My 8yo son and I watch YouTube recipe videos a lot. It’s baffling how the same dish is prepared in a wide variety of styles, the host of one often sharing a process that might be diametrically opposite to the next video! Like ‘Wash basmati rice and soak for 30 minutes’, and the other says ‘Do not wash the rice’!?? I get impatient… only to realize that we now have these videos to choose for ourselves when earlier we’d blindly follow one or the other recipe handed down to us by family or friends! Similarly, it’s fascinating how aspects of writing are interpreted widely, and there’s actually no rule. Alas, beginnners like me realize it pretty late. Read all, but follow your own — That might be a good advice if I had it sooner! Reading craft essays are like following recipes — know them all and then choose what fits for the plot you’ve in mind. You may read my craft essays and articles in other publications where I’ve discussed aspects of flash fiction and writing in general.
For the first blogpost of 2023, I am exploring surreal openings. Fit to talk about openings in January, isn’t it? You must’ve heard how crucial they are, and how they decide the piece’s fate in an editor’s mind one way or the other. Let me not scare you any more than saying they are as significant as, say — the final paragraph, or as the middle, or as a thought or universality slipped in, or as a memorable character. In short, it’s doing its job! Like everything else. For openings, I look no further than to question myself: Is it grounding the reader into the narraative by firmly pointing to one of these?
*Point of conflict/tension
For me, it must do at least one of the above. Two or more, even better!
Now, what do I call ‘surreal openings’? Surreal openings are ones that are not mere statements. Instead they’re enquiring, inquisitive, throw and bounce around possibilities, open up a vast field and range where the writer could ‘theoretically’ take the narrative to.
|My Auntie Cheeks moved in with us when I was around the age memories start to stick. She brought with her no belongings and made no requests except one: “Put me there,” she said, pointing the yellow nail of her forefinger to underneath the kitchen sink. *||This introduction immediately pulls the reader in. Who is Auntie Cheeks? (note the peculiar name!) and ponder over the strange request. I’m sure you’ll click and read te rest of the piece.|
|That summer, everything was pregnant.**||Intriguing! The question is what is ‘everything’ and why? Field of possiblilities!|
|“She jumped out of perfectly good planes,” the cutler, Ting, says to me in Mandarin as she wraps freshly sharpened knives inside folds of butcher paper for the customers of her seafood and cutlery shop, Fish Cuts.#||Again, myriad ways this narrative can be spun into — sad, funny, fantastical, weird… And , the reader is immediately pulled in to know more.|
|“So,” the imprisoned alien asked me, flanked by a semi-circle of scented candles, religious ornaments and protection wards, “what did you do to get sent out here?” @||So many things are told rightaway, though it doesn’t read like some info dump. Notice the clever use of the question & the word ‘imprisoned’ to qualify the ‘alien’.|
*”Auntie Cheeks” BY Renée Jessica Tan
**Egg BY Nikki Ervice
#Inheritance BY Nancy Au
@ “A Love Like Bruises” BY Jeremy Szal
Surreal openings are also those that stand out for sheer beauty of the weave of words. Like this one: I’d been hired to guide children’s bodies through air—kids shot through my palms mid-vault, my hands glancing torqued torsos, the horizontal fling of flexed ambitions. “Where Everyone is a Star” BY Ashley Farmer
Many experts say that even if the launching lines are about a conflict, it is the protagonist’s humane side that must be shown so readers might identify with the character’s goals as the story progresses. I tend to agree with this. Let’s depart from the nuances of flashfiction to usher in this opening from a novel: This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time. (Mitch Albom’s ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’). So, great openings, are meant to be surreal in the broadest sense of the word, and to jolt the reader into attention, and to demand their time.
I hope the next time you read a story and love it, just take a minute to return to its opening and see what exactly pulled you in to invest in the piece.
DIFFICULTY LEVEL 1: A first line that reveals your protagonist’s name, age, location and a hint that helps to establish the time period the story is set in.
DIFFICULTY LVEL 2: i) A first line that opens with a relationship in turmoil (eg. mother-daughter, father-son, sibling rivalry). Use the additional metaphor of the setting of a confined space (room, library, restuarant etc.) to set the piece in.
ii) A list of ingredients in a recipe format flash story. Read this example.
DIFFICULTY LEVEL 3: Start with a simple dialogue where the protagonist is spoken about in a conversation between two other people.
FLASH FICTIONEER SPOTLIGHT:
January’s spotlighted author is Laura Besley. When I started reading and writing flash fiction, Laura Besley was one of the first writers I read. Laura was also one of the first 5 people I followed on Twitter when I joined it. She is an expert in brevity, whether 20-odd words for Haunted Passages, or her 50 and 100 word stories, such brief tales can’t work without one smashing opening line that encapsulates setting, character and more. Read some of Laura’s stories in Reflex Fiction, Selcouth Station, Citron Review and 101words to discover the magic of openings in very short-short stories.
WATCH OUT FOR:
Rashi Rohatgi’s novella, Sita in Exile. Rashi is the Fiction editor of Waxwing magazine. I first connected with Rashi because of this piece in Jellyfish Review — a must read in my opinion. Rashi’s novella will be released in May, 2023 by Miami University Press. Know more about Rashi.
Writers love FREE submission windows, so do I! Places that open for FREE submissions on February 1 are Lost Balloon Magazine, Gordon Square Review, The Citron Review (mini Issue), DASH Literary Journal (open now), Skein Press, Ghost City Press (microchap), Stonecoast (opens Feb 5), Atticus Review (FREE on the 1st), and Shenandoah (opens Feb 6).
First workshop of 2023 is
A 90 minute Online Generative Flash Fiction Workshop on Sunday March 26: 8:30 AM ET/2:30 PM BST/7:00 PM IST
Description: Flash Fiction brings to mind something like coffee. Perfectly blended. Strong. Served fast and fresh. As a rapid generative session, sit with a cup of coffee, and before it gets cold, we’ll tap into everyday trifles and memories to quickly write five stories. Expect to experiment and have fun with unusual cultural prompts and published diverse stories to draw inspiration from.
Click here to read what previous participants of this workshop had to say!
PRO-TIP OF THE MONTH
Finally, the pro-tip of the month! A rejected piece is not a bad piece. It means your idea is great but the prose needs work OR Your submission went to the wrong magazine OR Your submission made it through many rounds but they just had too many and couldn’t fit it OR The piece is meant to stay unpublished and later find a place in that collection you’ll write one day!
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