Flash Fiction Friday, With a Little WIP on the Side

Today is an extra special Flash Fiction Friday because not only am I giving you the hookup to a fantastic webzine that runs a quarterly contest, but I’m sharing a piece I’ve written.

WOW! Women on Writing is an online magazine that caters to women writers (though men are welcome to their resources as well). I’ve entered their quarterly flash fiction contest four times and found it to be a fun, confidence-boosting experience. I haven’t won- yet. But I have made it past the first line of judges and through to the visiting literary agent judging that quarter’s competition each time I’ve entered. It’s only $10 to enter the contest (or $20, if you want a critique) which is extremely fair considering how awesome their prizes are. They are generous and encouraging, and the critiques I’ve received have been very helpful, never harsh. If you’ve never entered a flash fiction contest before, this is an excellent place to start. Check it out here.

Now it’s time for show and tell.

I mentioned in a previous post that one of my favorite uses for flash fiction is as a method to spark creativity and understand characters in my WIP better. This week when I sat down to plot the next few chapters, I couldn’t figure out how one particular event was to be achieved for my characters. I was stymied. After a few minutes (ok, an hour) of pacing in front of a blank screen I thought, “Fuck it. This doesn’t have to happen now. I’ll write a scene for a new character in that world and see how he handles it.”

The result is the piece I’m sharing with you today. It might never make it into a book, but writing it relieved some of the anxiety I was feeling about an element in my WIP that I considered risky. I still think it’s a risky detail because I’m not sure how it will be received by the audience in the grand scheme of the novel, but for now I’m going with it.

My flash fiction piece squeaks into its classification with 996 words. It’s posted below and has a permanent link in the flash fiction section of this blog. Since it’s not exactly a keeper, let’s just call the working title Colin.

 

Colin slipped between pockets of people sucking up the air in small social circles along with the lagers in their hands. He indulged occasionally– this was Temple Bar District– but tonight the warrior had an appointment in this teeming Dublin pub.

He scanned for the door he needed with an upward gaze. Slouching disguised his enormous build enough not to draw too much attention. The muscles and height he sported were natural to demons like him, but made quite an impression with humans. The tattoo emerging from the collar of his black button-down shirt caressed his throat with wisps of grey smoke and he purposely left a few buttons undone so that if anyone wasn’t intimidated by his size, the sight of his ink might give them warning to keep their distance.

Two walls of the bar were lined with windows providing a view of the canal separating the city, and on a stage set in front of that view a band played a halfhearted version of Sweet Home Alabama.

Colin snorted. The Irish had a strange obsession with American classic rock.

Moonbeams highlighted the musicians and Colin’s lip curled. Eight silver eyes glinted back at him. The drummer smiled, revealing double rows of serrated teeth, and jerked his head to the side where a man nearly Colin’s size stood by a nondescript wooden panel.

The closer Colin got to the stage, the more his nostrils burned with the sickening combination of sugary sweetness and rotten decay. Wendigo were damn disgusting creatures. If the bar wasn’t so busy, Colin might worry he was walking into an ambush. The floor directly in front of the stage was clear, as if the humans sensed the danger the band posed, even if they couldn’t distinguish their twisted features or smell the stink of their flesh.

He approached the guard at the panel and sniffed. Human. Poor guy probably had no idea the creatures he worked for, or that they would one day make a meal of his soul.

The human held open the panel and Colin proceeded down a wooden staircase, the thumping of the crowd above dimming.

The room he entered looked less like a basement and more like Dick Tracy’s office. A green Persian rug covered the floor, but it was threadbare, revealing chipped wooden floorboards beneath. His connection sat in a frayed brown leather chair behind a plain desk with neatly stacked papers and a coffee cup penholder. Even the lighting was muted, straining to reach the shadows from dark glass wall sconces.

Colin rolled his shoulders and sprawled casually in the metal armchair across from the desk. He cast a cool gaze at the sparse décor.

“You figure out who framed Roger Rabbit?”

The wendigo snarled but held up a hand to keep the two henchmen behind him in their place.

“A pleasure as always, warrior.” His polite tone belied the threat in his posture.

“Let’s get to it, then, Marshall,” said Colin, lacing his fingers over his chest where twin daggers were strapped under his shirt. “You were to bring me the formula for the mistletoe serum and in return I promised not to kill you.” He flashed a brilliant smile.

Marshall raised his eyebrows.

“Fine,” Colin sighed, reaching into his breast pocket, “I also agreed to help you pay for this prestigious lounge.”

He snapped the check in the air until the wendigo leaned forward to snatch it from him. Marshall gestured to one of the goons, who retrieved a vile of liquid from his pocket and set it on the desk.

Colin feigned displeasure.

“The deal was for the formula. Not a sample.”

Marshall smiled and although his teeth didn’t appear jagged in ordinary light, Colin was nauseated by knowledge of what he was.

“This was all I could get, warrior. So sorry to disappoint.”

Of all the substances on Earth, mistletoe was the one element that could harm demons. Something to do with Loki’s blood and a hair from his last victim used in their creation. If the warriors had the formula, they could find a way to defend against it.

But words on paper could be modified. A sample of the actual serum would not be. Marshall provided exactly what Colin came for, even if he smugly believed he’d bested him.

Colin scratched his chest thoughtfully.

“You broke the agreement,” he said, smiling inwardly as the wendigo tensed.

“And you think to punish us unarmed?”

“Nah. I’ll use weapons on two of you.”

The wendigo bodyguards lunged with a roar, but Colin had already unsheathed his knives. He kicked off the desk, timing the descent of his chair to angle him precisely at the right angle to behead both attackers as they dove for him.

He rolled over his shoulder, righting himself between the two oily puddles that remained of the wendigo.

Marshall leaped onto the desk with a hiss, his fingers elongating and claws sharpening.

“I promised no weapons for you, didn’t I?” Colin tossed the daggers away. “I always keep my word.”

They leaped at the same time, and Colin’s solid muscle propelled the emaciated creature back from the desk. As they tumbled, Colin scooped up the serum. His other hand tightened around Marshall’s neck. Shouts from upstairs indicated the superior hearing of the wendigo in the bar had picked up on the commotion.

The tattoo on Colin’s chest tingled, heat creeping up his neck until smoke billowed from his mouth.

“You’ve been most helpful.” He let fire heat his words before releasing the breath he held. Flames swallowed Marshall’s screams and Colin was pleased to notice his check lit up as well.

Footsteps pounded from the stairs, and Colin grabbed hold of a ceiling rafter to swing his body feet first through the narrow basement window and onto the Dublin street.

Colin was across the canal and out of Temple Bar by the time the sirens started, the key to saving his race secured in his fist.

DH

Fiercely Fresh Flash Fiction

I had a blog all planned out today but as I sipped my double spice Chai tea this morning, I came across something better. Something great. Something that gets me flustered and sweaty and cooing with pleasure.

No, I did not meet Ryan Reynolds.

I found a flash fiction prompt! Even better, the challenge is hosted on Chuck Wendig’s blog, which I mentioned only yesterday.

What is this flash fiction thingy-ma-doodle, you ask? The simple answer: it’s fiction in a flash. You may have heard it called microfiction, postcard fiction, or short short.

Flash fiction is defined by word count rather than pages. It is typically restricted to 1,000 words or fewer, though no one seems to have a definitive number. It’s unique to other types of blurbs in that a flash fiction story is complete, meaning it has an arc, a protagonist, a conflict and an ending. The story compels the reader to feel something and engage in the story. Take Hemingway’s example and notice the weight six small words can have: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

A flash fiction piece can stand on its own, but I personally use the medium for other helpful purposes.

An exercise for concise prose: Many writers, novel writers in particular, expend a lot of energy conveying their ideas and sometimes go overboard with descriptions. Flash fiction forces the writer to find poetic cadence without bogging the reader down with extraneous space-eating words. Genevieve the Great Beer-Wench fluttered her long, tapered fingers in harrowing grief as the tumbler of ale meant for her long-lost love, Sir Kralich the Goblin Slayer, crashed to the stone floor littered with cigarette butts and wasted wishes might sound poetic, but isn’t nearly as effective as The tumbler of ale Genevieve the Great Beer-Wench carried fell. Sir Kralich the Goblin Slayer was gone.

Unblocking Creativity: Some days writing doesn’t flow naturally. You can stare at a blank Word document with Chapter Ten written at the top for hours, but nothing happens. On those days, writing isn’t fun. It’s fucking work. Setting smaller goals can help break the ice encasing the creative gland in your brain, and flash fiction is a wonderful tool for doing just that. Step outside the current WIP and write a 250 word story about the Life and Death of the Frog King of Venice, or How to Macramé a Pumpkin Centerpiece, or wherever that one little flicker of hope takes you.  

Add Dimension to Your WIP: This is my favorite use for flash fiction. I care a lot about character development in my work and in the beginning, I occasionally got stuck because I didn’t understand who I was writing about. I could write the scene forward and backward, but if I didn’t understand my character’s motives or personality quirks, the writing fell flat. I needed to get to know the character better, so I chose a moment in their past, one that wasn’t part of the current project, and focused on what they were thinking, feeling, doing. When the Dr. Pepper exploded in Edgar the clock-maker’s face, did he calmly clean up the sticky mess? Or did he erupt in a violent rage and destroy the grandfather clock he’d spent months meticulously building from scratch? One quick conflict, and Edgar’s reaction tells me a lot about how he reacts under pressure. I can use that insider knowledge on his character when writing his scenes for the larger work.

My contribution to Chuck’s challenge this week has nothing to do with my current WIP, but it sure was fun. Here it is, in all its 100-word glory. Enjoy.

DH

He fisted the red silk scarf. It was all he had left, save for her powdered remains covering his clothes.

If there’d been a way to save her… but her addiction was too great, and the more blood she’d consumed, the more haunted she’d become by the memories stolen from her victims.

So he did it, and he refused to think of it as anything other than a mercy. The stake he’d used fell to the floor and settled into a crack.

The sun ascended and he welcomed the burn as his flesh, too, turned to powder.