Welcome to Flash! Friday’s newest feature, Flash Points. Every Monday we 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!
Word limit: 200-300
Today’s chosen flash piece: “Untitled,” by Curtis Perry
They came from the deserts, hundreds, maybe thousands, bursting from underneath the sand. From any part of the world that was desolate, dry, and barren. They destroyed and burned cities, towns, forests, reducing them to ash quicker than anyone would think possible.
Relatively few people died in the flames. Most of us were eaten. We are apparently their favorite food. People tried to fight back, but it was useless. Bullets and grenades did nothing but annoy them and draw their attention. Missiles fired from planes would sometimes slow them down, but they were agile enough, especially while flying, that a direct hit was rare.
Those that survived the initial onslaught took to the seas, which they seemed to avoid. Ships, boats, rafts thrown together, anything that would float. We left land behind, along with all our hopes and dreams, and huddled together on the water. How long could we survive on the ocean? Would they disappear under the sands of their newly made deserts before we perished?
Except somebody on one of the naval vessels decided to see what their big guns could do.
Now they are flying toward us, already spewing their acid flames. Most of us dive into the water in a desperate attempt to escape the fire, only some of us make it. Several that do are dragged down into the depths; my light weight clothing is a blessing. A small one, but I’ll take anything I can get. Can I hold my breath and stay under until the dragons are finished? I see someone in diving gear nearby, watching me. I wonder if he’ll help me if my breath gives out before the flames.
And what if I do survive this latest attack? What will I find when my head breaks the surface of the waves?
Dragons. Oh yes, dragons. So OBVIOUSLY I’m in love straightaway. And the story followed the guidelines beautifully, which always does a heart good.
But here’s what really grabbed me: Curtis saw dragons in an underwater photo of a woman and diver. I love when flash writers take a fresh and unique look at a prompt. Underwater speaks obviously of mermaids and swimming, which means a lot of entries centered on those (and rightly so!). But Curtis looked at water and saw desert. It takes a creative eye to see beyond the obvious–in this case, a world in which humans have fled to the water to escape desert dragons.
The story’s hook draws us right in. What burst from beneath the sand by the thousands??? I have to know! But he holds back the secret, tantalizing us paragraph by paragraph with hints. The creatures burn. They can fly. They devour humans. It’s not until the 4th sentence from the end we are told point blank: dragons. Yummy!
Another strong and effective feature I love in this story is the use of counterpoint, creating tension with opposition (characters, plot, descriptions, that kind of thing). Curtis uses this tool to great effect, balancing the violent anger of the dragons (“spewing their acid flames”) with the terrified and futile human defense (“We left land behind, along with all our hopes and dreams, and huddled together on the water”). The humans have fled land, but dragons pursue.
Now talk to me:
Do you agree? What grabs you about this story? What goes through your mind when you approach a photo prompt–do you see character first, or plot? or a world? Are you more inspired by photos or text?