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 AuthorJordan 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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