Writing woes – Flash fiction

For the past couple of months, Charli Mills has been posting a flash fiction challenge on her site Carrot Ranch Communications.

I have been really enjoying the challenges as I hadn’t tried writing fiction in such brevity before. I do like having a go at various genres but the main focus of my writing is education and literacy learning. I am currently developing resources for children, parents and teachers which I plan to make available on a future website.

 Having many years’ experience in writing these types of resources, I sometimes think I would be willing to develop any resource requested by an early childhood teacher. Participating in the Flash Fiction Challenge was a way of proving to myself that I could attempt any topic and genre.

 However, I have not found writing a response to this week’s prompt so easy. Charli’s challenge was to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a travel horror story.

 I am not a fan of horror (real or imagined) and I haven’t done enough travel to have experienced a horror story (thankfully) but I was still keen to have a go and keep up my good participation record.

The difficulty I was experiencing with this writing task made me think about writing tasks that are set for children in school. How many children have ever returned from holiday and been set the task of writing about “My Holiday”?

Maybe that’s not so bad, they have all experienced it. But what about other topics that are of little interest to them.

 This week across Australia students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are sitting NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) tests.

Students in those year levels are set the same writing task . They are givena ‘prompt’ – an idea or topic – and asked to write a response of a particular text type” 

Information on the acara (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority) webstite explains that

“In 2014, as in previous years, the Writing task will be a single common task for all students. The 2014 Writing test will require students to respond to either a persuasive or narrative Writing prompt. However, the genre of the prompt will not be disclosed prior to the test period.”

It goes on further to say that

 “The provision of a rich and broad curriculum is the best preparation for NAPLAN, including the Writing task.”

I think I have a fairly rich and broad educational background with a reasonable level of literacy skills; but I am not convinced that, on any given day, in a restricted amount of time, under the watchful eyes of supervisors I would produce my best work in response to a prompt about which I may have little experience, knowledge or interest.

 

What about you? How do you think you would go?

 

Below is my response to Charli’s horror travel prompt. I don’t think it is my best work.

 

Travel woes

She willed the doors shut forever, knowing that open they must, or she’d be left behind.

She mentally checked and re-checked required items. Surely there was something she had missed?

 Dread gripped her ankles, threatening her balance.

Fear squeezed her chest, constricting her breath.

 Heights and enclosed spaces were not her thing.

 She straightened, attempting to hide the tremble from fellow travellers.

 “Don’t be crowded. I need space, air to breathe.”

 The doors opened. She was swept inside.

 They closed, encasing her. No escape now.

Would she make the distance, mind intact?

 Ding!

Floor 35. Here already.

 

The NAPLAN writing tasks are marked against a rubric of 10 criteria. I wonder what the criteria for flash fiction would be and how I would score.

 

Please share your thoughts.

17 thoughts on “Writing woes – Flash fiction

  1. Pingback: Whose failure? | Norah Colvin

  2. Pingback: Who tests the testers? | Norah Colvin

  3. Nanny Shecando

    Your thoughts on the NAPLAN testing are very interesting, I must say that i’m inclined to agree with your perspective towards it. As I said to the twins as they come home after their NAPLAN writing challenges, ‘you wrote a story according to the prompt and you did your best. No two will be the same and therefore there’s no point comparing individual work to others – it’s simply not measurable’. Also, horror travel stories – you got this!

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’d be interested to know what the prompt was this year, how the twins responded to it, and how they felt about their responses. I love that you suggested they not compare though – we are all individuals. Even twins have different perspectives on things. I’m pleased you “enjoyed” my horror story! I’m definitely not comparing it with the other responses to the prompt!

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  4. Pingback: Oh, the Horror of Travel « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. Charli Mills

    Norah, I greatly appreciate your reflection from the point of view of your profession. As an educator, you understand that writing assignments might not appeal to all students. When you accepted this challenge that didn’t appeal to you or your experiences, you were stepping into the shoes of students who might not be inspired to respond to their prompt. This makes you an insightful educator. Thank you for stepping up!

    Three things about this particular flash: first, horror doesn’t have to be bloody or graphic. By definition, it’s a strong feeling brought on by fright or shock. The fun of horror (if there is such a thing) is that the writer can choose to frighten or shock the reader or write about a frightening or shocking event.

    Second, what is frightening can be small. So can travel. In fact, some of the best hero’s journeys are small stories. Instead of a “Star Wars” epic, a hero can be a grocer’s son returned to his small French village to help his Dad after a stroke. Your flash is one of those small journeys. It’s a classic tale of over-coming fear even if it is merely an elevator ride. So great take on the prompt!

    Third, there is no measurement with the challenge. Tests measure learning and provide feedback. Feedback from practicing flash is more subtle–I think discussions help us learn and grow as does the weekly practice. I hope it continues to open up creativity as you tackle new ventures such as your website and other writing.

    Well done, Norah!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Charli,
      I really appreciate your support and the depth of your response. Your feedback is timely, supportive, specific and encouraging; exactly in tune with a learner’s needs, just as feedback should be. That’s the educator in me and I can’t help but see the relevance to education of everything I experience. It was only fitting that my struggle with this piece should turn my thinking towards the struggle that other less experienced writers (school children) may feel when faced with a prompt that doesn’t immediately resonate. And you’re right, of course, I didn’t really expect there to be a measurement of responses to the challenge, the best feedback is the response of readers. I am very appreciative of the opportunity you provide to engage with readers and acquire that feedback.

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  6. teagankearney

    You made me feel everything your narrator experienced, Norah, – although I think the smile at the last line was all mine! I keep meaning to look at these challenges as everyone seems to have a lot of fun writing them – Lisa Reiter is also doing one – but time just runs away from me.
    Re the Australian Assessments – in my humble opinion, exams are today’s initiation ceremonies and therefore are never easy. However, while I disagree with the system, it’s unfair to not prepare children for exams. On the up side, a good English teacher should be able to find a fun way to prepare for this kind of writing exercise – after all, it’s creative writing!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Teagan. I appreciate your supportive comment. I’m pleased you smiled at the last line. I was hoping it would be a bit of a twist though I didn’t think I achieved that. I wonder what made you smile.
      It is certainly fun, but also a challenge to respond to these flash fiction prompts. We all have to make choices about how to use our time and what will be best for us. I, too, have looked at Lisa’s bite-size memoir prompts and would dearly love to join in, but at the moment have decided to concentrate more on my own work which has been a bit neglected of late. I do love the community of readers and writers that I have become a part of from participating in Charli’s challenges. I’m sure it could only grow by participating in Lisa’s, so I am a bit torn.
      I like the positive spin you have put on the assessments. I’m sure a good teacher could make the preparation fun; and maybe that would make the task a little less daunting.

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  7. Annecdotist

    Yes, I liked it too – there are different kinds of travel and different kinds of horror and I think it’s intriguing when we respond differently to the prompt. Although I’m enjoying joining in with Charli’s challenge at the moment, I was slow to get started, perhaps because I know I generally don’t respond well to time pressured prompts. When I go on courses, I can see the point of being set writing task to do there and then, but I’m never pleased with what I come up with, even allowing for the expectable limitations. Such a pity for those kids with even more pressure to perform.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Anne. You are all too kind. I really didn’t think I achieved what I wished with this piece. Karen also alluded to there being all different types of terror, and I agree that often the internal terrors are far worse than any external possible danger. It is interesting to discuss how ‘real’ writers respond to prompts and to view the ways that a prompt may be taken and made personal by each writer. I wonder if, if those who set writing tasks for children were ‘real’ writers, the task and its expectations would differ.

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  8. Karen

    I really like your approach on the horror topic. When talking about horror, the internally felt horror – in form of a phobia – is too often out of focus.
    You really convinced me of your protagonist’s phobia. Well done, Norah!

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      1. Karen

        Horror is more than blood-spatter. Phobias are horror for those affected. You do not need a serial killer or a vampire to feel the horror that doesn’t let you breathe.

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