really, really soft and fluffy.”
Your prompt for today:
Create a character who has an UNEXPECTED skill/quality/feature that makes him or her or it INVINCIBLE. Your flash can be funny or absurd or terrifying or dramatic, but create a sort of Unexpected Super Hero and set up some obstacles for them. Let them slay dragons (or pandemics). Pit them up against adversity and let them show us what they’re made of (even if it’s floof)!
Bonus points if your Super Hero is an animal because animals rock!Go forth and write!
How are you feeling today? Maybe you feel like I do: Anxious, fraught with unease and uncertainty. It’s a feeling we normally seek to escape, right? Today I’m asking you to lean into your uncertainty and use it in your writing.
Your prompt then is this:
Maybe have a bit of fun with the rarely used omniscient POV. Adopt an odd all-seeing voice perhaps. Then give us a character who is mired in uncertainty. Shit’s about to go down, either dramatically or more subtly. The uncertainty will be deeply uncomfortable for your character, but deliciously compelling for your reader. Your first line should go something like this:
“[Character name] doesn’t know [about the thing that’s about to happen to the world or to herself]…”
Take it from there. Go where the writing takes you. Set off without a map or compass or plan. Lean into uncertainty in today’s practice..
Choreographer Twyla Tharp in her book, The Creative Habit, encourages creatives to keep a journal of the things we see (hear, taste, smell, etc.), especially when they are juxtaposed in interesting ways that draw our attention, be they intentional or accidental.
It’s tremendously useful to keep a journal of the things that particularly draw your attention in your daily life. Maybe the idea of writing lots and lots of pages of your inner workings every day doesn’t appeal. But you can jot things down. And when you’re stuck, go back and look at them again. I have these odd notes on my phone: snippets of overheard conversation, a phrase from a song, peculiarities of the natural world (or of my neighbors down the street). Lots and lots of photos. Collect images and ideas you’re attracted to. Put them in your phone or folder or spiral notebook, whatever. Just don’t rely on memory!
Doing this, coupled with some daily “down time” (even if only for 15 minutes) will work magic on your creativity.
It’s about openness and receptivity to, well, a sort of creative alchemy.
Juxtaposition is defined as: “the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect.” (Merriam-Webster)
Poets are great at juxtaposition. Haiku writers and mosaicists specialize in it. They jam two or more very different ideas or images together to create new meaning and associations. It’s why we so often get an “ah ha!” experience from reading poetry. Filmmakers and photographers and visual artists of all stripes also make powerful use of juxtaposition.
But flash writers can (and should) make this a part of their toolbox as well.
In Joy Williams’ collection Ninety-Nine Stories of God, (a book I highly recommend), there’s a flash called “Veracity” that manages, in a scant couple of hundred words, a brilliant juxtaposition of church pews, a birthday bounce house, a dog, and a ’64 Airstream Globetrotter. And every single one of these elements feels necessary and significant.
My flash, “Foundling” (below) uses a similar jamming together of elements in a very short space:
They discovered the baby in the grass, under the snapping cotton sheets. The clothesline spun and creaked, throwing light, then shadow, on his face, his wee head smooth and curved as a doorknob. The woman didn’t bend, only drew her hair from her eyes. He smells like Malt-o-Meal, the little girl said, hoisting him. Support his neck, the woman told her. It’ll snap like a pencil. Christmas Eve, her husband had packed and left for Cincinnati. Now, as raindrops dotted their arms, and the woman’s skirt flicked her calves, he came rushing through the gate, holding a newspaper over his head, calling Margaret! Margaret!
The exercise below will have you bumping together disparate objects / images / ideas in micro form to see where it takes you, what surprises you, what you unearth. You may discover new meaning is created when juxtaposing two disparate objects, ideas, or images. Forcing yourself to do this in a very small space actually serves to ramp up the power of juxtaposition. Very little room is left to “explain” yourself. You must allow what your unconscious delivers to you. The results are often delightful or disturbing, but always surprising.
Microfiction is variously defined by different word limits. For our purposes, let’s say 150 words or fewer. Microfiction often resembles prose poetry. The line between flash and prose poetry is wafer thin at times. But please set aside any need to categorize your work at this juncture. Allow whatever emerges.
So! Your prompt:
I want you to combine two or more disparate elements as compactly as you can, bump them up against each other, in as tiny a story as possible.
Don’t worry in this first draft about “making sense”…your unconscious has a tendency to make its own kind of beauty and sense. It’s what we are wired to do, after all. Find the patterns. And if we can’t find them, we create them.
Choose ONE from List A and ONE from List B and get to work!
Try to keep to just 150 words or fewer if you can.
This prompt will be easier if you allow whatever delightful or disturbing weirdness ensues and resist the urge to explain it. Enjoy!
Nancy and I are so happy that writer Myna Chang is signed up to participate in our return retreat at Shadowcliff Lodge in Grand Lake, Colorado this summer. Myna generously agreed to chat with me about her background, the writing life, and more.
Hi Myna! What does the “west” evoke for you? The mountains? Colorado? As a writer and person…(weird question, I know!)
I grew up in a windy, barren farm town in Oklahoma. My childhood memories revolve around wiping grit out of my eyes and finding places to hide from the scorching sun. But every summer, my grandparents would take me to an oasis in the Colorado mountains. It was an old cabin hidden in a lush green valley. The river forked just above our land, so I had my choice of two trickling streams to play in. I thought it was the greatest place on the planet, and I was heartbroken when my grandparents sold it. In my mind, “going to Colorado” means returning to that perfect setting.
Oh what a lovely memory! I’m so glad you’re getting the chance to return to Colorado! What are you most looking forward to in our upcoming retreat?
I’ve never been to a retreat. I can’t wait. I crave quiet, and time to focus on writing, without distractions or guilt. Sharing that space with other dedicated writers and workshop leaders will be like frosting on the cake — and I love frosted cake.
What sparks your creativity?
I have no idea what sparks my creativity, but I know what kills it: interruptions:
“Mom, I’m hungry.”
“Honey, where did I leave the screwdriver?”
“Bark, bark bark!”
I wouldn’t trade my family for anything, but sometimes I wish they could be quiet for an hour or two.
Ha, yes, I can relate to that! Anything strange, funny, weird, fascinating about you that you care to share?
I have weird dreams. My sleep cycle never returned to normal after pregnancy, so now when I wake up, I remember every bizarre detail. Sometimes sentient Cheetos come to visit, or brilliant mice sculpt tiny Greek-style temples in my desk drawer. I often water-ski through the neighborhood with my friend T-Rex, and occasionally we drink lemonade with our zombie buddies on the corner. I realize I probably shouldn’t admit this in public.
I love these dreams! I’m actually fascinated with dreams and think they make great fodder for writing. Thanks so much for taking the time, Myna. We’re excited to work (and play) with you in Grand Lake this summer!
Myna Chang writes flash and short stories. Her work has been featured in Writers Resist, Reflex Fiction, and Daily Science Fiction, and is forthcoming in the Grace & Gravity anthology Furious Gravity IX. She lives in Maryland with her family. Read more at MynaChang.com or @MynaChang.
Do you have a character, a story, a voice that won’t let you go? Likely this is for a reason! Lisa Trigg, who will be joining us in Yviers, France for our French Connection Retreat , shares with us just such a voice in her micro below:
Hazel Currie Asks Who is that Talking?
by Lisa Trigg
Here I am, falling in love with exactly the wrong woman wondering how I have let this happen. And the voice said, in parentheses (well, this is how it works. You don’t know. You just don’t know what you want until you have it in your arms, smiling up at you, cracking jokes at your books, all those shoes in your basement, how often your watch tells you to breathe and drink water, and how much you talk to Alexa. You start remembering things you never thought of or dreamt about or read in any of your books. Suck it up).
What I want to know is. Who is it that talks in parentheses? Just who is it?
Lisa has a whole series of “Hazel Currie” stories and explains her inspiration for them:
“Hazel Currie started talking in my head when I was about 20 years old. She tells me stories, points out things that I should pay attention to, remember. She reminds me of things that I have forgotten that might be important, useful, that I should write down. She reminds me if I already have notes on a subject. She does not usually know where those notes are. She is persistent and does not shut up until I write down what she says and I have done so since the beginning. It’s the only way I can get anything else done. I’ve been evaluated, and no, I do not need medication. To learn to make use of what she tells me, I regularly attend master writing workshops with writers that I admire, do close readings, work with a private writing coach, read craft books, other stuff that I have forgotten.”