My flash project was largely a test to see if I had what it took to be a writer. Did I even have 365 brain cells, each with a story idea, that could produce? By the end I was scraping the back of my skull’s interior for ideas, but along the way I found things other than ideas that could generate a story. Things like style, esthetics, absurdity, emotion, character, or voice.
That may seem obvious to most writers. After all, “character-driven stories” is a very common term. But for a novice—which I still consider myself—you don’t really understand it fully until you’ve done it. One of the payoffs of writing 365 stories in a year is that desperation to produce pushes you in directions you might not otherwise go. I was an “idea man,” but I fell into these other approaches, and they were very rewarding.
Part 1: Style
If I were to be honest, I’d have to admit that at this point I really mean “mimicry” when I say style.
My first example of this was the Muck-About Gang stories. These stories were inspired by the “The Mad Scientist Club” books, but “inspired” I think doesn’t give fair enough credit. Although my characters and situations are very distinct from the MSC books, I must confess I was trying to capture the style of those stories. Of all the flashes I wrote during this project, these are probably closest to fan-fiction. These books engaged a diverse group of friends with creative pursuits and formidable challenges dealing with the troublemakers that tried to thwart them. That’s pretty much what I tried to do with the Muck-Abouts.
In spite of that, and in spite of the lackluster responses from my readers (all four of them!), I loved writing them. If I was in that zone, all I had to do to make a story was choose a few characters, give them a project, and create complications. Sounds easy, right? Well it’s not, but occasionally something would pop from this approach. Style propelled them, and they energized the project as a whole. You can check out the first one, “Day 40: Zip Line,” and click on the “Muck-About Gang” tag to list out the rest of them.
I’m also a big fan of P.G. Wodehouse. I’d written whimsical stories before, but never to the lengths of absurdity, exaggeration, and mischief you would find in the average Wodehouse. I wanted to see if I could achieve such a thing. This required eloquent, well-to-do characters with insouciant wit and farcical morality. My determination to create an American variety of this style eventually produced “Day 185: Mauri and Tish Get It Done.” Considering it was my first attempt, I was quite happy with the results. I tried again with a little caper/mystery in “Day 231: Liberty Head Nickel,” and I revisited Mauri and Tish in “Day 240: The Racing Solution.”
The method I used for writing these were two-fold. First I needed to plot out a caper of some sort. Something silly like getting two people together, correcting the behavior of an over-adventurous spouse, or winning the neighborhood costume contest—whatever. The caper didn’t have to be complex, it just had to be silly. Next, I would create a few characters, figure out their attitudes and biases, put on my whimsy hat, and let the banter roll. A caper with nonchalant banter—doesn’t that about sum up our old friend Pelham Grenville?
All in all, I think I acquitted myself quite well, by Jove!
By the way, you might notice a Wodehousian influence on three stories about a Bichon Frise (“Day 193: Darwin’s Huckleberry,” “Day 196: Emergency Grooming,” and “Day 197: The Rise and Fall of a Bichon Frise”), and your perception would have merit. However, far more than style, those stories were motivated by—an actual dog.
What does this all mean? I think it means that mimicry is a very positive aspect of the art. You may not want to publish something that skirts the edge of copying, but it’s a good feeling to know you can write stories a lot like the ones you are very fond of. Furthermore, it can give you the proof that once you have developed your particular style, you will be able to crank those stories out.
So, what are you waiting for?
By the way–you no longer have to scroll like mad to see my flashes in order. In the menu I’ve included a page of links listed in order for easy access.