Ad Hoc Fiction is a brilliant weekly flash fiction competition where incredible writers produce 150 words stories that contain a specified prompt word. Each week the public vote and a winner is selected. The voting system does an incredible job of finding the diamonds in the, well not rough. Let’s say the public do a great job in selecting the most polished diamonds from a grab bag of gems… no that sounds poncey. You know what I mean. Right?
The winner each week gets free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction competition proper, which has a top prize of £1000.
Last month I interviewed Alison Wassell and I’ve been keeping an oar in and an eye out ever since. Last week I read ‘The Definition of Us’ by Christina Dalcher and I just thought – it was a really interesting piece. So I asked Christina about it and this is what she said:
How often do you enter stories on AdHoc fiction?
Since August 2016, I'd say every other week on average. I don't set a clock, but whenever my fingers start to itch and I don't already have a flash piece (or two) cooking, I head over to AdHoc and check out their word of the week.
How do you usually approach key words / prompts? Was this different?
The very first thing I do is look up the word in the OED and in urbandictionary.com. I dig deep, keeping an eye out for archaic/obsolete uses, etymology, unexpected parts of speech or meanings or references. Since the prompt word that begat "The Definition of Us" was cast, I farmed a metric ton of raw fodder from dictionary entries, and that gave me the idea to capitalize on the rich lexical semantics of that single word. Once I knew where the experiment was going, I plugged the string 'cast' into an online Scrabble dictionary and pulled several of the longer words that contained the four-letter string.
Did you outline your piece before you wrote it?
Outline? What's an outline? No, seriously, I didn't, mostly because I didn't have much time left before the deadline, and also because I never outline my short work.
How did you approach the writing / redrafting of 'The Definition of Us'?
This piece started differently than most of my flash fiction. Rather than begin writing, I allowed the dictionary entries of 'cast' and words containing 'cast' to create the story. The bones, so to speak, were about two dozen dictionary entries. Since the top entry happened to be one of the more common meanings (direct one's eyes at someone), the theme was headed for romance right from the start!
Roughly how long did you spend writing 'The Definition of Us' ?
I'm afraid if I tell you this, you might not like me very much! Once I had a short list of the dictionary entries, the piece came together in about ten minutes. I owe this to my fabulously fast mother, who taught me how to type.
Do you tell others when you have posted a story?
Sometimes. "The Definition of Us" was the first AdHoc piece I sent to my critique group (the inimitable FastFlash5). I confess I'm a rather sporadic tweeter, though, and when tomorrow arrives, I tend to forget yesterday.
Do you think about your story much during the week it's up on the AdHoc site for the public vote?
Oh, goodness, if I thought about every story that was out on submission, I'd go mad in a New York minute. I do love reading the weekly AdHoc entries, though!
Do you enjoy writing within the 150 word limit?
Absolutely. And the 300-word limit and the 50-word limit and the 743-word limit. Since I'm also a novelist, anything under 80,000 words is a refreshing break, a quick sprint to interrupt the marathon. Also, (and I'm recalling the wise words of my late syntax professor, Charlie Jones, here) I believe that if you can't say what you want in the confines of a page or a paragraph, you probably can't say it in a few hundred pages or a few hundred paragraphs.
'The Definition of Us' is one of the most imaginatively structured pieces I've seen on AdHoc. Can you tell us about it?
First, thank you. That's a lovely compliment. The narrative itself is quite simple (girl loves someone, girl's parents are against the couple—you've probably seen this before in, say, Romeo and Juliet). It probably wouldn't have worked as well if I'd just come out and written what these characters wanted and how they went about achieving their goals. Complicating the form lets the reader have some fun in assembling the pieces: the key word, the definition, and the application of that definition are all there on the page, but their arrangement is a bit of a surprise. People like surprises, right?
Is experiment with structure something that you do a lot?
Oh, yeah. Almost half of my published short work is in some sort of experimental form: emails, diary entries, recipes, word games, and epistles are a few examples. I particularly love playing with words—it's the linguist in me. Also, I'm a cryptic crossword addict, which will make sense to my fellow Brits, not so much to my fellow Yanks. As a side note, the first piece of flash I read was a fantastic story by Ani King titled "Conjugate 'to be', using complete sentences." It's over at freezeframefiction if anyone fancies having a peek.
And do you think structural experimentation is particularly suited to flash fiction?
Very much so. And not at all suited to longer writing—imagine an 80,000-word novel all in dictionary format or Associated Press blurbs! There's a certain amount of work that needs doing when you read a story through the filter of unexpected forms, and the novelty can grow old if it's overdone or prolonged.
What advice would you give to other writers having a go at the AdHoc fiction competition?
Read the winning entries, read the long listed entries, stretch outside the box of the first thing that comes to mind when you see that single-word prompt, write some stuff, edit and polish and read it out loud. Hit submit. Do it all again the following week!
Read more by Christina Dalcher
Christina is an incredibly industrious and prolific writer... I am more than a little awestruck. She has about 45 flash credits so far and was placed second in the Bartleby Snopes Dialogue-only Contest this year.
If you'd like to read more of Christina's work, check out the following:
The Molotov Cocktail: Prize Winners AnthologyAfter the Pause Year 2Vine Leaves Journal, Issue #17I really loved this interview. I've ordered the Molotov title and look forward to hearing and reading more of Christina's work in the future.Find Christina Dalcher at www.christinadalcher.com or tweeting @CVDalcher.