In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve become addicted to a style of flash fiction called Five Sentence Fiction (FSF). Lillie McFerrin posts a new one word prompt on her blog each week and you are invited to write a five sentence story using the prompt as direction. I post my effort every Tuesday and I invite you to join the fun next time around. It is surprising how much can be conveyed through a handful of sentences. I have read very powerful vignettes delivered in well under 200 words. This was from Glen Russell, via reddit.com. The prompt was the word silence and it clocks in at a scant 37 words:
“I wondered if I should struggle. Wouldn’t that make it worse? Did I give him the wrong idea? I tried to push back but his firm hand trapped my voice. I prayed for the moment of serenity.”
There was also this mournful offering from Daniel Ondrovcik (also via reddit.com) using the same prompt:
“Silence was death, and it covered the room like a blanket. The light had gone from her eyes, and he knew she was dead long before he saw the blood trickling down the edge of the crib. Slowly, silently, he moved his bare feet along the smooth wood of the floor, bent down, and heaved her still warm body up to cradle against his chest. Her fingers, limp and lifeless, were already cold as he sunk to his knees, his eyes dry while his heart wept, his mind blank as he crushed her body against his chest. Feeling her head resting against his shoulder, he gave in to the darkness, closed his eyes, and let the silence hold him down.”
We don’t know the ‘why’ or the ‘how’ but we definitely get the ‘what’ from his paragraph. It’s not sparse, but it is certainly bleak and unquestionably moving. This is proof that even a small fist can pack quite a punch.
Not all have to be powerful or disturbing. If you were lurking in my comments section yesterday you might have come across Steve Meitz’s humorous offering:
“ ‘Completely silent,’ Drew Martin recalled the words of the rep from Aerotech Designs explaining the sound of the wind turbines that would cover his and his neighbor’s farmland as far as he could see, ‘You won’t even know they’re there.’ Maybe Drew couldn’t truly hear anything but he could certainly feel something and that feeling was slowly driving him insane. Even surrounded by the insulation of his new truck cab (paid for with the nearly $180,000 he’d made by leasing his land to Aerotech) he could sense the rhythmic throbbing somewhere behind his brain, a cross between the faraway sound of an orchestra timpani and a meat slicer, boom…WHOOSH. Ninety times a minute if the breeze was stiff (Oh, he’d counted!), constant, unrelenting and certainly NOT silent. Drew crested the hill at the same time he saw the fuel truck with its weekly delivery for the town’s pumps and slowly accelerated.”
The time commitment for FSF is negligible (some may argue that) but the benefits are huge. With such a constraint you are forced to pare your story down to the essentials. You also look for creative ways to construct your sentences to get the most bang for the buck. You only have five sentences to get your point across—to set it up, develop it, and conclude it, often surprising the reader with a quick twist at the end. But since you are not limited by word count, you can still be relatively descriptive. The trap is that you might be tempted to string together several run-on sentences, so discipline must be rigorously exercised.
Such a limited exercise also forces you to take stock of what makes a good story. Structure becomes very important. You learn to imply rather than reporting what happened. Ruth Long, a fellow blogger (Bullish Ink) and FSF author, very successfully and efficiently developed four distinctly different characters by painting succinct portraits of each in the following recent and enjoyable effort (again the prompt was the word silence):
“Wound tight as clock springs, each of them fully invested in what happens next, no one dares exhale before her hand completes its motion and the final tumbler rolls home. Detective Patterson’s smug bulk looms over her, vibrating with the self-importance of a man who holds the opportunity of a lifetime by the scruff of its neck. Holliday kneels beside her, his intensity palpable, for what lies inside this steel box is far more precious than the hodgepodge of valuables listed on the insurance policy. Collier leans against the mantle, looking every bit the suave interloper, though the sharp line of his otherwise generous mouth is his tell, and the systematic tapping of his left thumb indicates his artful appraisal of the situation. As she listens for the sure soft click, she weighs her options: use the skill Collier instilled in her to finish the job Holliday hired her to do only to have Patterson escort her to the nearest prison, spin the safe’s dial like a roulette wheel and let it choose her fate for her, or follow her heart to true north on her own terms …”
The beauty of the FSF exercise is the instant gratification of going through the whole process used for longer fiction in a relatively short period of time. Develop your concept, write a first draft, revise it, proofread it, revise it again, put some final polish on it, and post it. You get to play with structure, point of view, description, character development, dialogue and plot. Voila! In no time it’s done and garnering (hopefully positive) feedback.
So I tip my hat to Lillie McFerrin for introducing me to something down right addictive and that has helped tighten up my writing. You can wait until Tuesday when I post my next FSF effort or you can trudge on over to Lillie’s blog right now and see what her new word of the week is. If you are too impatient (or lazy) to do either, here is a list of past one-word prompts from her Five Sentence Fiction site. Choose one and run with it.
Hunger • Radiance • Clandestine • Shiver • Sacred • Exquisite • Yearning • Enchanted • Tattered • Coincidence • Wicked • Scorching • Tears • Armor
Got five sentences? Share them with us!