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Monday

Flash Craft: Start Following the “Almond Rule” for Story Openings

In all fic­tion, but espe­cial­ly in flash, I strug­gle with what infor­ma­tion I should let the read­er in on. Because there is so lit­tle space and time in flash, it feels that the best way to han­dle sto­ry-telling is to hide as much as pos­si­ble. In his essay on sto­ry open­ings, Steve Almond sug­gests that, in all writ­ing, writ­ers adhere to a sim­ple rule: “Let me make this very sim­ple, then: The read­er should know at least much as your pro­tag­o­nist.” He con­tin­ues, “Read­ers are by nature gen­er­ous crea­tures. They come to a sto­ry, or a nov­el, eager to lose them­selves in an imag­ined world. This requires that they attach them­selves to the fate of one or more char­ac­ters. But it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that this empath­ic bond between read­er and char­ac­ter can occur only if authors share with us—as soon as possible—the spe­cif­ic fears and desires of their cre­ations.”

 

 
Again, I think that’s a sim­ple rule to fol­low. If the char­ac­ter knows some­thing impor­tant to the read­er, then the read­er should know it. Notice in the open­ing of the “Lit­tle Mag­pie” sto­ry that the char­ac­ter tells the read­er right away what’s at stake: they’ve had ear­ly mis­car­riages and Mag­gie is preg­nant again. He doesn’t hide that infor­ma­tion. What he doesn’t know is what he should do to make sure this baby lives, what he should do to help Mag­gie not have anoth­er mis­car­riage. His try­ing to fig­ure that out is what the sto­ry is about, and he shares that process of fig­ur­ing it out with the read­er.

 

 
The twist end­ing attracts a lot of flash writ­ers, and the “twist” often occurs by hid­ing infor­ma­tion that the character/narrator knows but doesn’t what to reveal yet because it will ruin the “twist.” But Almond argues, and I think cor­rect­ly, that the read­er feels like some trust-bond has been bro­ken when writ­ers manip­u­late them in this way. Notice that the famous twist of Sixth Sense fol­lows Almond’s rule because the char­ac­ter doesn’t know the truth until the very end. If indeed the char­ac­ter of Deck­er is a repli­cant in Blade Run­ner, then that twist also fol­lows that rule, as Deck­er doesn’t not know he is a repli­cant until, per­haps, he sees the origa­mi uni­corn at the film’s end, the one that he thought only belonged to his sub­con­scious­ness.

 

 
I think it is impor­tant to find a way to “twist” expec­ta­tions so read­ers are engaged. And it’s impor­tant to think about what’s hold­ing their inter­est, what they’re wait­ing to find out. The ques­tion for me is this: How will they be sur­prised with­out being tricked, with­out feel­ing like what they’d should’ve been told has been with­held from them, unjust­ly?

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