I wrote recently about how practising the 99-word story strengthens my editing muscle. But, of course, the discipline can also have benefits in the other direction, planting a seed that can grow into a longer piece of fiction. The recently published Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction anthology contains five such expanded stories (including one of mine) along with the original 99 words. I not only relished reading the other four on their own merits, but I also wondered about the different ways we’d fleshed out our original bones. Would a closer examination of the authors’ process from flash to the longer story (or, in one case, from long to flash) help elucidate that enigmatic creature, creativity? Here’s what three of the other authors told me, along with my own 99 words. (Photos and links are from/to the relevant author page on the Congress of Rough Writers list.)
The idea came from an incident on my honeymoon when I misunderstood my flight time, as in the flash. When asked to extend I imagined the fairytale element - in my head as a willow-pattern or woodcut. The modern wrapper came to me from a conversation with my wife; she described a woman who ran a cafe near her university who never stopped running to serve, often watched with fascination by her customers. With the elements in my head, putting them together took no time. The only question was the ending: humorous, ambiguous or happy? I’m still not sure....
Writing the original flash for Crimson Sky, I had definite thoughts as to what I wanted to say regarding the prompt provided. In the longer version, the mental pictures surrounding the original flash were instrumental in taking me to the next level of the journey. The story easily flowed, even to the point of where I thought I knew how it would finish; however, it came as no surprise when I reached the planned ending and I was faced with the dilemma to stop the story with no future or twist the mind into thinking there could be more.
The prompt was Frayed and I thought of Chloe—my main character from a work in progress. Sixteen, Chloe had just recently lost her mother to cancer and was struggling to adapt to living with her aunt and uncle.
In the longer scene, Chloe is listening to the music she enjoyed with her mother. But I cut the music to focus instead on a picture of Chloe’s mother at the beach. Next, I cut through Chloe’s anger to reveal her biggest fear: losing not just her mother but the memories they shared. Perhaps the ability to feel at all.
My response to the prompt “surprise” derived from an aspect of my family mythology, more in the manner of “what if” than “BOTS”. The seed grew with a related flash the following month on “history, near or far”. My longer version expanded the back story, developing the characters, their motivations and unspoken resentments, partly driven by reader feedback. I kept to three characters throughout – two adult siblings and their mother – moving from first to third person for the story. But having identified closely with the flash-fiction narrator, I surprised myself with a gender swap, introduced to distinguish the siblings.
There’ll be a few more of my extended flashes in my own short story anthology due to be published in November. In the meantime, here’s a flash from 2016 which became the short story “Blood” published by Fictive Dream.
Collecting them from the waiting room, it’s clear his biggest problem is his mother. Anxious, overindulgent; but here, I make the rules.
Once he sees the needle, he screams. Red-faced, the mother does her best. I try the talking puppet, the Donald Duck voice. His wailing ricochets off the walls. The whole department’s quaking now.
Okay, I say. Bring her in! The mutt trails muddy pawprints across the floor. I hate to think where those feet have been.
The kid goes quiet, even smiles. Not a murmur as I draw the blood. Maybe I’ll get an assistance dog myself.
This week’s flash fiction challenge has sent me fishing in my brain for ideas. I’ve found myriad fish-related thoughts, but none hooked me enough to develop into a 99-word story until I remembered there’s a fish tank in the building that’s central to my current WIP, and hopefully my third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home.
After her injection, Matty enters the lounge, eschewing the armchairs lining the room. Not because of the dull ache where the needle pierced her derriere. Not because the wipe-clean upholstery sticks to her skin. But because she feels too energised for idleness.
From behind the glass partition, a student observes Matty’s elegance in circling the room. Passing their tank, the goldfish pause their back and forth to watch too. Until a maid scattering crumbs across the water makes them swim to the surface, mouths agape. Magic dust to keep them merry. Without it, this place would send them mad.