Shortbus Studio: Inspiring Flash Fiction

Flash form writing works for everyone–all ages, backgrounds, and interests–because writing short and writing from images lets people hit the ground running. I have taught flash fiction to well over 1000 children in Oregon, Michigan, and North Carolina…but I had never taught adults with serious developmental disabilities. A while back, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Shortbus Studio to bring flash form writing to the artists as another method for working with imagination.
According to their website, Shortbus Studio:

“Shortbus Studio strives to make artistic and adventurous experiences accessible to everyone by providing opportunities for individuals to express themselves creatively and to become engaged in their community.  Inclusive and adaptive activities enhance personal and social skills, encourage respect for the environment, and ultimately help folks who are differently abled to understand their place within the human race and on planet earth. People in the larger community come to see for themselves that individuals with disabilities are much more alike than different from them.”

On the first day in the Studio we had a blast! The artists had been primed for my visit by studying “main ideas,” “details,” and “paragraphs.” When I arrived, I told them we would be writing stories that were one paragraph long.

“I make people up for a living,” I told them. “When you’re a writer and you make people up, you call those people characters. Characters are a lot like imaginary friends.” Lights of recognition shone across their faces and I knew we were going to have a good time.

As the lesson progressed, I told the artists that in order to write about a character, you have to pretend that your body is their body. This really got their attention. How do you pretend you have someone else’s body? What would that feel like? We discussed the five senses and made up our first flash fiction together. I offered the first line of the story, asked guiding questions, offered a few more sentence starters and verbs, and we were off and running. Using the photograph at the right, we created a character name Ryan who was a tall, blonde-haired cowboy singer traveling to New York City on tour. He was staying in the top floor of this hotel and he felt happy about his music, but he also felt lonely. Using the five senses as our guide, here is what we wrote:

Ryan had never seen anything like it before. He looked out the window at the tree. It was a rainbow of different colors: red, yellow, blue, and purple. It made him feel ecstatic and nervous. He thought about writing a song. He heard the busy city: honking, voices, and high-pitched birds chirping. He smelled Chinese food, Mexican food, and garbage. He wrote the first line of his song: I wish I had a girl in a rainbow tree.

As an educator, there were a few things I learned within the opening moments of class that I had not anticipated: when someone in your classes uses a wheelchair, you have to be mindful of the white board location. Those of us who aren’t in wheelchairs can easily take for granted the fact that we can turn our bodies halfway around to look at something, or that our heads have full range of motion and aren’t restricted. I was also able to realize quite quickly that several artists were non-verbal, but were very engaged. Using sentence starters, nodding my head yes or no, and reading facial expressions allowed us to communicate. For those artists who did not write, their stories were dictated line by line as I prompted them, they thought, they spoke, I confirmed or clarified, and then we agreed on a sentence. The collaboration was exciting! We had time at the end of class for sharing.

Here is a snapshot video of two especially inspiring moments of teamwork and support.

If support, collaboration and community are what your writing needs next, join me in my live and online class Into the Flash. This fun, online offering also comes with a healthy dose of community, critique, sample texts, and lectures. It only runs in April, and is open for Early Bird Registration through March 23rd $290.00 with limited seats available.
  • Christina

    This is great. I hope there are programs like this all around but this is only the second one I have heard of. Either Mary Roach or Mary Karr has an essay or memoir section about teaching writing to developmental delayed adults. I will try to find it.

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