Posts Tagged ‘flash fiction’

My friend Sarah just commented on my last blog about NaNoWriMo. And she posed a very interesting comparison between forced writing and constrained writing, which immediately reminded me of OuLiPo. (The Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle.)

She had said that she had to write a story in 55 words or less, in other words, flash fiction. Or, a story told with extreme brevity.

The most famous piece of flash fiction was written by Hemingway.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Sarah’s piece pumps from a similar artery.

He pitched another beer bottle off the stoop. It bounced, not breaking, then rolled into the street with the others.

He stretched out his right hand in front of him. Painfully, the joints and tendons crackled. He opened beer number who gives a shit, knowing one thing for certain;

this time, she wasn’t coming back.

Flash fiction, when done right, is incredibly challenging and thought provoking. It’s more about what is not said rather than said. I like to think of it like jazz, as Lisa Simpson once tells someone to listen to the notes the musician is not playing.

Flash fiction forces an author to flex their creative muscle.

I have heard that Tetris can cure writer’s block. That when you are stuck, and you can’t seem to see a way out of your situation, playing a game of Tetris forces your brain into different modes of thinking, especially the quick problem-solving modes. By the time you finish the game, your brain has already come up with a couple different solutions to your writer’s block.

(And yes, Tetris has worked for me.)

The point being that puzzles are stimulating. And Oulipo is all about puzzles.

Some Oulipian Generative Devices:

S+7 or N+7

Replace every noun in a text with the noun seven entries after it in a dictionary. For example, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago…” (from Moby Dick) becomes “Call me islander. Some yeggs ago…”. Results will vary depending upon the dictionary used. This technique can also be performed on other lexical classes, such as verbs.


A poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer.


Writing that excludes one or more letters. The previous sentence is a lipogram in B, F, H, J, K, Q, V, Y, and Z (it does not contain any of those letters).

Prisonor’s Constraint or “Macao” Constraint

A type of lipogram that omits letters with ascenders and descenders (b, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, p, q, t, and y).


Sonnets and other poems constructed using palindromic techniques.


Gilbert Sorrentino, the postmodern American novelist, describes Generative Devices as:

consciously selected, preconceived structures, forms, limitations, constraints, developed by the writer before the act of writing. The writing is then made according to the “laws” set in place by the chosen constraint. Paradoxically, these constraints permit the writer a remarkable freedom. They also serve to destroy the much-cherished myth of “inspiration,” and its idiot brother, “writer’s block.”

Constrained writing is a metaphor for the existing constraints in language.

And, that writing is a matter of playing with, or dealing with these pre-existing constraints.

What Sorrentino means by the “myth of inspiration” is that it is a common misconception that language can accurately describe everything that being human entails. As if this ready-made system of grammar and words is enough to express oneself.

Language already exists within a structure, and ALL structures are confining. Sure, cotton underwear is comfortable, offering plenty of breathing room, but it still does not compare with being naked. It still is a structure. Just as the body is. Think of the freedom we would experience if we could evolve beyond the use of our fragile bodies!

In Colson Whitehead’s novel the Intuitionist, where skyscrapers are ubiquitous and elevators are of utmost importance, the Intuitionists, a special type of elevator inspector, ride the elevator and intuit the state or condition the elevator is in. This then leads to the Black Box elevator, the perfect elevator, where inside one is telepathic and immediately understood. The black box is described as the elevator to the future precisely because the black box eliminates the need for language.

Language, that confining and inadequate thing.

Language cannot describe the color red. Or any color for that matter. Nor can language describe pain and love. But those are all things I’ve already blogged about in previous posts.

What I’m trying to say here is that OuLiPo is amazing. NaNoWriMo still sucks. And the Intuitionist is certainly worth checking out.

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Originally published in Doorknobs and Body Paint.

Outside. Rain. Train. Slicing. Inside. Deidre. Glossy. Manic. Derrick. Moustache. Newspaper. Wanted. Table. Glasses. Ice.

Derrick speaks. Shall I? Deidre answers. Please do. Derrick leaves. Deidre scratches. Ruddy cheeks. Black bob. Suitcase falls. Pops open. Marbles everywhere. Tommy’s present. Deidre cleans. One marble. One universe. Derrick has drinks. Deidre on knees. About bloody time. Two icy bourbons. My own glass! Tommy’s present fall? I threw them. Why would you? For the noise.

She pockets a marble. Derrick sips his bourbon. How old is Tommy? Deidre looks at him. Her frothy eyes bulge. I was just asking. Either three or four. Three, he is three! Derrick swallows thick air.

Seems like just yesterday, huh? Deidre snaps shut the suitcase. Ten marbles still roll around. Did you change your hair? It’s slightly rearranged, she smiles. Derrick pulls her to him. Deidre sits on his lap. And she fixes his moustache. One side seemed higher, bushier.

Someone knocks on their train compartment. Bug off, they yell in unison. Well I never, the trolley squeaks. We shouldn’t be mean like that. A marble hits Derrick’s big toe. Does Tommy Gun even like marbles? Deidre assumed all kids liked marbles. She begins to sob into herself.

Come here, sit down, you are everywhere. Deidre puts a marble in his glass. Derrick wraps his enormous arms around his wife. She puts another marble into her own glass. They pick up their amber glasses and raise them. Derrick speaks: tomorrow will be yesterday and today will be.

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