Welcome to 2017’s first StoryTime Blog Hop. This is both my first blog hop, the first flash fiction story for my blog, and my first story to come out of Holly Lisle’s Flash Fiction course, which I started in December. At the end of the story are links to 7 other Flash Fiction stories, so be sure to check those out. After that I have the Annotation where I discuss how I used Holly’s course to create Veronica. Thanks for stopping by!
by Jessica Kruppa
“They’re still accepting late entries,” Eric said. He’d pestered me to enter the university’s art show for weeks, convinced it would rekindle my artistic spirit. He couldn’t understand. Years of haystacks and fruit bowls hadn’t filled the spot waiting hopefully on my grandfather’s mantle. I found the passion lacking from my art when I met Veronica. With her, and a secret weapon from the Chemistry club, things would be different.<
Eric pressed again, “Tell me why!”
“She’s why!” I whipped open the tent. Veronica, the candy apple red corvette with hand brushed golden flames, gleamed, like no haystack could, in the morning light, poised to win best in show.
And poised directly over Veronica’s hood, my secret weapon dangled from the ceiling in a string of thick, viscous goo.
“The hell?!” Eric blurted.
“It’s not supposed to do that!”
The goo made an ominous sucking sound and plopped onto the pristine hood. Smoke curled into the air.
With a strangled cry I rushed to Veronica’s side. “It’s ok. It’s ok,” I repeated, then to Eric said, “Get some water!” I dabbed the goo with my shirt sleeve then looked in horror at the crimson streaked cloth and silver-dollar sized dent in the paint job.
Eric sloshed a bucket of water across the hood. The goo bubbled into in a hissing cloud of red-stained foam.
In tandem, we desperately wiped the swiftly expanding blob off of the hood with the car cover. A primer grey streak the size of a dead body sprawled across the bright red hood.
“We can fix it,” Eric said uncertainly even as I snatched up the ratchet and popped the hood.
“Give me a hand with this.”
“You can’t show it without a hood.”
“I have a spare in the corner.”
Instead of helping, Eric said, “Just wait a minute,” and darted out.
I didn’t have a minute. Alone, I wrestled the damaged hood out of the way. I nearly had the new hood in place when my foot slipped on the goo. I lost my footing. We fell. The hood slapped into the spreading puddle. Goo squirted across the walls, across me, and across Veronica’s side, nose to tail.
Paint and goo oozed in tiny rivulets to the floor. In a matter of moments, with paint pooled around her tires, she looked like an expressionist murder scene: beautiful even as she died.
“I know!” Eric said, ducking through the tent flap, trailed by four art students carrying paint, enamel, and brushes. Too late. “I told him that he could enter something late, but he–” They froze.
“This is his project?” One asked.
That’s when I realized they all wore judge’s pins. Scrambling to my feet, I nearly shouted, “Absolutely!”
We were disqualified from the car show for being “unfinished”, but Veronica placed third at the art show and earned a permanent installment in the gallery. Next time I’ll need more color, a classic muscle car, and another chat with the chemistry club.
Be sure to check out all the StoryTime BlogHop participants!
1. Last Stop by Erica Damon
2. Jesse and Tyler by Bill Bush
3. The Poisoner of Time by Karen Lynn
4. New Stork Inc. by Katharina Gerlach
5. THE THIEF & THE POCKET HEART by Juneta Key
6. Hello Again! by J. Q. Rose
7. Reflected by Elizabeth McCleary
8. Veronica by Jessica Kruppa …You just read that… don’t click that link…
Expand for Annotation of Creative Process
When I started Holly’s course I had two main goals.
- Practice keeping a story on track from goal to satisfying conclusion (my greatest struggle).
- Practice writing through dictation. So far I had only been brainstorming ideas. I knew that dictating plot and story would have a completely different writing process than typing, and flash fiction might be a good way to start exploring that new process.
I figured bite sized chunks might be easier to manage for practice and so far I am satisfied that I am on the right track, regardless of how the story itself turned out.
What follows is my description of the writing process for this story, using Holly’s methods.
She provides two stories as examples to reference as you go along but her decades of authorial experience shows through in the examples. Most writers shouldn’t expect amazing, beautifully written prose to just fall out of their brains after reading a lesson and filling out a worksheet. (This is especially true for those of us new to dictation).
Most writers have to wallow around in the muck, wrestling with their ideas, for a while.
So, here’s my muck.
In Week 1 Holly has you define a character, figure out what their desire is, and then create an interesting problem. You use that to create a problem sentence that introduces your character and their problem in 12 words or less. Then you expand that into an opening of 50-150 words.
Here are the first results of week 1 for this story (not the fine-tuned end-result):
Character: Arrogant frat-boy
Desire: Have the nicest car on the block
Problem: Mysterious goo ruins the paint job.
After batting that around for a while (talking to myself in the car), I came up with this first problem sentence: An arrogant frat-boy’s dreams of winning the fraternity’s car show for the fourth year running are jeopardized by a mysterious paint eating goo.
That was far too long, but I was talking in the car and so I couldn’t count words.
To get to that sentence there was a lot of conversation to identify the fact that there was a car show and that he was a frequent winner. Rejected ideas involved showing off the car to a girlfriend (why does she care?), or just causing envy among his friends (that’s really passive). In all of the ideas there was nothing at stake. If the paint job is ruined it just annoys the character and he can go get it fixed (for a price) and that’s a boring story. So the paint being ruined had to have immediate consequences for the character, not the car. Losing a contest for the want of nice paint is an immediate consequence.
In Week 1, I had three separate opening scenes. Remember, I am dictating this and so I couldn’t edit as I go. That means that each time I got a “SUPER AWESOME IDEA” I had to finish what I was doing and then start over with a new paragraph to incorporate that new idea.
- Opening 1 (160 words): the main character gloats about how he and his car ALWAYS win the car show and how awesome his car was, but then he discovers the car’s paint is ruined by the goo. This opening ended with “Veronica looked like a melted Salvador Dali painting.” It didn’t feel right, and I had a lot more time for my recording session, so I tried on a new opening.
- Opening 2 (311 words), the character is walking to the garage with a bunch of freshman scampering behind him talking about how the judges should just give the character the trophy now rather than waiting. Again, he opens the car and discovers the car already thoroughly mangled by the goo. I described the paint-streaked blobs hanging from the walls and ceiling, and specifically, “Paint streaked goo huddled around her tires like blood at a crime scene.” I had time left in the commute, so I tried another.
- Opening 3 (113 words), Introduced Eric, who was one of the judges being harassed by the character to go see the car prior to the show. Apparently Eric could be persuaded to check out the car before the show with the promise that the character would talk to a girl Eric likes… it was boring.
That’s 584 words of draft (not counting the brainstorming babble) and I salvaged a grand total of 3.5 concepts from it: The Salvador Dali painting, the goo hanging from the ceiling and the paint pooling like blood, and Eric.
I refined my problem sentence to: A mysterious goo ruins a frat boy’s chance at winning a car show.
In Week 2 we create two problems, escalating from least to greatest, that are related to the character’s desire and their problem. I batted around a bunch of bad ideas like, “Maybe he can’t get into the garage and needs to break the lock?” (The goo is the problem, not access to the car!).
One trick that helped was to break down Holly’s two sample stories and use their conflicts as a blueprint for my conflicts so that I could be sure that my conflicts were on the right track.
While doing that I suddenly said: “Arrogant people are not sympathetic. So maybe this needs to be a comedy of errors. Perhaps it’s just a small blemish and gets progressively worse as the character tries to clean up the mess.” That immediately led to:
Conflict 1: The goo put a small blemish in the paint. He tries to buff it out and the blemish gets bigger.
Conflict 2: The goo eats a hole through the hood and engine.
Since I’m in the car when doing this, I couldn’t go back and rewrite the opening to fit my new idea, I just had to go for it. So my middle starts with the character taking action after discovering the goo on the car. This time I discovered Eric’s beginning role in trying to fix the problem and the goo’s bad reaction to water. I then had a moment of doubt about how the problem (goo) and the desire (winning) related and had to mirror the conflicts against Holly’s again.
That done (and my confidence bolstered), I started dictating the middle of the story. This is where I discovered that the character is paranoid enough to have a spare hood “just in case” (…Seriously?). Somehow conflict 2 morphed even as I was dictating: The character trips in the goo and splatters it all across the car. The Salvador Dali painting quote came up again.
At that point, my “Muse” (as Holly likes to call it) had a “SUPER GREAT ENDING.” But we weren’t at week 3. So I just blurted out the ending as a Muse Note:
“Clearly the ending is that Eric suggests that they splash the goo on the other side of the car, make it look purposeful, then the judges will think that this is a post-modern approach to a paint job, the character is a genius, and he wins.”
Note that in the super great ending I mention judges and that the “ruined” paint job is what causes the character to win. I also had the Salvador Dali quote. Those things popped up again when I got to week 3.
So I finally get to week 3, two weeks late (rain and illness derailed my recording). I had transcribed the recordings two weeks earlier, but I forgot to re-read them and refresh my memory prior to starting week 3. I was running blind. It turned out that it wasn’t a bad thing, either, because I had to rely on what I could remember and apparently I remembered some good stuff that my subconscious was throwing out there.
Holly has you figure out the boring, logical ending. Then you figure out the ending that makes everything meaningless. THEN you find the ending that gives the story meaning.
Boring ending: Car is eaten by goo. Judges disqualify car.
Meaningless ending: The goo eats the car, the character, and Eric. The judges find nothing in the tent. (“And everybody died” is, according to Holly, a perfectly acceptable meaningless ending).
Final ending: Uh… I had no idea.
So I started asking questions (out loud, of course). They seem obvious but it helps me refocus, especially since I couldn’t see anything I had typed previously.
Raw Transcription (There may have been huge gaps where I sat in silence, thinking):
What is his goal? He wants to have the nicest car. More than that, he wants to win an award for having the nicest car. That’s why he entered the car show and is so panicked about fixing the car before the judges get there.
Here’s an idea. In every week that I have written this story I have at one point or another reference Salvador Dali…
I pulled on that thread and it all came spilling out. There’s an art show going on. His car wins the art show. Why would he care about winning an art show? What if he’s a former art student? Ok, how would the judges get there? What if Eric… And it fell into place. When I actually dictated those words, they weren’t pretty but the action was the same as it is now.
REVISION AND POLISHING:
None of my draft dictation is pretty. Beautiful words don’t just flop out of my mouth. But that’s ok, because I can’t see them on the screen and so the inner editor can’t do anything about the crap I just blurted out! That’s probably one of the best things about this: I either write (as Anne Lamont puts it) a “$h*tty first draft” or I listen to the radio. I can’t write a sentence and edit it to oblivion, AND I can’t go dink around online.
So I grabbed the drafts I had dictated each week and started revising them. At this point I didn’t actually have a story beginning that matched the story ending in any way, so I had to rewrite those 150 words. I also had to answer why my character left the art world for cars and why winning was so important. That was actually the hardest part of everything because I could see the text on the screen and I could edit each sentence to death.
But eventually I had solid action from beginning to end. Only then did I go back and revise the story down to 500 words and try to make them look pretty.
I dictated a minimum of 2766 words (both draft and brainstorming) to get that 500 word story. This doesn’t count the revision and rewriting the opening scene at the end. It just goes to show, flash fiction really isn’t written in a flash. It’s not “easier” than writing long fiction, either. It’s just shorter… like running a 100 meter dash instead of a marathon.