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Flash Craft: Repairing Your Story’s Bone Structure after Facial Deficits

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:

  1. Add a begin­ning with a taboo of a taboo
  2. Use the sec­ond para­graph to add a con­flict from the past and move it to the future
  3. Add a cou­ple of para­graphs of flash­back
  4. Bor­row an “oldie” that works: Insert a third char­ac­ter that insti­gates the end­ing
  5. Use expo­si­tion that seems unre­lat­ed to sto­ry but gives clar­i­ty to all
  6. End with an uneasy human reac­tion but reveal a pro­tag­o­nist change


FF.Net Author’s Note

Colborn.JPGCathy 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).

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