Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] Microfiction and the working writer

A friend who's teaching a writing class right now asked me about my now-dormant storyword project. Its earlier incarnation is at http://storyword.blogspot.com/. See also "Cletis and the Duct Tape Spider" at http://www.jlake.com/old/cletis.html

She'd been asked by a student about how it was I could pull off writing a flash fiction every day.

It's an interesting question, because to me, it doesn't really have an answer. Like Nike, I just did it.

The history of storywords is that at WFC in Minneapolis in 2002, frankwu was complaining that people would say to him, "Oh, you're an artist. Draw me a picture!" He asked why no one ever asked writers to tell them a story. I said I was up for it, and we spent a good portion of the weekend roaming the halls demanding that people feed me a word so I could pass it back to them immediately in a bit improvisational oral flash.

I thought this was a pretty cool creative exercise, so I took it up as writing form, for quite some time. It's not about doing polished, or even sellable, fiction. It's the writerly equivalent of morning calisthenics — let the creative muscles unwind, without the judgmental process of editing.

How to do it? Take a random word, preferably something a little quirky. Try "recondite" or "amanuensis." If you don't know what it means, don't sweat it. Treat it like Pictionary, or a sniglet, or a pun. Build a little story around it.

The cool thing is there's lots of story telling bricks in our mentarium. "Once upon a time..." "The fiery-haired princess..." "The man with no name, riding a skeletal horse..." Yes, they're cliches, but in oral storytelling, people don't notice. If you're doing this aloud, use those elements to think a sentence or two ahead while your lips are moving. If you're doing this in writing, use those elements to lend your effort structure. Think of them as a sort of catapult that launches the story, or booster rockets that keep in flight. Yes, you're stalling. So what? As long as your lips are moving, or your fingers are typing, you're meeting the purpose of the exercise.

A minute or two or three or five later, you have a story. It doesn't have to be a good story, or even make a lot of sense. But you'll have something with a beginning, a middle and an end. Do it daily for a month or two and you will have acquired the comfortable habit of concluding those narratives on which you embark. (And believe me, anyone can start a story &mdashl finishing stories is where most aspiring writers are defeated.) At that point, the only thing standing between you a novel is a hundred thousand or so words of middle.

The serious point here is that doing microstories, either orally or written, is a way to cue the creative process, and train yourself to structure in a very compressed way. It's fun, it's silly, and it's something real writers do.

I invite you to leave a flash piece in comments here, and read what others leave. Use "recondite" or "amanuensis," or offer up a word of your own. Only one rule — be kind to each other.
Tags: links, process, stories, writing

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