Flash fiction in fewer than 140 characters

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To clarify … last weekend, I was alerted to a flash-lit-fiction slam to be held in Brighton, England, on Sept. 11, co-sponsored by ParagraphPlanet.com‘s Richard Hearn (DistractedDad on Twitter). Details at his PP site.

The challenge: Tweet a complete story in 133 characters (saving room for the required hashtag of #flf11, which steals seven, with the space, grrr).

At his urging, I submitted, but all five of mine suck (this is hard!), yet the deadline isn’t over. So when I call myself a flash-fiction virgin … well, not anymore, #TuesdayTales has spoiled me … but, see, I wasn’t counting these, which haven’t been judged yet, as the event unrolls Sunday, still time to play! Simply include the hashtag #flf11 in your tweets — open topics (which is why it doesn’t really count as flash fiction, in my mind, which en-tales [sic] prompting). 

Go ahead, Twitter peeps. Whet your appetite for lightning-round, minuscule manuscripting. You can beat this drivel:

Inspector No. 14, Otis, is having a bad day. Must reconnoiter. He slackens a smidge, loosens a screw. There. Another happy accident. #flf11

She could still change her mind. Priest, gawkers, the tux-clad brute await word. Tossing her posies too soon, a faint no-o escapes.#flf11

UPDATE: The following tweet made it to the final round!

The day’s dullsville for dogwalker Don ’til a drab-brown mound stirs. He lobs the sacrificial pug into the bear’s yawning doom. Yelp! #flf11

At 09:37, a commuter with top clearance spied a fireball, whiffed burnt flesh, verified reports, about-faced to the links. Tee time. #flf11

(That last one is inspired by a friend who did, actually, go golfing on 9/11 after glimpsing the Pentagon chaos. No names, you know who you are.)


The Economy of Words

On my first tweeting attempt, I overpecked.

Kingfisher Twitter goaded: “Your Tweet was over 140 characters. You’ll have to be more clever.”

Golly. Perhaps the toll of this “information superhighway” (remember that, oldsters?) is not, as I’d feared, death of the mother tongue. It demands short and sweet tweets.

Precision, excision and concision are the domain of any decent editor, but nowadays anyone with a domain gets a say. As newsprint fades, self-proclaimed wordsmiths infest the Web, hanging from the blogging rafters and online shingles (can you GET shingles from social networking?!).

With this entry, I dive into the infested pool.

Lots of tweeting going on. Is there room for one more?

Are there others out there policing for linguistic quality over quantity?

I recently ran across one British bobby, Richard Hearn, creator of the Paragraph Planet. He happens to be featuring my 75-word masterpiece today (cheap plug). Hearn’s mission, one of many, is to cultivate Good Writing™ online — not in 140 characters or less but in 75 words exactly, give or take a word, as the counter can misbehave.

The site draws about five submissions a day, subjecting Hearn to maybe 1,825 paragraphs a year on a range of subjects. What makes him groan? “Clichés, or when someone’s desperately inserting words or repeating themselves to make the word count, as if 75 words is War and Peace,” he tells me. Themes on vampires and “overly motivational pieces … lend themselves to cliché more than most,” he muses.

And to whittle all the submissions down? “I do try and batten down the hatches on my own taste — and something might be less literary but still resonate … or be a genuine response,” he explains. Hmm. “Batten down the hatches.” Cliché? Or resonance?

I, too, subscribe to novelty. I am 90% sure I harbor the novel-seeking gene — the dopamine D4 receptor also associated with substance abuse. I rule out the 10% because I am not currently abusing any substances. I also seek, inside, the novel that I shall write someday.

For now, though, I’ll focus on characters with cachet, Twitter’s directive to be brief while ever “clever” — and to what end? Broadcasting to the twitterverse and blogosphere, saying more with less. To attain followers? Or be one of the crowd? To flush out clichés only to be retweeted, hashtagged, “liked,” shared, coined, co-opted, archived, searched and, one day, perhaps, become the anonymous author of a cliché?

Briefly, before I lose your attention: Squelching clichés for a living I do.

I also recognize that such novel phrases as …

  • “Tires chew the gravel” from John Updike‘s Problems (the short-story collection from the author who first inspired me to write)
  • “Bones tap-dancing back down the velvet …” — a whirl of an invention by my pal and flash-fiction master Jacqui Barrineau on shooting craps

… are all examples of Good Writing™ because they hijack readers’ expectations, animizing inanimate objects. They strike a chord — no! — hit home — NO! — tickle the fancy — groan.

They remind us that, sometimes, to be great is to be understood.