Flash Fiction Contest Winner – Week #2

“Shari”

Thump. Thump. Thump.
     “Shari! Open up. I want to see the kids.”
     The voice froze Shari to the floral sofa in her dim living room.
     “Shari, my key’s not working. Open the door.”
     She finished her gin and turned off the brass lamp. He had said he wasn’t coming back this time. So she’d had the locks changed. It was past midnight, past two years later, but Ron was back.
     She walked stiffly to the kitchen and fumbled for the phone in the dark. She asked the operator to connect her to the police. They had a car nearby and would send someone over.
     Thump. Thump. Thump. “Shari! Open up. Don’t make me go ‘round back.”
     “I’m coming, I’m coming, Ron. I need to get dressed.” She stood in the kitchen, in her nightgown, and peered around the corner at the front window.
     Ron laughed, slow and unhappily. “Shari, Shari, Shari.”
     He moved in front of the window and looked into the dark living room, putting his hands up to the glass to see in. The tip of his cigarette glowed bright orange in the center of his silhouette, on and off, then red and blue lights flashed from the street. There was no siren, only the crunch of tires on the leaves and sticks in the gutter.
     “Shari, Shari, Shari!” He hit the door, rattling the windowpane each time he said her name. “You’re making a fool out of me.”
     A door slammed outside and a voice called, “What’s the problem, sir?”
     He turned from the window. “I went out to get a pack of smokes, and my wife locks me out. Some kind of bad joke.”
     The cop rapped on the door with his stick. “Ma’am? Can you open the door?”
     A convulsive shiver passed from the top of her head, down her arms, down through her chest and hips and legs. She stood up straight, perfect posture, and went to the door.
     She pulled the chain out of the slot. She undid the deadbolt. She put her hand on the knob, and she shook like a washing machine out of balance. She got herself still again and opened the door.
     The cop’s face was red then blue and fatty like bad meat. “Ma’am, is there a reason you locked your husband out of the house?”
     “Yeah,” Ron said, standing next to the cop. “Is there a reason, Shari? I’m your husband, remember?”
     “No… no. No, please. I didn’t mean to—”
     “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me asking, is everything alright? You don’t look well.”
     She touched her cheek, then her eye socket, where Ron had fractured her skull and left her face disfigured. “I had an accident. A couple years ago. I just—I didn’t know and I made a big mistake.”
     “Ma’am, have you been drinking tonight?”
     She looked down at the empty glass in her hand. She never drank much before Ron had left, but now it was a part of her.
     The cop looked at Shari, then at Ron’s stony face. He patted Ron on the shoulder. “You take care of her now.”
     “Oh, I will,” Ron said. “She’s always causing trouble. Women.”
     “Women, women,” the cop said, shaking his head. He shuffled away, got into his car, turned off the flashing lights, and left them in the dark.
     Ron stood like a barrel in the doorway and waved to the cop until the car went around a corner. His back smelled like beer and sweat and dirt.
     He sighed heavily and turned to face her, raising his right arm. “You made a fool out of me, Shari.”
     Thump. Thump. Thump.
     The brass lamp fell to the floor and landed in something wet. Ron made a sputtering noise and twitched and then nothing.
     Shari picked up Ron’s lit cigarette from where it had rolled onto the rug and took a deep drag. In the glow of its ember, Ron glistened. She went to the kitchen and poured herself some more gin and then stood over him, smoking and thinking but not drinking. She had four hours before the kids got up for school.

Flash Fiction Contest Winner – Week #1

“Money”

     The girl sat on the mattress in her matchbox apartment and pulled her shoes off. “Just put the money on the nightstand.”
     I pocketed my keys and opened my wallet. There was at least a thousand dollars cash. And a note from Sarah: “Deposit this in joint checking <3”. The less-than-three heart, their inside joke from when they’d met online, before emoticons. Where had she—oh right, she’d sold that antique sewing machine she’d bought for pennies at an estate sale.
     The girl saw the money and took off her shirt in a smooth, practiced motion. A thousand dollars could buy ten hours with her, a whole Saturday at “the office”. Sarah didn’t look at the finances, so she’d never know. The girl tossed her shirt on the table, then began unhooking her bra.
     I ran my thumb across the edges of the bills. “How much time do you have?”
     She looked up, hands still behind her back. “All day, I guess. Why?”
     “Let’s go out. I need to eat first.”
     She let the bra fall loosely around her shoulders, unhooked. “You mean like on a date?”
     “Yeah, sure. Same pay.”
     She brushed her dyed blonde hair out of her brown eyes and almost smiled. She put her clothes back on.
     We went downstairs and outside. It had rained the night before and old town smelled like concrete drying in the sun.
     “Do you mind if I take my heels off?”
     “Sure.”
     She kicked them off then put them in her purse. Her bare feet made sticky sounds on the wet sidewalk, and she stepped carefully. A breeze blew her short skirt, uncovering her upper thighs, and it should have excited me, but my stomach ached. There was a group of restaurants on the corner.
     “Any of these good?” I asked.
     “Dunno. Never been.”
     The middle eastern place looked the cleanest so we went there. The sign on the door said, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”, but the man didn’t enforce it for her. I got a big mezze plate to share. The girl picked at it, then her appetite came on and she ate.
     “What’s your name?” I said.
     “Carla,” she said, too quickly.
     “That your real name?”
     “Naw.” She ate a grape leaf roll in one bite. “It doesn’t matter, I guess, since the name is so common, but it used to be Sarah. But that’s a church lady name, you know?”
     I chuckled softly. “Oh, I know exactly.”
     She glanced at my wedding ring then went back to the food. “I figured, Carla sounds like a good time, you know? I can always go back. Or change it again.”
     “You been doing this long?”
     “A year. The money’s good, and it’s not as bad as they say. ‘S okay.”
     “Yeah. What do you really want to do?”
     “Marry a rich sugar daddy and sit by the pool all day.” She licked hummus off her candy pink lips and made hard eye contact. “Maybe I’ll meet one. A nice guy who takes girls out to eat and drives a big Mercedes.” She reached out to her water glass, showing her cleavage, and held the pose for a moment, then took a long drink from the straw. “I’d be fierce loyal too, and I’d empty his balls five times a day so he was loyal to me. That’s important for a wife, don’t you think?”
     I blinked several times. “Yeah, I suppose so.” I stuffed pita in my mouth and chewed. They had the same name, swap one for the other, a young one with good ovaries, start a family, a big family. There’d be the divorce, the shame, have to move, new job, but I’d still have a lot. I swallowed the pita too early and it caught. “How do you feel about having children?”
     “I love kids.” But her smile didn’t reach her eyes. The other stuff had been the truth, but that last line wasn’t. She was proposing a transaction, a contract, a long-term extension of today’s arrangement.
     I opened my wallet and put a hundred dollar bill on the table. “Thanks for lunch.”
     I didn’t look back, but the street was a one-way and I had to drive past the restaurant. She was barefoot in the doorway, mascara in dark lines down her face. We locked eyes for a moment but she just watched me drive away. So I came home to you. That’s what happened at the office today.

Flash Fiction Tips

Hey it’s me BearCounter, and I’m here to give you some pointers I’ve learned while writing flash fiction. This is going to be short, but important. Not all of these points will be mandatory, or work for everyone, but they are useful tools to try out either way.

Flash fiction is not a prologue

Even though flash fiction is short, and it can be hard to tell the whole story in 750 words. You should avoid just writing a prologue. Instead, write a complete story. A satisfying ending is a great way to up your game, and it also gives you important practise in writing endings which I’m sure most of us lack.

Think about the economy of words

Since you have so few words to use, things like description become all the more important. A few powerful, concise descriptions can make a world of difference. A paragraph or two of description or world building will most likely fly right by, essentially wasting words. Readers will usually fill in the world around you if you give them something interesting or vivid to start with.

The prompt is there to inspire you

You do not need to follow the prompt to the letter. Follow the spirit of the prompt! You should let it inspire you and write something interesting. I personally always discard the first idea or two when I look at a prompt, since I know there’s going to be at least five people writing that same exact idea! Switch POVs around. Play on the expectation that the prompt lays out.

Editing

You may be sighing in relief when you finish your story, but please remember to proofread and edit it. The best advice I ever got was to read the work aloud, since you will find a lot of weird things you just glide over when reading it in your head. Your head knows what you meant, and reading it aloud forces you to actually look at the words. Nothing is as jarring in a short piece than typos, weird punctuation, and just outright wrong words.

Write early, fix it later

If you write your story the day it’s due, you won’t have a chance to read and edit it the next day with fresh eyes and detached emotion. Take a cue from novel writers and take a break after finishing it. This will give you time to think about it, make changes, and complete more editing passes.

Good luck!

Distraction-free writing in Google Docs

Writing without distractions in Google Docs is easy! Here are the steps.

Press F11 on your keyboard to go to full-screen mode in your browser. This will hide most of the browser menu bars and your operating system menus. You can press F11 again to turn it off.

Optional: Increase zoom size. Depending on the size of your screen, you may want to increase the zoom. I usually use 150% or 200% for full-screen writing. You can also choose “Fit” at the top to make the text as wide as will fit the screen!

Turn off all the optional view items, if they are on.

Go to the View Menu and choose “Full screen”

Now you are writing distraction-free!

Optional: Invert the colors

If you find that the bright white background is hard on your eyes, you can invert the colors by installing an Add-on / Extension in your browser to invert the colors. (You can also change the text color and the page color, but it doesn’t affect the entire screen.)

I’ve found that the Chrome Add-on “Dark Mode Night Reader” works very well with Google Docs and doesn’t slow down my browser like other dark mode extensions. Using that extension and the tips above, my full screen looks like this:

It may seem too dark in the screenshot, but it’s actually just about perfect for me, and I find it far less tiring on the eyes than black text on a white screen.

The extension will give you a little icon in your Chrome menu bar that you can click on to cycle through the four brightness settings. If you right-click on it and choose “Options” you can set up your default brightness level (what you see on every site).

Optional: Distraction Free Mode browser extension

Alternatively, you can install “Distraction Free Mode“, an Add-on / Extension for your browser (Chrome, Firefox, or Safari) that does this all in one click. It works well, but it lacks some of the customization options that the above method provides.

Now that you know these tips, you can easily set up your preferred distraction-free writing environment in Google Docs!

Optional: Set up offline editing, and then disconnect from wi-fi

To truly go distraction free, unplug from the internet! If you use Chrome as a browser, you can set up Google Docs Offline Mode to save your edits locally and then upload them to your Drive when you reconnect. I have used this extensively while flying (airplane mode) and it works great.

Tracking Character Development

If your character changes throughout a story, it can be difficult to track their development. This is especially true in longer works, or if multiple characters undergo complex changes.

Solving this issue is deceptively simple. All you need to do is make a list of the changes each character has and link them to events in the story. At a minimum, jot down these five things about a character:

  • Character’s state at the beginning (the lie they believe)
  • Character’s state at the end (the truth they discover)
  • Event(s) that show the beginning state (living the lie)
  • Event(s) that drive the change (discovery of the truth)
  • Event(s) that show the ending state (acceptance of the truth)

By linking the changes to specific events (scenes, actions, even just a bit of dialogue), you will show the why and how of the change to the reader, and you will be able to identify any incomplete or unexplored character arcs.

Spreadsheets can be helpful for laying out the information:

In many cases, you will have a single character go through multiple arcs.  For example, if this was a longer piece of writing, Benjamin could also struggle with his relationship with his mother, which ultimately drove his clingy nature. Just add a new row on the spreadsheet (or another set of bullet points).

For a novel, imagine if this story was told via switching the point of view between the two characters, and each could have a dozen or more changes that they go through in this life-altering encounter. Keeping track of it all would be a hassle, but now you know how!

For more on character arcs, check out K.M. Weiland’s excellent series on the subject.