Recently, I was assigned to comment on a passage from the first two stories in This Won't Take But A Minute Honey by Steve Almond. I chose an excerpt from "At Age 91, Anna Smolz of the GmershUnit, Speaks" because of the use of time in this particular story. This story got me to thinking of how difficult it is to capture a moment of history in such a brief work of fiction without confusing your reader.
As a new writer to flash fiction, one of my biggest struggles has been how to convey my story without going into novel-length detail, yet still keeping my reader informed and engaged. Often, there are many instances when I have wanted to focus on a specific moment, but shy away because I think my reader will not understand the particular event in such a few amount of words. However, it is possible for history to be the driving force, the inspiration of a flash. The following passage was a big help to me when writing.
We knew this: on April 28,1945, in the Reich Chancellery, Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun. He kissed her hand and made her his wife. She wore a blue dress and a grey stole. Four days later, he and Braun entered a sitting room. She swallowed a cyanide tablet and kicked over a flower vase. Hitler bit into the pill and shot himself at the same instant. He had heard reports of Mussolini, hung like a sausage in a public square, and feared bombs of sleeping gas. He ordered his body and Braun's burned. Some days later, a story circulated about Hitler's valet, that he had fed bits of the dead to Blondie, his German shepherd. We were never able to confirm this, though we heard the dog upon our approach, howling at the artillery.
Here, the use of a particular incident in time supports the structure and flow of the narrative piece. The reader moves along in the story just as the events unfold in history. This moment in history reveals a particular time (a specific date is given) and conveys key descriptive details about the characters through the use of the place. We have detailed descriptions of how our characters looked, felt, and acted, without being overburdened with information.
What is most effective is how this passage could stand by itself and the reader would still understand the point, the role this moment played in history. As a reader, we gain insight without feeling like an outsider.
Our job as flash writers is to highlight significant moments in time and emphasize their importance to the reader. As flash writers, we should not worry about capturing all the events of history, but rather focus on capturing the true essence of the moment. History flashes before our eyes. It is our job to contain it for our readers.
About the Author
Katie Baker is an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) candidate at Rosemont College. She graduated with Political Science and English degrees from Saint Joseph's University in 2009. She enjoys reading, writing, and running, though not all at the same time. She currently teaches Writing at Philadelphia University.