Welcome to Flash! Friday’s newest feature, Flash Points. Every Monday we’ll stick one of the previous Friday’s entries under a sparklyscope and talk about it right in front of its face, dragon style. What makes writing “good”? Specifically, what makes great flash? What about this particular piece really works? Let the discussion begin!
Prompt: black & white photo of a field of empty chairs
Word limit: 150-200
Today’s chosen flash piece: “Untitled,” by Alissa Leonard
“Well that…wasn’t what I expected at all!” Tempest stared unblinking at the chairs, her mouth hanging open slightly.
“But the spell worked, right? You did it! No more zombies!” Constance began a celebratory dance with all the exuberance of one who only moments before wasn’t sure she would live through the hour.
“Worked? No, it didn’t exactly work.” Tempest still hadn’t blinked. She gestured expansively with her hand at the chairs, “they’re not supposed to be there.”
Constance stopped dancing, “The chairs? But what does it matter? They’re not zombies anymore.”
Tempest finally blinked, turned to Constance, and raised her eyebrows, “What does it matter? The spell didn’t work. If one thing didn’t work, how can we know what happened? Did it change them into chairs? Did it switch them with chairs from somewhere? Is this temporary? What happens –” She glanced back at the chairs.
The chairs were walking toward them.
“Connie, they’re moving.” Tempest took a step backward.
Constance inhaled slowly through her nose, “They’re chairs. What can they do to us?”
Tempest grabbed her by the arm, “C’mon! Who knows what they are! The spell went wrong somehow!”
Constance stumbled, “They can’t hurt us… Can they?”
In any writing contest, of course the first thing is to check whether the story fulfilled the guidelines. So: is this story within the word limits, and can I tell it’s inspired by the photo? A big YES to both of these for Lissa’s piece.
Next up: I always look at the hook (story opening). Lissa’s first two sentences tell us something was unexpected and introduce us to a character named Tempest. Right off the bat we’re unsettled. Something’s wrong. Even the character’s name incorporates tension. I definitely want to keep reading.
Flash stories are distinctive because they must be compact. There’s no room for superfluous descriptions or fluff; the story should move swiftly and efficiently from start to finish. Parkour instead of marathon, right? Although this particular story could be tightened up a bit and given a quick proofread, Lissa establishes a fabulous counterpoint between Tempest (who’s terrified) and Constance (who’s blissfully ignorant) as she frames the current crisis. Very recently zombies were attacking the girls. The girls used a spell to save themselves, but Tempest fears the spell went wrong.
It’s a gorgeous building of tension. I love even the progression of verbs. At the beginning it’s unblinking staring and happy dancing. At the end we’ve ratcheted up to stumbling and grabbing. Then there’s the steady unveiling of plot. What could be worse than a zombie attack? We don’t know, and that’s the catch. Chairs begin walking toward the girls, mindless, unstoppable. Terrifying. And that’s where Lissa leaves us, with a strong twist. Chairs can’t hurt people… can they?
What a clever idea (chairs as monsters!) and effective storytelling.
Do you agree? What about this story works for you? How do you approach a flash prompt yourself?
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