Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSurprise! Have you ever been taken aback by something unexpected? Surprises can be two sides of a coin; they can attack or reveal a lucky moment. An HR manager I once worked with used to advise our management team, “that surprises are for birthdays.”

What she meant was that employees need consistent and frequent feedback, good or bad. No one wants to get an annual review only to find out that his or her performance is under par. Surprise–you’re not getting a raise!

Her analogy that surprises were for birthdays always reminded me to be open and direct with my staff. Clarity is important when you supervise or lead others. Yet, writers can use the element of surprise to control many aspects of the story from building tension (like a twist) to revealing characterization.

A writer can control the emotional response to a story through surprise. It can take a story in a new direction, create terror or jubilation. So many possibilities for surprises. And while the word itself tells so much, we know that as writers we show, not tell. So today’s prompt will reveal a surprise without using the word.

The reason I have surprises on my mind is that this new challenge falls on my birthday. That’s a pleasant surprise. When I set out to host a weekly flash fiction challenge every Wednesday, I didn’t think about my birthday falling on a prompt day. Thus, a jubilant occasion for me as I love celebrating birthdays.

While some people may see birthdays as annual aging, I see them as milestones. I use the day (or the month even) to reflect on what direction my life is going. As you know, life gives us all sorts of surprises, but I also believe in being diligent and deliberate.

Authors are not born. No matter how many or how few birthdays a person has had, writing a book or novel takes time, perseverance, learning, failing and succeeding. Even the most successful authors walked down the same road I do; the one that begins on page one of book one.

So how do we keep track of our journey? How do we know if our process is working? How do we reach a birthday and direct our navigation to arrive at the Land of Published?

One idea is to track the journey–record the ideas, drafts and polished pearls–in a portfolio. I’ve thought about having a creative writing portfolio before, but it was Norah Colvin’s blog post, “Writing to order–done in a flash!” that rekindled the idea. She writes about educating children through portfolio assessments (rather than scored single tests) but broaches the subject of writer’s portfolios:

“I would think most professional writers have a portfolio consisting of work at various stages: some as ideas jotted on slips of paper, some in planning stages, others in draft form, others completed and waiting for the next step, and others in publication.

A portfolio allows a writer to work on different pieces at different times and at different rates. Rarely is it imperative for a piece to be completed in an hour or two. (Unless you’re a journalist I suppose.) You can dip in, leave to rest, go back, redraft, edit, start again, and not be required to churn something out for a reader, let alone assessment, more or less on the spot.”

And–surprise!–I realized that I have no such portfolio. I have all mentioned pieces, but not organized in a way to offer me reflection and direction. And, as we “flash” together each week, we are accumulating great portfolio pieces.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a wide variety of places to submit shorts. Each flash I write–that you write–has a future whether it’s an idea for your next horror novel, a kernel of a short story for a contest, or a series of creative writing that might attract an agent or publisher.

So my birthday gift to me (and to you who follow along this blog or challenge) is to devise a portfolio assessment spreadsheet. I’m thinking about how to organize ideas, drafts, flash responses, potential places to publish, submissions, contests and goals. In my former career I was the Queen of Strategy. I’ve created plenty of spreadsheets to help clients organize marketing, public relations, planning and events. I can do one for writing portfolios!

I know that there are archive options online, too, but I’m talking about a deeper document that does what Norah’s vision for educating children accomplishes–to master “process writing” that will get us closer to our publishing goals. I’ll also review portfolio sites which are great for housing our polished or published pearls. If you have one in mind, let me know. I’ll have a spreadsheet for us by June 9.

Onto the prompt! Last week I was pressed for time and submitted my own flash separately. While I received more feedback on the individual piece, it also made the prompt harder to interpret without an example. So I will be sure to include mine here.

May 21, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows surprise without using the word. A surprise can be fun or flawed; positive or negative. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, May 27 to be included in the compilation. Last week resulted in a wide variety of genres and perspectives; it will be exciting to see where surprises takes us. My example is based on my ongoing exploration of western history and family lore.

Naming an Enemy by Charli Mills

Girlish blond curls tumbled over his hunched shoulders as he mucked stalls for each small, muscled horse belonging to Pony Express. Cobb barely glanced at the youth. Dandy, he thought, continuing his conversation with the station manager. Sarah lingered at the barn doorway, sunshine illuminating her chestnut hair bound with the green ribbon Cobb bought her in St. Louis. It matched flecks in her golden eyes. The boy paused, gawking at the beauty that belonged to Cobb. He hankered to punch the prissy smiling prettily at Sarah. Instead, he gave the boy a nickname they’d all regret. “Hey, Duckbill…”


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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