A few months back I discovered NYC Midnight, an organisation that runs several different writing competitions. Thinking this might be a fun way to get myself to write a bit more, I signed up for their flash fiction competition. 48 hours to write a story of under 1000 words, following some prompts: genre, location, and an object that must be included in the story at some point. There are four rounds, and then some nice cash prizes to win (once I beat the other several thousand contestants of course).
Remembering that this website I occasionally make brief appearances in exists, I thought a forum full of writers would be a good place to get some constructive criticism on my entries. (I'm a slut for feedback.)
Location: A country club
Item: A trampoline
Inspector Clue scrutinised the collection of people sitting before him. Professor Damson slouched in his seat, mauve suit crumpled, tie loose around his neck. He absentmindedly swirled an untouched glass of port, staring unseeingly at where the corpse had lain on the lawn.
Despite being sat in a plastic garden chair, Colonel Dijon lounged comfortably. He wore, as always, full military staff uniform, unfazed by the midday sun. Gazing lazily around the garden, an arrogant half-smile rested within his well-groomed goatee.
Miss Pimpernel reclined luxuriously, taking a drag from her cigarette. Editor at Femme Fatale Weekly, she belonged on a page from her magazine. Dark hair fell elegantly down her back, and she wore a low-cut red dress. She breathed out the smoke, and it drifted languidly upwards.
Slumped in his chair was Reverend Chartreuse. Green jacket resting upon the back of his seat, dark patches showed under his armpits as he struggled with the heat. His round face was pale and queasy. He stared unhappily at the half-empty glass in his hand.
Stiff-backed, head held high, not a single crease was visible on Mrs Pheasant’s cyan suit. Her hair was contained in a low ponytail, any stray greys lost in a sea of brilliant blonde. The wrinkles around her eyes could be called laughter lines, if not for the fact that she never laughed.
Finally, Mrs Alabaster wore a simple blouse and skirt, hands resting in her lap. Thin white hair was pulled into a bun. She wore her wrinkles proudly, proof of a lifetime of experience. Her eyes rested on the inspector, waiting patiently for him to begin.
Clue got to his feet, and those not already watching him looked up. “You all know why you’re here. Dr Joseph Jet rented this country club for the weekend, bringing you together to celebrate the life of his father, Jeremiah. Yesterday, he was found dead. I suspect foul play.” He paused, expecting an outcry. They continued to watch him. “Each of you had a reason to want him dead.” This garnered a greater reaction, each suspect slyly sliding each other suspicious glances.
“Professor Damson,” he said, turning to face him. “You were once a colleague of our late doctor’s late father. Although Jeremiah moved on, he was generous enough to continue funding your experiments. You were upset by his unfortunate demise, but you were perhaps even more upset when Joseph informed you that you would no longer be funded by the Jet family.”
“Colonel Dijon,” continued Clue. “You’ve been a lifelong friend of the family. After Jeremiah’s death you took the time to visit his son and comfort him in his time of need. But when you arrived you found Joseph to be drunk and belligerent. The moment your back was turned he stole your Bentley and crashed it before even reaching the end of the road. This classic car, your pride and joy, destroyed at his hands.”
“And how about you Miss Pimpernel? One would think that you would be distraught at the death of your fiancé. Yet you have not let a single tear run down your cheek. Had you come to hate the love of your life upon discovering his affair?”
“Reverend Chartreuse, it was only with the help of your dear friend Jeremiah that you managed to defeat your alcoholism. I’m sure his passing away must be difficult. Yet he is not the only friend you recently lost. Patch, your canine companion, died only last week, after an unfortunate accident involving a Bentley.”
“You never liked your nephew, did you Mrs Pheasant? He took after his mother, the evil woman who stole your baby brother away from you. When Jeremiah died you found out that you had been cut off from the family fortune and it was all going to Joseph. Did that prove too much for you to bear?”
“And finally, Mrs Alabaster. You worked for Jeremiah for many years. A kind employer, he always treated you well. I understand his son was less kind, and you were often subject to racist abuse. You were pleasantly surprised when Jeremiah included you in his will, and understandably angry when Joseph found a legal loophole to have you removed.”
“You all have a motive. Instead we must look at the method. Having briefly examined the body, I can confidently say that the weapon used to kill Dr Jet was this trampoline.” He gestured at the apparatus on the lawn behind him. “Someone maliciously double-bounced him into that neighbouring tree, with intent to kill.”
“Several suspects can therefore be ruled out. Professor Damson, of course, is paralysed from the waist down, and unable to leave his wheelchair. Similarly, Mrs Alabaster requires the use of a walking stick, and so I suspect her unlikely to frequent trampolines. Colonel Dijon has an intense phobia of trampolines, making them an unsuitable first choice of weapon. And at the time of the incident Reverend Chartreuse was quite drunk, requiring both Mrs Pheasant and Miss Pimpernel to assist him to his room.”
“In fact, none of you committed this heinous crime. I say instead, the butler did it!” Several of the others gasped, and they turned to face the man who had patiently been stood off to the side with a pitcher of water, ready to assist any who needed hydrating under the hot sun.
“William here is an amateur trampolinist. He’s even won several competitions. This very weekend in fact, he was intending on attending an international event. The prize money would have been enough for him to leave his job and pursue trampolining full time. But alas, Joseph forced him to come here, threatening to dock his pay otherwise. William Wigglesworth, I hereby charge you with the murder of Joseph Jet.” His monologue complete, Clue smiled smugly to himself.
“Inspector, I have just one question,” said Mrs Alabaster. “If you knew the killer all along, why didn’t you just say so?”
“Oh, this was much more fun, don’t you think?”
It's always the butler...
Sorry, I was distracted there. This seems like a clue rip-off, but you didn't exactly stick with it. I almost wish you had used the famous characters that you ripped off so that you didn't need to waste words on descriptions. Out of 1,000 words, a quarter of them is spent describing six main characters that don't do much. When you have a limit like this, every word counts. If you can just say "Colonial Mustard sat in a chair" and get the same effect, then do it.
That being said, some of your descriptions are strange to me. For example, "staring unseeingly at where the corpse had lain on the lawn." What does "staring unseeingly" mean? I feel like you can delete "unseeingly" to make the sentence clearer for fewer words. That sounds like you are trying to sound fancy when you don't need to. A lot of parts of this story read that way.
Last, I'm not a fan of the reveal. Clue stories usually play off of a comedy based murder mystery, so this fits into the genre, but it felt very unsatisfying. You described six characters and their motive, then said, "HA, kidding! It was the butler!" That is your whole story. There aren't even a lot of clever interactions and such. For example, why not mention the walking stick and wheelchair in your character descriptions? That would allow a reader to put it together on their own if they pay attention or read it and think, "wow, I forgot he was in a wheelchair! That makes sense!" Movies that play off the clue cliche are VERY detail-oriented. Every little action and piece of dialogue is a clue to the eventual ending. This felt like the first half of the story could have been omitted because you focused on unimportant details, like how crumpled their suits were.
Also, consider mentioning the butler before the reveal. Have him there in the background. Maybe he pushes some in on their wheelchair or serves them all wine. The killer should be there, but in a calculated inconspicuous way.
That is just my two cents though! Also, to cater to Mizal's point, flash fictions around here have been as short as 25 words max...
So my intention here, rather than a "rip off", was to do a spoof of common mystery/ detective story tropes. "The butler did it", the detective messing around with the suspects before the big reveal, and caricatures of the Cluedo characters. I guess that I didn't quite pull that off in the way in which I had hoped, which is a shame.
I mean, you did have a spoof of some detective tropes... it just didn't interest me as particularly clever, mysterious, or funny. This reads like an over used joke:
"So, this bartender looks over at a horse and says, 'Hey buddy, what's with the long face?'"
I'm sure some people will think this is funny, but it doesn't really have anything unique or intriguing about it. Have you watched the old movie Clue? It's a movie with like three endings based on the classic clue story. It's a bit cheesy and goofy, but it's also pretty clever. If you pay attention to little things, like side conversations and facial expressions, the whole reveal is more exciting because they hinted at certain things.
For example, in one version it WAS the butler. However, they reveal that he was only pretending to be a butler. He was really the guy who invited everyone to his mansion that they thought was dead. There is some proof that he wasn't really a butler given, and he explained why he killed people in a certain order and stuff like that. One ending had more than one killer. It was like person A killed person B, so person C thought they could kill person D and blame it on person A.
Expecting you to be that complex is a bit unrealistic with 1,000 words, but you can do something to make it unique or clever. You don't need to change much. Perhaps you can passively mention the butler doing something for each character. That way, he is at least in the story before he is revealed to be the killer.
Lol, yeah I'm not really sure where they got their definition for flash fiction from.