Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans

Thursday

Flash Craft: Detailed Plot or Detailed Character?

The key to a great flash piece is the bal­anc­ing of action vs. infor­ma­tion, and with such a restricted word limit (under 1,000), one of the most impor­tant ques­tions for the writer is “should most of my descrip­tions go to what is hap­pen­ing or who it is hap­pen­ing to?” There isn’t a clear answer; it depends on the writer’s pref­er­ence as well as their tar­get audi­ence. Take a look at the open­ing of Joanne Comito’s “Moth.”


Moth, light as a feather, often drifted out of the open class­room win­dow as the teacher lec­tured on grav­ity and other things that meant noth­ing to her.




To stop her, they opened up space in Moth’s upper arms, in the fleshy part of her legs and inside the smooth white­ness of her belly. Care­fully, they inserted small weights, designed to tether her feather-light body to earth.

Now com­pare this to the open­ing of Steven Gullion’s “BiC.”


I was on my knees in the laun­dry room, my eyes water­ing, scoop­ing Shamu’s leav­ings from the lit­ter box with my pink plas­tic shovel, when I saw it: a ball­point pen ris­ing, at a jaunty angle, from the sand, like the shaft of a beach umbrella, or the flag on Iwo Jima. Stuck in the pen’s top was a plas­tic flower: yel­low petals, a daisy per­haps, or a black-eyed Susan, stem wedged in the tube of ink. I pulled the pen from the lit­ter, gen­tly, as one might with­draw a splin­ter from the fin­ger of a child, and saw that the cap had been mis­placed, or was per­haps dis­lodged, lost beneath the loamy sur­face.

Comito focuses almost entirely on what’s hap­pened. We don’t know much about the character’s per­son­al­ity, but we do know exactly what’s hap­pen­ing to her. She goes into sig­nif­i­cant details about the events (using some of her word count for adjec­tives, for exam­ple). For Comito, at least in this case, Flash isn’t about who the char­ac­ter is as a per­son; they are merely pawns for her to toy with. 

By con­trast, Gul­lion focuses almost entirely on min­ute details of what his char­ac­ter sees. We are blud­geoned with aspects of the pen and the subject’s assess­ment of it — where they found it, what it looks like, what it reminds them of, etc. He has cer­tainly crafted a richer visual in terms of col­ors, tex­tures, and other finite ele­ments, but how much of the space is devoted to some­thing hap­pen­ing? This excerpt is about twice as long as Comito’s, yet there is cer­tainly more going on in the former’s space.

What writ­ers must real­ize is that they are con­stantly bal­anc­ing these two styles, hop­ing to find their per­fect unity. Are you writ­ing to ignite a reader’s desire for fast yet shal­low sen­sa­tion­al­ism or to allow them to steadily digest a prose por­trait? First and fore­most, you must know which type of flash fic­tion you like to read. It will most likely be a com­pro­mise between the two, and the same can be said for your audi­ence.

About the Author

Jordan Blum.jpgJor­dan Blum is an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing (Fic­tion) can­di­date at Rose­mont Col­lege. His poetry has been pub­lished in Ven­ture Mag­a­zine and he is in the process of revis­ing sev­eral short sto­ries, flash pieces and a novel for pub­li­ca­tion. He hopes to teach cre­ative writ­ing at the uni­ver­sity level. When not writ­ing fiction/poetry, he focuses on his other pas­sion, music. He records his own pro­gres­sive rock pieces as well as writes music jour­nal­ism for three online pub­li­ca­tions and Ticket mag­a­zine in Mont­gomery Coun­try. He lives in north­east Philadel­phia.

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3 comments

From Ben Grossman

Nice craft arti­cle. Per­haps the best way is to go back and forth between the two. 

From Katie Baker

I like the compare/contrast ele­ment you use here. I think it is inter­est­ing to think how many choices an author has to make in such a small piece. 

From Spencer Hayes

While Gullion’s writ­ing is tech­ni­cally pro­fi­cient, it’s unin­spir­ing. Too much descrip­tion. Way too many colons. I’m three sen­tences in and I have no idea what the sig­nif­i­cance of the pen IS. Comito, on the other hand, excel­lently weaves her cho­sen descrip­tions into the action of her story, reveal­ing char­ac­ter and pro­pelling the plot.

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