by Christopher Allen
SmokeLong’s Five from the Archive series endeavors to provide creative writing instructors examples of stories that employ a particular narrative device or theme. If you missed Sharmini Aphrodite’s post on stories told from the first-person plural POV, check that out here.
Virginia Woolf hated writing about the mundane, or the “cotton wool” and “non-being” drudgery of everyday life; she felt compelled to focus rather on the depth of formative moments, moments that change us, moments that sear themselves into our psyche–Moments of Being. Flash narratives might also span years or even centuries, but here we’ll look at narratives that plumb the depths of the moment.
Let’s look at five stories from the SmokeLong archive that demonstrate the Moment of Being. These moments are often rites of passage moments, but they don’t have to be. Any moment that lingers for years or decades is what Woolf would call a Moment of Being.
“Ruby” by Veronica Montes portrays what seems to be a first sexual experience. Montes builds the sexual tension among the characters–girl, boyfriend, mother–with deft creativity. The actual sex happens offstage, leaving the reader to see the daughter’s profound change from the third-person POV of the mother. And wow is this a richly imagined transformation.
Writing Exercise: Write a moment in which the tension (doesn’t have to be sexual) between two characters builds through some unexpected interaction.
“Puberty” by Kat Gonso takes the reader to Croatia with the fourteen-year-old narrator, whisked away unexpectedly by her father. The weight of this story, which feels like an initiation forced upon the narrator, is implied by the title. The story is an exploration of archetypal men’s and women’s worlds. “Who needs algebra when you have all this,” the father says, meaning the gore of tuna fishing and the company of sweaty men. The sense of this moment, as I see it, is the narrator’s introduction to the world of men, and this introduction is somehow, at least to this father, the act of becoming a woman.
Writing Exercise: Write a story where the main character is trapped, for a moment, between two worlds.
“Rockaway” by Luke Wiget is a micro about two children’s first kiss. The third character in this story is nature, who holds its breath for this Moment of Being. At the sentence level this story is layered and compelling even in its simplicity. And the ending is a great metaphor for how a flash narrative should resonate long after the telling. Long after the kiss.
Writing Exercise: Write a First Kiss story.
“Exterminator” by Sean Mackey is a father-son talk. A moment of truth after the wife/mother leaves. The father implies the backstory in the sentence “this is why his mom hasn’t come back, the exact kind of shit she couldn’t put up with…” The exact kind of shit: the son has made a risky, attention-seeking purchase. I do sense that the son is not completely to blame for this family’s problems. #unreliablenarrator
Writing Exercise: Write a parent-child talk story told by an unreliable narrator.
“Little Girls” by Tara Laskowski portrays a concerned father imparting some wisdom (read: fear) to his adult and pregnant daughter: be careful, life is perilous. And life is, as she discovers. Some Moments of Being are moments of profound learning. Like a facepalm on the page.
Writing Exercise: Write a story in which the main character has an ah-hah moment.
Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins. His work has appeared in The Best Small Fictions 2019, Booth, Split Lip Magazine and lots of other fine places. Allen is the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.