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Wednesday

Wednesday Therapy: Write the “Figuring Out” Flash

In an essay on short story struc­ture, Dou­glas Glover writes, “Lit­er­a­ture is a way of think­ing in which you think by push­ing your char­ac­ters through a set of actions (test­ing that char­ac­ter in a series of sce­nes which involve the same con­flict).” This sin­gle sen­tence (very much) changed the way I approached writ­ing flash. Where before I wrote a flash piece to write a flash piece (if that makes any sense), I began instead to write to fig­ure things out, for myself, my character(s), and any read­ers I’d be lucky enough to have.

Flash Fiction Symbol

As a reader of a lot of unpub­lished (and pub­lished) flash, I haven’t often encoun­tered the “fig­ur­ing out” flash piece, and that might make sense for a num­ber of rea­sons: (1) not all flash writ­ers are con­cerned with nar­ra­tive flash that fig­ures things out; (2) flash has become a form that resists rules and any attempts to con­strain its pos­si­bil­i­ties with def­i­n­i­tion; (3) two hun­dred, three hun­dred, five hun­dred, even seven hun­dred fifty aren’t a whole lot of words in order to fig­ure some­thing out, espe­cially through “a set of actions.” I do think, how­ever, that flash could use some more writ­ers drawn to its form because flash is a “a way of think­ing” rather than as a way of writ­ing a story very quickly (and of course flash is surely that). 

Flash Fiction Symbol

When I write the “fig­ur­ing out flash,” I try to get the char­ac­ter to ask, “Why?” Every­thing in the story turns to that pur­pose, as hap­pens often in myths, when the heav­ens and world con­spire to force the (un)lucky hero/heroine into that series of actions lead­ing to rev­e­la­tion. Such a flash forces the char­ac­ter to ask what’s behind things that have pre­vi­ously been taken for granted or have been avoided or have been too long accepted as “okay.“

Flash Fiction Symbol

Such flashes do work as ther­apy, for they become the way that I think about issues, ideas, the past, the world, and so on. There are of course many ways to think about these things: one could write an essay, enter a con­ver­sa­tion, com­ment on a blog, paint a pic­ture, sit in a bath­tub sur­rounded by can­dles, smoke a clove cig­a­rette, and so on. A cliched exam­ple might be the claus­tro­pho­bic per­son stuck in an ele­va­tor. These con­fronta­tions often begin the flash for me, with­out expla­na­tion or back story or expo­si­tion, and they force char­ac­ters to act in novel ways (well, novel for them, for sure, but novel for the reader, too, if one hopes to main­tain a reader’s inter­est).

Flash Fiction Symbol

A less cliched flash I’m cur­rently work­ing on involves a father whose son has devel­oped a per­sis­tent tic. It, for some rea­son, dri­ves him crazy, this tic(k)ing son. The story is about fig­ur­ing out, for the writer/father/reader, what’s behind that crazed obses­sion to make it stop, and those actions lead (I hope) every­one deeper into the com­plex­i­ties of fathers, sons, and that clock that ticks like a bomb between them, ready to explode them apart in a flash, unless some­one fig­ures out a way to defuse it. 

Flash Fiction Symbol

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5 comments

From Randall Brown

What col­lec­tion was that, Shel­don? And thanks for the com­ment!

From Nancy Stebbins

This is fas­ci­nat­ing, Ran­dall, and has got­ten me to think­ing how it might apply to flash. One issue, I think, is not so much that word count doesn’t give us time to have the char­ac­ter try dif­fer­ent solutions–there are plenty of flash that read like short sto­ries, only shorter–but that it doesn’t give us room to “cover our tracks,” to hide behind the wizard’s cur­tain, so to speak, and so it ends up feel­ing too obvi­ous. Maybe that’s why the tra­di­tional short story, short­ened for flash, often don’t feel like it works. Do you think there are ways speci­fic to flash to accom­plish this? I’m remem­ber­ing the story you men­tioned above, and that I liked it a lot. 

Great ques­tion, Nancy. I’ll be answer­ing it in an upcom­ing entry. Thanks!

From Chad

I think it’s a great chal­lenge to think about a char­ac­ter fig­ur­ing some­thing out in in a flash piece. Yes­ter­day, at the South­ern Writ­ers’ Fest in Nashville, Richard Bausch ended Q&A with some pro­found words of encour­age­ment about writ­ing, and one of them is that writ­ing is a form of men­tal health and that we are fig­ur­ing things out through our writ­ing con­stantly. It’s also about shar­ing, he said, and in pieces in which the char­ac­ters ask “why,” as this arti­cle sug­gests, we are fig­ur­ing things out right along with those char­ac­ters and with our readers–right on! 

From Randall Brown

Thanks, Chad. I like that sense of “shar­ing” from Bausch. Very cool.

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