Welcome to Flash Fiction Month guest post. Today I have fellow GoodReads author Will Macmillan Jones with a fun piece about a portrait. Read about why Will thinks Flash Fiction is important and then read his short story below. Then take a minute to check out his other writings on the link to his website. Enjoy!
Hi, for those of you (all of you) who don’t know me, my name is Will and I’m an authorholic. That is I’m compelled to write and stopping me would be injurious to my health, maybe even fatal. (At least, that’s what I used to tell my ex when she reminded me that the lawn needed cutting or the dripping tap needed fixing, etc etc etc.) Today, I want to extol the benefits to all of us writers of regularly writing flash fiction, stories of no more than 1000 words – and sometimes less.
I’ve been writing flash fiction for over three years now, and it is a wonderful discipline. One of the worst habits we can get into is neglecting to think about the impact of each word we write. It’s fantastic isn’t it, to get an afternoon or an evening when the latest work in progress is open on the screen, we are in the zone, and the words pour out. We write and write, and when we finish, we look at the word count and feel smug/satisfied at the progress we have made. But really, have we? How many of those words would a good editor (and you do have one, right? Don’t believe all those blogs that swear blind that you can edit and proof read your own work!) red pencil as just verbiage, likely to bore or disengage a reader?
This is where flash fiction comes in as an excellent discipline. When you need to tell a complete, engaging story in less than 1000 words, every word counts. Every word is doing a job, not merely filling space. If the word count is really tight, let’s say under 500 words, then you start to pay closer attention to the structure of your sentences: the positioning of a verb, for example, can add or delete to the total word count. As an exercise, take the last sentence you wrote and try moving either the main noun or the verb around: recast the sentence two or three different ways, and see how the total number of words needed can change: it may not be a big change, but when every word counts, it may be important.
When I’m talking with other writers, I always recommend writing a piece of flash once a week: try it, give yourself a tight word count (I once submitted four stories into an anthology where every story had to be exactly 416 words, excluding the title. A lot of my writing friends did the same, and we all enjoyed the challenge immensely) and you will see how your writing starts become tighter.
Flash fiction has other uses for you in your writers toolbag as well. It is a great stimulator of the imagination. I’ve always argued that imagination is like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Nothing strengthens your imagination than having to write a different story every day for a week, for example. Let’s say you have writers block: go and write two or three pieces of flash fiction, and your mind will run off in different directions, and you might be surprised how a new approach to your story emerges. Save the pieces you write: they may be good enough to show to anyone: but in each one is a germ of a new story. I have two books coming out shortly, each of which began as a 1000 word story: but there was so much in those words that I knew the story could form the basis of a much longer work. An added bonus for you, however you look at it.
Finally, there are competitions now for flash fiction, too: lots of them. Competitions are great fun, and can also give you some great exposure as a writer. Last year, one of my pieces won The Northampton Literary Group’s National Flash fiction competition. The accolade was lovely – and so was the cheque. I might not win another, but that’s still a great comment to put on my author’s website.
So, ladies and gentlemen, there you have a brief explanation why I am such a fan of writing flash fiction. Yes, the money. No, really it’s because it keeps my imagination stimulated and provides me a constant source of new writing ideas.
Will Macmillan Jones
The picture hung in the window of an art gallery in the arcade. Every day I walked through the arcade with its myriad of tiny exotic shops on my way to and from the station. As the arcade was narrow and roofed with curved glass for natural light, the reflections of the passers by merged with the reflections of the goods on sale in the various windows. Sometimes I had fun with the curved glass, making silly faces that bounced backwards and forwards across the street, from shop window to shop window. Other shoppers would snigger at me but I sometimes caught them doing the same.
Yet whenever I reached the art gallery I would stop and peer at the portrait of a young girl. She was pictured in the first flush of her beauty, a sweet smile on her lips, her head lowered slightly so that she seemed almost to peer upwards through her auburn hair. Her dress swelled and flowed and when the light twisted, to me, she seemed almost to move.
The label below the frame said, simply: ‘Portrait of a girl’ with no artist listed or named. I did go into the shop to enquire, but the price – well let’s just say it would take me a long time to earn that much money, let alone spend it on a painting by an unknown artist, however captivating. For it was captivating: at least to me. I found after a week or so that I couldn’t walk back to the station without passing the gallery. If I tried, I felt uneasy, insecure, and when I got home I had no appetite and slept indifferently and with disturbing dreams.
At last I decided that I must break this spell, and stayed away from the arcade for a week. A whole week, it felt like a lifetime. Then following a very long day in the office, I was hurrying to catch the last train home. A violent storm raged the skies and rain and wind battered the glass of the arcade as I followed the damp footsteps of the last lone hurrying commuter.
Rounding the corner of the arcade, I glimpsed a figure that moved against the glass of the gallery window, and seemed to shimmer. Panting, I followed the wet footprints that led towards the glass – and stopped. The footprints led through the glass to the painting, and I shook to see the girl gaze adoringly into the eyes of a lover. ‘Portrait of a couple’ read the label.