From a poor girl living in a run-down, one room shack to a wealthy woman living in an elegant, New York townhouse flat, Reba McEntire tells the tale of a girl named Fancy, pushed out of poverty by her dying mother…and she tells the story in about six minutes.
Martina McBride tells the story of an abused woman who frees herself from her relationship by burning her house to the ground with and her abuser still inside…in about four minutes.
Garth Brooks tells us what can happen when the thunder rolls and a cheating husband comes to home to his fretting wife (it’s not good) and Reba tells what happens when the lights go out in Georgia and they hang an innocent man.
These sagas have all the elements of a good story; intriguing characters with backstories, sad beginnings, middles full of conflict, and dramatic endings…and they all wrap up in six minutes or less.
Like most writers, I’ve been asked some form of this question: “What inspired you to write? Where do you get your inspiration? What inspired you when you were younger?” I was never really sure of the best answer to this question. I’ve just always liked to write. And I’ve always liked to read. And of course, I was inspired by books like Matilda, Harriet The Spy, and, eventually, Harry Potter. But, if you look at my writing now, those didn’t exactly inspire my style. I ended up leaning more toward the style of the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine (which I also devoured) but, looking back, there was something else.
I figured it out when I discovered a Spotify playlist featuring nineties country. I started shuffling through that and, whoa, those songs took me back. I could see myself sitting on the floor with a new cassette (yea, I’m old) and reading along with the lyrics on the inside flap. I remember crying over Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw, Faith Hill’s A Man’s Home is His Castle, and the previously mentioned Independence Day (I was a pretty emotional kid). I can see myself parked in front of the TV the day my dad died, tuning the world out, completely focused on a CMT music video marathon, soaking in story after story about the tragedies of others. And they were stories–elaborate, complete, deep stories.
The country music of my childhood could present a moving and emotional tale, beginning, middle and end, in just a few minutes. A few verses and a chorus were all you needed to get sucked into the life of a frustrated wife, a couple falling in love, or a woman finding her independence. At the time, I didn’t recognize why I liked them so much, I just knew I did. But now, looking back, I know that the writer in me recognized their ability to weave a complicated story in a short amount of time. Given how big of an impact these songs had on me, it’s no wonder I ended up attempting to mimic them.
In flash fiction, you have around 1,000 words to present a complete and engaging story. You have to do what a novel has about 75,000 words to do. Even though it’s short, it still needs to have compelling characters, include enough history to suck in the reader and wrap up neatly enough to keep them satisfied. It also needs to pack a punch. Like Garth’s twist when the wife in The Thunder Rolls goes back into the bedroom for her gun, many of my stories don’t end happily. But they are memorable (so I’ve been told). I thought about these songs long after the last notes died out, and I still do.
I want my readers to do the same when they put down my stories. It may not be normal for a writer to say they were inspired by country music, but now, when I get that perplexing question, I can safely say that I try to write stories that move others like I was moved by the stories of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and so many, many more.
See what kinds of stories country music inspired me to write in my book of flash fiction, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.”
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