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Exploring the art of prose

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Author: Matt Kendrick


Author’s Note

Writing a story where the overriding emotion is one of hope is something that tends to elude me. I’ve often set out to write hope-filled pieces only for that sense of hope to get contorted in the writing of the story or for things to end up being too cliché for my particular creative sensibilities.

In this piece, I asked myself the question: what would happen if I started at an imagined point of happiness and worked back towards the present day. I wanted the furthest point in the imagined future to be distant enough that it—the trip to Disney World, the big house with the cinema room—could believably become reality despite the present-day situation of the characters. And I hope some readers will read the piece in that more optimistic light.

I wanted this to be a flash fiction because I felt that distilling the story down to its bare bones would give it a rawness that might have been lost in a longer piece. However, balancing this with the five-year timeframe proved quite tricky. I originally tried to write it like a stream flowing backwards, explaining the transition between each time point, making sure the rhythm of the writing was smooth around the edges. It came to about 1,600 words and wasn’t what I wanted to achieve.

On my second draft, I implemented the structure of each paragraph representing a specific scene. I envisaged them as stepping stones, as portraits showing the mother and son’s changing situation and relationship. Each paragraph starts with a temporal anchor and, without being too precise about it, I’ve roughly halved the time gaps between each paragraph to create the impression of spiralling back towards the present day.

I think, as human beings, our long-term goals tend to be painted in broad brushstrokes rather than focusing on the finer details—but taking this approach would have made the opening far too wishy-washy. Instead, I’ve tried to explore the problem of long-term goals in that, when we get there, we will no longer be the same people that we are right now. In five years, the son will have grown up and won’t get the same unbridled happiness from going to Disney World that he would do if they were to go tomorrow.

Finally, it felt important for this imagined future to be rooted in a concrete past. I often envisage backstory in terms of questions. Here, I wrote down: ‘Where did she learn about painting?’, ‘Who is the boy’s father?’, ‘Family / friends?’—along with the statement: ‘Show a determination in how she acted in the past so a reader believes she’ll be able to make the imagined future come about.’

I’m not sure I necessarily achieved all of that but if at least one reader is left with a sense that these ‘surreal portraits’ might turn into something ‘real’ then I’ll be happy. I often worry as a reader that I’m not reading a story as the writer intended for it to be read but, ultimately, that shouldn’t matter. How we connect with a piece of writing is something quite personal. So, I’m sure there will be lots of readers who don’t feel the note of hope I’ve tried to weave into this piece.

And, as the mother says about the imaginary patrons at her imaginary art exhibition, ‘I won’t contradict them even though they’re wrong.’

And I’ll go back to the drawing board to have another go at writing a hope-filled story.

 


MATT KENDRICK is a writer based in the East Midlands, UK. His stories have been published in Bath Flash Fiction, Bending Genres, Fictive Dream, FlashBack Fiction, Lunate, Spelk, Storgy, and elsewhere. He has been listed in various writing competitions and won the Retreat West quarterly flash fiction contest in June 2020.