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Tuesday Flash Focus: 6 Ways to Make Fiction Flash

Yes­ter­day, I had the sin­cere plea­sure of blog­ging at Flash Fic­tion Chron­i­cles and attempt­ing to answer the ques­tion, “What is flash fic­tion?” Today, as a kind-of fol­low-up to that arti­cle, I’d like to answer a dif­fer­ent ques­tion: “How do I make my fic­tion flash?” This ques­tion is one that I’m often asked by stu­dents, who seem less con­cerned with how it flashes and more inter­ested in how it achieves its flashos­ity. What they’re really ask­ing, methinks, is for more “nuts & bolts” advice and less artsy-fartsy, head-in-the-clouds the­o­ries.


So here are six 100% guar­an­teed ways to make fic­tion flash. 

  1. Look for an an unex­pected entrance into the story. I often find these open­ings after hav­ing writ­ten the story more tra­di­tion­ally, with an open­ing expo­si­tion, a set­ting-of-the-scene, a grad­ual move­ment toward what’s going on. It’s often in the third or fourth para­graph. Here’s how a flash I’d writ­ten awhile ago starts:

    After Diana was flown into the Tow­ers, I’d moved to this enclave of a hand­ful of houses and buried myself in the for­got­ten bomb shel­ter.

    Then one night in the pond out­side, I’d found Lily McClane float­ing. I lifted her to land, beat her chest, puffed air into her mouth. Her mother then descended upon me, kicked me off and I rolled into the dank depths of the pond and heard, trapped in the water, Lily’s choked screams.

    When she was alive,
    only Lily ever vis­ited me. She brought me pot­tery fam­i­lies, baked in her
    oven.Now, even dead, Lily came, seem­ingly empty-handed. Her
    freck­les twin­kled like fire­flies.

    Tonight she appeared in the bunker as a ten-year-old girl of sub­stance. She appeared dry and dark. Her emer­ald eyes and her red hair shone with vig­or­ous life. She exhaled foggy puffs. And she said, sim­ply and plainly, “Hello, Mis­ter Brown.”

    Sunken into the bean­bag chair, I’d been star­ing into the dark and lis­ten­ing to Decem­berists songs. I removed the head­phones. “What word do you bring, Lily, from the Under­world”

    The story might work if it just opened with Lily’s entrance: Lily–the Girl Who Drowned in the Pond–appeared in the bunker as a ten-year-old girl of sub­stance. She appeared dry and dark, her emer­ald eyes and red hair shin­ing with vig­or­ous life. She exhaled foggy puffs.

  2. Maxi or Mini, with noth­ing in between. Go for the end­less exhale of word after word of the max­i­mal­ist or the near-noth­ing­ness of word and white space of the min­i­mal­ist. Don’t get stuck in the nowhere land of in-between. 
  3. Nail that end­ing. Make sure it’s the excel­len­test line in the story. End the story when you get that line. Odds are you wrote past it. Find it and nail it down. Woo-hoo! 
  4. Make a sin­gle word count more than any other. I’m sure I’ve said a hun­dred hun­dred times that every word lit­er­ally does count in flash fic­tion, with its word-limit restric­tions of no more than 250, 500, 750, 1000 words.  So, instead of going the route of mak­ing every word count, some­thing that is said far too often about flash, try­ing writ­ing a flash where a sin­gle word counts way, way more than any other, where the entire weight of the flash falls upon it. Imag­ine if that word were the title. How thrilling would that be.
  5. Set your­self against a rule. Find a rule about writ­ing and/or writ­ing flash that you know is insanely wrong. Set your­self against that rule. I pub­lished a story that set itself against the rule not to use “sud­denly” in a story, and then I heard Billy Collins read a poem where he did the same thing. Here’s his ver­sion: “Ten­sion.” Your desire to break a rule gives the flash a kind of sub­text, a meta-pur­pose, that some­thing else that helps it over­spill its tiny con­tainer.
  6. Mess with lan­guage. Try doing some­thing with the lan­guage, gram­mar, syn­tax, dic­tion, word choice never before seen. Use paren­the­ses in a new, pow­er­ful way. Add a pre­fix to a word that never before had that pre­fix attached to it. Have some kind of trope–cataloging, sim­i­les, zeugma–appear through­out.

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