A Joke and a Limerick: Two Kernels for Good Writing

The two flash stories I am sharing this week offer you kernels for writing clever stories yourself.

A Story with a Joke at Its Center

Click over to “World’s Best Joke” https://www.passagesnorth.com/archives/issue-34/worlds-best-joke/ by Allen Woodman, one of my favorite short, short stories. I came across it in a book of flash fiction called Flash Fiction Funny edited by Tom Hazuka. I am very happy to have found it online as well so you can read it.

The storyline is simple: a woman dials a wrong number but believes she is talking to her husband and the two have a conversation in which the woman continues to believe she is speaking to her husband. The conversation between the two people who don’t know one another transforms them both.

As you will see, the story includes jokes as the vehicle for their communication.

How might you use this story as a model for one of your own?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Imagine and write about a call you or a character you invent makes to a wrong number. Maybe the person on the other end doesn’t let on that they aren’t the intended recipient of the call or maybe tries to but to no avail, as in this story. Think of what each of your characters brings to the table—a loss, an insecurity, or a confession, perhaps. Write their dialog. Or perhaps the character calls a customer service representative or 911 number or online nurse number with a subject one wouldn’t normally broach with the person at the other end.
  1. Did you ever make or receive phony phone calls when you were a kid? Are you tempted to make them today? Can you invent a character who is doing that? How do the calls go?

3. What if two people who don’t know each other are sitting back to back against the back of a booth in a restaurant and start to talk without seeing one another. What would they be saying?

4. What would happen if a husband and wife had a discussion with blindfolds on their eyes?

5. Have you ever had a conversation in which one person thinks you two are talking about one thing and you think you are both talking about something different? Can you record the dialog? Or can you make a dialog between two characters?

Let yourself go wild with this flash idea. Your imagination plus a kernel of past experience will allow you to go along way.

A Story with a Limerick at its Center

Sarah Russell’s “Figure Drawing at Community College” https://sarahrussellpoetry.net/2017/07/20/figure-drawing-at-community-college/ is also a favorite of mine. I admire it for the way we listen in on the inner thoughts of writer posing for the art class as she is a nude model for the class and for those thoughts she entertains herself with by thinking up a limerick, or most of one until the very end of the short piece.

Here are some ideas for you inspired by Sarah Russell’s story:

  1. Write a limerick and then imagine who is creating this limerick and in what setting. Then write the short, short that shows the setting, the situation and how the limerick is coming about.
  2. Think of a life event that was uncomfortable and then write the story. Then write a limerick that tells the story. You might divide the story into sections based on the lines of the limerick–a kind of writing between the lines.

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I think the rhythm of the limerick form and the entertaining look they propose into life will inspire you to write well about things you might not have dared to write about otherwise.

You can read limericks and use a tool for generating them to get warmed up: Limerick Generator.

And you can read, read, read limericks at Limericks – Famous Poetry Online.

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Think about sending your stories (with an epigraph that says, “With thanks to Allen Woodman” or “With thanks to Sarah Russell,” if it seems fitting) to an online venue accepting flash.

The editor at Bookfox website offers a list toward the end of the sites home page. Some are magazines I am familiar with and have recommended in previous articles, but most of the 25 listed are new to me. https://thejohnfox.com/flash-fiction-submissions/

If you have a favorite magazine that publishes flash (writing under 1,000 words), please share the name and website in the comment boxes below. Thanks!

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