When it comes to writing longer prose, I have commitment issues, or maybe it’s a question of stamina. Whatever the case, the sad truth is this: my hard drive is strewn with unfinished stories, and they’re not even that long! Ten, maybe fifteen pages, with one darling-littered piece pushing into novelette territory. And don’t get me started on the twice-aborted attempt at a novel. It wasn’t until I took a flash fiction workshop that I finally found a form that resonated with me, that allowed me to get in and get out—fast—before I’d lose my resolve, before I’d get tangled up in too many narrative threads. I love the flash form, its focus on language, its emphasis on compression. Even so, I would still have the itch to write longer fiction, and again I’d find myself getting mired in the expansiveness of those pieces. I knew I needed a new approach.
With “The Color of Water” I asked myself: could I craft a longer story using flash techniques? Could I mete out its narrative in micro-bursts and keep each section bite-sized? I had previously experimented with a fragmentary flash piece, “The Inbetween Spaces,” that adopted a similar form: single-paragraph sections, with a title that flowed into the body of the text. This choice was an arbitrary constraint, but a constraint that gave rise to its narrative voice, that allowed me to experiment with the negative space between each fragment, to try to instill a childlike perspective—where adults act mysteriously and explain little—while simultaneously allowing a measure of narrative distance. As the piece evolved—ballooned in length then contracted, added and lost characters, changed settings, had its ending rewritten countless times—the flash-inspired form kept the revision process from overwhelming me. It gave me a holdfast, a fulcrum from which all decisions could pivot. Perhaps most importantly, it allowed me a sense of play. After all, aren’t games defined by their rules, their structures? So much of creativity comes from playing within constraints, of pressing against the edges of a framework, feeling the boundaries, exploring the form.
I still mostly write flash fiction, but I also enjoy writing longer stories. Especially now that I know to give myself boundaries, guard rails that guide these stories and keep them—well, me—from going off course. And maybe, if I’m very fortunate, I’ll breathe new life into those abandoned drafts and clean up my hard drive.
JOSHUA JONES lives in Maryland where he works as an animator. His writing has appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Split Lip Magazine, Monkeybicycle, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, Juked, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter.