Category Archives: Flash fiction

The Hero of Your Own Journey

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that “rethinks the hero.” Define the hero, comparing or contrasting to the classic definition. Break the mold. What happens to the hero in the cave? Is it epic or everyday? Is there resistance or acceptance? Go where the prompt leads!

If there’s one thing that writers can do is write their characters out of any situation. What many of them wish they could do is write themselves into a publishing contract. Whatever we choose, we all must be the hero of our own journey.

Nearly every class has a clown who becomes the hero for students by adding a humorous diversion that reduces the stresses of the day. The same student may frustrate the teacher by disrupting the class and not taking the lesson seriously.

While I was never the class clown—I wouldn’t have enjoyed the attention and would never have been considered funny—I always liked to consider alternative possibilities and was sometimes accused of not taking things seriously enough while fending off accusations of the opposite by others. You’ve probably noticed similar in my writing. What can I say? I’m a Gemini.

Both writers and class clowns think creatively, which is perfect for World Creativity and Innovation Week which begins this Thursday.

Not so much in the younger grades in which I mainly taught, but in the older grades, students are often provided with hypothetical situations for which they are required to provide survival strategies. I’ve gone for the opposite of the literal cave, as Charli suggested, but still the literary cave.

I hope you think my class clown/writer has used their creativity to solve the teacher’s survival puzzle. If only it were that easy.

Survival Hero

“Consider this,” said the teacher. “You’re stranded alone in the desert. Your vehicle has broken down about 15 kilometres from your destination. Your visit’s a surprise so you’re not expected. There’s no internet service and your phone is dead. You’ve packed water and a little food in a backpack. What else should you take to be the hero of your own journey?”

The students huddled, discussing options.

“Compass,” suggested one.

“Pocket knife,” said another.

“Flashlight.”

“Mirror.”

“A pencil.”

“Why?”

“I’d just add an ‘s’ — change that desert to dessert and she’s sweet.”

“You’re our hero,” the others agreed, laughing.

Note: ‘she’s sweet’ is an Australian saying for everything’s okay.

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Time flies …

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a swift passage. You can take inspiration from any source. Who is going where and why. What makes it swift? Go where the prompt leads!

I think life itself is a quick passage. Time flies, as “they” say, quoting Virgil.

It is often also said, quoting George Bernard Shaw, that time is wasted on the young.

It’s only wasted because they have so much of it, they don’t know what to do with it. I wish they could save it up and use it when they get older and don’t have enough. I know I never have enough and wish I’d been able to save more of it for these rainy days.

Why is it that a day in a child’s life can be so looooong, and a year in an (older) adult’s life can be so short?

That’s where Charli’s prompt took me. I hope you enjoy it.

Regardless

“How long does it take to get old, Grandma?”

“Not long enough, Mickey. Never long enough.”

She’d once thought anyone over fifty was old, that it’d take infinity to get there. Now she well exceeded that number. She didn’t feel older, just creaked louder.

“My birthday takes too long. I want it now.”

“It’ll come soon enough, Mickey. Then another, and another. Soon you’ll be counting as many years as me.”

“That’s too long, Grandma.”

“When you get to my age, Mickey, you’ll see how short life is. Time doesn’t only fly when you’re having fun, it flies regardless.”

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Take Flight #flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write an escape. It can be daring or subtle. Who is escaping from what and why? Go where the prompt leads!

One of my favourite times of year as a teacher was springtime when we had a butterfly house in the classroom and watched the tiny caterpillars strip the plants of their leaves as they grew bigger and bigger on their journey to becoming butterflies. It was an almost magical experience to watch the caterpillars pupate and then, days later, emerge from their chrysalises as butterflies. I never tired of watching it and I was lucky to see it year after year while the children only got to see it when they were with me. (Though many came back to visit in following years, still mesmerised by the process.)

I am fascinated by metamorphosis. I view it as a hopeful process and consider it an analogy for our own ability to make change in our lives. It is also often used as an analogy for a transition that may occur, according to one’s belief, after death.

I often wonder what life must be like for the caterpillar, what occurs during metamorphosis, and the delight that must be felt when emerging as a butterfly. I have written many previous posts and flash fictions featuring butterflies but, as I said, I never tire of it. I hope you don’t either. Here’s my response to Charli’s prompt.

Take Flight

One day followed another — everyone in uniform, head down, following unwritten rules known by heart. Only Olive questioned, “Why?” She longed for adventure. Blue skies whispered promises on gentle breezes that rustled leaves and tantalised with sweet exotic perfumes. Her tastebuds rebelled. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, take another bite. She crawled into a shell and hoped to sleep for ever. Kaleidoscopic dreams flitted in a mash of memories and futuristic movie scenes. What was real and what imagined? She awoke renewed, seeing the world as if from other eyes. She unfurled her wings and flew to kiss the welcoming skies.

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Winning Story — Seeking Peace #flashfiction

I recently entered the Sue Vincent Classic Rodeo at the Carrot Ranch and was both surprised and delighted for my entry to be awarded first prize. You can read about other place getters here and all entries here.

The competition asked for 99-words stories with a beginning, middle and end to be written in response to this photo of Sue’s.

Here is my winning entry. I hope you enjoy it.

Seeking Peace

They stopped on a verge overlooking the valley.

“It’s beautiful, Dad. And so big. You said it was small.”

“Not small in size, son. Small in mind.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Folks round here didn’t want your mum and me getting married. They threatened to keep us apart. Cruel words were spoken. We left and never returned.”

“Why’re we coming back?”

“Your mother asked us — to make peace. Before it’s too late.”

“Like it is for her?” His voice trembled.

“Yeah.” He rubbed the boy’s head.

“Will we?”

“We’ll know soon enough.”

He inched the car towards the village.

***

Here is what the judges said about it.

“This author nailed a response to a photo challenge with the opening line, taking the reader from photo to story with an economy of words. This is a smart strategy when you only have 99 words or 99 syllables. We step out of the image into the lives of a father and son. The dialog is clear, sharp, and tells the story of loss and hopeful redemption. The judges appreciated a place not small in size but small in mind. That single concept conveys much. A well-crafted story with emotion and purpose takes ownership of the photo.”

What do you think? Do you agree?

Thank you blog post

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A Year that Was flash fiction

A Year that Was #flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that takes place a year later. It can be any year. Explore the past year or another significant passing of time to a character. Go where the prompt leads!

As usual, my thoughts turn to children and education. The one year later prompt made me think of the déjà vu situation that must occur when children are required to repeat a year at school.

This is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it. Below are the thoughts about repeating that led me here if you are interested.

Bird School

Dear Mr Emu,

As Eddie performed below expectations on some tests, he must repeat next year.

Dear Mrs Grimbald,

Which tests did Eddie fail? I’ll bring him up to speed over the holidays.

Dear Mr Emu,

Eddie’s ground speed is unmatched. He failed lift-off.

Mrs Grimbald,

Inability to lift-off is inherited. No one in Eddie’s family ever lifted-off. Advance him.

Dear Mr Emu,

Parents shouldn’t discuss limitations lest they become self-fulfilling.

Grimbald,

Inability to lift-off does not limit Eddie any more than your inability to run limits you. Adjust your curriculum. Progress our Eddie.

Principal Grimbald huffed. How impertinent.

Thoughts about year level retention

I have never been one to suggest that a child repeat a grade at school and always reluctant to agree if suggested to me. If schools really espoused what they profess about children being at the centre of a process that recognises individual development and personalises education, there’d be no such thing as repetition of a grade level. In fact, there’d be no grades and children would learn what they were interested in at their own pace.

I saw a great poster recently (sadly, I didn’t keep it and can’t remember where) that said something like,

We teach children at their own pace and then use standardised tests to assess their progress.

It not only sounds crazy, it is crazy.

With our current system of graded classrooms, there will always be children who don’t achieve what’s expected by the end of the year. Repeating them may seem like we are recognising they haven’t achieved it ‘yet’ and are giving them extra time to do so. However, in most cases I have seen, it does little to enhance academic achievement and causes more damage to self-esteem than it is worth. Often it results in reduced expectations for the child. Centring education on the child rather than other-imposed content is long overdue.

As part of my studies of literacy acquisition and development, I worked with adults who had not yet learned to read — such a debilitating and often humiliating situation for them. These adults had low self-esteem, lacked confidence and little sense of self-worth. All claimed that they weren’t clever and apologised for not having done well in school. Each one admitted to having repeated a grade in school even though I hadn’t requested that information. I was saddened, not only that they were unable to read, but that they were still so weighed down by their repetition at school. I thought if school had failed anyone, it had failed them.

I saw the same thing in my role as a literacy support teacher for those not making the expected progress in primary school. Most of those requiring support in the upper year levels had already repeated a year of school. When asked what year they were in they would say something like, “I’m in year five. I should be in year six, but I got kept down in year two.” How sad that they had been crushed so early in life. I tried to reassure them that there was no need to explain or apologise. I felt if anyone should be apologising, it should be the system.

While these are my perceptions formed from my own experiences, research supports my thinking. I read only one paper, that by Brenda S. Tweed of East Tennessee State University, that appeared to show positive results of repeating. However, even in that paper, the importance of maintaining a repeating student’s self-esteem is recognised.

This paper, published by Frontiers in Psyschology, recognises grade retention as a more contentious issue and concludes, as do I, that it has a more lasting negative impact.

Similarly, an article published on Healthy Children.org responds to the question ‘Should my Child Repeat a Grade?’ with ‘Ideally, no. Repeating a grade―also known as “grade retention” ―has not been shown to help children learn. Children won’t outgrow learning and attention issues by repeating a grade. In fact, repeating a grade may contribute to long-term issues with low self-esteem, as well as emotional or social difficulties.’

In the paper To Repeat or Not to Repeat?, Dr Helen McGrath of Deakin University in Melbourne summarises the conclusions from research into repeating this way:

• Repeating does not improve academic outcomes

• Repeating contributes to poor mental health outcomes

• Repeating leads to poor long term social outcomes

• Repeating contributes to a negative attitude to school and learning

• Repeating results in students dropping out of school

• Repeating decreases the likelihood that a student will participate in post-secondary schooling

• Repeated students demonstrate higher rates of behavioural problems

• There is no advantage to students in delaying school entry for a year in order to increase ‘school readiness’

• There are huge costs associated with students repeating a year of schooling.

• Some students are more likely to be recommended to repeat than others

Similar findings are also reported by the Victorian Department of Education, Australia.

It seems that most of the research supports conclusions I drew from my observations. I’m sure you will all have your own opinions. Some of you may have repeated a class at school or have a child who has repeated or was recommended to repeat. I’d love to know what you think. As an educator, I couldn’t help sharing these thoughts and ideas that led to my flash fiction response to Charli’s prompt. I hope it now makes sense.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Announcing the WINNERS of the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

The results of the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic are out. You’ll never guess who won. You’ll have to pop over to see.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

When the Rodeo came to town, Rough Writers from around the world answered the call. You came, you sat in the saddle, you rode the bull, and you joined the parade.

Most important, you were inspired by our wonderful friend, Sue Vincent. Sue has been battling terminal cancer, and we’re thrilled that she is around to see the winners (though I admit I cheated and let her know the top winner a little early). Participants were allowed and encouraged to donate to help Sue and her family, but we believe the photo she provided as the prompt was worthy of any prize. Her photo prompted 63 wonderful 99 word stories and 99 syllable poems; if the average picture is worth 1,000 words, then we can be certain her prompt is way above average!

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Challenge Prompt

When speaking with Sue following the contest, we learned that…

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Deep Wishes - the marshmallow test

Deep Wishes #Flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about deep wishes. Where is the deep — in the sky, the ground, or outer space? What kind of wishes reside there for whom and why? Go where the prompt leads!

I don’t quite know how deep wishes got me to the marshmallow test which I previously wrote about here, but that’s where I landed. Maybe I was yearning for something sweet.

In the marshmallow test, children were left alone in a room with one enticing marshmallow on a plate in front of them. They were promised a second marshmallow if they didn’t eat the first before the examiner returned. The ways in which different children responded to the task were interesting and used for research into emotional intelligence and later success in life.

I had more altruistic goals in mind for the boy in my story, but in the end, he was more concerned with the present moment than life’s bigger issues. Children (and stories) don’t always turn out as you expect. I hope you enjoy it.

Something Else

His eyes were as round as the cookie. He shuffled on his seat. His fingers twitched. They slow-walked to the plate and he quickly drew them back. His head bent low over the cookie. He inhaled. Deep. Long. No rule against that. He checked for dislodged crumbs. None. He sighed. The door handle rattled. He sat upright, shoved his hands beneath his buttocks and looked at the ceiling.

“You resisted,” said the examiner.

He nodded.

“Not even a crumb?’

He shook his head.

“Then you may have two cookies.”

“May I have something else, please? I don’t like chocolate.”

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

promises broken with substitutes

Does a substitute fulfil a promise?

This week at the Carrot Ranch, D. Avery stepped in (substituted) for Charli Mills by posing the weekly flash fiction prompt. (Charli is working industriously on her thesis for submission this week!)

D. Avery’s challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a substitution. How might a character or situation be impacted by a stand-in? Bonus points for fairy tale elements. Go where the prompt leads.

I recently posed a question about the effectiveness of rewards. Aligned with that are promises of rewards and threats of punishment — strategies used by parents (and others) in an attempt to control another’s behaviour.

I think the conversation around that previous post must have somehow influenced my response to this prompt. See what you think.

I won’t elaborate any further on rewards and punishments for now, but will allow the flash to speak for itself. I don’t get the bonus points for including fairy tale elements. I’m sorry to say that scenes like this are more real than fairy tale.

Special Substitution

“Where’s my Burger Special? You promised!”

“Here, sweetie.”

“Burger Specials have chips, not carrot sticks!”

The carrot sticks plummeted to the floor.

“I substituted them, hon. Carrot sticks are healthier. We want to be healthy, don’t we?”

A mouthful of half-chewed bun adorned the table. “That’s disgusting!”

“Multi-grain’s healthier. Try some more. You will like it.”

“I don’t want substitutes.”

The poorly-disguised plant-based patty frisbeed across the room.

The parent hauled the protester from the restaurant.

“You promised Burger Special!”

“You’ll get something special, as soon as we get home.”

“There’s no substitute for proper parenting,” tut-tutted a diner.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

The ripple effect

The Ripples of Life

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about life as a river of consciousness. Think about the possibilities of the prompt. Go where the prompt leads!

The 99-word responses to Charli’s prompt will be collected and gifted to Sue Vincent on 17 February. So, if you would like your writing to be included in that collection, please pop over to the Carrot Ranch for more information and to submit your response using the form.

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic flash fiction contest is now also live. You can find out more about it here. With a very attractive $100 first prize and one of Sue’s books for each of five runners up, it is worth entering.

When I read Charli’s prompt, I immediately thought of the ripple effect of our lives, the effects that occur while we are on this Earth and those that continue long after through our children and our children’s children, and through lives we have touched from near or far, like a river of consciousness that flows through humanity from beginning to end.

I cannot think of the ripple effect without thinking of a wonderful book written by learning futurist Tony Ryan. The Ripple Effect was first published over twenty years ago and is still just as relevant and available today. It is filled with stories that show the difference that even the simplest of actions can make each day. The contribution that Tony’s book has had on lives in those 20+ years must be immeasurable.

I have previously written about Tony and his book in Ripples Through Time, Add a Sprinkle of Glitter to Make Your Day Sparkle and @aussietony’s 20 gift suggestions for life-long learning. In 3 Inspiring Educators, I nominated Tony as one of those being a positive influence upon my work as an educator.

In response to Charli’s prompt, I had three main thoughts:

  1. The ripple effect as in the day to day ripples we create for ourselves and others with our thoughts, words and actions.
  2. The thought that every molecule of water is recycled over time and through all generations of plants and animals, including humans (my interpretation of an idea shared by Deepak Chopra in a seminar I attended many years ago).
  3. The ripples that are passed down through time from one generation to the next and beyond. This can sometimes be seen in families that generate function or disfunction over time. I was recently reminded of this phenomenon by Alfie Kohn in his book Unconditional Parenting.

These thoughts combine into one: that, whether we think about it or not, what we do in the here and now has effects of which we may never know.

Here is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it.

The Ripples of Life

The stone made a mini fountain where it plunged into the water. The boy and the man watched the ripples spread. The boy’s eyes filled with wonder, the man’s with life’s wisdom.

“Where do the ripples go?” asked the boy.

“Everywhere,” said the man. “Even when we no longer see them, their effects go on. Like that stone, we make a splash in our family when we arrive. Our circles grow as we grow. Our lives touch more and more. We may never know the effects, but they are there, rippling through the world, flowing forever in the river of life.”

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

Are you ready to ride in the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic? The contest, with a $100 prize, is now live. Pop over to the Carrot Ranch for details.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

by H.R.R. Gorman

Here at the Carrot Ranch, we take the business of 99-word literary art seriously. Those who participate in the Ranch prompts or yearly Rodeo saddle up to TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) it out and train new Rough Riders as we go. Now, the Ranch is hosting a new event to sharpen minds, welcome new hands, and celebrate one of our own the best way we know how: our first ever Rodeo Classic.

In this Rodeo Classic, we’re here to celebrate a stalwart center of many blogging corners, Sue Vincent. Sue has variously contributed to the community here at the Carrot Ranch, through communication with many other bloggers, and run her own famous #writephoto weekly blog prompt. You can (and should!) follow her on her blogs, The Daily Echo and the shared blog France & Vincent. She has inspired us to become better writers and shown…

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