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

Tuesday

Flash Craft: Five Tips For Sentence Variety and Structure

As flash fic­tion writ­ers, we aim to cre­ate some­thing new with our sto­ries and we want each piece to be orig­i­nal and unique. A part of that process is focus­ing on our sen­tence struc­ture and the vari­ety of our indi­vid­ual sen­tences. Whether it’s using rep­e­ti­tious sen­tences to unify a piece, com­pressed sen­tences with­out excess words, or descrip­tive sen­tences that make the piece come alive, your par­tic­u­lar sen­tences are what make up each story. And just as every word in a flash fic­tion piece is impor­tant, so are the sen­tences that those words form.

 

Tip #1: Use Unique Details to Vary Sen­tences

In “El Gitano,” appear­ing in Quick Fic­tion 11, Andrew Michael Roberts writes, “One morn­ing he will die alone, bowl of dates on the bed­side table, flies buzzing at the win­dow screen. Snap­shot of El Cap­i­tan in his top dresser drawer. Under his pil­low, a post­card of Iowa corn.” The sen­tences that end this piece of flash fic­tion are var­ied, both in sen­tence struc­ture and in use of descrip­tion. Roberts includes pecu­liar details that go a long way to show his take on Cas­tro as a char­ac­ter. With just three sen­tences, the author is able to set the scene, and he does it with­out using excess words or descrip­tion. He is able to paint this end­ing of Castro’s life in short but var­ied sen­tences. We might strive to his level of com­pres­sion and try to cap­ture a scene in just a few sen­tences, as he has here.

 


Tip #2: Estab­lish Char­ac­ter with Sen­tence Choices

In Kathy Fish’s “Wildlife of South Amer­ica,” appear­ing in Wild Life, the writer con­trasts sex between humans and ani­mals. She writes, “There’s a male capy­bara mount­ing a female capy­bara. They’re just doing it…They lack ecstasy and that’s why it’s okay to show to kids” (13). Later she writes, “Before Rick and I do it, he show­ers, shaves, and gar­gles with Lis­ter­ine. I shave my legs and sham­poo my hair” (13). Fish’s sen­tence choices are inter­est­ing because her descrip­tions of how Rick and the nar­ra­tor have sex lack pas­sion, just as her descrip­tions of the capy­baras lack pas­sion. Fish’s sen­tences make sex between these char­ac­ters seem super­fi­cial and yet there is a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence between human and ani­mal. Peo­ple put thought into it and they think about their part­ners. With ani­mals, it’s all instinct and drive. Fish makes bold sen­tence choices that in com­par­ison, speak vol­umes about the char­ac­ters.

 

Tip #3: Use Rep­e­ti­tion to Cre­ate Unity

In “The Tor­turer Knows the Work He Does Is for the Good”, appear­ing in Quick Fic­tion 14, Michael Thurston begins every sen­tence, after the first, with “He…” For exam­ple, he writes, “He knows his work must be done with care and so he pays atten­tion to the flow of water and the warn­ing signs” (2). The story is made up of thir­teen small para­graphs, most con­tain­ing only one sen­tence. Each sen­tence, despite the unvar­ied sen­tence struc­ture, reveals more about the char­ac­ter with­out being obvi­ous that this man is some­one who tor­tures for a liv­ing. The details that Thurston uses make it seem like being a tor­turer is just any other job, such as when he has the char­ac­ter think about how his wife and son would respond to tor­ture: “He knows his wife would break the instant she per­ceived a threat to either of the kids, though stan­dard pro­ce­dure would dic­tate use of the bat­tery just to be sure” (3). The rep­e­ti­tion of the sen­tence struc­ture allows us to focus on the details of this char­ac­ter.

 


Tip #4: Use Com­pressed Sen­tences to Cap­ture a Moment

In “There’s a Hole in Your Shoe, Mr. Steven­son” by Kathy Fish, appear­ing in Wild Life, Fish con­veys an entire world­view and rela­tion­ship between two peo­ple in seven sen­tences. Work­ing together, the sen­tences describe the young, naive ide­ol­ogy of a cou­ple who has yet to expe­ri­ence the world. Fish writes, “They were democ­rats with an acute sense of irony. They ducked under an awning and he pulled her close, describ­ing their future on her neck, the mag­nif­i­cent new world their chil­dren would inhabit” (11). So many things are going on in these two sen­tences. Fish con­tin­ues with the present moment by hav­ing the cou­ple duck under an awning. He is kiss­ing her neck, which shows their young, fresh love. They believe at this moment that any­thing is pos­si­ble and that their future, and the future of their unborn chil­dren, will be bright and hope­ful. Fish doesn’t judge or con­demn their future, she lets the char­ac­ters enjoy the beauty of the moment. She is able to cap­ture a moment and a feel­ing in only seven sen­tences. This story is a good exam­ple of com­pres­sion and try­ing to cre­ate a moment in as few sen­tences and words as pos­si­ble.

 

Tip #5: Breathe Life into Your Story
In “Sum­mer Job,” appear­ing in Wild Life, Kathy Fish has two char­ac­ters walk­ing together. One char­ac­ter is show­ing the other the ropes at a corn­field where they will be har­vest­ing corn all sum­mer. The entire story is dia­logue (with­out any quo­ta­tions) from one char­ac­ter to the other. The sen­tences are not var­ied but con­tain use­ful and humor­ous infor­ma­tion about what to do and what not to do in this corn­field. Fish writes, “Apply zinc oxide to your nose and your lips unless you want them to fall off. You might want to do some­thing with your hair, too. It’s unla­dy­like to sing dirty songs on the bus on the way to the field” (16). This story could have turned into a man­ual for work­ing on this farm, but Fish breathes life into the sen­tences with funny obser­va­tions, com­ments from the unnamed char­ac­ter about the other character’s clothes and hair, advice about the men on the farm, and so on. The sen­tences move fast and Fish has us walk­ing with the new girl, expe­ri­enc­ing her first day. We are in that field, stand­ing in the heat. And she is able to cap­ture this with a one-sided con­ver­sa­tion.

 

No sen­tence can be included that doesn’t move the story along or show a desire within the char­ac­ter. The choices we make with each sen­tence can ulti­mately make or break a story. The next time you write a flash fic­tion piece, try to focus on the indi­vid­ual sen­tences and make sure each one achieves your intended pur­pose. Maybe take a story you have been strug­gling with and try to rewrite it in a dif­fer­ent way. You can try to unify the story with rep­e­ti­tion, or remove excess sen­tences and com­press as much as you can. Or maybe try to show your char­ac­ters through var­ied sen­tences and details. What­ever you do, don’t for­get that every sen­tence counts.

 

FF.Net Author’s Note
 

Guise.jpgOlivia Dean Guise received her BA in Eng­lish from Wes­ley Col­lege and is work­ing toward a MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from Rose­mont Col­lege. She is cur­rently work­ing on a novel and lives in the Philadel­phia area. 

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