• Mary Decker

ATA Flash Fiction Contest 2018 - What makes a winning entry

News from the Author Transformation Alliance's Weekly Flash Fiction contest.

While we have a lot planned for 2019 I wanted to take this moment to explain why I love flash fiction - and the people who write it. Usually when there's only one entry, I forego the announcement - It seems like a hollow victory but I have to say something about this week's entry and explain why, as I told Mark - I wish there more entries just so there would be a post about his winning story.

It's that good.

Flash Fiction is challenging - you have to write a short story, nay, a microstory - you have to get the whole story in a very limited number of words, so you have to make every word count.

You have to trust the reader to see where things are going and fill in the blanks, that in itself is no mean feat, but to tell a story that is haunting, relevant and entertaining-- that is a skill worth honing.

Writing flash means you cut the story to the bone - you cut to the heart of the story and flesh it out enough to get the reader to care. To care about the story, to care about the people involved.

Once the contest is over, you can leave it as a flash piece (Fiction you can read in a flash) or you can flesh it back out, with the purpose and heart of the story front and center.

I have watched Mark's stories get sharpened against the whetstone of several different flash fiction contests and I highly recommend you seek out his writing. He, and several of our contestants write amazing stories several times a week in this and other contests. If you love to read, seek them out - if you love to write, same thing. .

Another thing I love about flash is instant gratification - you spend anywhere from an hour to several days honing a piece crafting it until it matches not only your story but the criteria of the contests... sometimes it's a range of words, others an exact number of words... or it contains a phrase, or a mood-- Prompts range the gambit, from multiple prompts, to a song, to a picture.

But the key is, you have to write something that can stand alone without relying on the prompt-

Sometimes you have to cut down a story to get to that word count - other times, you realize it isn't going to happen so you save the story you're working on and do it again. You write another story, sometimes you write more that two for a contest...

But you write, and you smoothe and you work the story until it fits within the mold. And then you go back and make sure you haven't lost the story in the rules.

It's a puzzle and a writing challenge - and Mark's entry for this week's contest went through all of that.

If you want to read his original story - I'm sure we can coax it out of him - but I wanted to talk about this week's entry.

The story itself has no defined protagonist - which usually makes it more of a tell than a show story - and there are people who will insist that you have to show everything and tell nothing. That isn't always the case. Sometimes, you, the protagonist - that undefined narrator - is telling the story, and that is part of what makes this story so good and so haunting.

The narrator could be anybody - the narrator could be you...it could simply be a footnote in history - but Mark manages to tell the history of 'The Congregation' with an almost dispassionate newscaster-like voice that makes the story, and how some of the horror involved (if you think about it) is viewed as commonplace.

We have a situation, we have it escalate and we have a haunting ending to the situation - It hits all the marks you need in a story and stays with you long after you've finished reading - the earmark of a good story, well executed.

That is why I wanted to share this one with you.

The Prompt:

And your story could not contain the word 'Fire'...

Are You a Member of the Congregation? - 292 words

by Mark A Morris

The first flarings took out the blasphemers, their ‘Righteous’ bracelets taking off their right hands. The Church had been active until then, issuing us warnings for months, warning us all of God’s might and emphasising the cautions the Lord had given us. The resulting micro-explosions were small, but still powerful enough to harm anyone close by, making it dangerous to share a space with anyone harbouring heretical thoughts.

The Pastors called it a cleansing; an essential action they used to help us concentrate on the sanctity of the race. People became more guarded after that, congregation numbers rising each week once it became known the Primary’s decrees would be announced, new moral offences sometimes being added daily while the legislation was being corrected. It became simple to enforce too; there being no need for appeals, ignorance being no defence for any malcontents railing against The Lord’s Method.

It wasn’t easy, of course. There was some resistance to the bracelets at the beginning. It became necessary to provide incentives for wearing them. Many local chapels gave special awards to the members achieving the most conversions each month, the most successful ones getting featured on the Church’s television channels at prime time. It was a heady time then, when everyone was competing, some folks tagging ‘reluctants’ while they slept. We all knew it wouldn’t last, but it became ‘the thing’ for a while; the ‘an empty wrist is a Godless wrist’ promotions running countrywide, the Church’s tally-men everywhere, people everywhere going crazy with their enthusiasm to serve the Lord. That was before the culls began and us learning of the microphones hidden in the bracelets.

But it was too late for us then.

The Congregation was everywhere.

Listening to every word everyone was saying.

Congratulations Mark, and thank you!

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