Today, a writing exercise combining the best of the worlds of flash fiction and playwriting, with examples from playwright Jami Brandli and fiction writer KL Pereira. Get out your pens and spend tonight or the weekend trying this out. We'd love to see your responses to the exercise published in the comments below.
THE FLASH DRAMA: To fully appreciate how voice externalizes our character’s internal, deliberate thoughts, we sometimes need to take a page from the playwright by appreciating the wonderful truth that is drama. Begin the performance with a character(s) portraying a feeling about what is happening or what has happened before, and work towards resolution through severing the action at its emotional climax. 500 words or less.
(PERSON, 20s, stands center stage. A spot light.)
I can’t remember the last time I ate. I can’t remember. Eating seems pointless anyway. It does no good. Eating. It’s filling a ditch. When my brother, Charlie, was released from the war, he came home broken. A toy car missing a wheel. A talking doll unable to laugh. A diaper that leaks. Charlie is broken and my mother has become forgetful. Is forgetful. Lets her fingers drift into pots of boiling water. Lets her hair go to knots. Grilles steaks, boils corn beef, covers a pie pan with a thin skin of fresh dough and then piles on pummeled blueberries and sugar. She stares at my brother, her second born, her favorite lamb. I say, Mom, Charlie has no appetite. I say, Mom, Charlie has no teeth. I say, Mom, Charlie can’t suck up meat with a straw. But she doesn’t look at me, won’t. I could have a roast steaming on my plate, and she’ll just stare at him, her pupils expanding larger than the room, larger than the universe. I can see her mind sifting, back to a time when she felt it was safe to weep. Back to a time she believed that if she wept, someone would eat.
- Jami Brandli
Jami Brandli is an award-winning playwright who has had productions across the country and has plays published with Smith & Kraus. She was a contributing writer for the Elliot Norton Award-Winning production of PS: Page Me Later, and a Visiting Playwright for the 2009 ATHE Conference. Her play, The Sinker, recently world premiered at HotCity Theatre in St. Louis and will be produced at Rogers State University. In addition to winning the 2010 John Gassner Memorial Playwriting Award, her play, Technicolor Life, was developed at the 2010 WordBRIDGE Playwrights Lab and selected for the 2010 Ashland New Plays Festival. It was also a finalist for the 2010 Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship. Jami lives in Pasadena, CA, where she’s at work on scripts for both stage and screen and a novel. For her day job, she teaches dramatic writing at Lesley University’s low-residency MFA program in Boston.
RETRO LUNCH (LOVE SONGS)
Boy: early 20’s
Girl: early 20’s
Boy and girl sit in a café while a radio plays music from the 80s and 90s. They fall into singing lyrics to one another.
Boy: It ain’t no big thing.
Girl: You didn’t have the decency to change the sheets.
Boy: My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me, tell me where did you sleep last night?
Girl: Under the bridge I could not get enough. Under the bridge, forgot about my love.
Boy: You’re the biggest fake that much is true.
Boy tosses teaspoon across the table.
Girl (playfully): We are gonna be friends, yes, I can tell we are gonna be friends.
Boy (playfully): Ooo, you make me live. You, you’re my best friend.
Radio clicks off. Long silence fills the café, broken only by the clinks of mugs and groans of cappuccino machines.
After a few moments, music comes back on.
Girl: You always were the only boy who wanted me the way I am.
Boy: Oh, my beautiful liar. Oh, my precious...
Girl shatters saucer on edge of table, cuts her finger.
Girl: Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon.
A barista rushes over with a broom and sweeps up saucer.
Barista: There’s nobody else here. No one like me. I’m special, so special.
Boy (to barista): I thought you were special. I thought you should know.
Girl: Whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kind of guy who tries to win you over?
Girl reaches across table and attempts to take Boy’s hand. He pulls away.
Boy: You can just kiss off.
Girl: I’m not gonna fade as soon as you close your eyes!
Girl pushes back chair and stalks out of café.
Boy (calling out): And don’t forget to give me back my black T-shirt!
KL Pereira is obsessed with music and the creepy, creaky underbelly of life. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction are published or forthcoming in Bitch Magazine, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, The Pitkin Review, and other publications. A writing instructor at Grub Street and Emmanuel College, she is hard at work on a collection of flash fiction fairy tales.
Stace Budzko has been published or is forthcoming in Blip, Southeast Review, Versal, Upstreet, Necessary Fiction, Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, Press 53, PANK, Hobart, elimae, The Los Angeles Review, Night Train, The Collagist, Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Forward, Brevity & Echo, Quick Fiction and elsewhere. The screen adaptations of his stories have received numerous honors and showcases as well. At present, he is a writing instructor at Emmanuel College and writer-in-residence at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.See other articles by Stace Budzko