The following flash fiction – the superb ‘In the Land of Plenty’, by Jayne Martin – tells the story of a series of repeated actions over the course of one day. A woman who sleeps in mounds of garbage, at a landfill site under a motorway, spends her daytime gleaning scraps of food discarded by people in various situations – at a schoolyard, outside an Applebee’s restaurant, behind a Safeway supermarket.
The story consists of a chain of brief moments narrated as individual vignettes, like a montage of scenes from a short film. At the end of the story, the woman returns to her “refuge under the highway”, where, we have been told, she is not the only hungry, homeless person. She must guard her day’s spoils carefully. And then in the very the final section, the view changes to a more dispassionate, material description of landscape itself – “the procession of garbage trucks” and the gulls overhead.
The poignancy achieved through the writer accumulating these understated and succinct mini-narratives into one flash fiction is heartbreaking. Here’s the story:
After reading Jayne Martin’s flash fiction, adapt any of the following prompts to fit your novella’s storyline. Write a scene/chapter/story that involves:
• A person living/sleeping somewhere other than inside a building.
• A chain of repeated actions over the course of one day, with the recurring action each time happening in a slightly different situation. Let the chain of actions add up to something poignant, through the character’s yearning to repeat the action.
• A flash fiction that features someone’s (unique) relationship to food (or consumption of any other goods or commodities). Let the piece evoke something about how we relate to contemporary capitalism or consumerism.
• A scene taking place under a motorway – where the location is a liminal space for something unsettling or unusual unfolding.
• A story in which, at the start, a character leaves a particular location, then returns to that same location again at the end of the story. In between departure and arrival, let the reader learn new things about the character (to do with their feelings, values, motives, life purposes, or life situation) such that we no longer see them as entirely the same person when they return to that location.
• A story where a character is given, out of compassion or solidarity, something by another person that the person would actually have wanted to keep for themselves.
• If it helps, use any of the following pictures as a way into the material:
Above all, “make it new”!
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