“Hide!”, Plague and the Monkeysphere

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We’ve got a Flash Fiction contest happening, and we’re looking forward to reading the entries. I’m full of admiration for you Flash Fiction writers. FF has to grab its readers almost from word one, hold them tight and send them off, tingling, after a few moments’ read.

Mind you, a gripping start is arguably necessary to most fiction nowadays. So, how do skilled storytellers achieve an immediate lock on the reader? In previous blogs we’ve talked about nailing the central conflict while setting us firmly in time, place and point of view. As well, many writers set their hero down right in the middle of the action. Danger ought to work, but often it doesn’t, because action alone isn’t enough to make us care.

Why not? I asked myself.  I recalled reading up on the Monkeysphere idea, which states that most or possibly all of us are only emotionally equipped to care deeply about a certain number of people within our circle. (for more on that, visit  http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html). Then, how do you cause a reader to drag your hero into his circle, so closely that he cares enough to read on?

Let’s say your hero is fighting her or his way out of a car accident or gunfight or whatever the action may be. You haven’t had time to set up a fascinating, flawed character that we can identify with and care about (although clever dialogue can help, and often does in movies that start in a hail of gunfire).  One answer is, if you don’t have time to build a character up front, then what you need is heroic resonance. I was fascinated to see how Ian Rankin begins Hide and Seek (Orion, 1990), smack in the middle of the action.

Chapter 1

“Hide!”

He was shrieking now, frantic, his face drained of all colour. She was at the top of the stairs, and he stumbled towards her, grabbing her by the arms, propelling her downstairs with unfocussed force…”

Rankin has skillfully made me care by having one imperiled character desperate to save, not himself, but somebody else. “Hide!” panic gives us heroic resonance that Help me! panic can’t easily achieve.

Then we have C.C. Humphreys, who this month released Plague (I love writing that!). He wrote one of the all time great starts in his book, that seems to take literally George M. Cohan’s advice to get the protagonist up a tree and throw rocks at him. His hero is in mortal danger as The French Executioner (‪McArthur & Company, 2001)begins:

“It was unseasonably cold for a late May night but the former occupant of the gibbet was too dead to care and his replacement too unconscious.”

 But these are only two highly skilled examples of one sort of beginning.

There’s an unlimited number of brilliant ways to start a Flash Fiction piece, of course, and I can’t wait to read yours.

Mel Anastasiou

You’ll find our contest page here and on the tab at the top of this page.

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