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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.