So you wrote a narrative flash. So it’s lacking the tight body structure and detail of that flash star you’ve always worshiped. How do you update it with a fresh look and stay in the correct format? Maybe you can consult the beauty of narrative flash bone structure from Joanne Merriam. Her story Facial Deficits in Issue 6 of Pank had some fresh techniques to get you started on your flash makeover.
Some of the things that were once considered taboo in our culture have migrated into the different but acceptable realm. Merriam’s story starts out with a taboo of a taboo, the double-dose of cool, like an eyebrow piercing with a face tattoo. She begins the flash by describing different transplant patients (something we hear about everyday and are always intrigued by), but then she adds that some of these patients “rejected” their new parts by stopping their immunosuppressive drugs. She has secured with the first few sentences a hook that will be hard to remove from any reader. I’m still attached to this story, and you’ll have a hard time mentally detaching yourself also.
“Count backwards from ten” is the start of the next paragraph and now we’ve gone under alongside our narrator’s own transplant. We’re curious to see “what we’re transplanting”—and this really adds tension. We discover she’s getting a face transplant due to a car accident involving a drunk driver. The conflict has somehow crossed planes from past to present, and it takes the story forward to the dreamy future, where we want to recover along with her, with new eyes.
We awaken in the recovery room, and the narrator flashes back to the week before to when she discarded a pie along with its plate into the garbage after vomiting—something she admitted that her husband usually would’ve been mad about. She then confessed something deeper, “But only let some drunk smash your face against the dashboard leaving you horribly disfigured you too will discover you can do anything, and nobody will say a word.” It’s the back story we needed to fill in the missing parts, and boy is Merriam making a beautiful bone structure that I’ve never witnessed before.
Just when we think recovery is going to be wrinkle-free, Merriam adds the dreaded third party to the mix. Her name is Grace, and she’s a best friend and drinker that has come over for a post-op party. The narrator had been practicing smiling all day with her new face but can’t tell if it looks sincere. Grace also becomes the catalyst to the drunken ranting that occurs by Fred, the narrator’s husband. This flash technique is an old one— giving all the characters some kind of revelation in the scene, something to ground the reader to the event.
Fred proceeds to tell the story about “a vision quest” with an ex-girlfriend that goes all wrong. This leads to an uncomfortable post-breakup revelation: “She couldn’t stand losing face.” The readers know this would make them uneasy if they’re the narrator, and they’d try to hide it with a smile. But she can’t smile, oh no!
The narrator’s face may not have come off as sincere but it was the “face of truth.” The protagonist has changed, something that should happen in a flash, but how Merriam got to the finished structure is beautiful and unique. I’m not quite sure it can be duplicated, but you should read “Facial Deficits” and give your story its face-lift. The list below is what I broke down using Merriam’s technique, if you want to try her narrative’s structure:
- Add a beginning with a taboo of a taboo
- Use the second paragraph to add a conflict from the past and move it to the future
- Add a couple of paragraphs of flashback
- Borrow an “oldie” that works: Insert a third character that instigates the ending
- Use exposition that seems unrelated to story but gives clarity to all
- End with an uneasy human reaction but reveal a protagonist change
FF.Net Author’s Note
Cathy Colborn is a MFA student at Rosemont College. She was published by Outrider Press, Ripple Zine, and Writers’ Bloc and created a small online zine called Philly Flash Inferno. She loves sketching and painting graphic art with a psychedelic spin and recently had her work published in Pirene’s Anthology benefiting Japan: Sunrise from Blue Thunder. Cathy has studied ekphrasis for ten years and created her own chapbooks: Recycled Shoes and Stoned in Paris. On the weekends she loves preparing for the zombie apocalypse and baking cupcakes (but not at the same time).