Monday, October 27, 2014

Week 9

Learning Journal Activity -- Flash Fiction

"Not that the story needs to be long,
but it will take a long while to make it short."
-- Henry David Thoreau

There are two options for this week's activity, one creatively oriented, the other critically oriented. The creative option asks you to write a flash fiction, while the critical option asks you to do a short analysis of a piece of flash fiction of your choice. In the write-up below is a brief description of flash fiction and links to some sites where you can find lots of samples and stories for analysis.

If you opt for the critical option, be sure to provide a link to the story you are working with. Your write-up should be two or three paragraphs. Some questions you may want to consider for your analysis include, What is the theme (or themes) of the story? How is the setting important to the story? What sorts of characters does the story have (who is the protagonist, the antagonist, any important minor characters)? Are there any significant symbols in the story? Does the story have a moral?

As always, if you have questions about this week's activity, send me an email or leave a comment on this post.

 About Flash Fiction

Including any story less than one thousand words, flash fiction is primarily distinguished by its brevity. Sometimes called the short-short story, the prose poem, the vignette, or the sketch, flash fiction has become increasingly popular in recent years. A brief prose work can create certain effects and concentrations of suggestiveness that a longer piece of writing cannot, and often in flash fiction the impact on the reader is more immediate and more intense than in a longer work. With this comes the challenge of telling a complete story while being spare with words and details. As Thoreau tells us in the quote above, by making the story shorter it may become more difficult to write. For a bit more background on flash fiction, check out this write-up by G. W. Thomas. Other websites you may like to visit to find some examples are Shortbread and Flash Fiction Online.

Because of the brevity of blog posts (or the brevity of attention span of blog readers) many bloggers have taken up flash fiction as a way to work expressively and connect with their audience. One blogger friend of mine who likes to work with flash fiction and is an excellent practitioner of the form is Pisces Iscariot. Below, is a sample by yours truly -- a piece of flash fiction I wrote a couple years ago. It's only 400 words long, but I tried to make every word and detail count. In your own writing, try to focus on a single event or remembrance, and you may be surprised where a brief story can take you. Your story does not need to be long, and one of the most famous short-short stories, by Ernest Hemingway, is only six words long ("For sale, baby shoes, never worn").

Flash Fiction Sample -- The Bus Ride

He looked at her, standing there in a fluorescent windbreaker. It hung from her body as though draped over a broken umbrella frame, the pockets weighed down, the left side white from the snow. She fumbled in her pockets, searching for change.

"Go on," said the bus driver.

She went past him and took a seat near the front, setting her Nike gym bag beside her. She had close cropped hair and dark eyes. Her face was swollen and red. Her hands looked coarse and hardened, and everyone on the bus could smell the heavy punge of living in the same clothes, of urine and booze and open fires. No sooner had the bus started moving than she closed her eyes and her head nodded to her chest.

That winter was especially cruel in Edmonton, and it wasn't unusual for the temperature at night to hit 45 below. After every cold snap the story was repeated in the newspapers: homeless person found dead under bank of snow. Some days they were found in backyards or in the seats out front of the Greyhound station. Sometimes they weren't found until spring. One story emerged of a man burned to death in a dumpster because the candle he lit to keep warm had fallen over, igniting the garbage in which he slept.

Some said it was their own fault, that there were shelters and organizations to go to for help. Others said it was the responsibility of the government and that more should be done. Still others said it was drugs and social decay and a loss of religious values. But all the talk and fine words amounted to nothing on a cold night in one of the richest cities in Canada.

The bus banked around a corner and her head bumped against the window. She shot up.

"Stay away from me!" she yelled as she jumped to her feet, pulling a hunk of stone from the pocket of her windbreaker. "Don't touch me!"

The driver hit the brakes and she fell in a heap in the aisle. He got out of his seat and started towards her. She struggled to her knees, then threw the rock at him. It landed well short on the floor with a dull thud.

He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to the front. He pulled the bar to open the door and booted her into the snow bank.

"That's what I get for trying to help you, eh!"

As the bus pulled away the passengers wiped the condensation from the windows, saw her lying face down in the snow. One of them noticed her gym bag, still sitting on the seat.