As you probably know, I now have two blogs, this one and Swan Singer. This is due to the kind of administrative/technical “Mary” in which I seem to specialise. But not to worry, Mary – I will make it look as if it is on purpose and henceforth post my short stories on Swan Singer and continue to post miscellaneous thoughts, memories, rambles and rants on this one.
The last bit of “flash” I posted on Swan Singer I called “An Apple For The Teacher”. I know – a whiff of the lead balloon about it, despite the fact that on the surface it was very apt – it was about a teacher being given an apple, albeit in an indirect and slightly disguised sort of way. Yes, I scented that lead balloon but went ahead and used it anyway. [Sigh!] I suppose I could have sneaked in and changed it retrospectively, but that would have been cheating and anyway – as the wood-carver happens to say at the end of the tale – it was a lesson well learned.
One very useful rule of flash fiction writing is to “let the title do the heavy lifting”. Because –
- When words are severely limited, the right title can tell a good third of the story for you, and
- The title is what makes you want to read it!!!
I just, on impulse, ordered an anthology of flash fiction entitled “The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down” (Meg Pokrass). Why did I do that? Because I wanted to know about the dog – if indeed there is a dog – and its upsiide-down-ness. Plus on the cover there is a picture of an upside-down string bag full of upside-down lemons. What have lemons got to do with dogs?
So, verbal hooks and visual hooks – better still, both. I think the main thing is the title excites your curiosity. There’s stuff you really need to know, it whispers. Read me!
You can “knock ’em dead” with a title, or do it in a more nuanced way. I just picked up (already had it – not another Amazon excess) an anthology called “Sudden Flash Youth” (Eds: Perkins-Hazuka, Hazuka and Budman) and in it found a brill story entitled:
“My Brother at the Canadian Border” by Sholeh Wolpe – sorry, haven’t yet found acute accents on this keyboard. Now, on the surface that looks to be almost as pedestrian as “An Apple For The Teacher”, though at least isn’t a cliche. And the story is about exactly that – her – real or imaginary – brother arriving in a sports-car at the Canadian border. And facetiously declaring, when asked his destination beneath a giant “Canada” sign:
He and his college freshman companions must have been holding the map upside-down, he explains.
Just like the Upside-Down Dog this title begs a lot of questions. Why is Wolpe writing the story and not her brother? Why is her brother going to Canada? What sort of trouble is he going to get into? Borders are places of tension, always.
In a very short story Sholeh Wolpe will make you laugh, make you admire her brother’s wit, make you afraid, demonstrate what happens when teenage high-spirits collide with a total sense-of-humour bypass, bring home racial bias in a way that “just telling you about it” could never do. You keep half-expecting the poor daft boy to be shot for being clever.
So – titles – worth spending a little more time over. Slapped-wrist to self.