Lizzie Flashes: Cubist Exerciseby Lizzie Stark • 09.01.2009
For those of you who don’t know, a short short, also called flash fiction or micro-fiction is a short story of as few as 200 words or as many as 2,000. It’s bite-sized fiction or nonfiction. Fringe publishes them, as do many journals, but Quick Fiction is famous for publishing excellent flash fiction of 500 words or less exclusively.
My idea is this: on Tuesdays, I’ll read a short short and post an exercise intended to mimic that story. The following Tuesday I’ll publish my version. I should be writing a new short short every two weeks, and I invite you, dear reader, to read and write with me.
The exercises will be done Pam-Painter style. In the first graf I’ll explain how I think the story at hand works, and in the second graf, I’ll break down the assignment.
Here’s this week’s exercise, based on the Margaret Atwood story “Bread,” found on p. 198 of the book Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka.
The Cubist Exercise
In “Bread,” Margaret Atwood takes a concrete object, bread, and views it through multiple lenses. The story has five different sections, each that asks the reader to think about bread in a different way. In the first section, Atwood conjures actual bread before the reader by undermining her own directions — first she asks the reader to “imagine a piece of bread” then she says, “you don’t have to imagine it, it’s right here in the kitchen,” and describes it. Atwoods descriptions and the second person narrator drop the reader into the story’s reality. With the concept of bread feeling concrete, Atwood moves on to the metaphorical meanings of bread in three short sections that present the privation of bread and its moral, psychological, and symbolic repercussions. The final section returns to the first and addresses the complications that the interior sections set up.
Write a story of two or three pages that follows the five-section structure of “Bread” and deals with an elementary physical need. Portray the object of that need, present it to the reader it its most obvious sense using concrete description. Then explore the connotations of the privation of this object in three interior sections, which should not be narratively continuous, using a second-person narrator. The final section should link back to the first and demonstrate how you’ve rounded out the reader’s conception of the object you chose.