TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) could be thought of as a tool. I think of it as a revision process, one that teaches writers through experiencing each task. The TUFFest Ride is a contest by which the Fab Flash Five — Ritu Bhathal, Bill Engleson, Kay Kingsley, Pete Fanning, and Liz Husebye Hartmann — are competing for first, second and third place rankings. They are the five winners selected from 118 entries submitted to five Free-Writes in September. We have other dedicated writers following along, playing from the “safety of home.”
It’s not that TUFF endangers writers, but the writing process itself feels vulnerable. We can’t teach writing from that place of instinct and imagination without risking the emotion and doubt that lingers within each of us. Editing is crisp, it is clear and known. Editing is teachable, knowable, less risky. But TUFF asks us to shed the safety of editing. Set it aside and write without boundaries. Go where your gut leads you. Explore. Push into the fiction writer’s answers to “what if?” and risk being curious even if it might mean you are wrong.
Last week we learned the purpose of 99 words — a tool of exploration. The technical challenge asked the writers to explore point of view (POV) by either shifting from one POV to another or introducing a different POV character. Let’s listen to a recording of our Fab Flash Five, as I read each of their two 99-word POV stories:
One of our regulars at the weekly Flash Fiction Challenges, CalmKate, has provided an illustrative example of the TUFFest Ride thus far and one that will help me explain the next task in the contest (or challenge for those of you following).
Rank Dank Mud by Calm Kate
Asleep at last, a brief reprieval from the relentless wind and rain … such a violent storm.
Then about midnight we’re woken by a violent piercing crack, what the … ?
Goodness that was the mountainside sliding downhill, trees, homes, vehicles, road, pets and people. The quagmire is astounding, the sight disturbing. The mind and emotions are numb.
Disbelief resides with distress as we try to get our heads around this monumental mess. No one can describe the sight of mud mixed with trees and torn structures. Buildings, roads and vehicles strewn about in pieces like kindling emerged in mud. Thick dank rank mud. We can’t believe what we see coz it’s just too horrifying to comprehend.
Facilities are out, power, water and sewage are no longer functioning. Groceries are scarce as we all panic buy in bulk. The roads impassable so no idea when help will get through. The shock and fear just too overwhelming to grasp or express.
Then with time and sun the smell settles like an unwanted guest. The debris, mud and waste all rotting in one ginormous compost heap. But there is no bin to contain it … this is our neighbourhood, our friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
All sounds are muffled like they are also stuck in the mud. We are muted, no one dare speak loudly, our tongues are tied. None of us will ever be able to block out that resounding crack and weird sound as the sky came down to meet the earth crushing everything in between.
Other than assure our loved ones that we were safe we don’t use our phones coz there is no power to charge them and what would we say anyway. Everything is the same dull dank colour and the smell blocks all orifices.
A violent piercing crack wakes us all.
Goodness the mountain slid downhill taking trees, homes, vehicles, pets and people. The sight is most disturbing leaving our mind and emotions numb.
Everything is strewn about like kindling covered in dank rank mud. Power, water and sewage are out. The shelves are all bare as we panic shopped.
The debris, mud and waste are rotting like compost but this is our community … we are muted as we struggle to comprehend. Having assured our loved ones that we are safe our phones are off for emergencies only. No power to recharge.
Looking down I can see that my minions need a reminder that they are mortal. To stop taking life for granted, whining instead of being thankful for what they’ve got.
A good old storm with a dangerous mudslide should remind them to be more grateful. I’ll make sure to knock out their utilities and keep them isolated and hungry for a while. Life has got too easy with groceries galore and light at the flick of a switch.
As for those damned devices they’re all so engrossed in I’ll make sure that they have to talk to each other.
What I want to point out in Kate’s writing are a couple of nuggets that emerged in each POV:
- A violent piercing crack wakes us all. (POV #1)
- Life has got too easy with groceries galore and light at the flick of a switch. (POV #2)
The first nugget exemplifies the power of writing concise prose. If you compare that line to Kate’s original opening, you can see how it still works and carries the tension of the moment. The second nugget could only have emerged through exploration. Had Kate not explored a different point of view, she could have missed this idea which offers her stories a pivotal point of contrast. Not only is her story one of natural disaster, but now we see an expansion of what can happen because of or in spite of an easy life — the consequences of complacency.
Do you see how 99 words allow you to continue to play in your creative writing without yet having to rein it to editing? You are still writing as you revise and yet you are tightening language, focusing tension, and discovering the cost to character’s lives. There’s no end to the exploration of play in 99 words, and if you take away anything from TUFF, I hope you understand the value of investigation that doesn’t take up a lot of writing time. No one wants to get to the end of 75,000 words and then explore a different POV! Play with it up front. Use the weekly challenges to develop your characters outside your novel to learn new insights.
Now we begin to focus. Now we cut away everything but that which is most essential.
- Decide on one POV. It can be the original, or it can be the experimental one.
- Reduce the story to 59-words.
- For a technical challenge, incorporate a nugget from your opposite 99-word POV (and bold that nugget to illustrate it).
This is a revision challenge. You are not only continuing to distill the original story, but you are also deciding upon a single point of view to carry your narration, and you are adding something you didn’t have in the original free-draft or the POV you chose to keep.
An example can be found in Kate’s illustration above. If she goes with POV #1, she includes Nugget #2. If she goes with POV #2, she includes Nugget #1. Of course, Kate is free to select her own nuggets just as each contestant and challenger will do. The task is to take a nugget from the opposing POV. You might have to change the nugget’s POV if it’s in first person and your story is in third. Or you can take the idea and expand it, not using the exact verbiage.
Contestants turn in their entries by11:59 p.m. (EST) Friday, October 19. Challengers can post or link in the responses. Let me know of any insights you recognize as you continue the TUFFest Ride!