Sudha Balagopal’s flash fictions and creative non-fiction pieces are always rich and fascinating.
Here’s a story of hers published recently in X-Ray Lit:
In this story, one thing that’s clearly in the foreground (for me) is the interplay between the past and the present, and the way this influences how “story” is cleverly revealed AND delayed (for example, the recurring, interrupting motif of the potato chips).
Also strongly in the foreground is the tension between individual choice/agency and social conventions – the constraints that families, communities, societies place upon on us. Some such constraints are of course written and explicit – for example, written into national law or policy. And some may be implicit pressures, unspoken codes or informal expectations. Many of these unwritten expectations, nevertheless, follow inevitably from broader social structures imposed by government policies, laws and judicial systems, religious doctrines, or organisational constitutions. A kind of trickle-down social ergo-nomics that permeates all behaviour.
Many writers consider that part of their role is to highlight social conventions, and ask questions about them, as Sudha Balagopal does here. This story, notably, ends on a question. One of the most radical things about this flash fiction, for me, is the fact that the narrator has seemingly agreed (in later life) to discuss exactly the kind of decision on behalf of her children that was made for her by her parents when she was young, and which she resisted at that time. Balagopal lets readers draw their own conclusions, and figure out how they feel. How might you do that in your own novella?
Invitation: Once you’ve read this story, consider the following:
• Explore an identity to which you are connected. (Or else do this for one of your novella characters.) This might be an aspect of national, religious or cultural identity. Or an aspect of identity to do with work/other responsibilities. Single out a social convention or expectation related to that identity – some unwritten code or formal requirement that is imposed by others. Work this into a flash fiction that fits your novella’s situation, exploring the push and pull between social expectation and the individual impulse to resist convention. Put pressure on the protagonist and their personal values, and see what unfolds. Does the pressure of convention/expectation affect the way they behave/speak/dress, their life decisions, their feelings about themselves or the world, and so on? What sparks of tension, disagreement or conflict might arise?
• Write a flash fiction for your novella that braids a scene from the past with a scene from the present, breaking each strand into sections, so the ongoing story alternates between fragments of the present and the past. OPTIONAL: Let one character be (in the past) a child or young person interacting with their parents, and then (in the present) the same character is a parent themselves, having to make choices on behalf of their child or children.
• Write a flash fiction for your novella about a disappointing date.
• Write a flash fiction for your novella about being a witness to (or on the receiving end of) the actions of an inconsiderate or capricious person. OPTIONAL: Characterise that person as sleazy or unpleasant in some other way.
• Write a flash fiction for your novella in which a character goes to the cinema with another person. Let the movie scenes on screen have some relevance to the relationship between the two people, creating a subtext that draws attention to an underlying tension between them (for instance, what’s shown on-screen might highlight a difference between what the two individuals each want or yearn for). OPTIONAL: Choose another cultural event or performance that’s not a film.
Above all, have fun and make it new!
More about Michael’s Novella-in-Flash course: https://novella-in-flash.com/about-the-course/
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