|Basic Elements of Flash Fiction: a Short Fiction Workshop HandoutPosted: 08 Jan 2015 01:00 AM PST
by Kaye Linden
1. Small frame: up to 1500 words. Microfiction is under 250 words.
2. Slice of life stories. The writer takes the big picture and focuses on one angle only.
3. A striking title. Title is the first hook.
4. The first few lines must setup the story. This is the reader’s orientation to the story.
5. The protagonist desires something and this desire must reach its peak by the first third of the story.
6. Kaye’s six C’s rule: Character, Craves something, Cannot have it, Conflict and Consequences, Change.
7. One scene demonstrating the consequences of desire thwarted.
8. Compression of plot, action, dialogue, events and the number and development of characters.
9. Minimalism is what flash is about. The number of characters must be limited to two, three maximum. The choice of characters in flash is about advancement of the story, not for any other reason.
10. There must be a change in the reader’s perception or in the story itself. (Compressed arc)
11. Focus on the arc or narrative line of the piece and establish one strong story line only.
12. Give the story a sense of meaning. What does it really matter if Tom meets Martha?
13. At the end of the story, something must have changed, become understood, resolved.
14. Throw away one word at a time and see how it affects the story. Cut to 100 words initially to find the essence of your story and expand by a few hundred words at a time.
15. What is your storyline in 10 words or less?
16. Begin in Medias Res, in the middle of things. Cut the back-story and dive into the middle of an event.
17. Myths and tales make great stuff for a very short story.
18. Interesting surprises are not mandatory but they provide satisfaction for the reader.
19. Re-invent the cliché: e.g. avoid clichés at all costs.
20. Flash has its own rhythm: shape of words, constructions, phrases, sentences that give flash its pacing.
21. Maintain balance in sentence structure and phrases: short balanced with long, for example.
22. Constriction of time and space demands immediacy and a sense of urgency.
23. Setting and crowds play a character.
24. Ask “what if?” What if John took the left pathway in the woods instead of the right?
25. Ask the question: What is this story really about? Maintain that question throughout the piece and focus the story line on the answer. Whose story is it? Stay with that person’s story.
26. Consider cutting the story, if it feels vague or rambles. Relook at the story line. Is there more than one story there? Keep it consistently that person’s story. Plan of action: always consider cutting your final piece by twenty percent. Cut unessential adverbs and unnecessary adjectives.
27. Cut, organize, add and polish. (The four keys to revision.)
28. Does the writing sound awkward? Relook at tense consistency or point of view. Point of view and tense choices change a story. Try rewriting a paragraph with a different one.
29. The ticking clock─works every time. The pressure to finish in time, defuse the bomb in time, to rescue the girl before she’s murdered etc.
30. Don’t underestimate your reader. Write for the intelligent reader. Do not trick them or offer a stale, cliched ending that they have seen over and over again. e.g. The butler did it.
31. Each new word or sentence must move the story line forward. Words circle out from a dense story core of meaning and image to a satisfactory ending. Pay attention to the paragraph format and where you place a new paragraph─it is an indication of another step forward in the plot or story.
29. Each word must count and weigh heavy with meaning or imagery. Use concrete details and not generalizations. Instead of “He needed money to eat.” Try: “He lived in a back alley and unless he found a few dollars, he’d go hungry again today.”
32. Substitute concrete detail woven throughout the narrative or demonstrate by action.
33. Dialogue has an important place in flash. Even just one line embedded in a narrative will work. Limit most tags to “said.” Keep dialogue tags simple.
34. Keep events in chronological order, no matter how insignificant the action. “She jumped into the car but wiped the mud off her shoes first.” “She wiped the mud off her shoes and jumped into the car.” Stimulus then response
35. Flash consists of the unsaid, the unwritten, reading between the lines, a hint, a tiny signpost, a suggestion. The reader fills in the emotional/story gaps.
36. Flash lends itself well to experimentation (fixed forms etc.) because you can try any playful writing in a short piece. There’s not a lot of time or emotions invested.
37. Read, read, read shorts and borrow the methods and techniques that work for the major writers.
A few notes about prose poetry:
1. Poetry is not defined by its length, but this is one parameter that helps define flash.
2. Poetry is about language and poetic device such as similes, alliteration, assonance, forms and line breaks.
3. Language in flash is concise and intense as well, but does not flow into poetic device, forms such as villanelles or sonnets. However, one can experiment with tight forms in flash.
4. Flash carries a story line. Poetry does not need to.
5. In poetry, words are emphasized by where they are placed in the line ─ end of line, beginning of line, at line breaks etc.
6. Poetry is partially defined by its line breaks. Flash is not.
7. Narrative poetry and flash fiction can overlap.
8. In poetry, description can be a technique in and of itself and offers an overall image for the reader. In flash, the description must advance the narrative.
9. Poetry does not necessarily have a plot. Flash does, even though it can be compressed.
10. When a reader picks up poetry, he has a different set of expectations than when he/she reads flash fiction. He expects to read a story in a flash piece.
11. Prose poetry usually features full sentences and no forced line breaks. The difference between prose poetry and micro-fiction is up for discussion—generally, prose poetry concentrates more precise attention on language. It’s less narrative than micro-fiction, and asks readers to make larger jumps than micro-fiction might demand.
READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD.
You will hear mistakes, rhythm, pacing, tense and point of view shifts.
Above all, have fun. Kaye Linden
Kaye Linden is an RN with an MFA in fiction writing and is currently enrolled in a second MFA program where she will specialize in short fiction and prose poetry. She is past editor and short fiction editor of the Bacopa Literary Review, current assistant editor for Soundings Review and short fiction teacher at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. Her prolific works are widely published. Kaye’s forty tale magic realism collection about Australia, Tales from Ma’s Watering Hole, her science fiction novel Prasanga and her latest tiny story collection Ten Thousand Miles from Home are available on all store fronts. Please visit Kaye at www.kayelinden.com.