"Write a short story every week. It's not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row." Ray Bradbury
I recently carried out a personal flash fiction challenge in which every day for 30 days, I spent 20-40 minutes each morning writing a fantasy flash fiction story. I didn’t care whether I finished it or not, nor whether it was any good, I just had to write.
The inspiration came from many sources. On the first day, I just looked out of my window, and a pattern of shadows caught my eye—I started writing.
Finding inspiration was the hardest part. I kept searching for different sources.
I drew tarot cards—they were less successful sources of inspiration than I hoped.
On another day, I saw an A-Z of favourite fantasy stories someone had written. I noticed some letters without stories (x was one), so I wrote stories for the unloved letters.
The Linguist was inspired by Brian Aldiss’ novel, The Interpreter—a science fiction novel about a human interpreter working for an alien race that has taken control of the world. The Interpreter is well worth reading.
The best inspiration came to me during the day. I’d make a quick note, then the next day, I’d write the story. Sometimes these ideas were fully formed, and they were my better stories, for the most part.
Sometimes a bad story would lead to a better story the next day, followed by the best story on the third day. The stories were all different but followed the same theme. This allowed me to explore themes and map out the territory of the story I really wanted to write.
On the final day, I found inspiration from a post on a fantasy forum I belong to.
Basically, I wanted to see what would happen, but specifically…
During the flash fiction challenge, I wrote 22 pieces of fiction. On 2 days, things happened, and I didn’t write anything, and on 5 days, I decided to extend or polish some of the stories.
Day 1: The Sun Bearer
Day 2: Shadow
Day 3: Flowers With Deep Roots
Day 4: Zodiac Dreamer
Day 5: Where the Moon Always Shines
Day 6: Blue Magpie Quill
Day 7: The Netherworld
Day 8: The Solar Disc
Day 9: The Sun
Day 10: The Long Night
Day 11: The Food Taster
Day 12: Death of the Tasters (The Food Taster 2)
Day 13: The Feast (The Food Taster 3)
Day 14: In the Garden at the End of Time
Day 15: (polished Flowers With Deep Roots)
Day 16: (polished Flowers With Deep Roots)
Day 17: Xylograph of Blue
Day 18: The Princess of the Echoing Hills
Day 19: Dace of Desire
Day 20: Shard of a Forest World
Day 21: Memories Imprinted on an Urban Landscape
Day 22: (took a break)
Day 23: The Funeral
Day 24: The Linguist
Day 25: Where the Moon Always Shines 2
Day 26: (took a break)
Day 27: An Odd Habit
Day 28: The Akashic Library
Day 29: My Dead Father
Day 30: A Rugged Stranger in a Hood
The above titles are, for the most part, working titles that I came up with on the day. If I decide to self-publish or to submit them to fantasy magazines, I’ll change most of them.
Four of the stories were complete in that they had a beginning, middle and end. Most of the others were the beginnings of longer stories. Several of these I plan to complete over the next 4 or 5 months.
One of the stories, Flowers With Deep Roots, needed some research (which I did later in the day). The story’s set in a village in England around 500AD. I wanted some Old English words to convey the atmosphere. I now know that in Old English poppy had several translations: popæg, papæg, popāg, papāg, and popig. I went for popig. I also learnt that the expression about the tallest poppy getting its head cut off comes from a story about the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Suberbus, who apparently ran around his garden cutting the heads of the tallest poppies to demonstrate what he wanted doing to his enemies in Rome.
The protagonist of the story is called Ælfswiþ. I decided to write her name using the Old English/Old Icelandic characters (which I had to learn how to type) including the ‘thorn' character þ.
Another story was inspired by a stationery blog I came across. I was surprised to see a short story on the blog, and I wondered what sort of story I'd have written for a stationery website. The answer was Blue Magpie Quill.
That Ray Bradbury was right. It’s not possible to write a bad story every week (or day in my case).
I can sit down and write on a new project every day.
I felt resistance to writing on some of the days (not the days when I was too busy to write). Those were the days when extended a story that I now dislike.
If I don’t care whether the story is good or bad, I free up my creativity. I knew this already, but by testing myself, I learnt how clearly it’s true.
I’m naturally drawn to longer stories. Although I like the flash fiction, I’m more interested in longer shorts or novels.
Sometimes a story can come out fully formed. Where the Moon Always Shines was an example of this, although I’ve added something to it since; the core of the story was already fully formed inside me.
I have 6 new stories I like:
Where the Moon Always Shines, Flowers With Deep Roots, The Long Night, Xylograph of Blue, Memories Imprinted on an Urban Landscape, and My Dead Father.
The titles of the last 4 will have to change, but overall, I’m pleased with the results. I won’t continue, but I may continue to write a flash fiction story (or just begin a new short story) once a week, probably on Sundays when I have more time.
I’ve also learnt that it’s not possible to write 22 bad stories in a row.
(This flash fiction challenge was carried out between 24th September and 23rd October, 2021)