Writer’s Home Workout: Flash Fiction

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Sometimes writers get stuck.

I don’t like to think of it as blocked, because that implies that there is a mighty universal force that has set its will against us, and who can contend with that?

No, writers just get stuck. A character stops cooperating. A plot veers right when it was meant to go up. Romances emerge in the midst of very unromantic circumstances. The setting starts belching out details that contradict each other. It’s… frustrating.

There are many antidotes to such circumstances: distractions like Youtube, procrastination such as cleaning the house, long aimless walks, and sending your husband for Dutch Bros cocoa. But these only work for short periods, and only as solutions to minor sticking points. For the quicksand of major stuck-age the only thing to do is write your way out.

There are two, as far as I know, effective approaches to writing out of stuckness: 1. Go back to the last place the writing was working and do something different, and 2. Ignore the problematic piece in favor of something random and fun; the old piece will get jealous. Then it will stop playing hard to get, and offer solutions to the thorny problems that mired you before.

Taking up with something novel (cue rimshot) and shiny, that has nothing to do with anything you are currently working on is also a great way to do what many of us are doing right now, working out at home.

Biceps and quads need motion and stretching to keep from atrophying, and to keep you from you making a fool of yourself when the gym reopens. A good bit of living room cardio can elevate your heart-rate and your mood. Body weight moves can open up range of motion without taking up much room.

Likewise, writers who may be stuck with kids at home or whose manuscripts are languishing under the stress of the current moment also need to do some light stretching, maybe a sprint or two. Flash fiction is a great way to chase an exciting idea with no pressure about being committed to something book length. It’s also a fantastic way to play with hackneyed tropes or cliche ideas that you want to mess around with, but would never invest 70k words on.

If you would like a guide to writing short fictions you might enjoy Mary Robinette Kowal’s recent guest lecture in Brandon Sanderson’s BYU course on science fiction and fantasy writing. What follows is a bit of flash fiction I came up with, very raw and hardly edited, while listening along to said lecture. Forgive the naming, apparently I’m craving Chinese food while in isolation. I hope you enjoy. Also, if you do this too, post your piece in the comments!

The joints of the horse-borg clicked and whirred as they adjusted to Karlie’s weight. Today’s race through the outer rings of the space station would decide not only how much longer her threadbare riding breeks had to last, but whether or not she would be stuck on this dust-coaster until it made another orbit.

General Tso’s well oiled steed stepped up to the line. The evidence of their last dust up, and the damage she had done even as it sent her out of the ring, perfectly erased beneath a patina of polished metal. It’s rider was as tiny and bland and sleek as all his jockeys, and just as likely to play dirty.

Karlie checked the fuel gauge for the eighth time. She had poured every last credit into making sure she had the minimum number of liters to enter.

No room to practice, no room for error.

The starter flashed its seizure inducing white light to get everyone’s attention, then the countdown: red, yellow, blue. She opened the throttle, gunned the engine, and heard a teeth rattling screech as her transmission stripped three gears and ground to halt.

Karlie cursed and kicked one foot free of the saddle, swinging to hang at the horse-borg’s side. She bypassed the stripped gears, sending them flying forward. What she gave up in control she would have to make up with speed. Karlie smiled, closing the distance between herself and the pack of racers. She decided to take a leaf out of the General’s playbook, and as she whizzed past his steed, she pulled the very same override cable she’d had to bypass on her own mount. The jockey shrieked at the sudden burst of speed and weaved wildly into the stands. The crowd scattered and booed, but Karlie barely registered the chaos.

At this speed, she’d have the pennant in hand before Tso’s rider took the second turn. At this speed, she’d make it home.


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