The following flash fiction – ‘Mirror’, by Claire Polders – reads like a one-page novel, so neatly does it pack a lot into a small space. Its complex mix of action and reflection is also written as one sentence – a form that some flash fiction writers refer to as the “single, breathless sentence”.
A remarkable aspect of Polders’s story is the way that the story-world gradually shifts and modulates, even though the core action – the attempted stealing of a shoulder bag – is quite simple. (The simple clarity and boldness of that action, I think, help keep this piece grounded.) New clauses in the developing sentence introduce subtle moral shifts and character nuances as we keep reading. The young, wannabe thief is initially placed within a moral framework as the first-person narrator contrasts the thief with (a) children stealing wallets (b) teenagers picking pockets (c) herself. And then as we find out more about the narrator and her past (line 4 and line 12/13 in desktop view), we start to understand more about her feelings towards the young girl, and why she responds to this attempted theft in the way that she does. Polders makes sure we are on the narrator’s side – this “contender” who is a “gray-haired” woman with a scar “on [her] cheek” – such that we trust her judgement in the final words of the story.
Here’s Claire Polders’s story to enjoy:
After reading Claire Polders’s flash fiction, adapt any of the following prompts to fit your novella’s storyline. Write a scene/chapter/story that features:
• One simple, stark action of misbehaviour or law-breaking (but not attempted theft as depicted in the example story), that is explored through present-tense reflections – either of the person on the receiving end, or of the perpetrator.
• One single, long “breathless sentence” with multiple clauses that explore a main character’s present-day relationship with one other person – perhaps a scene of action, gesture, and/or conversation. Among the multiple clauses, include fleeting references to an incident in the main character’s backstory/past, such that we find out more about their motivations and values in the present-day scene, and what’s at stake for them in this relationship.
• A tense, awkward, confusing or surprising encounter between two strangers in any of the following settings:
– café terraces
– a church
– a canal
– a tram
• A scene in which a character experiences unwelcome actions / behaviour from another person. Before the end, the main character realises that they see something of themselves within that other person, such that they feel a conflicted, nuanced mix of emotions – somewhere between tender empathy and harsh judgement.
• A day that begins worryingly badly for a main character. Let the character salvage some light from the events that unfold, such that they feel, by the end, that there are good omens for the day after all.
• If it helps, use the following picture as a way into the material:
Above all, “make it new”!
More about Claire Polders’s writing here: ClairePolders.com.
More about Michael Loveday’s Novella-in-Flash mentoring: https://novella-in-flash.com/about-the-course/
You can sign up to this novella-in-flash writing prompt series here:
One thought on “Novella-in-Flash Writing Prompt #14 – Rich Complexity in One Breathless Sentence”