Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans


[Editor’s Note: We are grate­ful to Lee Martin’s arti­cle “Stu­art Dybek’s ‘Sun­day at the Zoo’: A Class in Nar­ra­tive Struc­ture,” an arti­cle that served as our own mod­el for the struc­ture of the nar­ra­tive analy­sis essay of short short fic­tion.]


Min­ing extra­or­di­nary flash fic­tion from the ordi­nary and mun­dane of life sounds con­tra­dic­to­ry, but David Bar­ringer shows us how in “The More We Live Apart” as it appears in Quick Fic­tion 11. Bar­ringer illu­mi­nates the extra­or­di­nary with­in the ordi­nary life of a father and hus­band by trac­ing the arc of the narrator’s day, jux­ta­pos­ing the mun­dane with fan­tas­ti­cal acts of super­heroes. This motif of super­heroes is estab­lished in the first sen­tence: “Super­heroes every­where save the day and the next day and then today again.” It is rein­forced using super­hero iconog­ra­phy through­out the sto­ry.


Once the motif of super­heroes is estab­lished, Bar­ringer works to inter­twine the mun­dane details of the narrator’s life with the fan­tas­ti­cal escapades of super­heroes. Bar­ringer jux­ta­pos­es “an old man sell[ing] pup­pies” out­side a store, with this: “A toy store explodes, and a super­hero gath­ers chil­dren at the peaks of their tra­jec­to­ries.” He con­tin­ues this nar­ra­tive device with a car explod­ing and a “super­hero rip[ping] an X off the brick façade and hurl[ing] it like a disc into the side of an ene­my heli­copter, X-ing the black machine into the dump­ster of a Chick-fil-A.” This extra­or­di­nary act is jux­ta­posed with the mun­dane act of the nar­ra­tor “brush­ing the knots out of [his] daughter’s hair.”


The last exam­ple of these inter­twin­ing acts of ordi­nary and extra­or­di­nary occurs when super­heroes “crash through the roof [to] retriev[e] the tub” that has fall­en through the ceil­ing. This is jux­ta­posed with the mun­dane act of the nar­ra­tor clip­ping his son’s nails and fix­ing din­ner. In each of these exam­ples, the extra­or­di­nary acts of hero­ism are treat­ed as if they are mun­dane every­day chores. This nar­ra­tive tech­nique not only cre­ates sur­prise and inter­est, but Bar­ringer uses this to set up the trans­for­ma­tion of the ordi­nary into the extra­or­di­nary in the end of the sto­ry.


Bar­ringer lay­ers the nar­ra­tive by illu­mi­nat­ing the narrator’s lone­li­ness, pep­per­ing the nar­ra­tive with a few lines like these: “The old man asks me about my sex life. ‘Emer­gency sex,’ I say. ‘We’ve been mar­ried a while,’” and, “Our friends grow apart into sep­a­rate lives. My wife and I are alone.” These lines might seem jar­ring­ly unre­lat­ed to what is hap­pen­ing in the sto­ry, but they fade into the text unno­ticed, as does the narrator’s lone­li­ness into the back­ground of a busy life.


The sto­ry ends with a vis­it to his dying father in the hos­pi­tal, and this is where Bar­ringer merges the ordi­nary with the extra­or­di­nary: “Super­heroes fill the wait­ing rooms, read­ing mag­a­zines. Some wan­der the halls and peek into rooms as they pass.” By show­ing super­heroes doing ordi­nary human acts, he trans­forms the extra­or­di­nary into the ordi­nary and the ordi­nary human becomes the every­day hero “sav[ing] the day and the next day and then today again.” By inter­twin­ing the super­hero with the every­day human, Bar­ringer illu­mi­nates the hero­ic work of every­day peo­ple and there­fore mines the extra­or­di­nary from the ordi­nary.


Bar­ringer deft­ly crafts the every­day hero and then ends with a rever­sal:

“My father is still con­scious, in pain, for weeks, then months. The nurse asks, ‘Hasn’t he suf­fered enough?’ My moth­er answers, ‘No.’”


What is the reverse of the every­day hero? A wife refus­ing to be the hero by not releas­ing her dying hus­band from his suf­fer­ing. This end­ing stands in stark con­trast to all that Bar­ringer has built in this sto­ry but does so with a pur­pose. In this last sen­tence, the wife is refus­ing her hus­band to save her­self from lone­li­ness, which ties in the emo­tion­al theme of the sto­ry that has gone unno­ticed in the text. This line con­trasts the hero­ism in the sto­ry with the human frail­ties of this moment. This rever­sal has the effect of under­scor­ing the hero­ism of the every­day per­son hav­ing to face the death of a loved one and still go on with the mun­dane and lone­ly acts of life.


Bar­ringer accom­plish­es an amaz­ing act of defin­ing a thing through its oppo­site, pret­ty tricky stuff. If I could reduce the nar­ra­tive struc­ture of this sto­ry to an alge­bra­ic for­mu­la, it would look some­thing like this:


  1. Estab­lish a fan­tas­ti­cal or absurd motif. Use iconog­ra­phy (or image map) of the motif in the set­ting, names, and dia­log, thus blend­ing the ordi­nary with the extra­or­di­nary.
  2. Build the arc of the sto­ry by jux­ta­pos­ing the ordinary/mundane acts with the fantastical/absurd acts. Make sure the extra­or­di­nary is treat­ed as if ordi­nary in the sto­ry -repeat three times.
  3. Add emo­tion­al res­o­nance with a few lines that illus­trate the emo­tion­al real­i­ty of the character(s).
  4. Merge the ordi­nary with the extra­or­di­nary by using the extra­or­di­nary to rep­re­sent the ordi­nary.
  5. Tie up loose ends—merge the emo­tion­al theme of the sto­ry with the end­ing.
  6. End with rever­sal. Once the ordi­nary is defined as extra­or­di­nary show an exam­ple of the ordi­nary refus­ing to be extra­or­di­nary.


How can you mine the extra­or­di­nary flash fic­tion from the ordi­nary in every­day life? Try using Barringer’s nar­ra­tive tech­nique, by first iden­ti­fy­ing an imper­cep­ti­ble or com­mon human expe­ri­ence you’d like to illu­mi­nate. Then con­trast this with its oppo­site using hyper­bole, or the fan­tas­ti­cal. Estab­lish the hyper­bol­ic or fan­tas­ti­cal motif in the first line then con­tin­ue as out­lined above. Go extreme in the con­trast, see how far from the thing you are try­ing to illu­mi­nate you can get.


FF.Net Author’s Note

Bond.jpgTori Bond is an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing (Fic­tion) can­di­date at Rose­mont Col­lege. She grad­u­at­ed from Rut­gers with a degree in Eng­lish and holds an Associate’s degree in com­put­er sci­ence. She iden­ti­fies her­self as a nov­el­ist, free­lance writer, mom, and failed house­wife with a flash fic­tion habit.

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