Breaking the Mould
There are a lot of great writers out there - the famous ones, the ones who are quietly making a living, the ones who should be better appreciated than they are, and the ones who haven't quite been discovered yet. When it comes to short form fiction, there are literally hundreds of magazines publishing flash and short stories by thousands of different writers. So it's difficult to stand out from the crowd. Finding an angle that hasn't been previously thought of is hard. We are told to write what we know but most of us haven't experienced that many interesting things that would be worthy of a story.
In such a crowded market place, one route that is available to the intrepid writer is to try structuring their story in a unique way. A shopping list that narrates the emotional turmoil of a divorce; a set of quiz questions that takes the reader on a journey from despair to hope; a cake recipe that tells of a little child growing up into a monster. But whilst it might seem appealing to break away from the 'normal' way of telling stories, in practice it is incredibly difficult to make this sort of thing work. Sometimes when you break the mould, all you end up with is a broken mould. Sometimes, though, as the following six pieces of poetry and flash fiction show, you can create a masterpiece. They are bold and experimental but they still tell brilliant stories that are easily relatable and ring out in the reader's mind long after you've finished reading.
Telling a story through a list of items is the ultimate in concise narrative. When the verbs as well as the subject(s) of those verbs are taken away, all that is left behind are the story's objects. The writer has to choose items that tell the reader more than the sum of their parts and the risk is that entertainment value will be lost. In this piece, though, Marissa Hoffmann strikes just the right balance. She sets up her story with a short burst of narrative in the form of a letter before letting her list unfold. Each item is a like a piece of a puzzle that slowly comes into focus. There are flashes of humour. There are mysteries for the reader to unpick. And these are wrapped in a clear narrative journey:
Marissa has her own website and is on Twitter @Hoffmannwriter
Taking things in a different direction completely is this next story by John Shakespear. It is one, very long, brilliantly constructed sentence. At no point does it become difficult to read despite the fact that the reader has been denied the habitual breathing space of a full stop or even a semi-colon. The way it is written creates a natural acceleration through the piece as well as reflecting the thematic element of the marijuana smoke. I love the little details in this - "holding a live-ass lobster in his non-door hand"; "a dog collar sans dog"; "I investigated the shape of my hands". This is a great piece of flash fiction where the unusual structure works so well to enhance the story:
John is on Twitter @johnshakespear and his website is the place to go to find out about his music as well as his writing.
Another way that a writer can break the mould is to take liberties with grammatical rules - staccato phrases, using nouns as verbs etc. - and this next piece by Eimear Laffan takes that to an extreme. What I love about it is that the chosen writing style is so intrinsic to the story's narrative as well as reflecting the narrator's personality and enhancing the sense of place (or, in this case, being out of place). It takes a couple of sentences to start to understand that we, as the reader, are not meant to easily understand everything that is going on. We have to dig for it. And the story, underneath, is breathtaking:
You can follow Eimear on Twitter via the rather wonderful sounding handle @cadmiumskies
There is, of course, a whole genre that involves breaking the mould of convention. Magical realism is by definition a twisting of reality and allows a writer to sprinkle a little bit of stardust on their story. I love this piece by David Cook. It seems so playful on the surface but, underneath, there is so much going on as emotions and familial relationships are explored in a quirky, clever way:
David's Twitter handle is @davidcook100 and you can find links to his other stories on his website.
Combining a similar magical take on reality with a wonderful lyricism, this story by Charlotte Newman really stands out for me. The extended metaphor of comparing women to flowers is great and brilliantly sets up the slightly sinister ending. The structural choice of alternating brief narrative with italicised dialogue snippets keeps the pacing tight and snappy. And the use of internal rhyme and alliteration lends a poetical aspect to the piece that is beautifully rhythmic and melodic:
Another great Twitter handle, find Charlotte @whim_and_her
To bring this showcase blog to an end, a poem by Sara Matson. Modern day poetry is generally less constrained by reader expectations than fiction but even so this, to me, is something special. Every word adds to the next in beautiful layers. Each part of the poem is followed by a list section entitled 'see also' that has the feel of a dictionary entry. Within these, there are fragments of text speech, experiments with formatting, phrases that break every conceivable grammatical rule. The whole thing is breathless (in the same way as John's flash fiction piece above) and my immediate response upon finishing was to read it all over again:
To round off the journey of brilliant Twitter handles, Sara tweets from @skeletorwrites
I hope the above selection of mould-breakers has left you with plenty of food for thought. Next month is all about love as I showcase six pieces that represent different points in a relationship.
If you've enjoyed the above six wonderful stories/poems by Charlotte, Eimear, Marissa, Sara, David and John please leave a comment below to show your appreciation.