For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part!
Was anyone else feeling a little emotional after doing last session’s Sliding Doors exercise? Sheesh. While there’s definitely something freeing about exorcizing regrets and shoulda-woulda-couldas from your own life experience, it also can also stir up a heck of a lot of emotions surrounding those times you wish things had gone differently.
I chose to revisit the night my grandfather passed away—the night my mom and I missed sharing his final breaths by mere minutes. In the rewrite, it’s still December 23, 2008. I’ve still just flown to LA from SF, and my mom still picks me up at the airport with Christmas music playing in the car. This time, however, instead of first heading home to quickly drop off my bags and admire the tree—which she had left twinkling for the full effect when we arrived—we drive straight to the hospice to see him.
In this version, we don’t get a call as we’re pulling into the garage that he’s gone, because we are there with him, holding his hands as he gently slips away. We still sit there in the quiet room together, and it is quiet and peaceful and I still slip his wedding ring on my finger—the same one I still wear today. In my edit, the only thing that changes is he’s not alone in that moment that he makes his exit.
Next time I play around with this tactic I’m going to pick a more comical, facepalm-y social faux-pas for sure; this effort really wiped me out. Honestly, though, I’m glad I did it. Diving into tough memories isn’t easy, but it can be cathartic.
Now, let’s lighten up a bit! Shake it out, get loose, and let fly some major flurries of mini flash fiction. Let’s! Get! Small!
#14: Let’s Get Small
Rather than stewing over long plot lines, developing deep characterization, or mining poignant personal histories, here we’re taking an opportunity to balance an entire story on a clever turn of phrase. Take the granddaddy of ‘em all, (mis)attributed to Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Haunting, evocative, to the point. It takes incredible skill to get readers invested in ultra-brief snippets… but dammit we’re up to the challenge.
—Try switching things up: nab a pen and paper if you’re a laptop kinda guy, or type up thoughts on your phone if you usually favor an analog approach. Give your brain a small jolt. Do something mildly unexpected.
We want to write as many itty bitty tales as we can here; to compose snippets of text that manage to tell a story in a super condensed format. Give a drabble a try—that’s 100 words exactly, not counting the title. Go for 55 Fiction, a micro-variety that’s 55 words on the nose. Use Twitter as your guide, and see how many well-placed twists you can fit into 140 characters.
Shorter does not necessarily mean quicker or easier by any means, but treat these babies like bursts of fresh air. See if you can refine five into A+ shape.
I was inspired to do these shorties by reading this post of (remarkably effective!) two-sentence horror tales. Have a look and see what you think.
As always, if you’re just joining us here, now’s a good time to catch up on the previous posts in the series.
#13: Sliding Doors
#12: The To Do List
#11: Guided By Voices
#10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try
#9: Q & A & Q & A ….
#8: Cut & Paste
#7: Show & Tell
#6: Stop, Look, and Listen
#5: Take a (Mindful) Break
#4: Go Big
#1: Pencil on Paper
(photo by Biking Nikon SFO)