3/21 Plot & Flash Fiction

Today we’ll start our fiction unit. Just a reminder that each genre unit is two weeks. We spend the first week talking about elements of the genre and doing writing experiments together. We spend the second week on contract writing.

Daily Warm up: Start writing a story in which the main character works as a cleaning lady (cleaning other people’s homes).

Focus of the Day: Talking about one of the “Big Three” in fiction writing: PLOT. For today, we’re going to revisit the basics of plot. For our class, here’s how we’ll talk about these:

  • Exposition – introduces the character, setting, and main conflict
  • Rising Action – shows what happens in the story, including side conflicts, secondary characters, world building
  • Climax – shows the TURNING point for the main conflict
  • Falling action – shows what happens after the climax
  • Resolution – ties up any loose ends

Experiment: To try this out, I’m going to invite you to try your hand at Flash Fiction. In particular, I’m looking for you to write a 55-word short story (no more than 55 words! absolute limit!).

We’ll look at some Flash Fiction Samples together (all four come from The World’s Shortest Stories, edited by Steve Moss). We’ll talk about what makes them work, espeically about how they fulfill (or IMPLY) the five basics of plot. In particular, I think the advice below, from flash writer G.W. Thomas,is great:

1) Focus on the small idea

 – Look for the smaller ideas in larger ones. To discuss the complex interrelationship of parents and children you’d need a novel. Go for a smaller piece of that complex issue. How kids feel when they aren’t included in a conversation. What kids do when they are bored in the car. Middle child. Bad report card. Find a smaller topic and build on it.

2) Bury the preamble in the opening

 – When you write your story, don’t take two pages to explain all the pre-story. Find a way to set it all in the first paragraph, then get on with the rest of the tale.
 We talked about how in a 55-word story,  you really only get a sentence!

3) Start in the middle of the action

 – Similar to #2, start the story in the middle of the action. A man is running. A bomb is about to go off. A monster is in the house. Don’t describe any more than you have to. The reader can fill in some of the blanks.

4) Focus on one powerful image

Find one powerful image to focus your story on. A war-torn street. An alien sunset. They say a picture worth a thousand words. Paint a picture 
with words. It doesn’t hurt to have something happen inside that picture. It is a story after all.

5) Make the reader guess until the end

 – A little mystery goes a long way. Your reader may have no idea what is going on for the majority of the story. This will lure them on to the end. When they finish, there should be a good pay off or solution.

6) Use allusive references

By using references to a commonly known story you can save yourself all those unnecessary words. Refer to historical events. Use famous situations from literature. If the story takes place on the Titanic you won’t have to explain what is going to happen, who is there or much of anything. History and James Cameron have already done it for you. BUT: Beware of using material that is too obscure. Your reader should be able to make the inferences.

 We talked about how the title can often refer to something that gives readers a clue they didn’t even know they were getting.

7) Try a twist

 – The twist ending allows the writer to pack some punch at the end of the story. Flash fiction is often twist-ending fiction because
you don’t have enough time to build up sympathetic characters and show how a long, devastating plot has affected them. Like a good joke, flash fiction is often streamlined to the punch-line at the end.

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