Flash Points: Brian Creek

FlashPoints3

Welcome to Flash Points, a totally non-fear-inducing feature in which a remarkable story from the most recent round of Flash! Friday gets nit-picked. 

Prompt: Hamilton-Burr duel

Word limit:  140 – 160 words

Today’s chosen flash piece:  If You Go Down to the Woods Todayby Brian S. Creek

I lean from behind the oak. All eyes on the duel. Don’t know the reason for their feud. Don’t care. Pistols go bang, one falls down and then there’s one less rich prick lording ‘round town. If they both fall down then that’s double trouble.

Their companions watch carefully, making sure it’s fair. You want to talk about fair? Rich pricks ‘play’ life and death while my friends starve. I sell one of those fancy pistols I could feed my gang for a month.

All eyes on the duel and still no one notices little old me. I calm the horses and then climb my scrawny ass up onto the coach. Sure a pistol’ll feed mouths for a month but imagine what me and the guys’ll get for this fancy coach and two horses.

Shots ring out. A woman cries. I snap the reins.

Lesson to you all; never leave valuables unattended.

What works

“Woods” is a great story. Its sardonic, arrogant voice. Its sophisticated structuring. Its unique take on the prompt. Its — well, shoot, let’s jump in, shall we?

There is nothing new under the sun. –Ecclesiastes 1:9

Writing an original story is tough. It’s a battle every writer faces, from journalism (just how many ways can one say, “Three died in a fire”??) to YA fantasy to crossword puzzles. Nathan Bransford‘s comment on novel-writing applies here: “First ideas are like first loves.” –So what can one do, especially in a contest like Flash! Friday where we all see the same photo? Brian’s unique interpretation of the prompt came from looking at the prompt in a different way: rather than focusing on the characters in the photo, he asked, Who is watching this scene, and why does it matter to him? He’s stepped outside of the prompt and actually, physically looked at it in a different way. We all see what’s going on here; a unique take asks, What else is going on here?

Then there’s structure. A “good” story consists of a beginning, middle, and end, right? But ahhhh, the gorgeous world of variety possible within those constraints! Brian maintains the perspective of his narrator, but look at the creative structural movement within the story:

I lean from behind the oak

All eyes on the duel

Don’t know the reason for their feud. Don’t care. 

Their companions watch carefully, making sure it’s fair

You want to talk about fair? 

All eyes on the duel 

I calm the horses 

Shots ring out

I snap the reins 

This is soooo good. I’m reminded of sportscasters’ commentary, where the banter of the announcers plays out on top of the game itself. It’s further execution of what Brian did in choosing his perspective, the obvious event (the duel) with the layered event (the robbery). He moves smoothly back and forth between the two. A story should always force the question What happens next? and Brian does that doubly here. It’s a fantastic structure, dueling plot lines that mirror the event in the prompt as well as the events in his story.

On top of that, this dueling structural device creates additional tension by shifting the conflict from the duelers to the age-old feud between the haves and have-nots. Immediately the story ratchets from a single event at a single point in time to a universal conflict. That’s a lot of beautifully crafted tension for such an itty bitty story.

Moving on to voice: Judge Betsy Streeter pointed out how Brian’s use of “natural language” contributes powerfully to the effectiveness of this story. The narrator is bitter, foul, self-assured. He condemns the duelers for their arrogant disdain toward the needy even as he steals their coach and horses. It’s the altruism of Jean Valjean married to the God complex of Javert, an arrogance that grows as the story does.

Let’s wrap up with the story’s textured last line:

Lesson to you all; never leave valuables unattended.

This one line accomplishes so many things at once. The narrator flings his final judgment on the duelers as he makes his escape. Since Brian earlier magnified the isolated conflict to a universal one, the line also serves as the narrator’s acrid condemnation of all those who disregard the plight of the needy. Valuables, after all, consist not only of money or horses or silver-plated pistols. The thief’s parting shot issues a warning to society: this is what happens when the poor are neglected.

Or, one might add (borrowing the tone of our marvelously untrustworthy narrator) criminals.

Heh.

Thank you, Brian, for sharing your beautifully constructed, clever, nuanced tale. 

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6 thoughts on “Flash Points: Brian Creek

  1. Thank you for selecting my story for Flash Points this week. I’ve never had anyone go into detail about my work before and I’m overwhelmed by your comments. You’ve boosted my confidence.

    Today has been a very good day.

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