Today, writer Robyn Ryle told me she just had a segmented story accepted at Luna Luna Magazine. It was a story she’d changed to a segmented structure after reading my story, “Rodney & Chelsea” posted some while back here on my blog. I can’t wait to read her story and am so excited that my story inspired her to look at structure another way!
But does segmenting always work? What is lost and what is gained by employing this structure in flash fiction?
The structure suits flash fiction very well in that it eliminates the use of transitions, bridges from scene to scene, and therefore results in fewer words–a goal of flash fiction.
The absence of transitions creates a snapshot effect. The reader has to collaborate with the writer to create story within the white space. The writer is playing with the reader’s subconscious, which of course differs from reader to reader. This, to me, is what makes flash so exciting to read and to write. The individual snapshots carry more weight, or ought to carry more weight, if they’re to be effective.
Also, segmented structure allows a flash to cover a broader expanse of time (see my post about Jeff Landon’s “Thirty-Nine Years of Carrie Wallace.”–although I wrote a one-sentence flash that covered a lifetime in my flash “The Stars of Ursa Major” published many years ago in New South).
But what is lost? I would say a gentle flow or build. Flash fiction doesn’t always need to be “punchy” or “sharp” (many would disagree with me on this!). There are times when you want something smoother, slower even. Or you want to stay in one particular moment or scene. I’ll discuss this in more detail in a future post, but I will say now that segmenting something like this would diffuse the moment and nothing, nothing in flash fiction should be diffused.
Here is another of my segmented flash stories, published in an issue of FRiGG Magazine which was devoted to micro-fiction. I saw this story as a collection of micros and editor, Ellen Parker, agreed. I wanted to convey the frenetic, exhausting, exhilarating first weeks and months of motherhood, but only to focus on the sharp moments that force themselves out of the blur of it. Did the segmented structure serve my purpose? Let me know what you think…
Everyone’s in a hurry. Especially the men, who run for the trains and sacrifice their briefcases to the doors. Men in seats, reading newspapers or paperbacks. Ling is weary of these men. She wants to stick her pregnant belly into their noses. She looks at herself in the window. She’s wearing a herringbone maternity suit with a large red bow at her neck. She looks angry and fat, but festive.
Six weeks after giving birth, Ling goes back to work downtown. She pumps her breasts in the ladies room, sitting on the toilet. Co-workers come in to pee or brush their teeth and the pump squeaks and from the stall, Ling says sorry…I’m sorry.
Before dawn, she buckles the baby into the Escort and sticks a bottle in its mouth. She leaves the car seat at the babysitter’s for her husband, who collects the baby when he gets off work and drives the baby home in his Toyota. The baby listens to Bruce Springsteen in the Toyota and Moonlight Sonata in the Escort.
Ling hands the babysitter a half cup of frozen blue milk in a baggy. The babysitter shrugs. I’ll mix it with her formula, she says. You have a run in your stocking.
Ling doesn’t sleep and becomes ineffectual in her job. She’d quit, but they are sort of broke. Suddenly, she doesn’t know what any of it means. What does it mean? She asks her co-workers. What are the codes? What are the procedures? She types a row of question marks, eats prodigiously from a bag on her desk. Sometimes she closes her eyes and dreams that the baby has been put back into her stomach. Only now, the baby is a monkey.
On weekends, she takes the baby for long strolls. Once they’d gone as far as three miles and the baby got hungry and Ling had forgotten to pack a bottle. She ran all the way back, bumping over cracks in the sidewalk as the baby screamed.
The husband arranges for a babysitter so they can go to a Christmas party. The party is a Vegas night and they gamble at tables and make small talk with the husband’s co-workers and their spouses. At the craps table, Ling whispers to the older woman next to her, I have a three month old. I can’t believe I’m here. The woman offers a sip of her screwdriver.
Each working day at dusk, Ling runs into the house and kicks off her sneakers. She reaches up into her skirt and rolls down the band of her panty hose and takes the baby from her husband’s lap. She lies on her back, holding the baby overhead and flies the baby back and forth in her upstretched arms. She sings:
flying all over the world
looking for toys and candy
and the baby smiles and the husband laughs. And the baby’s cheeks droop like water balloons. And the baby drops drool on Ling’s forehead.