Welcome back to Flash Points. Every (so often) on a sunny 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? Let the discussion begin!
Prompt: Scottish Cavern
Word limit: 200 even
Today’s chosen flash piece: Hot and Cold, by Allison K. Garcia
“Listen, Brad, I’m not saying I want to break up with you. I’m telling you how I feel.” Nora sighed and rubbed her temple. A migraine was brewing.
Brad’s brow furrowed. “So, we’re not breaking up?”
“If things don’t change, we might. I mean, I don’t get you, Brad. One second you’re all lovey dovey to me and then the next it’s like you can’t even stand to be around me.” Tears welled up but she pushed them back. “Sometimes I just want a hug.”
He wrapped his warm arms around her shoulders.
She huffed and pushed him away. “Gees, not right now, Brad. We’re trying to have a conversation. Don’t you ever listen?”
Stepping back, his jaw tightened. “I did listen. You said you wanted a hug.”
“No, I said sometimes. I don’t understand what your problem is. One moment you’re on fire, then the next you’re icy cold.” Her eyes formed two slits. “It’s happening right now. You’re all icy again. Like that Scottish cave we learned about in class.”
He shrugged. “I’m sure it formed that way in order to survive in its environment.” He flinched as her hand caught him in the face. “My point exactly.”
A few writers, including Allison, scampered off the beaten path this week and turned the photo prompt into a metaphor, which is always daring and fun. One of the things I love about flash contests (as I may have mentioned one or fifty times before) is how a single prompt can get so many brains working in so many different directions. Looking at a photo and seeing through it to something else completely makes reading a story a marvelous adventure. While most of us looked at this cave and thought of a literal cave with a waterfall and fire, Allison saw a tension-fraught relationship. Her take on the story felt fresh and interesting.
Allison went beyond a simple metaphor, however, to explore the concept proposed in the contest’s introduction: the relationship between opposites. In this scene – one doubtlessly played out in millions of homes around the world on a regular basis – Nora attempts to pinpoint what she sees as the problem in her relationship with Brad. She rages; she cries; she battles migraines. She’s an emotional fire-and-ice show all on her own, even as she accuses Brad of the same thing. It’s a simple but effective metaphor.
But what I find most compelling in the story is the layer beneath the obvious one. It’s hard enough cramming character and plot into a tight word count (which she does beautifully – take a look at the progression of verbs, for example, transitioning from soft/warm to harsh/cold). Adding depth, however, requires a feather-light but masterfully controlled touch. Sure, Allison takes Frost’s “Fire and Ice” and reimagines it as a relationship. But she didn’t interpret it in the expected way, with one person as fire and the other as ice. Instead, the character Nora demonstrates both fire and ice herself alone, even as she accuses her partner of doing so. And going a step further: ultimately it’s the cave that caught Allison’s eye even more than the tension of opposites. It’s not the most obvious part of the prompt; in fact, it’s almost like writing about the periphery. It’s clever. And it works.
“I’m sure it formed that way in order to survive in its environment,” says Brad, a moment before getting slapped. His own accusation is clear even to his accuser: Nora is all the drama, and he the steady rock that has been shaped over time by her ire and frost.
How much of a relationship is formed by our actions, and how much by our reactions? Allison’s tale presents a clever imagining of the prompt and an interesting, textured look at human relationships: a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking read.