Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Microfiction by Sue Whytock


Here at Wivenhoe Writers we have been writing micro fiction during lockdown. Before joining the group, I had never written anything shorter than 1,000 words. I had never considered writing micro-fiction, had always seen myself as a short story writer and memoirist. Now, though, I am converted.

My conversion to the micro or fast fiction form came via The Scottish Book Trust and a monthly competition they run called ‘50 Word Fiction’. The competition is free to enter and has four categories to submit to: Adults, Gaelic, Young Writers aged 12 – 18 and Young Writers aged 5 – 11. Every month there is a theme and the theme must feature in your story of no more than 50 words. I have entered many times, with themes as diverse as Wildflowers, A Mountain Walk, Sewing and Hello, From the Future. These prompts are fantastic writing exercises in themselves and they have changed my attitude towards fast fiction. I have now written for competitions where the word limits range from 100 to 360 to 500 and 1000 words.

These micro fiction pieces have value in themselves but can also be extended and incorporated into ideas for a longer piece of fiction. Various members of Wivenhoe Writers have entered the competition; Helen Chambers has been successful and won it and I have just won the latest competition – the theme was exercise and each of submitted a story as a writing group…exercise.

What is striking is the variety of responses to the same theme and we have shared our work in the group and made suggestions for edits and improvements to one another, so it has really been a collaborative creative process. If you are feeling ‘blocked’ or if a more substantial piece of work feels overwhelming at the moment, I can recommend diving into micro-fiction and The Scottish Book Trust is a great place to start.

The current theme is ‘seal’ and the deadline is March 30th. Find my winning entry here on the Scottish Book Trust website.

Examples from Wivenhoe Writers on the theme Exercise are below:

*****

Kenneth worshipped physical fitness. He prostrated himself on its altar daily via exercise bike and abs-cruncher, and spent squillions on a personal trainer, but still the flab remained around his middle. A mystery.

Passing the baker’s window he considered which delicious pie he would take home and enjoy tonight.

*****

Sprint on the spot; squat, lunge, stretch, repeat.

Sprint after dustcart with bin bags.

Lunge, struggle with children’s maths, stretch for answers. Feed squabbling children, burpees after lunch.

Sit up for video call.

Squat to clean kitchen floor.

Plunge arms in washing up.

Plank onto the sofa, stretch.

Repeat tomorrow.

*****

Priya recalls her instructor’s voice. ‘Bring yourself into the room.’ Concentrating on the now, Priya breathes in and blows out, remembers to drop her shoulders and engage. Prone to backache, she adjusts her posture accordingly. ‘Exercise your writing muscles daily,’ the voice repeats. Priya taps the keyboard and types.

***** 

She leaned on the pedal and they were off, slowly, a rusty creak with each turn of the wheel. Sluggish tyres crunched and complained on the path as she clutched the age-spotted handlebars.

‘Aye you and me both,’ she murmured, ‘but it’s a fine day for a birl.’

If you would like to learn more about the craft, Helen Chambers runs a micro-fiction course for The Writers’ Company and several of our own Wivenhoe Writers’ have attended the course and found it inspiring and stimulating. Her winning Scottish Book Trust microfiction can be found here on her blog and is entitled: 'A Day at the Seaside'
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Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Motivation in lockdown



Writing can be a solitary process and even more so in a lockdown. As a writing group, we needed motivation, so in our monthly Zoom meeting we chose a local competition to enter, with just a week until the deadline. The rules of the competition were simple, to use the sentence ‘the drum was lying in a slowly-spreading puddle’ within a story and limit it to 500 words.

It is not the easiest sentence to include without it standing out, but the resulting stories were diverse, from comedy to myth, and all hid the words within the text in creative ways. While none of us won the competition, it was the push we needed to put pen to paper (or fingers on keyboards). Below are paragraphs from each story from the group, which contained the obligatory sentence:

Extract 1
We tug and yank and it crashes onto the tarmac. We watch the drum, lying in a slowly spreading puddle of precious gin which trickles away. As if by magic, several creditors appear, and once I’ve paid them off, there’s nothing but air. No sign of the old bat. Worse still, here’s Daddy, hands on hips, glowering at me.

Extract 2
Robbie thwacks with his drumstick again. The wool strap snaps and the ruptured thing flies from him. The drum lies in a slowly spreading puddle, sinking. Robbie squeals and I feel the tears stinging my eyes. I wait for his howls and want to howl with him too, but instead he looks up at me.

Extract 3
Bin day, two weeks ago and the youths were kicking balls at my rubbish again. Last time I complained at a committee meeting but Linda says they’ve nothing to do, the young people. She’s got three; likes to shove it down my throat. Anyway, I’d had enough and I went after them. Result: I got a load of abuse, lid got chucked into next door and the drum was lying in a slowly-spreading puddle…of ‘bin juice’ Mr Number 3 called it - or Rob - when he came over to help. 

Extract 4
A blushing Margot giggled, ‘I could use the twelve drummers.’ 
 ‘There’s a problem,’ Chomley chipped in. ‘The Drum Major slipped in the rain last week and fell into a huge pothole in the High Street. 
 ‘Oh no,’ said Margot with exaggerated shock, looking askance at Farmer John.
 ‘Yes, and it’s your wretched farm carts that cause all the potholes Councillor John,’ Chomley said. 
‘Poor man has concussion and his best bass drum was left lying in a slowly-spreading puddle. It was late at night, hours before a good Samaritan came to the rescue and the drum is ruined.’ 
 ‘It’s you who never gets the roads repaired,’ Farmer John barked at the clerk. ‘But surely they can manage with eleven drummers.’

Extract 5
The caravan was on its side, the water drum splintered in two, and the awning bleached and torn. It was stripped of possessions: the tapestry rugs her mother had woven their stories into, the thick blankets to protect against the cold nights and the food stores: strips of dried cane rat. All gone.        
It must have been bandits who took it, for the drum was lying in a slowly-spreading puddle of milk. Her family would have fought hard to conserve that resource - the difference between life and death.  She looked at the shape of the dunes. 
A set of damp footprints led west.

Extract 6
When Jose returned from his game of hopscotch to take a sip of his lemonade, yellow and flecked with tiny pieces of lemon already warm from the afternoon sunshine, he glanced down to make sure his drum was still where he left it. He noticed the drum was lying in a slowly spreading puddle.
 ‘What happened to my drum?’ Jose said in a sharp voice which made everyone stop talking and stare at his indignant face.

The most important part of the competition was the collaboration involved in the process – the writing together. The exercise produced six stories which were passed between the group for feedback. The competition gave us a sense of purpose and community, and in the end, new creative work to edit and improve. It broke the block.