flash fiction

The Flash Fiction Writing Sessions

gecko

The Flash Fiction Writing Sessions are for anybody to read and / or do. They can be done independently online or in structured group sessions delivered by The Safe House.

The sessions encourage structure and creativity in writing through presenting a stimulus and a guide on how to approach each specific writing task. Participants are encouraged to use each session to produce a short piece of creative writing.

For more information on the Flash Fiction Writing Sessions at The Safe House go here.


italian dog logoIf you are interested in participating in these sessions, either as an attendee or facilitator, or both (!), or if you would like to discuss developing your own Flash Fiction Writing sessions with us, just fill in the form below and we will get back to you with details of how to be involved in this part of the work of The Safe House.

This IS The Safe House 

“We can take you to a better place.”

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The Cardboard Library

girl moon umbrella butterflies adana1The Cardboard Library sessions are creative writing development sessions.

Participants are led through a series of stimulating journeys, both real and virtual, which form the catalyst for poetry, flash fiction and short story writing. The products from these sessions are collated and presented by The Safe House as The Cardboard Library, a hand-made occasional ‘magazine’ showcasing new creative writing talent.

italian dog logoIf you are interested in participating in these sessions, either as an attendee or facilitator, or both (!), just fill in the form below and we will get back to you with details of how to be involved in this part of the work of The Safe House.

About This Person

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

This session involves a bit of old fashioned detective work. You could imagine Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, you could be more daring and think of someone like Anthony Horowitz’s Jim Diamond, or you could fall back on someone like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marples and think about how she might have pieced the clues together.

a rolled up noteIn the poem, About His Person, Simon Armitage creates a sense of melancholic mystery using the contents of a man’s pockets listed almost matter-of-factly, giving the reader tantalising insights into the life and even character of this man.

Not only this, but Armitage also invites us to imagine the context in which this man’s possessions are being listed.

Here is Simon Armitage’s poem:

About His Person

Five pounds fifty in change, exactly,
a library card on its date of expiry.
A postcard stamped,
unwritten, but franked,
a pocket size diary slashed with a pencil
from March twenty-fourth to the first of April.
A brace of keys for a mortise lock,
an analogue watch, self winding, stopped.
A final demand
in his own hand,
a rolled up note of explanation
planted there like a spray carnation
but beheaded, in his fist.
A shopping list.
A givaway photograph stashed in his wallet,
a keepsake banked in the heart of a locket,
no gold or silver,
but crowning one finger
a ring of white unweathered skin.
That was everything.

He is surely dead, isn’t he? The title, with its play on the official crime jargon used to introduce a description of items found on a dead body,  gives the reader that much. But how did he die? Who is making the list? Is it a policeman? The coroner? A forensic criminologist just out of university with the task of piecing together the man’s world in order to assist in discovering the truth about his death?

We, the reader, don’t know. We have plenty of clues, but can they tell us anything for certain?

Fact or fiction? Who knows.

Activity:
Write a paragraph speculating on the significance of objects found on a dead body.

Stimulus:
The poem and the objects described are the stimulus for this piece of writing.

Guide:

Armitage presents a number of everyday objects for his readers to ‘use’ to piece together the story of the dead man. For example, there is ‘five pounds fifty in change’, a ‘library card on its date of expiry’, a postcard. All of these things give us clues about who the man was. A rich man? An avid reader? Who was the postcard for? Similarly, Armitage describes the man’s diary which had a number of dates ‘slashed with a pencil’. What happened between March 24th and April 1st? What was the note? Who wrote it? Why has it been ‘beheaded’? We, the reader, don’t know but we can make guesses, we can speculate. There are many more ‘clues’ until finally we are made aware of something that is different because it is not there. What could be the significance of the ‘ring of white unweathered skin’? 

simon_armitage_credit_paul_wolfgang_websterIn this session, you are invited to take some or all of the objects listed in the poem and write a paragraph describing what you think they tell us about the man.

Word count
It’s a paragraph so, unless you want to emulate the incredible Roberto Bolaño and write sentences that are longer than some other writers’ chapters, this won’t be too long. 250 words? 500 max., we reckon.

Time
As in all of The Safe House Flash Fiction Writing Sessions, the length of time you spend is entirely up to you. We would think, though, that you might want to spend about an hour on this to make it into a complete paragraph with carefully constructed sentences and accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Genre
Well, the stimulus is a poem but you could fit this to all sorts of genre. Crime fiction comes to mind, obviously, or even crime reporting. You, the writer should choose.

Point of View
Pretty sure this would usually be third person, but you might want to write it from the point of view of the detective who is trying to piece together the clues about the dead man. You, the writer, should choose.

Process
Of course, you will need to read the poem. And probably read it again.

Then, it might be good to make a list of the items you are going to focus on in your paragraph and link them to notes from your ‘detective-like’ thinking. This list, and the notes that go with them, will form the research and planning stage of your writing. There is no need to worry about sentences or accuracy yet.

Next, you could take each of the objects and the notes in turn and construct a sentence which explains the significance of the object. You could then join these together using linking words to form longer sentences and, eventually, a whole paragraph.

When you have a first draft of the paragraph, take a short break and then come back to it and read what you have written. Think about the meaning of the sentences you have written and, if there is any confusion, edit your writing so that your meaning is clear to your reader.

The next stage involves reading again, carefully and checking for spelling, punctuation and grammar problems. These need to be sorted out so that you are not embarrassed at a later stage and so that your reader doesn’t get distracted from the points you are making.

Make sure you are happy for people to read your writing!

italian dog logoWhat next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

This IS The Safe House – “We can take you to a better place.”

 

Jeff the Iguana

By Lewis Dunmore

I came home from holiday in Tenerife and finally fell on my bed out of exhaustion.

Eventually, I opened my suitcase, grabbed my phone and without warning saw my bag fall over.I went to grab it when suddenly a scaly head popped out. It was a large pale green lizard which swiftly made a run for it under my bed. I grabbed a torch, checked my bed and saw a lizard sitting there.

To my astonishment, I identified it to be an iguana and looked at it in wonder. It had bright red spines on its back that looked liked knives or the back of a small stegosaurus. After that, I slowly pushed the door shut, grabbed a washing basket from the corner of my room and I held it above the lizard. I was thinking of how to get it out when I heard my dogs barking. Then, all of a sudden, the iguana bolted out from the bed and into the open. I slammed the basket onto the floor and trapped it. It froze on the spot! I shouted for my mum and dad and explained how the lizard had somehow got into my bag.

Then, the next day, me and my dad went to the shops and bought a lizard tank and we have kept Jeff ever since.

I think he’s happy.

Writing Backstory

Lewis wrote this story using a fairly straightforward writing method which involved reading a text for stimulus, conversation about and consideration of the scenario, guided written note-taking and planning, drafting, proof reading, editing and redrafting. 

The process was fairly intensive and Lewis got tired at the end of the last session. At the time, he was happy to leave it as it is. I think he could probably go back and edit his story a bit more, if he felt like it.

He could maybe look at avoiding repetition of some words; ‘suddenly’ stands out as one word that could do with a synonym of some kind!

He could also look at sequencing words and phrases to give a bit more emphasis on specific events and to engage the reader with the whole story.

What do you think?

Irreclaimable Vagabonds

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

Roger_Fry_-_Virginia_WoolfIt is words that are to blame.
They are the wildest, freest,
most irresponsible, most unteachable
of all things. They live in the mind,
variously and strangely.
They hate being useful;
They hate making money.
They hang together,
in sentences, in paragraphs,
sometimes for whole pages at a time.
When they are pinned down
they fold their wings and die.
Our unconsciousness is their privacy;
Our darkness is their light. (from – Virginia Woolf’s ‘On Craftsmanship)

Activity

Take a set of words and ‘hang’ them together in sentences, a paragraph or even a page.

Stimulus

dump        heart          kids              happiest      Chicago      bone       defence     sombrero    cloud    dead       taught      rebel      pleasuresbooks for words

Guide

If you look at the extract above, taken from Virginia Woolf’s 1937 lecture on the craft of writing, you will see that she has some interesting things to say about words.

In her lecture, Woolf uses a number of human qualities to point out the difficulties that arise when we try to make words do what we want.

In this session, you are invited to take words that have not been pinned down into sentences and bring them alive using your creativity and imagination. The session is about creating a piece of writing that has meaning for you, the writer, and which could have meaning for a reader too.

Word count and process

wordThere are thirteen words to begin with. You could use less or more, of course.

The words we have used come from the titles of thirteen books we have been reading or dipping into at The Safe House recently.

You could use these words, or you could look at your bookshelves and find your own.

Take the words in the order you find them, or jumble them about. When you have a set sequence, put them into sentences in the order you have chosen.

lowYour sentences do not necessarily have to have logical meaning, of course, but it would be good if you could use the words as accurately as possible with regard to grammar and sentence structure. That way the reader will probably be able to get to grips with your sentences and your paragraphs more easily.

Take a moment. Read what you have written. Have another go.

Try it a few times with a different idea or theme in your head. Maybe take a title of one of the books and use that as a theme to create your piece around.

Later, spend some time re-reading, re-writing, deleting, revising, re-reading, re-writing, deleting, revising again and again for as long as you can. That way you can be as sure as possible that you have produced a piece you are happy with.

Concentrate on grammatical accuracy, but don’t worry too much about the actual meaning of the piece you are writing.

Let the reader worry about that!

italian-dog-logo2.jpegWhat next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

 

 

 

‘Smash yr face into my textbook’

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

clock

Many of us are constantly embroiled in creating stuff for other people to judge us by. This is part of our contract with the world of measuring, judging and accrediting worthiness. We engage in it, even though it messes with our mind and eats at our soul. Is there another way?

Activity

Take a break from your studies.

Read Dominic Nolan’s poem (below) and create your own piece of writing to describe and define your own take on the pressures of the ‘hand-in’ deadline.

Stimulus

It’s not an essay deadline until somebody’s in tears

Smash yr face into my textbook – 4th edition.
a lot of extra material added.
i am hitting the bong and it is my homemade bong and i am 22,
now i am 23
let’s take these bread-knives and cut each other up.
you hold my legs down first and saw them both off
then i’ll take ur feet too, take my left arm and chop
and I’ll do you the same until we both all right
lock eyes and saw slowly off our dominant hands until
plop — plop —
we just stumps with a head, smash them up and scoop out
20 grand, put it thru your processor
double-spaced, font size 12, stapled,
on my desk by Monday​

(Dominic Nolan)

Guide

its not an essay deadlineDominic Nolan’s piece depicts a violence which might seem to the outsider to be the dead opposite of academic life.

However, the result of the research, the planning, the drafting and the writing of an academic piece that is to be assessed and then given a grade will affect the rest of your life.

It is tough, and the potential for violence in this context is evident in the distressing and insanely destructive exchange between student and tutor, assessed and assessor, described in the poem. With its text-speak spelling and belligerent refusal to entertain capital letters, the poem describes a possible result of the interaction and the mayhem and madness that the pressure to ‘achieve’ can cause.

Word count and process

Dominic Nolan’s poem is 121 words long. You could aim for something similar in length.

Think about your own deadlines. Are they achievable? How do they make you feel? How are you doing right now with regard to achieving them? How are you handling the pressure? Are you in contact with others who are under similar stress? Are they dealing with it as well as you are? What else could you be doing with your time? How will it feel when it’s all over?

Write notes on your feelings in response to these questions.

windowsMaybe just note single words, or brief notes on a scene that is part of how you feel. Describe the room you are in with a single word. Describe the objects in front of you in single words. Describe your emotions in the same way.

Take a moment. Read your notes. Think of the words you have used. Are there other words you could use to say what you want? Change words, add words. Jumble the words up into different orders. Experiment with the language you are using and the context you are describing.

Move away from the spelling, punctuation and grammar requirements of your academic studies and think about creating a piece using the type of language and spelling you would use with more spontaneous forms of communication. Be imaginative with your situation.

The length of the thinking and note-taking process will vary, of course, depending on how easily ideas come into your head. Aim to do this quickly, though.

Remember, you have more important stuff to do and a deadline to meet!

You should try and produce a first draft finished piece of around 120 words in about 15 minutes.

Later, spend some time re-reading, re-writing, deleting, revising, re-reading, re-writing, deleting, revising again and again for as long as you can. That way you can be as sure as possible that you have produced a piece you are happy with

italian-dog-logo4.jpegWhat next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

This IS The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

Thanks to Dominic Nolan for allowing us to use his writing in this post … ; )

 

Soup Like Windows

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

nb There are no images for this session. You need to create your own with words …

This session is about describing a scene. The stimulus is a descriptive passage from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. Marquez describes the room where the dead body of Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s friend, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, has been discovered.

Activity

Look at or imagine a scene and describe it in detail.

Stimulus

The stimulus is this paragraph from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

“He found the corpse covered with a blanket on the campaign cot where he had always slept, and beside it was a stool with the developing tray he had used to vaporize the poison. On the floor, tied to a leg of the cot, lay the body of a black Great Dane with a snow-white chest, and next to him were the crutches. At one window the splendour of dawn was just beginning to illuminate the stifling, crowded room that served as both bedroom and laboratory, but there was enough light for him to recognize at once the authority of death. The other windows, as well as every other chink of the room, were muffled with rags or sealed with black cardboard, which increased the oppressive heaviness. A counter was crammed with jars and bottles without labels and two crumbling pewter trays under an ordinary light bulb covered with red paper. The third tray, the one for the fixative solution, was next to the body. There were old magazines and newspapers everywhere, piles of negatives on glass plates, broken furniture, but everything was kept free of dust by a diligent hand.”

Guide

This is about using words to describe objects and their locations to create an image in the mind of the reader. Garcia Marquez describes the objects in the room where the body was found and is able to bring to our minds a strange, somehow exotic but gloomy room, disorganised and containing a mixture of very ordinary objects and unusual, specialist equipment that belonged to the person who used it. His language evokes an image in the reader and leaves an impression on us of who the dead man was.

Either choose a scene from memory, look at a photograph or describe what’s in front of you.

Write down the objects you can see, their shape, size, location. Choose adjectives to describe the objects and to convey the mood of the scene. Write these down too. You could build up a page of notes, listing objects, describing their locations and selecting adjectives to describe them.

Did you notice how Garcia Marquez tells us what time of day it is in the scene he creates for us? Decide what time of day it is in your scene and work out a way to use the objects to help you convey this to your readers.

Did you notice the first word of the passage by Garcia Marquez? It was the word ‘he’. So, the writer describes the scene from the point of view of a particular person. You could do the same. Think of a person or create a character and describe the scene from this person’s point of view.

Word count and process

The passage above is just under two hundred words long. You could aim for about the same with your own descriptive piece.

When you have created notes, and when you have decided on a character from whose perspective you are going to describe the scene, find a comfortable writing place and start fitting your notes into complete sentences.

Imagine your character looking at the scene and write about the sights as if his or her eyes are moving around, taking in everything that can be seen.

Take a moment. Read what you have written. Think of the words you have used. Are there other words you could use to say what you want? Change words, add words.

Take another moment. Do the same again. Then check your piece for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Does your description make sense?

Make sure you are happy for people to read your writing!

The length of the thinking and note-taking process depends on the complexity of the scene you are describing, of course. The writing of the piece should maybe take not more than around 15 minutes. You might do it more quickly.

The more you write, the longer you should probably take with proofreading and editing. At The Safe House, we often think that the proofreading and editing stage of the writing process can take longer than the initial writing. However long it takes, it is a vital part of the writing process if you are going to let other people read what you have written!

What next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

 

Voices of the Heart

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

23-05-2010 405This session is about reading.

At The Safe House, we have been experimenting a bit with the spoken voice. We think that there is potential for some interesting creative collaboration in this and we would really like to know what you think.

Activity

Choose a piece of text, practise reading it aloud, record it, save it and send it to The Safe House.

Stimulus

The stimulus for this session is Derek Mahon’s poem, ‘Everything is going to be alright.’

We posted it recently in Words We Like.

Here it is again:

everything is going to be all right

We have recorded a spoken voice recording of this poem.

Here it is: ‘Everything is going to be alright’ read by Liam Winters.

Guide

Liam’s audio recording is just under thirty seconds long. You could choose a longer text, or a shorter one. The text could be of any genre. This is a poem, but you could choose a quotation, even a story if you are up for it. It could be a song. It could be a recipe, a list, a paragraph or a sentence from a book – fiction or non-fiction.
Liam’s recording is soft and gentle. You will decide on the tone you use, the intonation, the emphases, etc. Take a look at the process described below to see what we mean.

Process

factory windowsThink of the things you have read. Is there anything that you carry with you in your head or your heart or which has a special meaning to you? Have you read something recently that made you stop and think?

That is the sort of text we are thinking of for this session.

  • If possible, have a copy of the text on a piece of paper.
  • Read it over several times in your head and out loud. You could ask other people to listen. They might make suggestions as to where you might make changes to your reading. You may want to emphasise certain words for meaning and effect.
  • Note these on your printed copy. This will become your ‘script’.
  • Your reading of the text will call for you to create a mood or changing moods with your voice. What are the moods and emotions that need to be communicated in your text? Consider the ways to create these moods and emotions through your voice.
  • When you have experimented a bit and made your notes to help you with your reading, record a version. At The Safe House, we used a small voice recorder. You could probably use your phone, a computer or any other audio recording device that can create, save and send an MP3 file.
  • Listen to your recording. It could be that when you listen to your recording, it doesn’t sound right. It could be that you get background noise that interferes with the spoken voice. Some background noise could be fine. Other things might not. You will decide.
  • If you need to, record your piece again until you are happy with it. Take your time.
  • Take a break.
  • Come back and listen to it again later.
  • Record again, if you want to.
  • When you are happy with your recording, save it and send it to us at The Safe House.
  • Send your final audio recording as an MP3 file e-mail attachment to: thesafehouse138@yahoo.co.uk

What next?

italian-dog-logo2.jpegHere at The Safe House, we will listen to your recording and give you feedback on it.

We will also discuss with you how we could develop your recording in order to preserve it and share it at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Big thanks to Liam Winters and Emma Gibson for being at The Safe House for reading, recording and editing!

 

Innocent As Strawberries

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

abbeypark bridge and cafeThis session is about imagining the world from another person’s point of view and describing their thoughts.

Activity

Imagine you had to hide somewhere in a park. It’s night time. You have nowhere else to go. Where would you hide?

What would your last thoughts be before finally falling asleep?

Stimulus

abbey park map

Click on the map to go to Google Maps.

As well as the map of the park, the stimulus for this session is Dylan Thomas’s poem, The Hunchback in the Park.

The poem is about a homeless man who uses the park on a daily basis to pass away his days and to sleep. He is a lonely man, rejected by everyone who uses the park because he is deformed and ugly. He is an outcast. The poem describes how the poet imagines his feelings of loneliness and rejection to be.

At the end of the poem, the hunchback settles down for the night. He is frightened and alone. There could be people in the park who are out to get him!

Have a look at this for more detail about the poem.

Guide

abbey park - young people meeting by the lakeThis is an exercise in getting into the mind of a particular character.

You should read the poem two or three times. Read it out loud. Get someone else to read it and you listen while you’re reading the words.

Try to work out all the different types of people the poet describes who come into the park.

Think about how the ‘Hunchback’ feels when he sees these people. What goes on inside his head as he tries to keep safe?

Think about what we know about the ‘Hunchback’ from what the poet tells us.

Think about what we don’t know about him.

How old is he?
How long has he been living in the park?
How did he end up there?
Has he got any friends, family, children?
What has happened to him?

bandstand through treesImagine what it must be like to have to keep out of sight from everyone for fear of what they might do to you.

How frightening that must be!

Imagine how difficult it would be to get to sleep, no matter how tired you were.

Write down the last thoughts of the ‘Hunchback’ as he finally drops off to sleep at night in the park.

Word count and process

This could, of course, be a single word!

But maybe you could extend your writing a bit further than that. A sentence? Twenty-five words? You could extend it into something longer. You could be quite dramatic and it could become more of an extended internal dramatic monologue. 250 words?

You, the writer, will decide.

Abbey Park Bricks and LightsIt will be first person, of course. At least, it probably will.

When you have something down, take time to read what you have written, change words, add words, delete and edit.

Take a break. Come back to it later and do the same thing. You might feel like extending the piece a little bit. Do it! Write more!

Don’t forget to check your writing for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Does your writing always make sense?

Make sure you are happy for people to read your writing!

What next?

italian-dog-logo2.jpegIf you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

The First Time They Met

The First Time They Met

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

ceilingThis session is about imagining, creating and writing dialogue. That is, a spoken exchange between characters.

Young and talented Canadian creative writer, Christine Fichtner uses dialogue to great effect, in her piece, ‘The Attack’.

She uses tags sparingly and only for purposeful effect. Her use of dialogue exposes her characters and their relationship to the reader, creates tension and moves the story forward. And, to cap it all, she demonstrates precision control over the tricky task of properly punctuating speech.

There are plenty of resources that give advice on writing dialogue. Here are some of them:

writetodone.com

ywp.nanowrimo.org

fictionwriting.about.com

And here is the Wikipedia page on dialogue in writing.

en.wikipedia.org

Activity:

Simple and straightforward. Create and write a dialogue between two people.

Stimulus:

sombrero fallout

The stimulus is this brief extract from Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan. (Click the image to enlarge)

Clock_tower

Guide:

Continue the dialogue between the two people. There is very little information here, so how you carry on is pretty open.

Take a look at the dialogue writing tips in the links above and then have a go.

Word count and process

About fifty words of dialogue? It’s up to you, really. It doesn’t need to be long. Dialogue is a part of fiction writing, not the main focus.

As always, you should take time to read what you have written, change words, add words, delete, edit and all that. But something you do need to do really carefully this time is to focus on punctuation.

Take a look at this link to help you with punctuating dialogue consistently and accurately.

theeditorsblog.net

dialogue

Make sure you are happy for people to read your writing!

What next?

italian-dog-logo2.jpegIf you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!