Welcome to Flash Points. Every Monday we stick one of the previous Friday’s entries under a sparklyscope (soon everyone will be using this term) 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 movie scene
Word limit: 200-300
Today’s chosen flash piece: It’s Behind You, by Nick Johns
“You’ll never guess what I’ve found, my dear, featured in the society pages of the London Gazette. Right here, you see ‘The Honorable and Mrs Aloisius Sebastain-Flyte,’ blah blah, ‘fresh from his notable successes in the city…’ notable successes eh? blah blah, ‘…recently embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime,’ blah blah, ‘…wonder of the age …technology’s greatest achievement…’ Cynthia? Why are you just sitting like some slack-jawed shop girl at a picture show? Come on, Old Girl. I said you might be a little queasy, can happen to anyone. Not got your sea legs. I know! How about a teensy glass of fizz, eh? Just the thing if you’re not feeling quite the ticket.”
“B b b…”
“What? Oh! I see! It’s a game, is it? By Jove, I’ve got it – “I Spy”! How splendid. You shouldn’t really give any clues in the classical form of the game that Nanny taught us but, I’m game. Where’s that fizz…? I know! Bottle. Is it Bottle?”
“Bl bl bl…”
“Fine. Fine. Can’t expect to get it first time I suppose. Now let me see… Blanket?
“Blo blo blo…”
“Are you sure you’re not changing as we go along, you little minx?… Blouse!
“Bloo bloo bloo…”
“Oh really, there are a limited number of articles in any cabin, even one as spacious as this one… Bloom! That’s the blighter isn’t it? Bet you thought that I’d dismiss them as flowers. ‘F’ you see…? Bloom!”
“N.. N.. No. Bloo.. bloo.. bloo..”
“Yes, yes, we’ve had that already. Why are you sitting there gibbering like an imbecile, staring out of the porthole… I say, it’s not something outside the room, is it? That would be jolly poor form… close to cheating in fact. Well? Spit it out.”
“B B Bloody Big Iceberg!”
Right off the bat I will point out this story does something a story should never do: it breaks the rules by winking and nodding and kicking at the reader’s heels directly. It assumes the reader will, in its final line, make a connection outside the story and guffaw. If the reader doesn’t know about Titanic, this story wouldn’t carry the punch it does. Rule-breaking in writing is a risky venture which normally ought to be avoided at all costs (in fact I often rail about this myself). Unless, of course, the writer can pull the risky venture off, which Nick totally does.
Another thing I like about this story is how the plot and voice are developed essentially in monologue. The protagonist natters on about this and that, idiotically assuming the gasping girl is seasick and wanting to play a parlor game as a distraction. His voice and gentle mocking of his companion are engaging and funny, even if he comes off as rather dense himself. His character is colorful and clear, and he’s fun to read. Monologue is difficult to pull off and maintain the reader’s interest, but several of the Flash! Friday entries managed it this week (Fraser McFraze is another who did a wonderful job of it–look for his hilarious tale here).
The blubbering companion gets the best line at the end, yes, but we laugh not at her but because we’ve gotten to know the protagonist and delight to see a verbal comeuppance. The story’s twist is wonderfully funny as a result, both because of the girl’s personal revenge for being mocked (if indeed she noticed) but also because of its powerfully unexpected unveiling of the characters’ impending doom.
Do you agree? What else in Nick’s story works? If you were going to write a single voice scene, how might you have approached it?