Flash Points: Fraser McFraze

FlashPoints3

Welcome to Flash Points. Every Monday we stick one of the previous Friday’s entries under a sparklyscope (it slices, it dices, it even makes julienne fries) 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: orchard ladder

Word limit: 100 exactly

Today’s chosen flash piece:  The Philosophical Carpenter, by Fraser McFraze

Ain’t much to a ladder, is there?

No, I don’t mean anything by it, I suppose. Just—well, a little lumber, load of plain rungs, a few nails and see here, what the hands of man have made!

I tell you, simple thing like a ladder but reaching so high up there, sky all blue like that, it’s almost like there’s —well, I dunno. It just makes me feel there’s meaning to life, you know?

Well, looks like it’s about time. I’ll hold it steady down here, like that, and you’d best be heading on up.

Take your noose, now.

What works:

Flash Points welcomes Fraser back into the lab (hiya, Fraze!). In the comments of this week’s contest, he and others broached an interesting topic: what is the nature of flash? With economy of words comes a forced economy of plot and character as well; just how much can be achieved in the narrow confines of flash? While it’s true flash often relies on a twist, that final line which turns a story on its head, the best pieces pull off so much more.

This week I’d love to invite y’all into the lab with me. We can use Fraser’s story above as a starting point, but I welcome your thoughts. How do you approach flash fiction? Do you focus on character (and character growth—is that even possible)? Plot? the twist? setting? Or are you, like an impressionist, working to convey an emotion or state of mind?

The Philosophical Carpenter certainly contains many of these elements. The story is presented in apostrophe, with an implied, silent listener. We have a single, clear voice, that of a reasonably friendly, chatty workman who takes advantage of his captive audience and mindless labor to ponder deeper things. But only for a moment! because duty calls. And ohhh is the twist ever a good (though gruesome) one, that the seemingly benign task and workman… aren’t.

Finally, in this scene our protagonist considers truth beyond himself but shrugs it off. That act, too, adds to our horror of what is really happening in this scene. He could have grown, could have changed, perhaps, but chooses not to. This character’s confrontation and ultimate refusal to consider something larger adds a layer of depth to the story that takes it beyond a really cool twist and creative dialogue. Good. Stuff.

Your turn:

This is the part where you jump in. Here are the questions on the table: How do you approach flash fiction? Do you focus on character/character growth? Plot? the twist? setting? Or do you attempt to simply paint an emotion or state of mind? 

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9 thoughts on “Flash Points: Fraser McFraze

  1. Thanks for the compliments, Lisa and Rebekah. These questions began to occur to me on this piece because I don’t usually think about adding a twist—and yet this one came to me as soon as I started. It seems to add something that I had always thought was sneaky, almost cheating, but now I can see that when you’ve only got 100 words you use whatever you have. But there’s no time for plot, is there?

    Personally, I’d like to see a lot more characterisation. Am I way off base?

  2. But I do find characterization in here, Fraser. In the MC’s voice you’ve gone a long way defining who he is. His dialect establishes he is (likely) an uneducated, simple man, one who is accustomed to working more with his hands than his mind. His gentle, conversational tone and kind offer to the condemned (“I’ll hold it steady down here”) show he is probably a gentleman in the best, traditional sense.

    Yes, the twist is horrifying, but as I pointed out, it’s not horrifying only because the casual tone makes it unexpected. For me a big part of the horror rises from this gentle man’s jarring, contradictory role as executioner, because this job does not fit what we know of him.

    Don’t you think that’s effective characterization? If not, what sort of development were you thinking of instead?

  3. I agree with Rebekah’s characterization analysis. I think there is a lot there. In 100 words, there isn’t a lot of room for a character arc/development, if that’s what you meant, unless he’s going to the condemned’s place. I walked away feeling like I had a good sense of this man and somewhat envied his ability to wall off the horror of his day job. It’s a great piece, Fraser.

  4. I agree. In this piece you have definite characterization, you have a setting, you have a protagonist and an antagonist, you have a conflict, and you have a resolution–all in 100 words. But lest we forget, Hemingway did it in six: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” That always gives me a chill, too.

  5. It seems to me that the toughest part of writing flash fiction is making it an entire story within itself. So many of the submissions I see on this site (I don’t have experience with flash fiction anywhere else yet) seem like a scene from a larger story. They’re left open ended and don’t feel complete. Frazer’s story does feel complete. I agree that the characterization also comes out in this story.

    I think I’ve managed to add a good twist to the end of each of my submissions, but as for the rest, you got me.

  6. I agree with what Josette is saying—it may be that completeness is the hardest thing to achieve. Maybe that’s why so many of us end with twists? Because a “twist” ties it off, so to speak—gives the little plot a little more action, right at the end.

    I was unclear—ironically—in that I want to see more characterisation from everybody all the time in every story, always. More of it. I may have managed a bit (thank you everyone) but I feel like characterisation is something you do while you’re doing something else at the same time. Plot or setting or what have you.

    Am I making sense?

  7. Oh, this was great! Definitely chill-inducing. I thought describing the MC as a gentleman was perfect. He’s treating the condemned like a human being to the end, perhaps destracting him from the moment with conversation, which is/was probably rare. Beautiful, thrifty example of flash.

  8. Great story, Fraser! … The more I’ve gotten into flash fiction (which was only since Flash! Friday began) the more it seems to me that the stories often rely heavily on the audience seeing the prompt as well as the story. Many stories don’t work nearly as well if you don’t have the image along with it. So for myself, I think my goal is to make a story that can stand by itself without the prompting image. Fraser, you did that really well with The Philosophical Carpenter, btw.

    I want a plot, no matter how short the piece may be. Otherwise, is it a story or a sketch? Sketches are great, don’t misunderstand me, and I think are necessary as we learn the craft of writing. But….

    I do love good, strong, characters, but that can be really difficult to pull off in a short space. So, a lot of times I use dialog/dialect to help paint an understanding of the character(s). It is a difficult thing to tightrope walk between a stereotype (fast way to give the audience an understanding of a character) and creating someone(thing) that has individuality and isn’t ~just~ a cardboard cutout of a character.

    I enjoy some flash fiction’s twists, but all too often they seem contrived… the deus ex machina of the literary world, lol. And a lot of times they don’t ~~add~~ to the story; they merely act as the down-note (such as at the end of a sentence or song) to signify the story has ended. I’d rather have an open-ended story than a stop that makes little sense to me. Fraser, you did a twist that definitely added another layer of real depth to your tale. A twist with meaning, as it were.

    And there’s my two cent’s worth, as it were! ;-D

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