April 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

April 24, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionCreativity seems like a night sky full of burning stars sparking into infinity and beyond until it pokes the eye of creation. Endless. Boundless. Open to all possibilities.

Yet, that might not be so. Consider the blank page.

Many writers have stared into the endless, boundless white ready to take on all possibilities only to discover that they have nothing to add. In fact, writer’s block is often denoted as the blank page.

Creativity is also viewed as something free-spirited. I’ve even known parents who excused the poor behavior of their toddlers as creative free-spirits.

Yet, behavioral experts advise that toddlers best thrive in an environment that offers a schedule. To raise a free-spirit requires parenting with constraints.

Apply that to our writing, and you can see that constraints can also make for an environment where creativity can thrive. Give an artist a frame and she’ll give you a painting; give a writer a specific number of syllables and he’ll give you a poem.

I don’t claim expertise in the area of creativity and constraints beyond what I’ve personally experienced. When told to write anything, my mind tends to freeze. Anything? Suddenly I know nothing. The blank page remains white.

When told to write anything as long as these three words are included (lioness, taxi and lemon), suddenly my mind is making brilliant connections–“the lioness of New York city with her bottle-bleached, lemon-blonde hair drove a taxi at night to stalk her prey.” A story emerges from the constraint.

Why is that? One of our flash fiction writer’s from last week’s compilation, Biographies Real and Imagined, reflected on the 99-word constraint of Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction. Anne Goodwin wrote that reducing a story to 99 words “was like growing bonsai.” Yet she recognized that “limits can be liberating.”

Anne introduced me to another blog that explored the genius of Dr. Seuss. The post, “The Weird Strategy Dr. Seuss Used to Create His Greatest Work (And Why You Should Use It Too)” reveals that Theo Geisel wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” after a publisher issued him a 50 word challenge.

It’s worth the read to better understand the power of constraints. They can help you define your white page. And that’s what we are doing here each week–using constraints to create. A weekly prompt and the 99-word rule can work to spark that expansive creativity we feel when we look up into the night sky.

Seems how it is the day after Earth Day, our prompt is going to be about climate change, so to speak. Climate in fiction can be the container that holds our characters and their story. Climate can set the scene, shadow the tone or hint at a plot twist.

Mastering the setting is a subtle but vital skill. This week, let’s practice the impact that climate change has on a story, even a very short one. Think of ideas like sunshine and happiness, or rain and depression. What does it mean to your story if the clouds move in to block the sun, or the rain suddenly stops? Your climate change can be overt or implied.

April 23, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) describe the climate of a story as it changes to reflect a character’s mood or to create a sense of what is to come. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, April 30 to be included in the compilation. My contribution follows and is an exploration of a larger project I have in mind. May the sun shine on your writing this week!

Basking by Charli Mills

Chickens scratched at bare dirt as Sarah tossed dried corn from her apron pocket. They pecked at kernels and she watched, feeling the morning sun warm on her back. It was like basking with Colb in bed, his chest pressed to her back. His arms snugged around her. He’d crossed Rock Creek two days ago to take care of business. Business always drew him away, but like the chickens at her feet he never wandered far from his favorite roost. The trundle of wagon wheels caught Sarah’s attention. A dark cloud slid over the sun. It was Colb’s wife.


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

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  1. Paula Moyer

    Wow! That is superb writing, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Paula!

  2. Paula Moyer

    Knife of Winter

    By Paula Moyer

    Moving to Minneapolis gave new meaning to “cold.” Jean now felt its sharpness. 30 below last night. Cold cut through her at the bus stop, despite her layers: long underwear, extra socks, gloves under the mittens. Still black out at 7:30 a.m. She gave the driver her pass, took a seat, and then slept until her transfer.

    The second bus huffed to Franklin Avenue. Jean stepped out, peaked east. The blinding dawn verified the forecast: “Bright, ineffectual sunshine.” Too cold to snow. Yet she brightened. Sunrise was earlier than yesterday. More sun would vanquish the blade of cold. Eventually.

    • Charli Mills

      You write so that cold seeps into the senses and we all look longingly at that ineffectual sun. Yet, having lived there, I know how excited I’d get the first time I noticed a “longer day.” Great play with climate! Great flash!

  3. Annecdotist

    Thanks for your elegant link back to my blog, Charli, and a great introduction to this theme. Enjoyed your story and Paula’s and plan to join in early next week. I love how the cloud over the sun promises trouble for Sarah, and that little bit of sunshine on a cold day makes Jean feel so much brighter.
    In the meantime, you’ve inspired me to post a review I’d been contemplating for a hot day in the summer on Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell:

    • Charli Mills

      Great review, Anne! I enjoyed the links and finding previous posts on the topic. I think it is important for us to grab a hold of those topics that interest us, feed us, teach us. It is good to be critical with the masters yet gentle with the apprentices. All in balance. Some days we are are one or the other. I’m interested to read that book now. Will post a comment on your site, bit discombobulated today with packing for successive journeys–Montana to Minnesota to Montana back to Idaho. I cook when I go to MT so I have to pack the kitchen and the office.

  4. Sarah Brentyn

    Oh, Charli. That is fantastic. You got me at the end. Love it!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sarah! It’s a story I’m playing with for the future. I jest that “plan B” for my writing career is crafting romance templates, but if I do, they’ll be westerns! If plan A works, one day I’ll write a western that will rock the genre! 🙂 For now, I dream, I write and I’m delighted to share the journey with other writers.

  5. Pete

    Really enjoy your prompts Charli, here’s my stab at it…

    I pass through Buford in a daze, neglecting its wrought iron street lamps and sidewalk traffic lights, and more importantly the antique shops that Maggie and I used to frequent during the budding days of our marriage.

    The autumn leaves scrape across the street, ushering timeless memories of driving, the windows down and the mountain air swirling. We’d stop at the overlooks and take in the spectacular foliage, on the way down we’d stop at the orchards, and pick bushels of apples. A car honks, jerking my memory to halt.

    I haven’t eaten an apple in almost three years.

    • Charli Mills

      Pete, I’m a fan of your writing and so glad you are prompted! You stabbed this one well, including taste in the climate that played between time. Great flash!

  6. hvanderhoop

    Thanks for sharing our post on Dr. Seuss’ contraints! I enjoyed the flash fiction submissions too — such interesting seeds of stories in so few words.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for stopping by! That was a wonderful post and fits what we are doing here to build a literary community, practicing craft and sharing stories. So glad you read our submissions, too! Join us any time!

  7. Sarah Brentyn


    By Sarah Brentyn

    A sudden crack of thunder sent him scurrying under the bridge. Lightning turned midnight to morning. The boy stared at the outline of abandoned cars. He tugged at his tiny boots, yanked off his sweater, squeezing rainwater from the wool. Waiting, watching, he sat in his spot. Another crack split the air. He shivered. Mama would come for him. She promised. One night, when the thunder was just quiet rumbling, she told him to wait for her here. He curled up, rubbing his sweater between two fingers. She would come for him. He heard soft rumbles in the distance.

    Climate Change (Setting/Mood/Foreshadowing)

    • Charli Mills

      Makes me want to scoop up this boy in his wet sweater and tiny boots. The weather sets the perfect mood for “Abandoned”!

  8. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    I really enjoyed this post. You have a wonderful way with words and I like the way you described creativity. While I scanned for the prompt when it was first posted, I didn’t read your post until just now. I’m pleased I didn’t, as my flash piece is about creativity! I also broke with ‘my own’ tradition and read the other pieces already posted (usually I wait for the compilation). There are some very interesting pieces here. It is great to see the way different writers choose, and use, words for different effects. I love your piece – the surprise or twist in the end is always good. I’ll post my piece on Tuesday, as usual. I think you mentioned routine and structure!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Norah! I can’t wait to read your flash on creativity!

      • Norah

        Hi Charli, Here’s a link to my post http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-fd I hope I’m not too late!

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Norah! Not too late!


  1. Flash fiction: Revival | Norah Colvin - […] challenge from Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications on April 23, 2014 was […]

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