Tag Archive | William Goss

Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 31: WINNERS!

Welcome to your results show! As ever, no filler here, kids. Just two quick reminders: we’ve got #FlashPoints tomorrow, in which one of your fine tales is parsed (ish) line by line (or so); and a BIG reminder that the cash-prized #DogDays is waiting for your trouble-making entries right here (deadline July 22). 

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Judge Betsy Streeter says: It was fascinating how strongly many people picked up on the notion of two men, longtime friends, ending up in a deadly duel. That story obviously carries a lot of impact for many and maybe makes us think about friendship in general, and how people and relationships change over time – and don’t.

I loved how much came across in so many of the stories – whole lives and worlds that could be inferred, or even created by the reader. Little details, use of words, and getting inside the heads of the characters – all of these were happening all over the place. Congratulations to everyone!

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

William Goss, “Touched By a Hot Reminding Breeze.” I loved the way this story was able to encapsulate so much about the characters using a countdown, which served to naturally build the tension. Their friendship’s life flashed before the duelers’ eyes as they fast approached this inevitable end to their relationship.  And then the ending touches on the universality of the story by suggesting that this fate comes around and around again, in a cycle. So much contained in this story. Great job!

Clive Newnham, “Tommy and Vince.” This one I fell for because of tone. The story commits to its narrator and stays committed, contrasting a seemingly small-town voice and perspective with the lives of the two boys who had supposedly moved on to bigger and better things – only to have their origins and rivalry catch up with them in the end (to the narrator’s regret). Again, a great deal packed into few words and a lot to think about. Terrific!

J M Filipowicz, “The Time Travelers’ Guild.” I’m a nerd so time travel is great, but it’s really the idea of people’s values and perspective deteriorating that caught my attention. The way the story is constructed of fragments of sentences and thoughts, captured the way the thoughts of the characters were falling apart too. This is a great example of combining format with narrative and having them reinforce one another. Loved it!

SECOND RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “Daily Duel.” It is always tricky to take a very unique approach and get it across in so few words without confusing the reader. This story does a wonderful job of making it very clear what is going on with the reveal halfway through, but doesn’t spoil it at the beginning. This required really confronting that rival in the mirror and speaking of him with full disgust, before letting on that this was really contempt for the self. “His life is in my hands…” because his life is my life. This story takes the duality of the self and places the mirror in the middle as a weapon, creating a painful moment to watch and giving us all pause to consider how we treat ourselves. Wonderful. 

FIRST RUNNER UP

Brian Creek, “If You Go Down to the Woods Today.” This story brings the reader’s attention to the all-consuming emotions of witnessing a duel, only to step deftly outside of them and offer a unique perspective on how those emotions might prove a weakness. “I sell one of those pistols I could feed my gang for a month” is a great way to make a point, and maintain a voice, while using natural language to do so.  The tension isn’t the duel itself, but rather the thief’s contempt for the duelers and their culture and station. I love that this story expanded the scene around the duel and brought in such an interesting character with compelling motivations.

And now: for his first time, it’s Flash! Friday

DRAGON WINNER

TODD STRADER!!!

for

“Gentlemen”

There was one phrase that kept me coming back to this story again and again. That was, “dabbed the scarlet at his lips with a handkerchief and straightened his coat.” There was so much conveyed in this little gesture, it just brought me to a screeching halt. It brought to mind the scene in “Immortal Beloved” when Beethoven is abusive to his brother, causing him to collapse from consumption and cough up blood. The imagery here and the implied suffering brought with them a sense of this character’s destruction and attempt to grasp control and dignity from the outside even as he was dying from the inside. His friend’s act is one that only one dedicated fully to another person could commit. In addition, the language in this story makes it a pleasure to read; it is one that I could enjoy over and over again and kept coming back to. And that is a sign of a great piece of writing. Congratulations!

Congratulations, Todd! Your to-die-for winner’s badge awaits you below. Here is your dawn’s early light winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here ASAP so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And here is your winning story:

Gentlemen

“Gentlemen: five paces, turn and fire,” called the second.

‘Gentlemen,’ Charles smirked. Were they gentlemen when they pelted Widow Green’s poor hound with apple cores? When they pilfered candies at the general store? When they put-on professor Staub at University? Or when they bolted from the pub trailing card and coin? Surely they did not feel so as they earned “glory” among cannon shot and bayonet. Gentlemen? assuredly not; but friends? Friends, yes, ever to the bitter end.

At five paces Charles turned and raised his pistol. His friend was doubled over in another coughing fit. Charles graciously waited until William finished, stood tall, dabbed the scarlet at his lips with a handkerchief and straightened his coat. Then Charles pulled the trigger. William deserved that. The “offense” writhed about in William’s lungs. It was reducing him to a bitter end indeed. Charles agreed to spare him such, to give William his satisfaction, allowing him the death of a gentleman.

 

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Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 30: WINNERS!

WHAT a huge week this is, so huge I can hardly stand it. In prep for Tuesday, I’m not running a Flash Points tomorrow. But then…. hang on to your hats, because it’s the DOG DAYS OF SUMMER contest, hurtling into a fist-fighting, trouble-making, rabble-rousing existence Tuesday, July 8, at 7:30am Washington, DC time. Did I mention there’s prize money?? And bragging rights. Oh yes. Bragging to high heaven, and a chorus of cheering draggins all along the way. Don’t miss it!

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Judge Craig Anderson says: So I promise I will never again sit at my computer on a Sunday and excitedly proclaim, “Where are the results?” From the outside I always imagined the judges’ task to be a quick and simple one, something to be undertaken with a cup of coffee and a big smile on your face. One quick read through, maybe a second just to be sure, and then Bob’s your uncle, knock up a quick email with the winners and you’re done in time for breakfast. How very wrong I was!

Fast forward to my first stint as a judge and my deeply furrowed brow and ever growing stack of empty coffee mugs as I re-read all your entries for the umpteenth time while the deadline rapidly approached. I could honestly find things to love about every story: there was darkness, comedy, spaceships and time travel. You all did a fantastic job of making my task rather more difficult than I had imagined it. I’m not complaining, though; it was a very enlightening experience and has taught me a great deal about the subtleties of flash and just how much difference a few words can make. I also want to take a moment to thank all the previous judges for vanquishing a similarly challenging list of awesome stories.

So please find below my list of SM’s, HM’s, Runner ups and the Winner, and rest assured that I came up with them as fast as was Dragonly possible! 

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

JUDGE Phil Coltrane, “Conceived in Liberty.” Very clever personification of the countries, with America as the rebellious teen and England as the frustrated but ultimately powerless parent.

Evan Montegarde, “Her Majesty’s Independence Day.” I enjoyed the concept that the entire revolution was just a cunning ploy by the Queen to avoid the Kings amorous advances. Fifteen babies!

Charles W. Short, “Life Development Reports from the Gamma Zeta 12 Sector.” A fun and zany twist on the prompt, with a couple of ‘small’ oversights leading to hilarious consequences.

Ian Martyn, “It’s a Man’s World.” America could have been a very different place due to some second rate quills, although Bob would have been pleased. Thank goodness for Mildred!

William Goss, “She Served Wisdom.” I really liked the use of various smells to paint a picture of these powerful men. Also loved the title!

Charity Paschall, “Martha’s Declaration.” I loved Martha’s more direct approach and how she gets right to the heart of the issue in far less time than the men.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Allison Garcia, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Incorporating dialect into the dialogue was a great way to quickly establish the characters. This is always a tricky thing to do well, but here the balance is spot on. There were some really nice touches, comparing the ‘hardship’ of Thomas sleeping in his chair for a few days with the slaves’ straw beds really helped to provide some context to how difficult the slaves’ lives were in comparison. “You get underfoot and the missus gonna send you to another family” reinforced that same theme and reminds us that these people are not free or equal. This story deals with some dark and difficult themes, but then flips the tone with that last line, which was still funny after multiple read throughs.

Brian Creek, “America Can Wait.” The tone of this piece was great, playing with the reader by making them think it was going one way only to change directions at the end and turn into something much lighter. This contrast really worked and made the punchline that much stronger. There were lots of little touches throughout that gave each person character, with Benjamin pushing his glasses back up his nose or Thomas gazing out the window at the city with his part already done. To me it also helped to humanize these great men, they may have been working on one of the most important documents in history, but they still have to eat!

SECOND RUNNER UP

Pratibha Kelapure, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Big City.” I love how Pratibha effortlessly worked several of the themes from the declaration throughout this story. The first line set the scene and established the struggles this couple were going through and gave context to the wife’s frustrations. I also thought that, “When did the pursuit of happiness become the pursuit of money?” really spoke to how much times have changed since those men in the painting outlined a path to a better life. I could really picture this couple, working all kinds of hours to make ends meet and get a fresh start, thinking of the future and a better life for themselves, only for that ending to take it all away! I still get shivers thinking about it. I’m never working late again! {Editor’s Note: Not 5 minutes off the judges’ panel, and 2nd runner up?? WAY TO GO, Pratibha!}

FIRST RUNNER UP

Bart Van Goethem, “The Declaration of Independence.” This story really jumped out at me as a highly relatable scenario. We’ve all had those decisions that we’ve agonized over for days only to find out that the resolution is nowhere near the herculean endeavour we imagine it to be. The voice of the narrator stood out, those short sharp sentences perfectly capture the protagonists agitated mood and the build up to the big confrontation. I could feel her preparing herself for a fight, only to blurt out her demand to be met with an anti-climactic victory. I love that to her it is a major statement, the start of a new chapter, but to him it’s just dinner. The title was also a great fit for this piece and a nice way to tie it all back to the prompt.

And now: for his second time, it’s beloved & highly talented Flash! Friday

DRAGON WINNER

KARL RUSSELL!!!

for

“A Declaration”

This one really jumped out at me on my first read through with some powerful imagery. “An archaeological stratum of family life” painted a vivid picture of the basement in very few words, and naming the ship the Independent was a nice tie-back to the prompt. “She pinched hold of the mast and snapped it with a shocked giggle,” was a subtle way to show that destroying the boat wasn’t necessarily her original reason for venturing into the basement, but I could feel her surprise at the joy associated with that first piece breaking off. 

The more times I read it, the more I filled in the backstory. I found myself imagining a neglected wife upstairs, increasingly jealous of the object of her husband’s attention, until she’d had enough. The destruction of this fragile object perfectly represented the end of their marriage, and the celebration of the birth of the country was a nice parallel to her own personal celebration of her new beginnings. All in all, the various pieces worked really well together to create a very compelling story with a lot of depth for so few words. 

Congratulations and welcome back to the dais, Karl! Your rebellion-crushing winner’s badge awaits you below. Here is your freedom-ringing, updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Stand by so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And here is your winning story:

A Declaration

The basement was cool and dark, the music and fireworks a distant rumble. Cath pulled the light cord, blinking as the strips stuttered into life, revealing shelves of retired toys and forgotten hobbies, an archaeological stratum of family life. She was feeling tipsy and rarely came down here, and her eyes misted as she saw racquets and bicycles and happier days.

At the workbench where Mike spent his evenings, she peered intently at his handiwork. The ship was minutely detailed, a masterpiece of care and attention, down to the tiny name painted on the hull: The Independent.

With thoughtless ease, she pinched hold of the mast and snapped it with a shocked giggle. She thought of all they were celebrating upstairs, the new world born from so much destruction, and she swept the ship to the floor, stomping the balsa wood to shards.

Then she placed the divorce papers in the virgin space and went back upstairs for the fireworks.

 

FFwinner-Web

 

 

Flash Points: Image Ronin

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Welcome to Flash Points. Today’s post resurrects an old (ish) romp in which a story from the previous week’s competition is devoured for its deliciousness, bite by bite. In other words, we look at it up close and personal to help us in our pursuit of what makes great flash. Hungry? Let’s eat! 

Prompt: Bell Tower

Word limit:  140 – 160 words

Today’s chosen flash piece:  The Messengerby Image Ronin

From the bell tower Arcane watched orange flowers bloom in the twilight. One after the other, a constellation of beacons spluttered into life, sending their plight to the capital.

There was nothing else he could do. Arcane slumped down by the bell, whose rough rope had flayed the skin from his hands. He had tolled The Sentinel till his shoulders had ached, her solemn declaration almost overwhelming the screams and sounds of battle that emanated from the village.

Tolled till orange flowers bloomed.

The sound of wood giving way to force stirred Arcane back to reality. The invaders had gained entry. Soon they would ascend the worn stone steps to find the young scholar.

Shoulders complaining, Arcane took up his axe and buckler. He had hoped the invaders would have moved on, or that the Capital’s knights would arrive in time.

But such thoughts were that of a child.

Now he had to die as a man.

What works

It’s fun seeing how a photo often sends writers’ minds on similar treks. An ancient bell tower and a theme of “fire” brought a flurry of tales of warning and destruction. A few writers’ entries stood out as fresh and unique: Brett Milam, of course, and his (winning) metaphorical interpretation;  Tamara Shoemaker and William Goss and their poetic spins; and Maggie Duncan for a futuristic twist. When approaching a writing prompt, rejecting that first idea that pops into your head can be a helpful way to make sure your story will stand out from the others. Look beyond the obvious, the superficial, and dare to take a story in a totally different direction.

Image Ronin‘s The Messenger follows suit with the majority who wrote of the onslaught of war and an individual’s dramatic actions at the bell tower. In the case of this story, then, it is not the concept but the execution that sets it apart. Let me tell you a few things I love about this piece.

The story is written tightly and cleanly. The 150-word threshold at FF is roomier than one might think, but it does not allow for the tiniest bit of excess. No extra thats, no wasted movements, no character’s idle thoughts. Every sentence, every word, needs to push the story forward, which it does beautifully in this story. That’s some fantastic editing! Nothing could be cut from “The Messenger” without losing an important element. It is also grammatically clean and typo-free.

Many flash fiction writers’ first drafts are hundreds of words long, and then they hack at the story to meet the word count (like Cinderella’s stepsisters and the glass slipper!!). This is, of course, a perfectly valid approach; no writer can tell another the “right” way to pen a tale. The problem, however, is you need the right amount of story for the allotted space. In my own writing, sometimes it helps to worry less about cutting away words and first think a bit more about cutting down the underlying plot. Notice how much “The Messenger” doesn’t tell us. There’s zero backstory. We don’t know the country, the politics, the names of the invaders, whether the protagonist has a family. But in this piece those things are extraneous. The story Image is telling us, after all, isn’t of a village’s lost battle; it’s the very specific, very tiny arc of a single moment: a character’s shift from childhood to maturity.

In a similar vein, it’s easy to think of flash fiction top-down, i.e. sawing off the blubber. It can sometimes be more helpful to think bottom-up. In other words, instead of focusing on the extra words, look at the primary words. Some of the most powerful flash fiction is accomplished by words with multiple jobs. Look at some of the tools Image uses in his story:

Interesting, evocative verbs

Arcane slumped down by the bell.

beacons spluttered into life

Intentional structure (here, repeated phrases which echo the sounding of the bell)

Arcane watched orange flowers bloom

He had tolled The Sentinel

Tolled till orange flowers bloomed

Strong sensory language

Arcane watched orange flowers bloom 

rough rope had flayed the skin from his hands

overwhelming the screams and sounds of battle

The sound of wood giving way

Shoulders complaining 

Subtle little trick

Note the MC’s name, Arcane, which means Understood by few; mysterious; secret. How perfect!

And finally, “The Messenger” has something to say. It isn’t “just” a story. In this respect, its theme of defiance in the face of despair is reminiscent of many other stories this week, including the winner’s. What makes that heroic theme unique here is the defiance is only superficially against the invaders. The greater defiance is against his own exhaustion and pain, his inexperience, the immature temptation to put himself first. Man vs. self, as they say. That’s a heck of a textured battle for 150 words, and that layering of depth launches this story to another level altogether.   

Wonderfully done.

Your turn! How do you approach a prompt? What tools do you use in your own flash writing which have proven the most effective?