If anyone’s interested in a flash fiction writing challenge then you might want to consider a game of Flash Cricket. If I could remember the blog where I originally stumbled across this little gem then I’d acknowledge the credit here, but unfortunately I can’t.
All you need is twenty random words. These will do:
Now copy those words into a separate file, and leave them there until you’ve forgotten any of the words on the list. It took me a good few weeks.
Once you’ve erased all remembrance of the twenty words get yourself into the mood for a non-stop writing session. This has to be done in one go. It’s all about creative spontaneity.
Ready? Good, then open up the list, read the first word and start writing incorporating that initial word. As soon as you’ve used the first word, check the second one, and continue writing incorporating each of the twenty words in order. It can be really difficult to make the links between the words, but the creative challenge is really fun.
The original rules allow 20minutes for the task. I think that’s fine if you’re a practiced flash writer. If you’re new, or relatively new to flash fiction, then give yourself anything from 20 minutes to an hour maximum.
Don’t be worried about the end result. There isn’t a writer out there who will produce a work of genius based on a random string of 20 words. It’s a fun exercise and nothing more. It’s there to trigger your imagination.
I found it to be very effective way of loosening up the old writing muscles.
Here’s my effort which I’m happy to share as it has no life outside of the challenge. It’s presented as is, warts and all as we British say, just how it first came out. No re-writing, no polishing, no corrected grammar. Here goes:
The man looked out over the Thames from a private area of the terrace at the palace of Westminster. Shadows from Big Ben and Westminster Bridge lay across the wide expanse of water. Sunlight glistened off the tops of the red buses as they crossed the bridge, like sparks coming from a flint.
On the other side of the embankment he could see a broken down tourist boat. The heat haze coming from the broken down engine caused a shimmer.
He thought about the various security arrangements at the front of the palace, the CO19 officers with machine guns, the police officers at all the entrances, and yet here he was, enjoying a pint on the terrace and there was nothing but a stone wall and the Thames. He wondered if it was something they’d overlooked; was a stealth attack by river possible?
He sometimes wished that he didn’t need to worry about these things. He wondered what it was like to have a normal job, almost to the point of jealousy.
He helped himself to a handful of complimentary cashew nuts that had been placed on the tables.
“Mr.Priest, Mr. Priest, sir.”
His reverie was broken. He turned to look at his caller. A Serjeant-at-arms adorned in traditional attire – green tights, white shirt, black blazer, and oversized gold medallion – stood at the entrance to the terrace. His hair slicked back with far too much oil.
“Yes, what is it?”
“The minister has sent me to find you,” the serjeant said.
“Well keep looking. You haven’t found me and my mobiles turned off,” James Priest said.
The serjeant was about to remonstrate but he saw the look in Priest’s eyes and he turned away like a child scolded by his mother.
Priest knew what the minister wanted to talk about, but it wasn’t strategy or spin that could solve this predicament. No, this particular puzzle called for a certain type of steely determination and that would have to come from Priest himself, not from some Eton educated Champagne Charlie.
He took a swig from his pint, and wondered how it had come to this: Operation Bergamot, huh, what a disaster.
The minister would be looking to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, and he’d expect Priest to help. But he wouldn’t do it. Too many bad things, morally indefensible actions, had happened. The solution had to be buried somewhere in the throes of honesty.
That thought took him back to an article he once read about Cassius Clay. The young boxer had just won his Olympic gold medal, and he went into a burger bar on the banks of the Mississippi. They refused to serve him as the server stated the company policy, “We don’t serve niggers.”
The young Clay replied, “That’s alright. I don’t eat em.” He walked outside and hurled his gold medal into the Mississippi.
To Priest those were the actions of a man being true to himself, and that’s what he had to do now.
The minister would exert political pressure, and possibly even threaten Priest. He knew he’d have to stand his ground, almost tiger-like in his resolve.
He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a keyring. An innocent looking item, but one of the keys amongst the bunch opened far more than a lock, it opened secrets. Shadows and silhouettes. Lies and deceits.
He looked back out over the Thames and saw an empty hamburger wrapper floating down the river. Would that be him or the minister? Yesterday’s Emperors, and tomorrows litter in the wind.
As a precaution Priest had left a detailed written account of events in case he had an ‘accident.’
He smiled at how much it had cost him to get the document witnessed by a solicitor, and the difficulty of finding a solicitor who would agree to secrecy without seeing the contents of the document first. Priest looked up at the impressive palace, more commonly – but incorrectly - known as the Houses of Parliament. Despite being the seat of government it was still a royal palace, although the last monarch to have been in residence was King Henry VIII. How much easier things would have been back then? All he would have had to do was write down his story, and seal the manuscript with his official seal stamped into hot candlewax. No witnesses, no costly solicitors.
Even now he had doubts, but he knew that absolution lay in truth.
He looked around him at this place of privilege, and he knew it would be his last day here. He would have to resign. The press would have a field day, it was only a few hours now and the story would break.
They would pension him off, and he’d retire to the coast. The minister would face the threat of criminal proceedings.
He still had the opportunity to back track and play more of the minister’s games. It was the easier option to take, and there would be financial rewards, gifts, as a thank you.
Priest once again thought back to the young Cassius Clay.
He wondered what the price for redemption would be? But he knew it was priceless, and with that thought his course was set.
- End -
The words I struggled with the most were Bergamot, and Candlewax. I think it shows too!
If you’ve got a writer friend who wants to tackle the challenge then rope them in. I did this at the same time as my writing buddy J T Harrell. We swapped the end results and gave each other constructive feedback. It’s also useful to see how another writer has utilised the words. My word count is high. I’m sure a more experienced flash fiction writer would complete the challenge in way under 800 words.
It’s a game you can play and repeat. Sites like Random Word Generator: http://creativitygames.net/random-word-generator will allow you to generate new lists.
That’s it from me. Take care,
Just a quick follow up to my last post. The iversity course launches in two days. Here's some further information:
What to Expect
Together with a whole network of media researchers, creators and students we will:
- learn storytelling basics such as antagonist/protagonist relationships, narrative/narrated time, ...
- have a look at exciting current media projects
- analyze how they are designed and executed based on aforementioned basics
- and discuss how (and if) new online tools and formats change the way stories are told and perceived.
The 8-chapter course starts on October 25th, 2013 and ends on December 20th, 2013.
It will offer weekly video material, lessons, interviews and tasks on the following topics (not necessarily in this order):
- storytelling basics
- serial formats (on the TV, web and beyond)
- storytelling in role-playing games
- interactive storytelling in video games
- transmedia storytelling
- alternate-reality gaming
- augmented reality and location-based storytelling
- the role of tools, interfaces and information architectures in current storytelling.
As previously mentioned I'd like to hope I know storytelling basics, but the TV, web, and gaming sections should be interesting. BTW - I'm not connected to iversity in anyway. I'm just sharing the details as something that may be useful to the aspiring writer. Main course link: https://iversity.org/courses/the-future-of-storytelling
If anyone is interested I’d like to make you aware of a free course ‘The Future of Storytelling’ being run by iversity. Here’s the main link:
You need to check out the link to get the full low down as I’m not going to repeat all the details here, but I have listed the course outcomes below:
Our MOOC will help you answer the following questions:
1. How do fictional stories work? Which structures and mechanics are used?
2. How do new technologies influence the ways stories are told and perceived - and which new media formats have been developed during the last years?
3. How can technologies, interfaces and visuals engage an audience fast and continuously?
4. How can I develop and implement my own story-ideas - on my own or in teams?
I’ve signed up already. I’d like to think that I have a strong grip on point 1, but points 2 – 4 interest me immensely. Technology is undoubtedly expanding the avenues, and opportunities, that exist for the aspiring writer. It’s something that was first brought home to me a couple of years ago.
I’m an occasional console games player, and while certain games have had back stories to them they never had what you would call ‘a story’ in the true sense of the word. That changed for me a couple of years ago when I played ‘Red Dead Redemption’. For the first time I was playing a game not just for the pleasure of the game itself, but because I cared about the central character. I cared about what would happen to the character, and his personal journey, in exactly the same way I would as if I was reading a good book, or watching a great film.
The same thing happened to me with GTA V, and the story between two of the central characters. Although, I think that particular story arc fizzled out towards the end.
The point is that the gaming industry is employing scriptwriters. I’ve also noticed novelizations of some of the bigger gaming franchises. As the industry grows – and it’s already huge – there will be more and more opportunities for writers emerging.
I suspect – I don’t know – that the course will cover aspects of the gaming industry, but I’m also confident that it will cover media formats and opportunities that I haven’t even thought of. And that’s why I signed up!
If anybody else signs up let me know. The iversity course description mentions a few group exercises. Collaboration with fellow writers is something I always enjoy. I’ve always taken something from the experience, and I expect the same to happen here.
Remember it’s free!
A writer friend once asked me where I get my inspiration from. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question; neither do I think there’s one answer to that question.
I’ve read a thousand times before that inspiration comes from the following:
Newspaper articles, podcasts, blogs, radio shows…
There’s this guy I once knew who…
I was walking down the street when I saw…
I had a mad drunken uncle who would…
The list of “inspirations” rolls ever on. But do they? And are they really moments of inspiration? I’m not sure. I prefer to think of the above examples as trigger points that unlock the writer’s real inspiration.
Fact: Writers carry emotional baggage. That baggage whether we like it or not swims around in our sub-conscious. That baggage is both positive and negative and that’s where the real inspiration lies. It sits there waiting for the right vehicle, the right trigger point to release it into the wild.
Take my story, Night Owls. I was reading a newspaper article about two historic events that caused the sun to darken over for about a year in 536AD and again in 1816AD. That’s interesting I thought, so I started writing. What became of that writing? Nothing, because it was interesting, but not inspiring. There’s a difference.
About a week later I was reading Steinbeck’s, “Of Mice and Men.” I love the beginning of that book. We meet these two characters on a woodland trail, they are obviously good friends, who trust one another but they are also very different.
I started thinking: What if these two characters didn’t trust one another, what if they’ve only just met?
I stopped reading Steinbeck’s novel there and then, and I still haven’t gone back to it. I started writing this story about two characters who meet on a narrow trial, on a bleak and desolate world of endless night. The trail is so narrow with natural obstacles all around them that they can’t walk around each other. They have to be able to trust one another to let the other by.
Was the inspiration Steinbeck or that newspaper article about a darkened Earth, or both? It was neither. The inspiration was Trust.
Trust is locked away in my own personal baggage. I believe in people, my friends and my family, and I trust them impeccably. I expect the same in return. I can be a bit reserved with people until I get to know them, until I feel I can trust them. Once I’ve let them inside I’m vulnerable, and that trust can and has been betrayed. It hurts!
That’s the inspiration for Night Owls. That baggage was sitting there on a shelf waiting to be used, and I didn’t know it. Some would call it theme, and I wouldn’t disagree. Night Owls is about trust and one or two other things, but it doesn’t mean that theme and inspiration can’t be aligned.
The point of the blog? Sometimes it’s a good thing to deliberately hide that story in a drawer for a good six months. When you go back to it ask yourself one question: What was the real underlying inspiration behind this piece? Not the trigger point, but the actual real source.
If you take that time to look deeper into your writer’s soul I can guarantee one thing: A really tight and focussed re-write.
Take care and good luck with your writing.
M J Wolfson - That's me.