Punch line: “Marcel ate the chicken, then went to bed.”
Do you get it? Hysterical, right? I know! Wait…No! I don’t know! And neither do you, unless you’re some kind of freakish genius that sucks at the teat of the collective consciousness like it’s your job. What am I writing about?
Flash Fiction. When creating it, I often approach it as telling a joke in reverse. I try to think of the punch line first, even if the story isn’t meant to be funny. Having a sense of where the finish line is helps to give a story direction, regardless of the story’s length (flash fiction, full length short story, novella, novel).
I often think of “Wonder Boys,” the movie in which Michael Douglas is writing a tremendously long book (amongst other things). There’s a scene late in the movie where he’s sitting at his desk, pecking away in his slippers, when he realizes he has no idea where the book is going, hence its ridiculous length (let’s not forget to credit Katie Holmes with the assist in this scene). For hundreds of pages, the book meanders aimlessly. Having an idea of what you’re working toward is a good way to stay out of this noose.
Beginnings are extremely important too, for that first line needs to have some kind of great hook to pull the reader in. Once you’ve established that, and have at least some kind of idea where the story is going to end (it doesn’t necessarily have to be a pre-planned line—it can be, but it doesn’t have to be), then you have the guts of the story to play with, and it’s in the guts where the magic happens, and where the writer (and ultimately the reader) gets to have some fun. Essentially, this is the place where you tell your “joke.”
Before I go, let’s see if I can make a super short flash using my punch line:
Marcel did not sleep and he did not eat meat. After witnessing the murder of his family by a giant chicken at the age of fourteen, Marcel promptly became a vegetarian and an insomniac. He had only two small joys in his life: his work as a janitor and The Biggest Loser on NBC. He took pride in his cleanliness, and found great inspiration in the tears of the obese.
One evening, after long hours of sweeping, Marcel came home to find a giant chicken in his kitchen. Terrified and delirious, Marcel crouched in the corner as the chicken pecked at his self-confidence.
“You are ugly and have no friends. You have stupid hair. I hate you.”
This petty attack did little to stir Marcel’s anger, but when the bird clucked, “Your place is a dump, and The Biggest Loser doesn’t hold a candle to The Apprentice,” Marcel ate the chicken, then went to bed.
Note: In honor of the “flash,” this article is exactly 500 words long. And yes, I’m counting these words too.
Bio: Mel Bosworth lives and breathes in western Massachusetts. His writing has appeared in Prick of the Spindle, PANK, and Annalemma, among others. In 2009 he received his first nomination for the Pushcart Prize. Please visit his bloggy.
Read “The Humble Origins of The Milky Way (Boys)” at LITnIMAGE.
Read (and watch) “A Matter of Perspective” at Shape of a Box.