Friday, September 27, 2013

Flash Fiction challenge early results

When I issued my flash fiction challenge a few weeks ago, I’d hoped a few readers would take up the gauntlet. I am pleased that some of you did, with some most interesting viewpoints and stories. So, to honor those who expended so much thought and effort in rising to my challenge, I plan to publish the stories that have met the challenge’s criteria here, beginning with this post. I’ll post them in the order I received the original manuscripts for the sake of fairness.
I plan to post them every Friday while they last. As I said, the deadline for this challenge isn’t until 15 December, so there’s still plenty of time to show us what you can do with flash fiction.

So, here’s the first. I hope you enjoy it and you are welcome to ooh and ahh profusely.
Birthday Gift
©2013 by Elizabeth Rowan Keith
Chatting over a cup of tea with my next door neighbor is a pleasant part of most Saturdays.  We both looked forward to it.  This visit, with the holiday season approaching, the conversation turned to gifts.
“What’s the strangest gift you ever received?” asked my neighbor as I sipped my tea.
I thought a moment, and then said,  “That might be a camouflage machete scabbard.”
“Oh, you’re kidding,” she replied.
“No, it was a birthday gift.  My boyfriend at the time came to the door with this unwrapped, folded piece of camouflage nylon in his hand.  I said, ‘What’s this?’  He said, ‘It’s your birthday present.’  I said, ‘What is it?’  He said, ‘It’s a scabbard for a machete.’  I said, ‘I don’t own a machete.’  He said, ‘I do.’  And then he waited.  So I handed him the scabbard and said, ‘Here, then.’  He said, ‘Thank you.’  And then he left.  That was my birthday.”
My neighbor sat speechless.
“The story gets better,” I said.  “Not long after that, when he and I had broken up, the neighbors across the street told me they had seen him pick the scabbard out of their trash.”
“What’s the best gift he ever gave you?” asked my neighbor.
I smiled.  “This story.” 


Friday, September 20, 2013

Challenge accepted and a forewarning

Wow. I must say that your response to my flash fiction challenge has been most heartening. I received a number of entries within three days of issuing my flash fiction challenge, so I'm going to make a slight change. Oh, the deadline I announced is still valid, but I think it's only fair to publish those of you who have already sent me your stories. After all, your hard work deserves reward.

So beginning next week, I'm going to publish one story every week, my duty schedule permitting. I shall publish them in the order received so it will be fair to all.

I'm also planning to issue more challenges as time goes on, including making this flash fiction section an annual affair. I'm not sure just yet what areas other challenges will cover, but rest assured they'll be fun and will hopefully help you grow as writers. That being said, I'm considering such areas as poetry (yup, you'll have to write a poem), observations, opinions, and even different genres such as science fiction, fantasy, or children's/young adults. It's going to be fun, I promise you.

One more thing: this and all challenges are open to anyone who dares to accept them, whether professional or amateur or, and especially, rank beginner. Don't think that you're not welcome here just because you're not part of some group or other or have never had anything published before. Part of the reasoning for making these challenges, after all, is to help you perfect your writing. Look at it as practice...and accept the challenges.

So check in next week for the first to rise to the Flash Fiction Challenge 2013. Oh, and if you've not sent me anything yet, don't fret. As I said, the deadline for entries isn't until mid-December. You have plenty of time.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Story as sound bite: A Challenge

Working the night shift can give one time to think—not always, but those rare moments of quietude amidst all the alarms, phone calls, and co-workers or patients wanting things do occasionally happen. And when they do, a writer can explore a bit of the alleys and closes of hiser mind. Those are good moments.

A while ago, a co-worker and I were talking about writing and we got to talking about flash fiction. She said it should be pretty easy to write, being only 200 words or so. Well, anyone who has tried writing flash pieces know otherwise - it’s not as easy as it seems, not by far.

I told her that and said that’s because, like poetry, every single word has to count, to add something substantial to the story.

“It’s not like a novel,” I said. “In a novel of 50,000 or 100,000 words, there are lots and lots of words that really don’t move the story forward. They’re used to fill out the characters or fully set the scene or to add flavor or color to the overall picture the writer’s trying to paint, but, in the end, they really don’t mean all that much. In flash stories, the writer must make every word count. This, of course, leaves a great deal to the reader’s imagination, and that’s part of the appeal of flash stories.”

One of the hardest writing assignments I had in university was to write a complete story in exactly 100 words, not a word more nor less. Try it sometime—it ain’t easy. But, oh, was it fun! And so very educational. I did it, too. That story, “An Accidental Shooting,” now resides in my book Reaper Files, which is available on Amazon for the Kindle or at You’ll find handy links to both on

Being the ornery sort, I am going to issue a challenge to you: write your own flash fiction piece. It must have all the elements of any story: beginning, middle, and conclusion and must be a complete story in its own right—no cheating by merely writing the first few lines of a larger work. Include everything a good story needs: plot, theme, characters, conflict, resolution. I’ll be kinder than my college professor, however; I’ll set the limit at 200 words and will even allow you up to 10 words above or below that.

They must be prose fiction stories—no poems, essays, or diatribes, please. Genre, theme, and all the rest are up to you—as my 7th Grade teacher used to say, “Write on whatever subject you wish.”

Once you’ve accepted this challenge and written your story, send it to me for grading. Yup, it’ll be graded, just like any assignment. Email it in Microsoft Word format to Because we writers live by deadlines (even though they are often self-imposed), submit your piece not later than 15 December 2013. Make sure you put your name and email address atop the manuscript and, by all means, don’t forget to give the story a name. “Untitled” may work for paintings and sculpture, but we writers are much better than that, right?

I’ll judge it for completeness, quality, publishability (it might need some editing, but that’s part of the fun), and, of course, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. I don’t care if you use American, British, Kiwi, or Ozzie English (or even Texan), but I would prefer you use some sort of English. Dialect is fine, and can even make the story that much better, although it’s not required. Dialogue, of course, is a vital part, but don’t confuse that with dialect (they do look a lot alike, those words, and I find myself slowing down to make sure I’ve read them right myself).

Once I’ve read them, I’ll get them back to you, along with your grade. Oh, the grade won’t go on your “Permanent Record” or anything nasty like that, but it should give you an idea of how you can improve your skills with these sound bites of stories. And, to perhaps entice you further, I’ll publish each story on my blog. Naturally, I’ll give you a chance to make any final corrections first.

Let me know via a comment to the blog or a separate email if you plan to participate. I’d appreciate the advanced notice.

So, there it is. There’s my challenge to you. Are you up to it?