Posts Tagged ‘flash fiction’

Banana Moons & Meerkats & Tigers, Oh, My! Writing Snapshot Memoir

ON THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR, my mom and I strolled softly lit paths through the wooded grounds of the Central Florida Zoo during the Asian Lantern Festival. As we wandered, we encountered illuminated lanterns shaped like crescent moons and meerkats and life-sized hippotamuses—and, yes, tigers. Oh, my!

Now that she’s 85, I treasure sharing quiet adventures like this with my mom. So I took pictures—lots of them. Of the tigers and cheetahs and dragon lanterns, yes. But also of my mom. Because these are moments I’ll want to remember, and the pictures will help me do so. But I know I can drop even deeper into those moments by writing about the photos that capture them.

In a blog post titled Why Do We Write? A New Year’s Exploration, I quick-list a dozen reasons I write (and in the post, I invite you to explore your reasons for writing, too!). While I somehow forgot to include “preserving memories” on that list, doing so is one of the wonderful gifts writing gives to us.

I’m not alone in thinking this. Natalie Goldberg says writers live twice: first in their immediate experiences and second in writing about them. Of course, if we have photos of our experiences, we have the opportunity to home in on details we might have forgotten otherwise. And vice versa: When we write from photographs of our lives, we tend to discover what’s hidden beneath a photo’s surface.

Snapshot memoirs

There’s even a sub-genre dedicated to writing from our pictured memories, the snapshot memoir (also known as flash memoir). In this form, we may be writing from actual images—on our phones or in our photo albums—or from indelible snapshots in our mind’s eye. Either way, though flash memoir is different from flash fiction—because we focus on our own lives rather than on the created lives of imagined others—many of the rules of flash fiction apply to this super-short memoir form, too.

Readers Write: THE SUN MAGAZINE

THE SUN MAGAZINE has a wonderful feature called Readers Write, in which SUN readers are invited to write and submit their own snapshot-sized pieces about real-life moments. On THE SUN’s site, you’ll find examples of published Readers Write pieces as well as the prompts and guidelines governing their submission process.

Mini-memoir writing prompt

Setting aside just ten minutes with pen in hand and a photo in front of you, travel back to the moment the snapshot has captured in its frame. Allow yourself to enter the picture. Look around carefully. Now, peek outside the frame to your memory of the wider context. What’s going on to the left of the image? To the right? Who’s taking the photo? Why?

You might take a deep breath and dive into the emotions the image evokes—both the sweet feelings and the bittersweet. Or maybe the photo calls to mind associated memories that add to the meaning and magic of that particular instant in time.

However deep you’re ready to delve, imagine the photo as a treasure map. It’s full of possibilities for sure! But to access the gold it promises, we need to follow the path the map reveals. When we write about the image before us, sentence by sentence, we step steadily toward riches the photo can only hint at. Because the real treasure lives inside us. And our pen creates the road that will take us there.

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Tarot Writing Prompt: Ace(s) Up Your Sleeve

TAROT ACES ARE CONCENTRATED UNITS OF PSYCHIC ROCKET FUEL! The Ace of Wands, for instance, blazes with a fire that impels action. The Ace of Cups drips with the sweet honey of love. The Ace of Swords slices swiftly to the truth, and the Ace of Pentacles fills our bags with the gold of family, health, and financial well being.

And then there’s flash fiction. This super-concentrated form of story-telling could easily be called the “Ace of Drama.” Typically between fifty and a thousand words (depending on your definition), flash fiction propels readers through dramatic situations at warp speed. To do so, it challenges its writers to create characters, setting, conflict, and some sort of resolution all within its super-tight framework.

Want to give this literary form of nitroglycerin a try? Check out the prompt below, inspired by my flash-fiction-writing tarot pal Bonnie Cehovet!

Tarot writing prompt

Pick a card, any card
First, choose your Ace.

If you chose the Ace of Wands, write a hundred-word action/adventure story.
If you chose the Ace of Cups, write a hundred-word romance.
If you chose the Ace of Swords, write a hundred-word story of double-dealing or deceit.
If you chose the Ace of Pentacles, write a hundred-word family drama (add an inheritance to the mix for extra credit!).

I’ll go first. I picked the Ace of Swords.

Thomas watched his brother’s fiancée from the perimeter of a dozen parties. Her gleaming hair. Her ridiculously long neck. The maw of her mouth issuing dark laughter. Whenever he got close enough, he wondered, was she laughing at him? He’d redden, unsure. Then his brother’s brakes failed. And his airbag. (Tragic, right?) When the fiancée was released, Thomas swooped in. Who better? She’d recover. They’d circle those same parties. They’d laugh. And, later, they would wrestle in sweaty pleasure, reviling their evening’s casualties. He woke from dreams of it, dark laughter in his mouth. If only she would stop crying.

My Swords-y idea was that Thomas tampered with his brother’s car. Is that clear? I dunno. Anyway, it’s a hundred words. So there’s that.

Flash fiction inspiration

Need more information or inspiration? Click on the links below for further guidelines and places to “flash” your short-short work.

FLASH FICTION ONLINE offers a ton of resources, from excellent examples, to how-to tips, to submission guidelines. Once you’ve tried this exercise, you might consider submitting the results to them!

NYC Midnight has an annual short story challenge that proceeds in heats: from a 2500-word story, to a 2000-word story, to a 1500-word story (aka, flash fiction!).

For more about writing flash fiction, check out this post: “Writing Short.” 

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Ace of Rods (aka Wands) from the MORGAN GREER TAROT

Thanks also to book shepherd Tia Levings—who placed third in her first heat this year!—for the 4-1-1 on NYC Midnight.

Writing Short

I’M A SHORT-FORM WRITER, MYSELF: blog posts, personal essays, flash fiction … and, for publication, writing about tarot. Even when I’m embarked on a book-length project, I tend to think about it as being composed of a series of short pieces. It keeps me from being overwhelmed. You know: forest, trees. Or, as Anne Lamott puts it in her book of the same name, “bird by bird.”

This approach can work for folks who are writing novels or memoirs, too. In that case, creating a list of scenes—short forms in themselves—based on a well-considered outline can break down a book-length narrative into bite-sized pieces.

And then there are the super-short forms of fiction, from flash fiction (typically under 1000 words) to those variously named forms (well-described in an article in The Writer Mag: Expert Tips for Writing the Best Flash Fiction) that require a writer to get their story-telling job done within 100 or even 25 words!

While writing shorter forms is less daunting than, say, embarking on a 100,000-word novel, to do so successfully, it helps to know rules that make these forms work.

I found Susan Doran’s discussion of flash fiction and other micro fiction in her article “Lean Mean Writing Machine: Flash Fiction and Other Short Fiction Formshelpful. But, as I reviewed her tips, and those on Creative Writing Now’s short-short stories page, I was struck by how applicable the guidelines for writing short-shorts are to longer forms of narrative writing.

Which sort of brings me full circle. Even for longer projects, breaking things down into micro units can make what seems an elephantine task digestible. And if you have some rules for those micro units? All the better to eat you with, my dear!

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