We had the first session of our short stories module today, and we looked at flash fiction.
When I first came across flash fiction a couple of years ago, I wondered what the point was, particularly as the stories concerned can be as short as one sentence. It challenges our whole idea of what a story is- surely it needs development, both in terms of plot and character, and how can you fit the beginning, middle and end of a tale into one sentence?
However, it is an effective literary form in its own right- I like to think of it as the Facebook meme or witty graffiti offering of the literary world.
Having studied some examples in class- such as Jon McGregor’s “Thoughtful” (my favourite) and the well known offering from Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn“)- and read an article on the subject by flash fiction writer David Gaffney, we were ready to have a go at our own.
Flash fiction writing exercise
First, we were prompted to think of a room which we know well. Then, from within that room we were told to visualise an object that is completely useless and describe it in detail, without giving any back story or details of anyone or anything else at the moment.
Here’s mine (in all it’s unedited, un-thought-through glory):
It’s just elastic-y. Broken.
A black piece of elastic attached to a green plastic ring, which attaches to the student-card holder, which is blue or black- who knows? It’s got a sort of wheel-type mechanism that makes it wheel up or down. It’s broken. And it’s got a silver bit.
When the class on the whole could absolutely not write a single word more on their collective useless objects, the next task was to start a new paragraph, beginning with “I” and write from there, whether it was connected to the broken object or not (I think this particular comment was meaningless, as most of us, by now, would have been itching to explain the significance or just the sad little story of this utterly pointless object).
Again, here’s where my mind went:
I nearly threw it away because I’m sick to death of random shit being scattered in the house- particularly when it’s not even random shit that I’ve brought in. The problem is, because the house I’m currently living in is a shitheap already, even my closest friends think nothing of adding to the pile. Maybe it is an innocent oversight when they leave their unwanted debris after one of their visits, but subconsciously they’re doing it because they, not unlike myself, think nothing of the place I’m forced to dwell in.
It’s the same subtle arrogance that accompanies the question they ask everytime they use the toilet at my place. “Have you got toilet paper in,” they titter, smiling as it it’s a cute in-joke we have. But it’s not cute- what they’re really saying is “remember that one time I came round about a year ago when you were so piss poor you couldn’t even afford to get loo-roll in? Yeah, I still think you’re that much of a tramp.
But anyway, the student-card holder that is useful no more: it avoided it’s deserved fate of ending up in the tip, because, unwitting arrogance aside, it belonged to my friend. And my friend isn’t here anymore.
At this point we were given free range, and told to use what we had from these particular writing prompts to create flash fiction, most likely by whittling most of it down to leave just the basic idea in as stark a way as possible.
This was a fairly open task which I think is made effective if you force yourself to go with your initial instinct on how to form the story- and do it quickly.
For me, the obvious features to leave in were the fact that it was a lanyard left by a friend and the fact that the house was shit, and the most striking sentences within what I’d written were probably the ones in quotations, because they gave a good impression of the voice of the piece as well as a picture of the relationship between the story-teller and their friends.
So I ended up with this (the grand sum of 67 words…)
What she meant by “Have you got toilet paper?” was “remember that one time I visited a year ago when you were so piss poor you couldn’t even afford to have loo-roll in? I do!”
Now she had left again and the lanyard for her student card, which she had broken on her last visit, still occupied its dusty space on the set of drawers.
When compiling this, I deliberately left it as ambiguous as possible- if I go minimal, I’m going there to the extreme 😉 Hopefully the result is a strong sense of the place and personalities of the people involved but with enough questions left to be intriguing (without being irritating…).