Category Archives: flash fiction

Weekend Workout: Got my 50 First Lines – Time for Paragraphs!

Last Weekend I gave you the workout of coming up with 50 first lines. That was it, just the first lines. As fast as you can, without thinking about them too much.

If your intention was to write poetry, they could have emerged as first lines to poem. If your intention was a short story, they would have leaned in that direction. That’s the beauty of it!

When I wrote mine, I was thinking of prose. I wanted to write short stories as an exercise, because I’m still tentative in that department. Since college I think I’ve written less than a dozen short stories.

Next thing to do is to pick 10 or more first lines and write the first PARAGRAPH of each. If you’re writing flash fiction, you might just go ahead and write the whole thing. 500 words or less would lend itself to that. Go for it.

I was aiming for something longer, so I opted to write 10 first paragraphs from 10 first lines. This was, in fact, a bit scary to me, which is so odd. I write tons of prose in the form of novels, but for some reason short stories intimidate me. Go figure.

Here are 10 of my favourite first lines from the previous exercise:

It was the colour of vomit… probably because it was vomit.

The clown nose was the last straw.

The idea was half-baked – – but then again, she liked things a little raw.

The horse was her neighbour’s and they were both studs.

Green, blue, red . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge?

It was a perfect morning for picking mushrooms.

I was taking a short cut through the cemetery when I spotted it. Him. It.

If he had told her about his origami-folding autistic idiot-savant brother in the first place, they wouldn’t be in this jam.

“I think it can be reattached,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time she had been arrested for bar-fighting, and the other time wasn’t her fault either.

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Filed under 50 First Lines, flash fiction, random poop, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: 50 First Lines

A few years ago I went through a micro fiction phase. I was inspired by a “postcard story” contest. Submissions had to be stories told in 250 words or less. I thought if I cranked out a 250 word story a day for 10 days, chances are I’d like at least one of them.

I didn’t win the contest, but I did end up with the first five chapters of a flash fiction series I intend to finish one of these days. I discovered how much fun flash fiction can be, especially if you don’t attach any expectations around the work and just keep cranking them out.

The first thing I did when I sat down to write them is I just started thinking about random start lines. Each day I would pick and expand on one of them. I can’t think of the author who has the “50 first lines” exercise… if you know who it is, let me know. I just remember that you’re supposed to start the exercise by writing 50 first lines.

So, there you go. Excellent weekend workout. Write 50 start lines! Who knows… the lines could turn in to poems, vignettes, short stories, or even a novel.

Don’t spend too much time on them. Less than an hour. Just write them as fast as they come. Don’t judge them, with 50 first lines you can throw out 90% of them and still have lines to work with.

Here are my first 5:

1) Picking up the chipped coffee cup he wondered what Thelma would have to say about him being fired.

2) From the surface of the moonblue water, a tail emerged like a telescope.

3) Her credit card was maxed and her bank account was dry, but by God she was going to have a good time at the space station.

4) Mumphy paced back and forth in front of the delivery room and wondered if it were too late to tell Chelle he no longer wanted to be a part of the experiment.

5) “I wouldn’t get on her bad side if I were you,” Kris said as I studied the woman who he claimed had some kind of holy control over his life.

Have fun and have a great weekend (workout)


Filed under flash fiction, prose, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Writing Workout – “Postcard” Fiction

A few years ago I got uber-inspired when I read about a contest sponsored by the Writers’ Union of Canada (not to be confused with the Writers Guild of Canada). The contest is called the Postcard Story Contest and it’s open to all Canadian citizens and landed immigrants (sorry, you non Canucks and non Canuck-landed peeps).

The challenge is “to create a dramatic, short, snappy piece in only 250 words. You can use humour, poetry, dialogue…anything goes.” Of course I love a good challenge, so I decided to write a postcard poem every day for 10 days. I figured if I wrote 10 I was bound to like at least one of them.

This type of fiction is often called Flash Fiction or Micro Fiction.

Keeping it simple, because it’s the end of the summer, your workout this weekend is to write 3 flash fiction stories (250 words or less).

If you have no idea how to begin the story, I’ve supplied you with several start lines below. You can also just randomly pick a line from a book you’re reading.

When I want to write a flash fiction story, I usually just crank out a bunch of first lines over and over until one inspires me and I jump into that story. That’s why I have all these leftover first lines which I’m giving to YOU absolutely FREE.

Possible First Lines:

She packed everything except the salt and pepper shakers.

He was the biggest kid in the class at 310 lbs.

As soon as he had mailed the letter, he regretted having done so.

When he awoke from his dream, he had the answer.

If she was going to leave him, it was now or never.

There was only one person left on her Christmas list.

I buried the dog on Monday.

The zoo was completely empty.

He trembled as he walked up to the blackboard.
Sample Postcard Story:

Final Chapter

When he awoke from his dream, he had the answer. The final chapter for his book. A way to end it that was not contrived, not maudlin… a way to imply “happily ever after,” but not in fairy-tale manner, in a way anyone could believe might happen. He stumbled out of bed. It was 3:15 am. Where was his laptop… no, forget the laptop, this had to be written in ink, writer’s blood, it had to flow like his dream… his dream… He had been dreaming of Samantha. Of how she had looked at 17 and he was fresh from the Navy. He had met her at a café. She was a waitress studying art history. He was a writer disguised as a servant of the government. She saw right through him. He’d left poems on napkins for her. He’d asked her to marry him by writing the words on her bathroom mirror. She’d said yes in red lipstick. He stumbled through the hallway, bathed in strangely green light. Without his glasses on, it looked as if he were underwater. The walls breathed like gills. He didn’t remember the house having so many pictures. Ghostly figures in large frames followed him until he reached his office. The door was closed. The doorknob so cold it caught him off guard. Then the smell, subtle, yet unmistakable, the perfume Samantha had worn every day for 50 years. He opened the door and was enveloped in the light.

~   ~   ~   ~

If you want, please share your postcard stories in the comment section or with a link to your blog.

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Pick a Challenge, any Challenge

August is a fine time to work your creative mojo. Everyone’s doing it! And they’re doing it in the form of challenges and experiments. Below are a few that I recommend.

Please let me know if there are any more out there in the coming month/s and I’ll add them to the list.

The 3:15 Experiment

Anyone who follows my blog with any regularity knows that I participate in the annual 3:15 Experiment every year. Basically, a shifting menagerie of poets (and prose writers, actually) wakes up at 3:15 AM EACH morning during the month of August and writes. Our goal is to write while riding a 1/2 dream state. Magic happens. We have a Facebook Group now. Join us.

August Postcard Poetry Fest

Started by Paul Nelson and Lana Ayers, the Postcard Poetry Fest challenges you to send 31 postcard poems, one for each day of August. They START it NOW if you’d like to participate… and I’m not sure you still can, but you can go to their website or FACEBOOK group and ask.

The rules say that on July 27th (tomorrow!), you write an original poem right on a postcard and mail it to the person on the list below your name. Starting on August 1st, ideally in response to a card YOU receive, keep writing a poem a day on a postcard and mailing it to successive folks on the list until you’ve sent out 31 postcards. I’ve never participated but some year I think I’ll write my 3:15 poems on postcards. That would be fun.

10 shorts in 10 days

This is a little invention of my friend Tod McCoy and myself. It happens irregularly (whenever we feel like lighting a fire under our butts). We write either 10 short films or 10 pieces of micro fiction in 10 days. This August we’re writing short scripts. Anyone out there is welcome to join us. There is no official website and no official place to post them, although if you’d like to post them on your blog and send us a link, that’d be swell.

We’re starting on AUGUST 10 and running until August 19. The rules are simple: Write a short script (or story) per day. Badda bing, badda boom. In the past our short scripts have run about 3-6 pages (in standard format). If you wonder what I mean by micro fiction, check out any one of my 56 Flavours stories, most of which were written during a 10 day challenge.

The 3-Day Novel Contest

This contest has been running for 30 years. It wins. I’ve only participated once, but had a blast doing it. Some day I’ll dig out the novel and rewrite it. It happens over Labour Day weekend (Sept 5-7 this year). They also have a Facebook page. If you want to officially participate, and for a chance at fame and fortune, you have to register, which involves $50. If you just want the challenge of trying something new and don’t care about official registration, I suggest forming a group and holing up somewhere in a 24 hour coffee shop together. Oh, yeah, the object is to write a novel in 3 days.


Filed under Calls for Submission, Collaborations, contests, flash fiction, inspirational poop, poetry, serious play, The 3:15 Experiment, writing exercises

56 Flavours:Chapter 7

Untrained I

The last time she had shopped there she had run into a woman she thought she knew. Only she didn’t. When she politely moved away after realizing her mistake, the woman followed her, asking her so what do you do? She drew a blank. There was a job she had, a husband she lived with, a cat she fed, a mother she should call. I’m in transition, she finally said, picking out a $9 package of teriyaki salmon. She was a terrible shopper. She never came for what she got or got what she came for. Ingredients slipped her mind. Instant gratification took over like swarms of bees. What do YOU do, she asked in return. It was the obvious thing to do. I train trainers. Train trainers. I train people how to train people. Well she supposed someone had to. Train people. At the counter, paying for her groceries, she pictured untrained passengers swaying dangerously from the top of the caboose, admiring the crows as they headed east at sunset.


Filed under 56 Flavours, flash fiction

56 Flavours:Chapter 6


Fire is contagious. She knew that from the way her hands shook when people approached. Fire is what happens when we collect oxygen, fuel, and heat. Anyone can oxidize over time. Anyone can burn slowly. She bears the heat because it is slow. She can, on a daily basis, write down one word of him and it is enough. She can write down arm or leg or thigh or shoulder. Feeding the flame. But sooner or later, she will combust. She is combustible. She reaches the lid on a Thursday just after lunch. She presses in behind him, smelling rain on his hair. The pure moment is what gets to her. He turns around in the elevator. Blinks into her face. Eyelashes, she thinks. Consumed.

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56 Flavours:Chapter 5

Historical Perspective

When I was your age we didn’t have none of them zoop-trams, we drove ourselves around in automobiles. None of this zipping across town faster than you can think. And no e-mitters coming outta our ears with everything under the sun just as you ask for it, we hadda use e-mail and we listened to iPods that hung around our necks and through headphones attached to our computers. Now you got all this surround-o-experience, it’s just spooky all them images like ghosts dancing around the room. Gives me nightmares. Course I never had bad dreams when I was a kid cuz our dog slept with me every night. Dogs was animals that lived in our homes with us, dogs and cats and fish and birds, pets we called them. Now we gotta sleep in them controlled baric chambers… when I was a kid we could sleep outside if we felt like it, in the real air. And water flowed outta our faucets, like rainstorms, like rivers, like tears.


Filed under 56 Flavours, flash fiction

56 Flavours:Chapter 4

56 Flavours

56 flavours of ice-cream and Michael was on 52. He was making his way through the fruits, which he had saved for last. At number 11, White Chocolate Macadamia, he had asked her name. Amy. She worked on all the days with “S” in them. Pumpkin Cheesecake was her favourite she told him when he ordered it. Number 17 on a Sunday. It was a seasonal flavour. The day he lost his job he came in for Butter Almond. She gave him an extra scoop. By the time he reached Raisin Crunch he was getting tired of ice-cream. He’d never had much of a sweet tooth. He switched to bowls instead of cones. For 52 he ordered Honey Apple Lemon Ginger. Amy wasn’t there. It was Tuesday. Had she switched shifts? No, she wasn’t feeling well. He dropped the ice-cream in a trash bin outside. Amy wasn’t there on Wednesday or Thursday either. He had only taken one bite of Banana Nut and didn’t even bother tasting Mango Tango. When he came in on Saturday, he stared down at 55, Amaretto Peach, for five minutes. Would he get tipsy if he ate enough of it? You’d barf on all the cream before you caught a buzz, the pock-faced kid behind the counter said. Where’s Amy, is she still sick? No, she’s working downtown at Bambi’s Bubble Tea now. Michael put his wallet away. How many flavours do they have?


Filed under 56 Flavours, flash fiction