Experiments in Fiction: The Metal Wheelbarrow

The rain fell in occasional droplets.  The falls were ended by sharp pokes at their targets.  And I sat still, full of dirt and stone.

In the rain I was moved by my master.  I leaned forward as my arms stretched out behind me, and he, grabbing my hands, pushed.

The dirt shifted, the stone groaned and moved, and I was empty.  I sat, wet, empty in the rain, looking up at the sky willfully collecting its water.

The rain pinged against me, my skin hard against its lurid violence.  I sat, and I started to shine.

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A Writer’s Journal: Flash Fiction

This week I tried an experiment.  I’ll be honest, it was born more out of laziness than anything.  I had a story idea, and it was all worked out in my head.  Every day a new post.  And it was going to be a long one too.

Not too long, mind you.  But long.  It revolved around several characters, and it was taking some time to make sense of each of them.

While I was procrastinating, I found a story by Hemmingway, or at least attributed to him.  I’ll put it in this post, it’s not too long:

“Classified: Baby Goods.  For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

Nine words.  Nine.  I’ll be honest, when I first read it I wasn’t that impressed.  Actually, I was confused.  I said to myself Well that’s good and all, but what the hell did that story accomplish.

So naturally I researched it, tried to find its meaning.  That part I won’t spoil.  Mostly because there is no definitive answer.  But it did clarify the mystery of the story.  It isn’t the words, necessarily, it’s what he doesn’t write.  To some that’s a dumb excuse not to write a story.  But the beauty of the sentence is that it writes a story in your mind, or at least it should, without actually writing the story.

Some of you are saying “But Eric, didn’t you say you weren’t going to give away the meaning of Hemmingway’s story?”  Sorry, I’m writing stream of consciousness.

Now back to the journal, instead of the conversation with an imaginary reader.  Where was I?

Right, I was intrigued by this sentence/story.  The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to know about it.  Then, in my research, I stumbled upon the term ‘Flash Fiction.’  Something I hadn’t heard of in a long time.  And something that I’d considered trying before, but either dismissed it as lazy writing or delayed its attempt for another day.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, it’s a short story that consists of either less than 100 or 500 words, and probably wherever in between.  The idea is to write incredibly efficiently.  To create more of a story outside of the words on the page.

Which brings me to this week’s experiment.  I decided to write flash fiction all this week (though due to the responses I’ve been getting, I might extend that).  I thought I’d try my hand at stories that were 100 words or less.  To see if I could do it.  And let me tell you, it’s far harder than it seems.  You first think: “100 words or less?  So you’re saying you found an excuse to shorten your posts, making them 1/15 of what they normally are?”

Kind of.  But it’s intriguing, and frankly I think it’ll help me as a writer.  If you’re a writer, try it.  It’s not unlike poetry, in that you have parameters to work within to say what you want to say, but it’s still prose.  And it will help you work with writing efficiency, editing, plot development, character development, and so on.

I’ve had a lot of writers come to me and say wordiness is their bane, the thing that always weighs down their writing.  Try flash fiction.  If nothing else, it’s a fun experiment.

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Experiments in Fiction: Evelynn, Love of His Life

Who the fuck cares what she thinks.  I don’t need Her. What a bitch, what an absolute bitch.  Who does she think she is anyway?  I’m better off on my own!  I can get any girl I fucking want! I hate Her.  Who needs a bitch like that?  I’m breaking it off.  Yeah, glad to be done with Her!  I mean, think about it.  I have friends.  I have myself.  All she was was a goddamn pain in the ass!  I’m better off…

His phone rang, and his body relaxed.

“Hello?  Evelynn?  Yeah, I know.  I love you too.”

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A Writer’s Guide: Flash Fiction

What characterizes flash fiction?  Brevity.  That’s the whole point of it.  The idea behind flash fiction is to tell a story, including character development, plot, conflict, and resolution within a very small amount of words (usually 100 words or less, but it varies).  Much of flash fiction is what is not told within the wording.  The mind is supposed to write the story around what is told.  That is the draw of flash fiction, and the genius behind it.

What separates flash fiction from normal prose, aside from the length, is the lack of description and time spent on the story within the text.  Consider these two examples (they are going to be simple, because they’re there to prove a point):

“Timmy fell down the old well.”

Not much description or wording here.  Makes the mind create its own picture.  The well, Timmy, him falling; all of the occurrences and environment created here were in the mind.  The only thing on paper is the action.  Now, consider its counterpart:

“The 10 year old Timmy, sporting jean shorts, a soccer jersey and a blond bowl cut tripped over a root in the ground.  His Nikes were temporarily trapped in the arching wood and twisted his ankle as he fell, arms outstretched, over the rock wall of the well in front of him.  His small frame bounced against the moss covered walls until he reached the bottom, about 11 feet below the ground.”

And so on.  I know the writing isn’t the best, but keep in mind it’s more about the differences between the prose.  This part leaves little to the imagination.  The mind never deviates from the text, and frankly it’s far less interesting.  The brevity of the first example makes the mind an active participant.  It’s short, so less immediate work for the reader.  But it makes the reader an integral part of the story, creating their own setting and action.  The first example sticks with the reader.  Or at least that’s the idea.

The Timmy story is a bad story, yes.  But, even if you just read that Timmy fell down the old well, it’s still far more interesting than the detailed description of Timmy’s actual falling.

Ever hear people say that violence in movies today is too visual?  Back in the old days they just left it up to the imagination, they say.  That’s why that shower scene in Scarface is so gruesome.  They don’t show much but splatter, right?  The thing is, it lets the mind wander.  And let’s face it, the mind will go to the most intense version.

That’s why, for a long time, horror movies did not show graphic violence.  It was far more disturbing for the viewer to think about what could possibly happen.  Of course now we have movies like Hostel, where what happens in the movie is never where the mind would go.  Unless you’re extremely disturbed, or you have a room full of people tasked to think that stuff up.

But back to flash fiction.  That’s the draw, and the appeal.  It’s not lazy writing, it’s a writing exercise meant to challenge both the writer and the reader.

This week I will be writing flash fiction.  Mind you, these are my first attempts at it.  But yesterday’s was very fun, and frankly I look forward to more.  I’d love to hear what you have to think about flash fiction.  Is it lazy writing, or extremely involved writing?

Until next week,

Eric

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Experiments in Fiction: First Time Skydiving

We’ve been falling too long, she thought.

Her first time skydiving and the instructor didn’t open the chute. Unbelievable.

Falling for minutes now. What the hell do I do? Hit him on the head? Yell? No, I’m already yelling.

She saw them pack the chute. She saw the timeline. It was coming.

The instructor tapped her shoulder with a thumbs up. “We’re OK, here goes the chute!”

She relaxed, The chute’s coming. We won’t die.

She felt a tug and the chute went up.

We aren’t slowing down.

The tug was gone, and she saw the strings fall around her.

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Writing Journal: Eyes Closing

I figured I’d start journaling about some of my stories, considering how interesting this process was.  I started writing it almost immediately, without much thought about it.  But I came across some issues in the meantime.  It’s a journal about Eyes Closing, part 1, part 2, and part 3.

 

This may have been the hardest story for me to write.  Which is, in part, why it took so long to post the entire thing.  I feel somewhat guilty that it was so spread out, but at the same time I dove in head first where I should have tried to wade in slowly.

Oftentimes you’ll hear a writer talk about writing a character, then becoming immersed in a character and wanting to run with the character instead of the story.  Well that happened here.  And because the story is so heavy, it affected my moods, my sleep, my emotions…really incredible how that happened.

Though I kind of wish I could have separated myself more, like I’ve always done in the past.  But emotions weren’t the only tough thing at play in this story.   Yes it was hard to write in that respect, but the physical aspects were tough as well.

First, my protagonist was blind, which I have absolutely no experience in.  None.  And I don’t pretend to.  And frankly that was very interesting research.

Although I do have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so dumb as when I googled “what do blind people see?”  Seems contradictory.  But, and excuse my complete ignorance here, there actually is an answer, and the degrees of blindness vary greatly.

Also the procedure I mentioned in the story is somewhat of a true thing.  The article there is from 2007, and I didn’t find much after that, but it’s still very cool.  As far as the results, timeframe, effectiveness, and patient description from the story, however…I took complete creative license.

The advances they’ve made in gene therapy though is incredible.  Really, the article is a very good read.

As far as the pond is concerned, it was based on a real pond.  Surprising right?  What writer would base something in their story on a true thing?  That’s crazy talk.

Here's the inspiration for the pond. Notice the tire in the foreground.

The pond was odd, and honestly it’s a peaceful place.  Not as bad as portrayed in the story.  However, there were frogs all along the edge of the pond that screamed and jumped in when you walked near them.  Kind of funny.

The story was a lot of fun to write though, and a great experience.  Hope you had as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

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Eyes Closing, Part 3

Continuation of Eyes Closing, part 1 and part 2.

 

His legs lifted him slowly, like a hand-jack lifting a car; each knee unsure of its own strength.  His hands felt their way up the kitchen counter where he had fallen and grabbed the top to stabilize himself.  A breath rushed out and back in as the tracks his tears had laid sat still on his cheeks.

When he stood his hands broke away from the counter and tried to work his body toward the door, but his mind stood still.  His mouth was open, hoping to let in any ideas floating by.  But his mind was blank, overcome with grief, and he was desperate for a solution.

His hands retreated and instead shoved their fingers against his forehead, forcefully working their way to his hair, then through it.  Finally his eyes closed and he exhaled, and his hands tried once again to lead him to the door.  Fingering the knob, they led him outside.

He walked out of his apartment building, left, across the street, and into the park.  The geese flew overhead, shouting unheeded squawks at him.  The wind blowing the trees and bushes tried desperately to gain his attention, but he could not be shaken.  His mind struggled endlessly with his thoughts, trying to overcome them.  But their endless fight to gain favor led to him ignoring all of them.  Instead his fingers led him toward the bridge, contacting the hand rail and trudging over it.

Flakes of paint chipped off the wooden rail and fell into the stream that bumbled a hello to him, but never stopped in its quick, errant path through the park.

And he didn’t stop either.  His fingers led him over the bridge, 1, 2, 3, 4…15, 16 paces then left.

His mind was now reconciling with his fighting thoughts.  The stress from the transition after gaining sight was slowly dissipating, its remnants fading.  His eyes were now slowly opening to gather the path that he used to take.

1, 2, 3, 4…25, 26 then take the path right.

Each thing he saw was something different to him, and his mind became hungry.  His tears were now dried on his cheeks, hardened salt water dull in the sunlight.

1, 2, 3, 4…7, 8 then off the path into the woods for a bit.

Each thing from that day, his wife’s memory, the addict, the suicidal third grader, the ADHD case, and the mystery man who wasn’t much for speaking but spoke mostly with physical movement-all seemed to take a back seat as his surroundings seemed to invade his memory and sit forefront in his mind.  His mind was devouring the path in proceeding him.

1, 2, 3 rocks.  That means the next one is…

He looked up and he saw the pond.  The place where he had come for solace for so many years.  His rock where his own solitude brought his mind to rest and gave him peace.  But it wasn’t there.  Not the pond he knew.

The pond here was covered in green algae, almost looking like spoiled green salsa.  Mixed in with the sauce of the pond were bottles of beer, cigarette butts, a tire, a shopping cart, and other trash.  The bushes were scraggly and under-grown.  The branches he envisioned were now spindly fingers that hovered over the pond like a witch’s fingers over a cauldron.  The trees above it were barely hanging onto life, their leaves spinning slowly at the ends of each branch.

He slowly felt his heart and stomach become one and move their way up to his throat.  The thoughts that had receded came back all at once.  First his mystery man, confounding and bombarding him with new signals and no speech.  Few notes about the man, little clue as to why he really wanted therapy.

Then came the ADHD case and the mom, teaching how to deal with ADHD.  A constant inability to focus, mirroring his own mind as his thoughts surged.

After that, the suicidal girl.  What were her motives, how was her life, her abusive father, the constant insults, the negative reinforcement, all felt by him too.  His mind was now her emotional dump.

Igniting and inflaming those was the addict’s case, and his regrets.  His daughter leaving him, his family leaving him, his addiction overcoming him.  And his wife, whom the addict let go too soon to death.

Finally overpowering all of those were thoughts of his own wife-his last minutes with her, her picture in his apartment, memories of the both of them.  They came as one wave, together bowling over the others and crashing to the fore of his mind.

Tears then flooded his eyes, and his hands grabbed his pant legs tightly, while his feet fell motionlessly on the ground and his eyes took in everything around him.  His eyelids pushed the water out of his eyes as his eyes slowly closed and shut out the pond.

Suddenly the world changed.  The pond turned dark blue.  The water was shallow, and showed fish under its surface.  Over the green and purple fish swimming near the bottom were small waves mulling on the surface.  Hanging over were red bushes and undergrowth that housed small animals that made high pitched calls to each other.  Holding the bushes close at their feet were trees, with mossy trunks that led to orange leaves, full and waving in the wind, only partially obstructing the sun.  Whatever sun got through reflected off the birds at the tops of the branches touted their colorful heads and wings.

Suddenly the tears that were on his face a second ago dried up, their spring no longer flowing.  The thoughts from the day were quelled.  The mental notes from each patient had put themselves to rest, and the thoughts of his wife had returned to his memory.  His mind now held peace and thoughts of the pond.

His eyes remained closed, and his thoughts stilled.  His fingers loosened on his pant legs and stretched out.  His feet had become firmly planted on the ground, and his breathing had become normal.

His thoughts suddenly returned to the night before his procedure as he heard a nearby branch tapping on another branch.  The sound mimicked a cane on concrete, and with the tapping his fingers counted each one on his leg.

1, 2, 3, 4…

His other hand moved its way to his face, and brushed over his eyes.  Only a prick in the eye he remembered.

5, 6, 7, 8…

Then he mouthed his old thought, A new life.

…9, 10, 11, 12…

A new life.

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