Flash Fiction Saves the Day
Back at Joseph High School this morning, I was pleased to see that 1 more student joined my optional fiction-writing workshop, so that brings us up to four. I am so comfortable with this age group and this size that I’ve been able to go into the classroom with very little planning because I know I have the skills to work with pretty much whatever they give me and turn it into a valuable craft lesson.
What did they give me today? Well, the newest member didn’t get the homework assignment, one didn’t do it at all, and the other two started but didn’t finish. But there they were, fresh-faced and eager to write. And they were, after all, taking on this extra work voluntarily. So…instead of beginning on a sour note, we began by reviewing last week’s lesson (local knowledge lends power and convincing detail to a story) for the newest member of the group and then we moved straight into a 15-minute freewrite. The prompt was easy—it was to work on a draft of the homework—and I’m happy to report that, by and large, the kept their pens moving.
The four students weren’t too ambitious to share their writing, but I got each to tell me the point of view they were writing in and the local knowledge they were incorporating into their stories. One student talked about a local saying: “The brains are at the head of the lake.” Around here, he told us, people say that to mean that all the shops and tourist industry are located at the south end of Wallowa Lake (where the state park, old historic lodge, tourist tram, etc. are) and that kids like them all lived “at the foot.” Other students talked about first person versus limited 3rd narrators and I drew a silly little circular diagram that I learned in grad school that helps illustrate this.
We’ve got about 90 minutes together each time and now that they were warmed up, I decided to launch into flash fiction—my personal favorite for sharing with students because it is so accessible. We read Dan O’Brien’s “Crossing Spider Creek” (from the great anthology, 72 Very Short Stories) and discussed it. Then I used my never-fail writing prompt of stealing the first line or title of an author’s exciting story and using it our selves.
Dan O’Brien begins his story with the line, “Here is a seriously injured man on a horse.”
“Do you want me to modify the sentence for you, or do you want to think of one on your own?” I asked.
They all agreed—they wanted me to come up with their first lines. Fair enough, I thought. We’re all in this together and the point is to write. If a first line will help them with it, I’m not holding back.
“Ok,” I said. “You can use one of the two following first lines: ‘Here is a seriously delusional woman in Manhattan,’ or ‘Here is a seriously injured kid on a bike.’”
We wrote for ten minutes and they all shared! Their writing was smart, funny, descriptive, and charged. One student used the bike line and comically brought in the “seriously injured man on a horse” from the O’Brien story. He had us and the other kids listening in completely cracked up by the time he got to his last line. Another student opened with the feeling of the crisp breeze across the bottom of a woman’s feet. She’s in Manhattan and she’s dangling her feet over the edge of a building, about to jump.
Next Tuesday? Bring in one finished first draft of a story. No excuses. And we’ll share and critique.
“Are you guys up for it?” I asked, with a smile.