The other day Julie Summerell said, “Hey, dicknose, help me with this flash fiction I’m writing.”
And I said, “Who the hell are you?”
“Shrivel Tits,” she answered. I thought, hey, okay, I remember her. Sure, sure. She was the one who unwittingly loosed that evil scarecrow into the world a couple years back.
So I said to her, “Flash fiction? Is that the fiction where you take your clothes off for money? And you tell a story as you shed those articles of clothing?”
“No,” she said, and I think she called me “dumbass,” too. Or maybe “dicknose” again. I dunno. I was drunk on vodka and rhino gall. (Again.) “It’s that really short fiction thing. Like, a short story. But shorter.”
“Like a castrated bull.”
She looked at me.
I made little snip-snip motions with my fingers. To demonstrate.
She continued to stare.
“Fine,” I said, and got on with it. “Yes, I’ll help you. Whatever it takes. I’m good like that.”
And just as she was about to hand me the pages, we were attacked by a murder of leprechauns who consumed us for our bone marrow.
Leprechauns, it turns out, don’t give two slippery monkey fucks about gold. They just like bone marrow. You follow a rainbow to its end, you’ll find a leprechaun lording over an iron cauldron filled with pale, quivering marrow. Sweet meat jelly. And the leprechaun laughs, holding his marrow fork.
So, that sort of happened. Julie really did come over and say, “Hey, please look at this flash fiction,” and I said, “Sure.”
And I looked at it, and it was really good, and I had a few comments, and in the back-and-forth, I came to realize a few things. I wouldn’t say I learned them, as that means I never knew them in the first place. But I realized them. Or I re-realized them. Re-re? Shut up.
Here’s those three things.
Number One: You Can Only Suck Your Own Dick If You Remove A Rib First
It’s true, you can only get your mouth on your own manly-pop if you first extricate —
No, no, that wasn’t the lesson at all. Let’s try this again.
Number One: Flash Fiction Is Some Tricky Shit
Flash fiction, when done right, is like a syringe of awesome stuck into your eye. It’s a little tiny story with all the fat shorn free. It’s an amuse-bouche, a single-bite meal with a world of flavors encompassed in your mouth.
Flash fiction is hard, though, because you have ~1000 words to tell a story. And a story is a complete thing. It’s got that rise and fall, it’s got a beginning, a middle, and an end. Incident. Tension. Climax.
You don’t have those things, you don’t have a story. You have a vignette.
Most flash fiction pretends to be the real deal. Most flash fiction are just vignettes.
That’s not a bad thing. But it’s a thing. And some of you might disagree with me. And to those who disagree, I show you my nipples. And from my nipples spray hot acid, because contained within the dark twists of my genetic tangle you will find a few chromosomes from the dreaded bombardier beetle.
Julie was close to having that complete story — the rise, the fall, the conflict. Didn’t take much to extract that flavor. But it shows how brevity is tricky. With a novel, you get to kill a man with a machine gun. With flash fiction, you have to kill him with a sewing needle.
Number Two: Writers Need People
Writers believe themselves solitary creatures. And in believing it so stridently, we tend to make it so. We’re like cave trolls. Lonely and angry and hunkered down in our nest of bones.
It’s not true.
We need to expose ourselves to other people.
*pulls up pants*
I guess I meant something different? I guess I mean, you need to interact with other people. Not just to, y’know, be human, but also to not let your fiction exist in a vacuum. You need people to feed back on it, and they need you, too. I actually got just as much out of the Julie conversations as she did, I think. Because these conversations make me think about the Thing That We Do. Makes me think about craft. Which is pretty cool. Because for as long as I’ve been doing this, I still have things to learn and still have to be reminded of things I’ve known for years.
Number Three: You Need Time Between Drafts Or Your Brain Will Melt, Then Explode, Then Turn Into Bees, And Those Bees Will Sting Your Eyes
I gave Julie some notes.
Julie then went right back to the draft. The draft she’d just finished.
I do this, too. I get notes, I dive right in. And I usually encounter the same thing she did: Oh my God I don’t know what’s happening I don’t know where to stop nothing makes sense anymore the universe is an uncaring place and my skin feels like it’s hot and covered in bugs and I think I need a meth habit to calm down a little bit.
Take a day.
Take one day. At least.
Walk it off.
Do not attempt to create a second draft only hours after finishing the first.
It’s like this. You ever make brownies? You ever check endlessly upon the brownies, opening and closing and opening and closing the goddamn oven? And suddenly, 25 minutes later, the brownies don’t look done, and instead look like hot diarrhea bubbling in a pan? Yeah. You kept letting the heat out. The brownies need time to bake. Stop checking on them. You can’t force it. You crank the heat, you’re just gonna char the top and leave the middle all goopy. Can’t be rushed. Can’t be overexamined.
Same goes for your fiction.
Don’t rush it. Don’t overthink it. Stop looking at it. Quit picking that hangnail.