A Way to Prompt Writing Short Fiction: All That Really Matters

I wrote the story below a while back. At that time, I took a deck of alphabet cards (a, b, c, etc.), which I have used in the past when working with younger kids on their reading and writing. I spread the deck out, face up, on the table and quickly formed the following words: glove, quiz, cope, black, jaw, mix, fix, she, and give. I then set the timer for 20 minutes and wrote this story as fast as I could. I had no idea what I was going to write or where I was going. My only requirement was to include the words I had made with the letters. I built the story line by line. After writing it, I edited it to the finished story below.

This past week, I attended a creativity webinar, and this kind of approach to tapping into the brain’s associative powers was discussed. When I accidentally came across this story today while looking for a recipe in the archives of my 20 Minutes a Day blog, I had to smile. This was exactly the sort of thing the webinar presenter was suggesting. (Thank you, Teresa!) I have to remember this the next time I am drawing a blank when doing my 20 minutes a day of writing.

Here is the flash fiction story that came from using those words in the story:

All That Really Matters

She wasn’t happy, no she wasn’t. All this time trying to cope with the family problem – that’s what they called Randy’s addiction to coke these days – and at the same time, trying to study enough not to flunk the chemistry quizzes that came every day, relentless and unyielding, like a black boxing glove straight to the jaw. How was she ever going to make it? Why did she think she even had a chance at medical school with a brother who couldn’t stay out of the hospital long enough for her to ever actually relax, and an out-of-control chemistry professor who seemed to take his subject far too seriously for anybody’s good, least of all, hers.

“No, Mother, you can’t fix him,” she had said for the hundredth time just that morning on the phone. “You know what they said in the meeting: ‘You didn’t cause it, can’t cure it, and can’t control it.’ It’s part of the disease, remember? Our lovely family legacy.”

She’d heard the clink of the ice in the glass and knew that her mother was mixing herself a stiff drink. It was 9 am. Yes, that lovely legacy.

So, how was she ever going to pass chemistry with Professor Nutcase and all of this family drama? Wasn’t this exactly what they talked about at the meetings – letting your family’s madness completely take over your own life?

She called Marsha, her best friend. “I could be the poster child for co-dependence, “ she said. “Just tell me you have a problem and I’ll spend more time worrying about what you can do than you will.”

Marsha sniffed. “I can’t talk now. Harold just called and demanded I come into work even though it’s my day off. He’s a jerk, I know, but if I don’t jump when he says to, then my job will be floating down the river like one of those houses we saw after the dam broke last year.”

“Okay, okay,” she said, “Go! We’ll talk later.”

She went instead and stared at herself in the mirror. “Get a grip,” she said out loud as she noted a wrinkle deepening on the bridge of her nose, right between her eyebrows. “And stop scowling! You’re only twenty-five. This is not good.”

Her dog ran into the room, his toenails clicking on the hardwood floor. “I’m not talking to you,” she said, reaching down and patting his head. “You won’t get wrinkles.”

The phone rang. This time it was Randy, talking fast and way too cheerfully.

“Remember, I told you never to call me when you’re high. Good-bye.” She snapped her phone shut, then adjusted the ringer to silent. She knew he would call over and over and then decide to drop in to see what the problem was. He was so dense.

She grabbed her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. It was time to get out of there before her brother came and demonstrated one more time just how dysfunctional they all really were. He would cry, she would pat; then he’d get pissed and she’d get even madder before he stormed out to go use again and she sat and cried and blamed herself ad nauseam while she listened to her mother tell her if she had only done this or that differently than precious Randy wouldn’t have had to go get high again.

“Screw that,” she said and opened the door. A spectacular sunset cast a pink-orange glow on everything in her sight. She stopped and took a breath. “Wow,” she muttered and felt her shoulders relax just a bit.

Then she looked at her watch. If she hurried she could just make it for Professor Horrible’s office hours. He was a horse’s ass, but he did seem to like it when she showed up and asked for help.

Just as she locked her door, she saw the first star of the evening appear. “Okay,” she said, as she hurried to her car, “right here and right now, I am fine. That’s all that I can control and all that really matters.”

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