May 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

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

May 14, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionAfter a day in which life imitated fiction, I’m tempted to issue a Pollyanna prompt. You know–a story that is all sunshine and daisies!

But alas, that is not real life.

Last year I read a novel called “Spirited Away,” which was unbelievably optimistic. It had an amazing premise–an historical story about two sisters kidnapped from Ireland and sold into Barbados slavery. Yet, for every bad incident, something good happened. For example: the main character is raped in captivity, but she bears a son that she loves without reserve and miraculously gets to keep with her at all times.

That’s not real. As humans we have a plethora of emotions and many that are battling against one another. Something bad happens and we react. Something good happens and we react. The complexities of our reactions often have us behaving  differently from how we feel.

What this complexity offers us as writers is tension. Yes, a character can rise above her circumstances, but without the tug and pull of tension there is no plot. We need to see the tension, the inner struggle of the character, before we can believe that all is sunshine and daisies.

While “Spirited Away” was cleanly edited, it was a sterile read. It failed to live up to its potential, to the little known history of Irish in the 18th century slave trade and to create believable characters. How can we have a brilliant premise, promising characters and a sterile story?

It’s all in the tension and how we sharpen it.

“Writer’s Digest” discusses the importance of what is at stake for a character in the article, “How to Build Tension and Heighten the Stakes.” Instead of counter-balancing every bad situation for a good one, the stakes continue to rise.

Had the author of “Spirited Away” understood how to build tension she would have reserved resolutions for the end. By sprinkling resolutions throughout the story, as if to ease the character’s pain, she actually reduced the stakes and made the story unbelievable.

We are going to focus on building tension in flash. If you read the article, you’ll encounter a stakes builder called the twist. Twists offer something unexpected, and flash is primed for twists. This week we are going experiment with twists. Usually flash ends with a twist, but we are going to do something unexpected–we are going to begin with a twist.

May 14, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that begins with a twist. How did the character get there? Are there more twists? It’s up to you. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, May 20 to be included in the compilation. We have lots of talent writing flash and it will be exciting to see where twists lead.

(Note: I have brunch for my daughter who turns 24 today and another master’s defense to scoot to! I’ll add my own story later.)


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. Sarah Brentyn

    I read the article and still don’t know if I can pull this one off. Challenge time… Looking forward to reading everyone’s flash.

    • Charli Mills

      My challenge was time–just as I was about to write a flash for this post, my birthday girl (my 24-year old daughter) called to go have brunch before her sister and I headed over to the grad school to watch more defenses. Man, I am hooked on these 2-hour presentations by graduating journalists. Their research and stories are fantastic! You can pull it off, Sarah. Think of writing a story that begins with finding the man’s shoe under the bed…work the twist backwards (or sideways).

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Okay, I cheated (using last week’s story) and I don’t think it worked. I still have a twist at the end. This was impossible. But…had to take the challenge. 😉

      • Charli Mills

        There is no cheating in writing–just creative reconstruction or deconstruction of stories! So glad you took the challenge!

  2. Paula Moyer


    By Paula Moyer

    How could they do that? There it was – her father’s handwriting, which Jean would recognize anywhere. Her name, forged on the form acceptance letter enclosed with the private college’s scholarship offer. Her own check mark on the rejection line crossed out.

    The offer had come two days before – several months too late. Jean had decided. She would go to the same college as Charlie, a state school nearby.

    “You have to accept this scholarship,” her mother had said. “We can’t afford college otherwise.”

    The secret? Jean had tried to leave Charlie earlier. “You can’t,” he said. “I’ll kill myself.”

    • Charli Mills

      Several twists deftly entangled to weave tension. It reveals some serious stakes Jean has with her important relationships.

  3. Pete

    Headlights sweep the yard. Then the glow of brakes. I try to hold my breath but I can’t stop wheezing through my nose. What the hell just happened? I’m still wet from my shower. Just as I came out to see what the banging and yelling was about when boom!—the shots still ring in my ear.

    A growling Dodge Charger chugs along. A forearm hangs out the door and a big burly head scans the yard. It’s definitely them. What the hell? How did moving out of Mom’s house turn into thugs storming the apartment with guns drawn?

    • Charli Mills

      Pete, you have strong details and verbs that really move this flash along and pull us into the twists.

  4. Charli Mills

    My response: (

    Socks by Charli Mills

    Yesterday bullets buzzed my ears like summer honey-bees. No longer do I farm Papa’s land. I’m a Union soldier. Today, my life is socks. Precious wool socks. I was issued one pair.

    Silence shrouds camp, though fires crackle outside our dog-tents. I pretend the smell of boiling socks is coffee brewing; a commodity we lost before winning this bloody ridge. In bare feet I wring water out of each sock. Mama would have bashed socks heartily on the rocks along Greene Creek, as if waging her own war. Hers was against dirt.

    I no longer know what mine’s about.


  5. Norah

    Hi Charlie,
    This is definitely a challenge. I’m certainly familiar with twists at the end, but a twist in the beginning, and then some; that’s a new take on the twist. Three great responses so far – yours included. Will have to see how I go – no ideas yet. 🙁

    • Charli Mills

      It’s kind of like practicing a move in the reverse. Think of a twist you might put at the end, but see what different path it might take you placed at the beginning. One of my favorite authors (Robert Jordan) often begins a chapter with the exciting thing that just happened next, then uses the remaining pages of the chapter to get us (the readers) caught up. The point is, tension building doesn’t always have to be linear, but the stakes have to increase. This exercise makes you think of stakes you might not have considered if you saved the twist for the end. But I know you’ll get an idea!

      • Norah

        Thanks for your explanation, Charli. I have had a few goes at this one, but nothing I’m happy to share yet, so probably won’t be ready for tomorrow. This technique you describe has been very popular in movies of late – start at the end and then go back and explain. I’m still thinking . . .

  6. Norah

    Reminds me a bit of “The Iron Man” by Ted Hughes, one of my favourites. “The Iron Man cam to the top of the cliff.
    How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows.”
    . . .
    Then he steps forward “off the cliff, into nothingness”, crashes and falls apart.
    A magnificent beginning!

    • Charli Mills

      That is a magnificent beginning!

      • Norah


    • Charli Mills

      Thoughtful ramble and gave me an excuse to ramble some more about 24. 🙂 Wow, what a piece of flash!

    • Charli Mills

      It all gets found! 🙂 I like what you’re doing on your blog!

      • ellen911

        Ditto! Great to connect 🙂

  7. rllafg

    The Last Hurrah by Larry LaForge

    He definitely looks the part — properly equipped, impeccably dressed, and seemingly calm.

    That only makes it worse for him.

    “Not again,” he moans as onlookers snicker at his latest misfire.

    He looks out to the left but sees only trees. The embarrassment is palpable.

    Then it happens.

    He hears a distant clunk, and then sees the object of his wrath rolling downhill from the left side. Jeers turn to mock cheers as the little white ball rolls into the hole.

    He smiles and pumps his fists, concealing what he just resolved.

    He will never play this frustrating game again.

    • ellen911

      I love this, Larry! Coming from a family of frustrated golfers (myself not included), you hit a hole in one. I think I’ve a lot to learn about the art of flash from you. Nice one!

    • Charli Mills

      Larry, this is terrific! Ties in beautifully with your reflection on writing and golf with added bonus of a lucky shot!

    • Charli Mills

      And it’s a twist that deftly uses emotion to build the stakes. Well done!

      • A.J. Prince

        Thank you Charli! I love your weekly prompts, not just thinking of what to write myself, but also reading everyone else’s wonderful stories too.

      • Charli Mills

        Me, too!

    • Dan Collins

      Excellent! I really liked it!

      • A.J. Prince

        Thank you! Yours was great, I loved the first line.

  8. Sarah Brentyn

    Last Night
    by Sarah Brentyn

    She screamed.

    Caught between backing toward the door and reaching for the phone, Cassie stood rooted to the threadbare rust-colored carpet. How had she not noticed a foot sticking out from under the motel bed?

    What the hell was a body doing there? How long had it been there?

    She shivered.

    Cassie took a deep breath and stepped toward the phone. Tripping over the shoe she had dropped swatting roaches, she steadied herself on the edge of the bed. Cocking her head, she stared at the shoe. It wasn’t hers.

    The foot was inching out from under the bed.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Yeah, I don’t think I quite managed this one. Until next time, flash folks! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        The prompt is only meant for inspiration. And you managed it well, scaring me once again! Wouldn’t that be amazing–to write a horror novel one flash at a time?

    • Charli Mills

      You started this! I’m expecting you to finish it or I’ll have nightmares! 🙂 Actually, I am so delighted to see a continuation of a flash! There’s been some awesome stories built from tiny increments such as this. Oh, but that foot is haunting me! You have a talent for giving readers the shudders!

  9. Dan Collins

    The Weather Man and The Bullet
    By Dan Collins

    A water pistol saved his life.

    He’d been faced with a real firearm in the hands of a killer. The gunshot echoed loudly, but he was prepared. The Weather Man anticipated everything with impeccable precision otherwise he’d be dead. But you don’t get to be a superhero with poor reflexes. Using his control over liquids, he pushed his water pistol toward the bullet, deflecting the projectile just enough that it missed him.

    Impact with the bullet caused water to explode outward. He swept his arms toward the bad guy, bringing the shrapnel laced fluid right at the criminal.


    • Charli Mills

      Welcome, Dan! That’s a great “shot” at writing flash fiction! What is so wonderful about reading individual submissions is the sheer variety of how we can create tension in a story. That first line makes us sit up and take notice–life is the highest stake. Yet you weave elements of the heroic with subtle humor that overcomes the improbable. And we cheer the final success. All in 99 words! Well done!

  10. Norah

    Hi Charli, Couldn’t do it this time. Wrote a post instead. I’m looking forward to next week’s challenge. Maybe I’ll join in then.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s okay, Norah! You’re such a champion for the flash fiction challenge, even when you miss a week. Your post is thoughtful both for educators and writers. You have now challenged me to look into something that’s been on my mind–building a portfolio for creative writing. I will try to tackle that with tomorrow’s prompt! It will give me the opportunity to link back to your post which i believe is a worthy one for writers to read.

      • Norah

        Thanks Charli, That’s very kind of you. I will be interested to hear how you go about building your portfolio for creative writing. I thought you would have had one. I consider all the files on my computer my portfolio. I have so many pieces of writing at so many stages of the process: some just ideas; some waiting for me to figure out the next step; some at every step in between. I also have printed out some samples of work that I presented as a portfolio when applying for my current writing position. And scraps of writing from years ago that will be awed over when I am famous posthumously! Just kidding!!! (That’s what I used to think when I was much, much younger!)

      • Charli Mills

        Me, too…it’ll be a time of discovery. I get to be a child (or a scientist)!

      • Norah



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