Flash Fiction is a Joke

Standard disclaimer: This post looks at the text of a short story for educational purposes, and does not shy away from spoilers. If you don’t want the story spoiled, read the original story first. (And subscribe to support the magazine.)

How the Damned Live On

James Sallis

Asimov’s. December 2016

This is a very short piece (under 900 words) about futility and fatalism. Nothing works out for the narrator, the captain, the crabs, or the giant talking spider.
Actually, the giant talking spider seems to be the only one who doesn’t feel trapped, because she doesn’t sense time the way “normal” people do.

Brushing Themes

I’m assuming the futility of existence is the theme, because that’s my gut reaction to the piece. It is never stated, but hinted at over and over again. It invades the narrator’s dreams. Their meager belongings are stolen. Cooks don’t trust food supplies. The Muslim cannot locate Mecca. Charts are useless, as well as the sextant. You get the idea.

Exercise: Explore ways to express your theme

Once you have the theme of your story, extrapolate all the different ways you could talk about that theme. The classic Truby example is Hamlet. The theme of Revenge for a Murdered Father supplies both the main plot and the secondary plot, and contrasts how they go about it: Hamlet dithers and checks his sources. Laertes goes for Hamlet without thinking.
The other way to explore the theme is to write up a list of pithy sayings about your topic: There is nothing so futile as a bunch of baby crabs trying to escape the surf. There is nothing so futile as navigating by foreign stars. There is nothing so futile as living when you are told exactly how you are going to die.
If you get enough of these, you can decorate your story with several thematic ideas without ever having to be blunt about it.

Flash Fiction is a Joke

The elements that make a good joke make a good flash piece. The final punch at the end should give the reader a sense of what everything was about (and being short it is all still in the memory) and what is going to happen next. The final punch should allow several thoughts to explode in the reader’s mind. The final punch should have maximum effect on the reader, almost as if there were more story to tell, but of course there isn’t.
A joke is supposed to make the audience laugh or groan, but flash fiction is supposed to make readers react with thoughts and emotions. I wish I knew how to do that. My only successful 1,000-word story doesn’t qualify under these rules.


Affiliate Links:

Advertisements

I am a genre writer from the Great Metropolitan Rain Forest.

Posted in James Sallis, Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories
Follow Better Writing Through Reading on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: