The Art of Featured Images: Visualizing the Flash Fiction at Just Punch the Clock

At the end of 2016, Ben Reynolds decided to chase his dream of writing. At Just Punch the Clock, he publishes primarily flash fiction and experimental poetry, and also creates his own featured images. The result? A visually cohesive site with stylized images that make you want to click and read each story. Here, Ben talks about his love for flash fiction, his image making, and how he stays motivated.

What do you love about the flash fiction format?

Recognize Ben’s site? In March 2017, we promoted his dystopian tale, “After the Fall,” on Discover.

I love the discipline you need for flash fiction. With a 50 or 100-word story, every single word has to earn its place and I love playing until I find the right one. I find cutting word count very cathartic. Extracting as much meaning as possible from as few words as possible is my ironically unwieldy mantra. Less is more.

I also love leaving gaps and making the reader do some of the work. They bring their own experiences to the story and derive their own meaning. Once I press publish, the words are no longer mine and no one is wrong in their interpretation.

I love the immediacy of flash fiction. Story germ to publication, if I’m in the right zone, can be less than an hour. There’s a lot to be said for that, although it’s usually a lot longer.

“Neighborhood Watch” is a 50-word tale inspired by “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” a song by Arcade Fire.
“Red Light” is a lesson for our digital age in 100 words.

What’s the process for making your featured images?

Related image tutorials:

Choosing the right featured image

Making a custom image widget

Creating a custom header

I either take the photo myself or hunt Google Images for a suitable image. I use two apps: Prisma for manipulating the image and Wordswag for the words.

I have always enjoyed fiddling with web design — I tinkered with my site’s theme for weeks before settling on Patch, which I love — and always wanted my site to be visually interesting despite it being a place for words. Apart from a couple of images, I use the same filter on every image to keep it consistent and vary the font and style of the wording to suit the story.

A couple of times I think I’ve given away too much with the images — I’ve pushed the reader toward the meaning of the story with an image when it would have been better using something more abstract. But I’m getting better at that, I hope.

A lot of my stories have a dark edge, or often something is just off-kilter, and I think the “Dreams” color palette in Prisma really brings that out.

“When the Mask Slips” is a very short piece on parenting and fatherhood, on time and growing old.
“The Sad Tale of Vicarious Jones” is the extended version of “Pride and Fall,” an older 50-word story from Ben’s archives.
Part one in the “Alfie Twitch” series.

You were a sports journalist for nearly 20 years before you decided in December 2016 to pursue fiction — and now have over 100 posts on your site. What motivates you?

It’s all I have. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.

Telling the world I quit my job because I wanted to write fiction is also a pretty good motivating force, because no one (apart from my wife, who doesn’t count) really believes I will make it work. So now I have to prove them all wrong and justify my decision. If it doesn’t work out, it won’t be because I didn’t work hard enough. My work ethic since I quit my job puts my previous writing efforts to shame.

If I write every day, I will get better, and the blog is my chance to learn the craft and get immediate feedback. I quickly realized how supportive the WordPress community is — I’ve struck up some great “friendships.” And since roughly half of my readers are in America, waking up to a lovely message is all the motivation I need to keep going.

“Donald Trump” is a redacted poem for “Whiteout Wednesdays,” based on Mary Jo Bang’s “February Elegy.”

What’s the story behind your site name, Just Punch the Clock?

It’s part of the lyrics of a song — “Sprawl II” by Arcade Fire:

“They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.”

It partly relates to my time at my previous job and the nature of the work it had become, but also the inherent ridiculousness that I imagine almost any writer feels when they admit what they do, the nagging guilt that they should get a “proper job.” It’s a daily reminder of my determination to avoid “punching the clock” ever again — that if I work hard enough I can find a way to eke out a living on my own terms.

Explore more micro stories and poems by London, England-based writer Ben Reynolds at Just Punch the Clock. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

April 27, 2017Design, Poetry, Short Story