Exploring the art of fiction


CRAFT Fiction by the Elements

To honor the publication this month of the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest winners, check out this roundup of CRAFT short and flash fiction exemplifying a certain element. Up first is Character.

Don’t forget the Author’s Note that accompanies each piece, in which the writer considers an aspect of craft in their story. We’ll update this roundup with other elements in the months to come.


Check out some of our most memorable characters from original short and flash fiction pieces in the Fiction Archive


So Much Trouble” by Karin Lin-Greenberg: winner for character of the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest

Katherine: “Katherine had only intended to spend a few minutes outdoors wiping the birdhouse with vegetable oil, but now, over an hour after she’d started, she stood in the front yard, an oil-drenched wad of paper towels in one hand, the slick plastic bottle of oil in the other. Now the lamp pole had been oiled, the drainpipes had been oiled, all the siding she could reach on the front of the house and garage had been oiled, and even the shutters had been oiled. For good measure, she’d also oiled the bark on the tree from which the birdhouse hung, although it was clear that oiling a tree would not make it too slick for a squirrel to climb….”


Heart Trouble” by Rex Adams: finalist for character of the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest

Darla: “The nurses, cafeteria workers, surgeons, Harold, they all irritated Darla. So did the old man in the room next door. He was dying, had been for days. Family kept streaming out of the elevator, stomping down the hallway and into his room, the footfalls on the tiled floor of the ICU like hammer blows against her skull.

“She also felt irritated that she was stuck at the Seattle VA hospital instead of home. At home she could work on the pole barn she and Harold had started building two weeks earlier. She could weed the garden, harvest the carrots and radishes, and water the lawn that would be drying up in the coulee’s arid, hot air. It seemed everyone else’s lives continued, but not hers. Hers had paused so Harold’s heart could be rebuilt….”


Eating Strawberries with Strangers” by Pia Ghosh-Roy

The Woman: “I was walking with the broken pieces of my day in a thin cloth bag when I saw them sitting by the river, three women with the sun setting on their hair. They were eating strawberries, drinking rosé in cheap plastic glasses, and laughing with their heads thrown back. The rosé was the same colour as the clouds in the sky that day….”


Doppelganger” by Doug Ramspeck

The Writer: “In his dreams the people of the city are ghosts. The writer is walking down a crowded sidewalk, but the pedestrians around him are made of mist or smudges of light or dust. They speak in the voices of wind washing up from the sea into the alleys, in the voices of rain, in the voices of cooing pigeons. And in his dreams, the writer is forlorn, for he realizes he’s surely a ghost as well, that even his own hands are like the spray of the sea that evaporates in air….”


The Haunting” by Brenda Peynado

The Girls: “…An hour in the graveyard, and we heard no signs. Instead, we listened and looked so closely, we could hear ourselves changing. Shadows lengthened underneath our eyes. Our hair raised and frizzed and haloed us. Our bodies creaked with growing pains, filled out, skin stretching as our new hunger yawned inside of us. We reached towards each other and the moon, and our arms were longer. Could we hear what was coming for us? We listened so hard we could hear what we were losing….”


Kuchizi” by Lucas Schaefer

Carlos: “Carlos Ortega roaming Africa was a ridiculous proposition, which was why everyone who heard the idea savored its deliciousness. For all his thirty-nine years, Carlos had prowled the same few blocks east of the interstate, and to conceive of him elsewhere seemed impossible to those who knew him. At Terry Tucker’s Boxing Gym, where Carlos spent most days, folks had long been urging their leader to give Ortega the boot. Terry always refused, fearful that his one-time fighter might burn down the place in retribution. He instead warned newcomers to treat Carlos like a grizzly bear: regard him from a distance and never make eye contact. ‘Ortega’s not all bad but he always goes too far,’ Terry would explain. ‘He’s an acquired taste no one’s yet acquired.’…”


Beyond Love” by James Winter: winner of the 2018 CRAFT Short Fiction Prize judged by Jim Shepard

Saeed: “…To keep his mind limber, to keep from being lost in the pain, from being erased blow by blow, he takes to counting the tiles in his cell, numbering one-hundred and twenty-one in all.

“First, he counts them lengthways. Next, across and diagonally. He makes a series of squares or counts in Xs, Ts, Zs. He counts the outer tiles, the inner. He says the even numbers aloud and whispers the odd, and vice versa. He counts silently, nodding, playing with the rhythm, the beat….”


The Deepest Part of the Lake” by John Haggerty

Shelley: “…Shelley believed that Dean was trying to get her pregnant. She wasn’t sure why she thought this, but she was certain that it was true. She actually had dreams about it, that she was in his room, lying on the bed while he sat at his desk beneath the Sonora High pennant and the picture of the football team, doing that squinty, vaguely sweaty thing that he did with his face when he tried to concentrate, using a safety pin to poke holes in strip after strip of condoms. The dreams were so vivid and convincing that she asked Margie from the Basket to help her get the pill….”


Brothers” by BD Feil

Barney: “…The winter would not stop and now Barney was afraid it could not stop and something else had taken control. Some other thing was sneaking up. March now and more flurries and ice-wind and he felt it all in his hips. They were down to their last dozen milkers but he was pretty sure they could hold on until spring if it was ever going to get here. Then that thought was blown away with a big gust outside that rattled the window and tightened the skin on his forehead. This old house was a sieve. What chance had an old oil burner against all the holes?…”


A Last-Minute Addendum” by Jess E. Jelsma

Yael (aka “Little Jane”): “…True, in the months before the start of her Family-Based Therapy, the patient did agree to go on several dates with young boys her parents had selected. True, she did coo at the Central Park penguins, nibble on a black and white cookie at Glaser’s Bake Shop, and see Ghost as her mother and father demanded. Yes, she did let one boy hold her hand, another kiss her on the cheek, and a third buy her Milk Duds at the East 86th Street Cinemas. Unknown to her parents or the psychoanalysts: Little Jane also traded a five-minute, over-the-zipper petting session for a pack of Virginia Slims, a quick, emotionless transaction on her parents’ rooftop deck. When the 10th grader attempted to reciprocate, the patient pushed his hand away and bit down, hard, on the filter of one of his mother’s cigarettes….”


The Whites” by Dustin M. Hoffman

The Painters: “We wear only white. Sneaker to cap. It’s the housepainter way. Except for the day Simon’s ass was splotched brown. From mid-thigh to lower-back, he was coated in eggshell-sheen Mocha Morning, looking like he shat himself, like he suffered from unrelenting explosive diarrhea. And if a guy looks like shit, you give him shit. All day we rechristened him: Hershey squirter, the brown geyser, Mt. Saint Smellen, shit box, shit slacks, shit head, and when we all grew hungry around lunchtime, Mr. Shit Sandwich….”


A Girl Like You” by Beth Hahn

May: “May took the trolley to the new grocer’s—the one on the boulevard with shining white aisles where the exit was near the back of the store on an otherwise blank wall past the butcher’s station, which smelled of bleach and blood, where married women or their maids ordered a cow’s flank and watched as the butcher hacked at it with his great cleaver.

“She stood in front of a new product display and slipped a can of Dinty Moore stew into the bell-shaped curve of her sleeve. She wanted to take two, but the weight would be obvious. She’d practiced in her room, gripping her purse in a way that kept the can in the sleeve, keeping her face in the expression of urgency, as if she’d just remembered something important—like a dental appointment or a lunch date—and had to rush out….”


The Station” by Elizabeth Gaffney

Louisa: “…She turned and walked away, even though the restaurant owed her wages. She didn’t have practice being spoken to that way, especially not by someone who’d flirted with her just the day before. She calculated her losses; four ten-hour days at tipped minimum came out to eighty dollars and change. Not nothing, but not that much. She got on her bike and headed toward the ocean, stopping at the corner of the shore road where the dunes were thinnest to watch the surf pile up white against the jetty. From there, she headed out of town, pedaling hard. The highway ran along a narrow strip of land between ocean and bay. By the time she returned, her humiliation was just a crust of salt around her eyelashes. The sludge the manager had thrown at her was supplanted by a soufflé, the French future conditional for desire: je voudrais….”


A Slim Blade of Air” by Alice Elliot Dark

Kay: “…She stifled the voice by squeezing the muscles in her forehead, which made the blood rush past her ears. Death would be quick, but that was a barely unconsoling thought. She didn’t want to go yet. She had her little dog back home, and her best friend. Her grandparents. Her three younger brothers. Seventh grade coming up, when she’d be in the oldest class in the building, the payoff for years of deference. She didn’t want to die in Holland, or be in a box forever like President Kennedy. The day couldn’t come too soon to climb the stairs onto the plane in Amsterdam and go home to Philadelphia. She had to survive the next few days, by any means….”

More elements coming soon!