Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Outside "the Box": Flash Fiction as a Process

For me, the novel is a "box."

A very nice box, thank you--but a 100,000 word structure that has needs and issues that must be addressed . . . and addressed again. A novel is an investment, a dream, a journey, a lifestyle. A novel is the horizon I've been chasing, if I may allude to Stephen Crane's poem.

Flash fiction is one percent of a novel in length (in round figures), yet the final project can eyeball a novel with equal dignity--a complete, self-sufficient work of art. Consider Ernest Hemingway's famous six-word short story: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." It's all there: characters, conflict, setting, climax, resolution.

Flash fiction allows me to climb out of the jumbo, novel-sized box I live in, my paper tortoise shell, and to stop and smell the flowers. In fact, I'm doing that just by thinking about flash fiction--the previous sentence includes three metaphors (four if you want to consider flash fiction a nascent metaphor).

Here are some characters I've included in recent flash fiction stories:
  • a ninety-year-old retired English teacher who decides to "cull" a neighbor (published)
  • a grandmother who tells the story of how she once found a head in her bread dough 
  • a man arrested for public nudity on St. Patrick's Day
  • a sci-fi Adam and Eve story
  • a family that makes a Saturday high school detention a picnic opportunity
  • how insanity and spiders do not mix
  • how an Alamo car-rental agent plays Cupid
  • a gambler who bets his jackpot against a job as a farmhand--and hopes he loses
Even assuming that I could finish a novel every six months (presumptuous!), four years of commitment are seeded in those stories--probably more like 8-12. And they'd be good novels, I think--but I don't want to write them. I've got a number of dandy cardboard boxes already waiting in the attic.

The process of writing those flash fictions has enriched my writing life. I'm proud of my babies. I find more opportunities now for tighter writing. I see more opportunities to include and develop interesting and colorful characters in my writing. I have more compassion or insight into the antagonists of my stories.

I'm a better writer, I'm a flash fiction writer. You can bet the farm on it.

Hemingway's Royal
Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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