Tag: flash fiction

Tell Me A (Very Short) Story

Black and white image of a woman with writing in black ink on her back

Skin Writing II by Matou Malin

Welcome to the second installment of my pre-Eroticon, I-Had-More-Material-Than-Will-Fit-In-The-Session series. This one is on flash fiction and plot. Or, more, specifically, does flash fiction need to have a plot?

Opinions vary (sometimes violently), but my answer to this question is yes. And no. Flash is a wily thing.

Before I can dig into my non-response properly, it’s important to look at what, exactly, “plot” means.

Generally speaking, plot is defined as a story’s rising and falling action, or what’s typically called a narrative arc. Implicit in that understanding is the assumption that a traditional narrative arc is one of a story’s baseline requirements. In other words, it needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. If it doesn’t, it’s something else—a vignette, a scene, a prose poem, but not a “proper story”.

So, given all that, what’s the difference between flash fiction, (which often doesn’t contain a clean narrative arc), and, say, a prose poem?

It’s a thin line, but the difference is in the fact that fiction, unlike poetry, is an inherently temporal form – it’s rooted in a particular time and place. By contrast, a prose poem is, essentially, an observation, which means that, as prescient as the observation might be, it has a universal quality that prevents it from anchoring itself to a specific, temporal space.

Stories, unlike prose poems, are populated by characters with needs and motivations, and those characters need to exist somewhere. That somewhere (even if it’s just an empty room in an unknown year) implies physical existence, the passage of time and changes in circumstance. Stories have characters and characters have needs, which means that something will change, or fail to in a meaningful way. That process is dynamic, and the dynamic movement from point A to point B is what forms a narrative.

This tinkers with the traditional notion of plot, but less so than you’d think. It doesn’t matter if the change happens on the grand scale or unfolds quietly in a single page. What matters is that the change is rooted in a character’s longing. It can be as broad as trying to save the world, or as subtle wanting to get out of bed and not being able to. If there’s need there’s change and that naturally forms plot.

And, in the end, that’s all plot really is—a character pursuing a need. Or, to put it more dramatically, plot is the portrait of a character’s desire—how they pursue it, how it’s  thwarted, and how (or if) it’s resolved. That resolution of a desire usually comes in the form of an epiphany—a realization that signals a pivot in the character’s outlook or circumstance. That pivot is the change that represents movement through a set of temporal circumstances, i.e.: the plot.

The journey from challenge to resolution has acres of room to breathe in novels. It has the opposite in flash fiction. But just because a character’s longing can’t unfold in epic or obvious ways doesn’t mean it’s not there.

While the brevity required in short, short fiction doesn’t often allow for a “fully developed plot”, flash fiction has the luxury of taking a microscope to the thwarted desires and revelations that drive traditional narrative forms. Flash fiction may appear to be inherently “plotless”, but if there is a character at the heart of it, and that character has a need, then that story has the DNA of plot and can, quite comfortably, be considered proper fiction.

Now, I’m going to be wild and crazy and say something that a lot of people would disagree with. I don’t think flash fiction has to have a plot, even in DNA form. That said, it also can’t just shuffle around without a point or purpose.

Monologues, vignettes, scenes and sketches, like prose poetry, are driven (generally speaking) by the universal observations I mentioned earlier. While some would disagree with my taking an inclusive view, I believe that these are also legitimate forms of storytelling because they achieve through observation what plot does through desire and conflict—they reflect an essential human truth or condition.

When you strip it down, that’s what fiction is, regardless of length. It’s a made-up story that reflects an essential human truth. That’s why characters in flash fiction are more important than a beginning, middle and end. The truth can be anything from desperately wanting to fuck your ex, to grieving the loss of a child. Whether it happens through observation, or the temporally specific plot movements, fiction reflects what it is to be a person in the world. Whether it’s a novel or a paragraph, that’s what fiction does.

So, does flash fiction need a plot?

It would be more useful to ask if flash fiction can accommodate a plot, and the answer to that is yes. But flash can also accommodate breathless observation, devastating reflection and humanity in all of it glorious, filthy complexity, and, in the end, they serve the same function as plot.

We are humans, and humans are driven by desire. Whether that desire is for a glass of water or the golden fleece, longing, wanting and needing are fundamental human conditions. As long as a story taps into what it is to be fundamentally human, it’s storytelling and it’s powerful, regardless of length.

Other Eroticon-Inspired Writer Posts

On Implication

What You Owe the Reader

On Implication

Repeating image of hands overlapping against a black and white back drop.

Hands, Hands…Horst P. Horst (New York, 1941)

It’s February, which means Eroticon is less than a month away (and shining like a light on the horizon), so I’ve started pulling my session notes together. The subject of my session is sex in flash fiction or, more specifically, how to write sex that turns the reader on reader on and lends a story impact, weight and relevance.

In writing as in life, sex is powerful on multiple levels. Knowing how to play with those levels makes for fiction that resonates—not just sexually, but emotionally and psychologically, as well. It’s one of my favorite writerish things to talk about, mostly because there’s so much to say—far more than I could ever fit into 55 minutes.

Rather than try to fit the ocean in a teacup, I figured I’d write a small series of posts on some of the things I’d flesh out a bit more if I were hosting a series of workshops, rather than a single session. It also has the nice, inclusive side effect of opening up the topic for those who aren’t going to Eroticon this year.

Side note: While the session is going to touch lightly on all of this, these posts are in no way a prerequisite. The only prerequisite I have is that you bring an open mind and a willingness to experiment in whatever way suits your style and interests.

So, back to keeping your writing tight. For this post, I want to talk about implication, which is as important in fiction as it is in flirting, (and, as any good flirt can tell you, worlds of filthy stuff can be said between the squeaky-clean lines). It’s part of something called “negative space”, which I’ll get into more during the session. For now, I want to focus on what implication has to do with connecting to the reader.

Sex and flash fiction were made for each other, largely because, like horror (or any other psychologically driven genre), the best erotic writing has a visceral impact. A restricted word count forces every element to count, which makes for a story that packs a hard punch. While a 250-word limit might sound crazy-pants, it’s actually an opportunity to nail your reader down on a deep, visceral level. But, in order to make that work, you’ve got to do something first. You’ve got to trust the reader. Here’s what I mean.

A few weeks ago, I wrote this:

They walk hip to hip, knuckles brushing, as they measure their potential in the rhythm of their feet..

I wrote that sentence in response to someone’s assertion that it’s impossible to write a “proper story” in less than 20 words because you can’t “trust the reader to get it”. Whether or not this qualifies as a “proper story” is a matter of opinion—some people like a clear beginning, middle and end, so if that’s what you’re after, it may not be your cup of tea. The idea of trusting the reader though, that’s something I have definite feelings on.

The story in that sentence comes more from implication than actual text. These two people are in sync enough to walk naturally together, but they aren’t yet sure of their potential as a couple. It’s a very specific moment in a relationship—the exploration of an unspoken line. Will they continue on together, or not? I know what I think is going to happen, but what I think isn’t the point.

That’s where trusting the reader comes in.

The reader’s only job is to read – not correctly interpret the “true” meaning of a story, as laid out by the author with loving precision. While I do believe that the author’s intention is important, I don’t believe the reader is obliged to treat it like the word of an authorial god.

What an author intends shapes a story. That’s why intention is important—it lends the writer direction and purpose. It is not, however, the only determinant of a story’s impact. Impact comes not only from the writing, but from how the reader engages it. It’s about making and maintaining a connection…sort of like flirting.

While you definitely don’t want your motives misinterpreted (flirting is one thing, but being a creeper is another), the best way to facilitate a natural connection is to be aware of the person you’re talking to. So, rather than trusting the reader to “get it”, it’s much more productive to invite their interest. Implication is one really efficient, really effective way to do that.

A writer controls the writing process. What a writer can’t control is how a story gets read because every, single reader will bring something different to it. And that’s okay. That’s how connections are made. That’s how you get a story that has a secret, powerful, visceral impact on someone other than yourself. All you have to do is leave a little blank space between the lines, and let the reader fill it in.

That’s how you get out of the way, and let the reader engage your work on their terms. When they do, it’s magic, like crazy chemistry on a first date. It means they’re trusting you enough to let you take them somewhere, anywhere, even places you don’t know about. It means they’re with you, no matter where it leads.

A Love Story in 18 Words

Black and white image of a man and woman's hands and thighs as they stand side by Mona Kuhn for Erotic Fiction: Spar by Malin James

Longing & Belonging by Mona Kuhn

They walk hip to hip, knuckles brushing, as they measure their potential in the rhythm of their feet.

Flash Fiction: Dark & Deep

Black and white image of a woman biting her shoulder for Flash Fiction: His Voice by Malin James

From the Sacra series by Mona Kuhn

She thinks of his voice, his soul-grinding voice as she drifts off to sleep in a bed that’s far too big. His voice, that voice, drips through her. It echoes and coats her skin, like frost on the windows of the cold, dark room at the top of the narrow house.

Humming, lilting letters tumble down her spine. They slide into her hips. In his mouth, her name is the drip of melting ice, fragile and quiet, a secret dark and deep. It’s the forest in a poem, his mouth and her name, in a snowy, winter wood.

What is it about the way some people, one person, says her name – her name, the name she gave herself – that makes it the language of home? Not her physical home in the too-wide bed, but the home where her pulse rests deep in her belly, buried between her thighs.

She thinks of the language he made of her name as her hand slips down, past cotton and flannel, down to her lonely skin. Her body strains to meet her. Her name on his tongue is the country they made, the map of her slippery soul. She arches, placing the whole of herself in the cup of her capable hand.

Sounds, not words, filled the room long ago. In her mind, they do again. His breathing, her breathing, catching breath, bitten moans. They melt ice and salt the bed. She strains and falls open, longing for home, his voice, her name, her name…. The hollow ache of absence. The weight that isn’t there. Her mind is somewhere dark and deep, slick with dripping frost.

Her mouth parts like a shell, round and full of a name, his name, the name he has given himself. It tumbles down her spine, carried by her voice. Tight, pulsing echoes. Sound cracks, like ice, in her chest. Bones shudder and she is home.

Frost limns the window, but she is warm, warm, warm. Her breathing deepens and slows. Memories, murmurs, whispers on skin, so many years ago…she rests in the language they made for themselves, long ago in cold, dark room at the top of a narrow house.

Flash Fiction: Auction Sale of Clothes

Black and white photograph by Cartier-Bresson of a woman standing on a stage in a auction house modeling a dress in front of a full room

Auction Sale of Clothes by Cartier-Bresson (Berlin, 1951)

“Do you like it?”

“What? The model or the dress?”

“The dress…and the model, I suppose.”

The woman cocked her head. The dress was the sort of thing you’d wear to a cocktail party. The model was the sort of thing you’d bring home from a cocktail party.

“Yes,” she said, thoughtfully. “I do.”

“Which?”

“Both.”

The man raised a brow but failed to look surprised.

_______

Standing on a platform in a dead woman’s clothes wasn’t Laura’s idea of high fashion, but it was a paycheck and paychecks were good, especially when you liked to eat.

“Lot 398. Christien Dior. We’ll start the bidding at….”

Laura ignored the auctioneer. She didn’t want to know. It made wearing the dress depressing, like sampling a pastry she couldn’t afford. Laura hated not affording so she canted her hips and ignored the bidders too. These days the bidders were worth ignoring.

There were two types of people at auctions like this—collectors and ghouls. Ghouls, with their shabby collars and hard mouths, came to watch a rich person’s things get sold off. Collectors were different. Collectors went hunting for very specific things, but what made a thing special was anyone’s guess. Just the week before, someone paid $500 for a soap dish with an impeccable provenance…whatever that meant.

Laura pivoted and tried not to yawn. At first, the keen, avid eyes in the audience had turned her on so much that her thighs would be slick by the time she left the platform. Once or twice she’d even come (quietly, of course). It didn’t matter if she was modeling last year’s lingerie or someone’s ridiculous hat, being scrutinized felt good. But that had been ages ago. The novelty was gone. Now she barely noticed.

Laura unhooked the dress’s train, revealing an obscene amount of leg for 10am. Suddenly, the soft hairs on the back of her neck prickled and she looked up.

A couple was sitting in the middle of the room. They were young and golden and bright as if they’d gathered up all the stray light. Now that she’d seen them, she couldn’t look away.

Laura’s center of gravity dropped into her hips. She did a half-turn as the nerves in her belly coiled. She wanted the couple to notice. She wanted to make them bid. Laura moved to center stage, rolling her hips. She knew she looked like a woman begging to be kissed. Then the golden woman winked, and she almost fell off the stage.

The woman scanned Laura’s body, from her hem to her face, with the kind of cold interest she was used to in men. Every nerve in Laura’s body clustered between her legs. The woman smiled like a collector. She smiled like she knew. Laura squeezed her thighs tight, felt how plump and wet she was. She swore the woman knew.

Silver shoes peeked out from beneath her hem. The woman met Laura’s eyes and raised a brow. Without thinking, Laura raised the dress so the woman could see the shoes. Ankles, knees, halfway up her thighs…she would have kept going, right up to her waist, but the woman gave her a tiny nod, so Laura stopped. She didn’t lower the dress. The woman looked pleased. Still, they didn’t bid.

Laura squirmed, unwilling to drop the hem as the bids rose higher and came faster and the pressure built. She squeezed her thighs together as tight as she could. She could come like that. She had before. She would come and the woman would watch her. She would come and the woman would know.

But the woman shook her head.

Laura went still.

A Catalogue of Very Specific Things:

Silver dress. Silver shoes.  Twitching fingers, shifting hips. A trembling mouth that makes a quick but perfect O. The flush of a lip, a swollen lip, soft between hard teeth. Wide eyes. Young skin. Impulses waiting to spill….

The woman whispered to the man.

The gavel cracked.

“Sold, to the gentleman in the middle of the room.”

__

The woman sighed.

“Thank you, love.’

“Have you got your eye on anything else?”

“No,” she said. “Let’s collect.”

Flash Fiction: The Holly & The Ivy

A portrait of a young Tudor era woman

Portrait of a Young Woman thought to be Catherine Howard, Met Museum, NYC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It will be different with me, she thinks as he presses her down to her knees. Silk rustles as she bends like a young rose on a fragile stem. He smiles, and she takes heart. He is gentle with her now, this great man, larger than life, with hands like paws and a mind like jagged trap. He will be different with me.

Green groweth the holly,
So doth the ivy.
Though winter blasts blow never so high,
Green groweth the holly.

He removes her wedding gown and she bows before him. He is already undressed. His vast, bear-like body, once wrapped in velvet and fur, fills her vision like the sun. She shivers. His fingers, so gentle with the outer casing of her gown, bite into her skin. He wants her, she knows. He has told her as much. He has written and told her so.

As the holly groweth green
And never changeth hue,
So I am, ever hath been,
Unto my lady true.

He is impatient and entitled as he grips her head. She opens her mouth and complies. She is no prudish Catholic, but neither is she a whore. Her cousin was a whore, an incestuous whore. She betrayed him and lost her head, spilled her blood all over the block, red as the holly he wrote about. Red blood on a dark green dress.

As the holly groweth green
With ivy all alone
When flowers cannot be seen
And greenwood leaves be gone,

There will be no blood with me, she thinks. I will keep his love. I will keep it evergreen. He grips her head harder, guiding her mouth as she sucks his cock with a skill that she learned as a girl. That skill would not betray her. That skill, and the gift of a pliant throat and an equally pliant nature, will keep me queen, she thinks.

Now unto my lady
Promise to her I make,
From all other only
To her I me betake.

Her eyes stream as his cock batters the back of her throat. She feels the bulk of his body tense. He’s getting close. She wills herself slack and feels the drool dripping down her chin onto her pretty white breasts. When he comes, he comes like an animal, grunting and thrusting into her mouth as if she were a thing. I will be his cherished thing, she thinks, gagging on his spend.

Adieu, mine own lady,
Adieu, my special
Who hath my heart truly
Be sure, and ever shall.

He tastes overly sweet, and beneath that a bitterness that makes her gag again, but she swallows and swallows and swallows. Then she smiles as she knows he wants her too, and lavishly licks her lips. I will do what I must do, she thinks. I will survive the love of this man.

Post Script: 

The italicized poem is called “Green Groweth the Holly” by Henry VIII. The lady whom it addresses is unknown but, for the sake of this piece, I imagined it to be his ill-fated 5th wife, Catherine Howard, cousin to Anne Boleyn and the second of his six wives to be accused of treason and beheaded.

The story was inspired by “The Holly and the Ivy” – a traditional Christmas carol and one of the prompts in Exhibit A‘s Awesome Christmas Erotica Meme. A new song title goes up every day between now and Christmas so click here to catch the prompts and participate (you should!). And click here to see who else is making merry this December.

Fiction: Bluebeard’s Clever Wife

Gary Cooper & Claudette Colbert in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)

Gary Cooper & Claudette Colbert in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938)

A few week’s ago, I wrote a post called Death and the Maiden in which I mentioned Angela Carter’s story “The Bloody Chamber”. That story is an adaptation of the Bluebeard fairy tale, my favorite fairy tale in the entire world…which probably says a lot about me. 

Given that it’s been a bit serious around here lately, I decided to lighten things up with my own adaptation of the Bluebeard story. I wrote “Bluebeard’s Clever Wife” a couple of years ago and it’s been languishing in a file ever since. It’s not erotic, sexy or even remotely hot, but I do think it’s kind of romantic…in an Addam’s Family kind of way. At the very least, writing it made me smile. Hopefully, reading it will do the same.  

Bluebeard’s Clever Wife

Once upon a time, a girl married a man. He had a shady reputation, but he gave her flowers and she thought that was nice. Plus, he was rich – not that she noticed, of course. So they married, and went to live at his castle, which was large and very isolated because he liked his alone time.

One day, shortly after they married, he told her that he was going on a business trip. He gave her the keys to every lock in the house and said that she could open them all, except for one.

“Don’t, under any circumstances, open that door,” he said, pointing to a large, black door with a big iron lock and a No Trespassing sign. “If you do, I’ll have to kill you. Fair warning.”

Then he left.

The bride was an obedient and dutiful soul, so she waited until he’d left to go to the forbidden room. What she found shocked her. Bits and pieces of his former wives were scattered about like puzzle pieces. Hands, torsos, heads… the place was a wreck. Unable to stand the mess, she went to work reassembling the ladies until they were all lined up, neat as pins.

She was just congratulating herself on a job well done when her husband came back home. Apparently, the whole thing had been a test! When he discovered her in his secret room, he was understandably upset, but she impressed upon him importance of keeping things tidy. Then she showed him her improvements, which included a clever little bucket for miscellanious parts.

Bluebeard was so struck by her logic, and by the convenience of having everything close to hand, that he quickly forgave her with a hearty laugh. From that day forward, he left the door unlocked, while she, inspired by her husband’s hobby, took up the study of anatomy. They lived happily ever after.

Fiction: Jack Rose & the Old Fashioned Girl

Jack Rose loved nothing more than the little seam that ran up the back of a woman’s leg. That thin, straight line led to beautiful things—garters and silk and soft, soft skin—all the things a man never saw until a woman was nice and mussed up.

backseamTrouble was, there weren’t too many of those seams to be had anymore. It was an old fashioned fetish for an old fashioned time. Sure, there were girls all dolled up with bright red lips and dark, inky eyes, but they weren’t the real deal—too much make up, to much dye, too much of everything, including trying too hard. The stockings they wore didn’t lead to silk and skin. More often than not, they ended in elastic so tight it could have kept foreign invaders out.

Platform hipster heels with a too short dress…. That was all fine and dandy for some guys, but not for Jack Rose. Jack wanted the real thing—a girl whose silk stockings glossed against the sway of a skirt that ended just below the knee. He wanted to trace the ridge of a real seam that ran straight and true all the way up her leg before he buried his face between her thighs. He’d been wanting that for a real long time. He’d gotten lots of near misses in hipster heels, but he’d never quite struck gold.

Then she walked into his bar—a lanky brunette with a wicked jaw, straight out of Dashiell Hammett. She wore a little tailored jacket with a tailored skirt that flared just below her knee. The minute he saw her, the whole place faded to smoky black and white, and he hadn’t even seen her legs.

The place was nearly empty. She had her pick of seats, but she slid right onto the stool directly in front of him.

“What’ll you have,” he asked, wiping at the spotless bar with a rag.

“An old-fashioned. Thanks.”

She looked expensive to the touch. Her angel face was smooth and unpowdered. Only her lips were made up, a ripe, gorgeous red that made him want to take a bite.

“You know how to make that, right?”

Jack started. He hadn’t meant to stare.

“Yeah,” he replied, clearing his throat. “Yeah, darlin, I’ve got it covered. You’re just the first person to ask for one in more than five years.”

She grinned then, showing dimples and pretty, white teeth.

“I guess I’m an old fashioned girl.”

Jack didn’t know what to say to that. All he knew was that he was dying to see her legs.

“Night, Jack!”

Jack looked up and waved as Sam and Kyle, a couple of die hard regulars, headed into the quiet night. “See ya, guys,” he called.

The place was empty now.

He took his time muddling the sugar with the booze. Then he set the tumbler in front of the girl.

“Thanks. How much do I owe you?”

“Do me two things and it’s one the house,” he said, wishing he still smoked.

“I don’t know how badly I want a free drink,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “How about you tell what you want me to do, and I’ll tell you how I pay.”

Jack smiled. He liked her. He liked her way too much.

“Sure,” he said, pouring himself a bourbon on the rocks. “First thing. Tell me your name, gorgeous.”

She nodded, shifting slightly in her seat. Jack watched as he took a sip, imaging that she’d just crossed her legs.

“Sure. My name is Myrna.”

“Myrna,” he murmured, nodding. It felt just right in his mouth.

“That’s a pretty name you’ve got.”

She smiled and leaned her elbows up on the bar. “Thanks. What’s the second thing?”

“Stand and up and turn around.”

Jack met her eyes just as her soft, open gaze shuttered. He rushed on, trying to explain.

“It’s nothing weird, I promise. It’s just… Forget it. Never mind. Drink’s on the house.”

Jack knocked back the rest of the bourbon with a clatter of ice against glass. He’d blown that one all right. Might as well start closing up.

“Wait,” Myrna said, smooth as fifty year old scotch. “I think that’s a fair trade. Providing….”

“Providing?”

“It’s a hell of a good drink.”

“Honey, that I can guarantee.”

Jack closed the till and watched as she slid of her stool and took three steps back. Then she slowly turned around. Long, black seams ran up her legs, from the heels of her spiky shoes to the scalloped edge of her hem.

“How’s that,” she said, meeting his eyes.

Jack cleared his throat.

“Not bad. I’d say we’re square.

“Like I said, that depends on how good your old-fashioned is.”

Still watching him, she sat back down and took a sip. She closed her eyes as her head tipped gently to one side, exposing the pale skin of her throat above the collar of her blouse. There was pleasure all over her face. He wondered if that’s how she looked when she came .

“How’s that,” he said.

“Oh… I’d say we’re square. In fact,” she said, opening her eyes, “I may owe you more than my name and a look at my legs.”

“Yeah?” Jack said, setting the rag aside. She was too damn good to be true.

“Yeah,” she said. “Why don’t you make yourself another drink?”

“Sure,” he said, “why not?”

With steady hands, Jack made himself an old-fashioned. Then he went around the empty bar, stopping just long enough to flip the closed sign over before taking the seat next to hers.

“What’s your name,” she said.

“Jack. Jack Rose.”

“Really? Jack Rose?”

“Yeah. My mom loved Hemingway.”

“That’s funny. I do too….”

A delicate flush colored her skin from collarbones to cheeks, as she slowly crossed her legs. Taking the invitation, Jack placed a hand lightly on her knee. When she leaned into him, he ran his hand down the back of her leg, over the perfect ridge of the seam. She sighed and bit her cherry red lip, as the scent of bourbon and sugar and Chanel filled his head. Goddamn. He wanted to muss her up.

Jack moved his hand back up her leg, pausing at her hem. She nodded, pulse skittering in her neck, so he allowed it to drift up her skirt, past the garters that kept those stockings in place, to a pair of silky knickers that were already damp and clinging to her sex.

Jack leaned in and kissed her. He loved an old-fashioned girl.

THE END

Note: I just wanted to quickly thank F. Leonora Solomon for our wonderful, wide-ranging conversations. This story was inspired by our mutual appreciation for the 1940’s and vintage underwear. She is a woman made of loveliness and class. Click here to read her drink – the Amaretto Sour.

© 2017 Malin James

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