Originally referring to written pieces describing works of art (specifically sculptures or paintings), the term ‘ekphrasis’ is now used to describe pieces which are in some way connected – through direct inspiration, tangential ideas, use of the title, whatever – to ‘art’ in its broadest form, including music, TV, film and other writing.
As I work mostly from prompts, a huge amount of my work can be considered as falling under that banner. To take the prompts I used in flash365 as an example, I used lines from a song by They Might Be Giants, entitled ‘Fingertips’ for the first 21 days of month 2, and then titles of other songs by them for the rest of the month. In October, I used the titles of books by Barbara Cartland, and in the February, titles of films selected by my mate, Mike; a major film-nut.
In between, although my prompts weren’t necessarily arty or creative – news stories in August, cities and towns in March – the individual stories often came from both the prompt and the intersection with some inspiration borrowed from somewhere else. One example of this is ‘Shock Corridor’ (published on Susi Holliday’s blog). The title is from a film, but the story came to me from a song a student played to me during a session which was actually on ekphrasis. I can’t remember the song, but I remember the image of the collapsing space-station and the running man coming to me very strongly.
In many cases I don’t even need to know anything about the film or book, the title can work all by itself – as good titles should – to conjure ideas and expectations. In other cases – such as when I used the titles of books in the Old Testament – the titles were often so obscure that I needed to read a synopsis of the book in order to dig up some idea of what to write.
In the main, though, I find that TV, films, music and other written pieces are probably where most of my stories come from. I never borrow or steal directly, but an evocative line of dialogue, the look of a scene, a plot twist not taken, all of these inspire the stories that I go on to write.
The flash accompanying this post (Two-Lane Blacktop) was rejected by Metazen for being ‘too meta’ and was removed from Lost Property at my editor’s suggestion as ‘nothing really seems to happen’. The title is from a movie, and if you Google it, you’ll see it’s described in reviews as a film in which very little happens. So, in that case, I think I got it exactly right. See what you think.
Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife – the writer, Kath Kerr – their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon, or direct from the publisher, Cinder House.