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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Some Frank Facets of Flash Fiction
by Kimberly Ripley

Flash Fiction is a unique art form. To tell a complete tale in relatively few words requires practice and patience. It also demands of its writers a diverse and well-studied vocabulary full of descriptively active words. And as with all writing, it relies on the writer’s discernment of which words to edit and which words to keep.

Double the Word Power
According to Don James, as written in The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing, “Description still may be essential to most fiction and nonfiction, but for some time the word has been to keep it brief and blend it in.”

This phrase is even more accurate when pertaining to the writing of flash fiction. While description invariably plays an enormous role in the story, it must be incorporated in a way that utilizes words for dual purposes. Any form of writing requires revision. When words serve a twofold purpose, they are far more valuable in the writing of flash fiction, as revision often incorporates the paring of words to meet word count requirements.

Take for example the following sentence. It describes a woman in a restaurant that serves tea.

“She lifted the delicate cup, her perfect posture accentuating the refinery to which she was accustomed.”

Does this sentence give you the general idea that she is in a fairly upscale establishment?

In a like manner, the following sentence should convey something completely different.

“She curled up in her seat, grateful for the mug of hot tea, and slurped it unabashedly.”

Doesn’t this sound more like a coffee shop or casual restaurant where most of the customers are “regulars”?

Don’t Forget to Use the Five Senses
As basic as this may sound, it is sometimes forgotten when eliminating sentences in flash fiction. Inevitably something must always be edited, but it should never be sensory. These descriptions add fire to the otherwise cold and dry plot. Passion is inserted where once mere words decorated the page.

In The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham, the author emphasizes the importance of capturing the senses within a work of fiction.

“You must not make your readers deaf or blind. You must provide them with sense impressions from the viewpoint character. And you must tell them some of what the viewpoint character wants, thinks, and feels emotionally, too.”

Bickham also adds, “Just because you see and hear details in your imagination as you write the scene, does not mean that the reader will by some magic guess the same details. You have to give her enough hints to go on.”

Suppose your scene is based on a recollection of a grandmother’s cottage, visited many times during your childhood. In your mind the smell of bacon lingers in the air, and the greasy feel of it’s splattered fat on the oilcloth covering the table is slippery to your touch. And so you go on to write about the aromas from the kitchen, and the place settings that were chipped and worn with age. However by not describing to your readers the more tactile images within the cottage, they are robbed of the accurate account they might have been afforded.

It’s certainly more of a challenge to incorporate this sense of imagery in Flash Fiction than in other forms of writing. When actively editing to reduce word counts, the last thing an author needs is to concern himself with enhancing the description of a person, place, or thing. It is imperative that this skill be creatively ensconced within a piece of Flash Fiction. This is another example of practice making perfect.

Selective Sentencing
First and foremost, it is of vital importance to thoroughly understand the mechanics of a sentence. This includes what actually constitutes a complete sentence, as well as proper grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. These components comprise perfect sentences. And with the allowance of just so many of these literary perfections within a work of Flash Fiction, such accuracy becomes central.

E.B. White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, is quoted in Writer’s 2000, a resource book published by Houghton-Mifflin, as saying writers should, “approach style by way of simplicity, plainness, orderliness, and sincerity.” And in the same text Kurt Vonnegut says, with regard to knowing when to edit sentences, “Have the guts to do it.” Sentences that don’t uphold a writer’s main idea should be axed. Words and phrases that don’t directly enhance the sentences must be deleted as well.

Grand Finale?
Not all writers see the need for a closing paragraph. When included, closing paragraphs are generally used to summarize the preceding plot, and answer those questions left unanswered. In that capacity they serve a definite purpose. They also are useful in driving home the message the writer was trying to convey.

Some writing ends naturally. A final event takes place. A final statement or point is made. If this is at all possible in Flash Fiction, it will save the writer much aggravation, and above all it will assist in keeping the word count lower. Presumably during editing the writer has been cautious not to delete any sentences, words, or phrases essential to the plot. Clever use of dialogue should have further enhanced the description process. Therefore in a tight work of Flash Fiction the omission of a closing paragraph is acceptable, and often times preferable.

Be a Flasher!
One result of completing a work of Flash Fiction, is the satisfaction of having met a limited word count requirement. It is comparable to playing a game at which your strengths are utilized. The strategy includes an exercise in all facets of writing, and culminates in a work of art.

So play the game! Challenge yourself or fellow writers unfamiliar with this writing form to pen the Flash Fiction of their choosing. The effect of this undertaking might just be the catalyst your muse has been waiting for.

Reprinted with permission from Kimberly Ripley. Visit Kim’s Web site at http://www.kimberlyripley.writergazette.com









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