The following three-part flash fiction – ‘Clean Magic’, by the stellar Francine Witte – offers the reader three different windows into its story-world.
The first part, from the third-person perspective of a jilted male lover, includes a non-realist element that feels like it’s been drawn from the territory of dark fairy tales, or some magical realist novel that’s playfully grotesque or absurd. The physical damage described is so fantastically extreme that it transcends literal meaning – it is signalling that it is meant to be interpreted playfully and symbolically.
The second section, in the first-person voice of a female aggressor mentioned in the first part of the story, enriches part one by revealing, through backstory, that the woman’s violence (as reported by the man) was enacting a kind of “pay-it-forward” retaliation.
And the third and final perspective in the story, arguably the strangest, gives voice to a “magic[al]” rock. It explores some of the thematic material of parts one and two from an unexpected angle, and reaches for wisdom (“it has to pass in its own measured way”) in a way that transcends the limited views of the man and woman in parts one and two.
The three part structure makes the story-world “three-dimensional”, as though this story were a chair that wouldn’t be fully itself if it had only one or two legs. Each perspective feels different in dramatic terms, because each of the characters has their own motives, values, and needs. Each character is given, at the very least, a hint of a backstory. There is variation between first- and third-person voice. Each new part takes an element from the preceding section and develops it. And the first and third sections are notably strange, conjuring an uneasy atmosphere in the midst of the playfulness (even the talking rock, something that might otherwise seem like a device for comedy, is “trapped”, “trick[ed]”, and “gag[ged]”).
Triangles of connected characters are useful to introduce into our writing, perhaps especially for longer stories, novels, or novellas. The push and pull of power dynamics (loyalties, allegiances, rivalries, hierarchies) between three people can be in flux more often than feels possible with only two people. Harold Pinter’s play ‘The Caretaker‘ is a classic example of a writer exploring an unstable triangle – one in which a visitor to someone’s home is never quite sure where they stand, because they have to deal with two brothers whose relationship always seems to be changing.
Invitation: How might you introduce/develop a triangle of characters within your novella? What might be the shifting power dynamics between those three figures, over time?
Here’s Francine Witte’s story again to enjoy: ‘Clean Magic’
After reading Francine Witte’s flash fiction, adapt any of the following prompts to fit your novella’s storyline. Write a scene/chapter/story that features:
• Three radically different points of view. (As your focus, find and use a key moment in the action of the overall novella, a decisive event that merits investigation from multiple angles.) Give each character their own differentiated motives, values, and needs in relation to this decisive event. Conjure a backstory for each figure, even if only a small part of their backstory features in the final draft. OPTIONAL: Let the second and third perspectives gradually reveal something new about the limitations of the previous perspective(s), in terms of how they understand the decisive event.
• Write a story including an element of “cartoon violence” drawn from the world of folk/fairy tale, where bizarre, macabre injury, mutilation, blinding, or physical disabling, which would be tragic in all other contexts, is grotesquely commonplace as a deliberately playful or subversive device. (If it feels like this element might not suit your novella’s tone, consider featuring it within a dream or vision, which may helpfully lighten and justify the effect.)
• Write a story featuring a non-violent retaliation that’s paid forward – where someone is passing the parcel of emotional suffering. OPTIONAL: Write it in such a way that the reader sympathises with both the victim and the aggressor.
• Write a story entirely from the point of view of a non-human object – a spirit trapped within an inanimate physical form. OPTIONAL: this object is a witness to some of the human characters in the novella’s story-world, and it offers opinions about them, as well as foregrounding its own priorities.
• If it helps, use the symbolism of the following picture as a way into the material:
Above all, “make it new”!
More about Francine Witte’s writing here: FrancineWitte.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 (and get access to exclusive discounts on Michael’s mentoring) here:
2 thoughts on “Novella-in-Flash Writing Prompt #15 – The Power of Triangles”
There are 3 important characters in my Novella. That’s very useful, thank you. I diminished one recently and was uneasy about it. This has helped remind me to go with my gut.
So glad it was helpful Barbara! Thanks for letting me know. 👍🏻