Bacopa Literary Review

Friday, December 25, 2015

What is Creative Nonfiction?

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

What is creative nonfiction? In some ways it's like jazz: fact-based writing that has the quality of ragtime or classic or bebop or swing, played as the blues, or even with a cross-rhythm, and always with a moving inner voice.

Creative doesn't mean inventing. It means incorporating the styles and elements of good fiction, poetry, memoir, and essay. Creative nonfiction is writing-of-the-real, using devices such as sense of place, voice, and character development; as experimental as other literary forms while remaining grounded in fact. 

Before he became the 2016 Creative Nonfiction Editor, Rick Sapp's Vanover's Luck was featured in Bacopa Literary Review 2014. The first sentence reads like fiction, the urge to dive in is so strong:
Even as he lies crumpled and bleeding at the base of a tree, his mouth full of Remington 2x4 shot pellets, John Vanover thinks of himself as a lucky man.
There's also compelling intrigue in John's knowing the exact make and size of the pellets. Has he shot himself? Or does he just know guns? 

We learn that Vanover was born in the Virginia hills and knows Appalachia's knolls and coves, its caves and creeks as well as he knew the path to the outhouse on a moonless night when he was young. 

Note the rhythm and literary style of the following paragraph:
Ask John about working the mines, the deep tunnels with air, he says, that smells like cold steel, mines so dark that a dream about life outside makes miners clench their eyes tight, mines that snake under unsuspecting farms, under deer and turkeys, under nesting field mice and the scowl of hawks and owls like burrowing worms and he says, his voice trailing off in tone and volume as if he is ashamed, "I loved it."
The author could have told Vanover's story in a more documentary form, and no doubt that would also have been well-written. 

But for Bacopa submissions, we're looking for creative nonfiction like Vanover's Luck: an aesthetic experience, the orchestration of a true story.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bacopa Literary Review 2016

Over the next few months we'll give samples of what we're looking for by highlighting work we respect, some from Bacopa Literary Review and some from other sources

Here's Julia Wagner's poem "Coming to Center," first prize poetry winner in the 2014 Bacopa:
Not seeking novelty, but permission,
music provided the first movement.

I would come to understand the world
through those lessons.

The Arabesque, the Frappe, the Jete
rhetoric of creative motion: my freedom.

The young body, as it trained, became impetuous:
More!

But, something derailed just then
a danger in silences.

I did not hear well Madame's clapping rhythm  
(one-two-three-one-two-three-one-two-three)

but better, those holy metrical stops,
the curious pianist reading close her score.

My Glissade stretched far too long,
Madame's curious brow,

sure to meet just inside the note's rest.
Music taught this, not dance:

to be autonomous, despite the routines.
And to stop when it wanted.

Julia's book Aegis is available at Amazon.com, a collection that experiments with the connections between language and memory. The word Aegis assumes safe passage, a place holder for both word and memory.



 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Fixed and Experimental Forms & Mastering the Genre

In the current posts Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")
CHAPTERS 20 & 21 ("The Ticking Clock" & "Chekhov's Gun")
CHAPTERS 22 & 23 ("Don't Underestimate Your Reader" & "Word Weight")
CHAPTERS 24 & 25 ("Concrete Details/Imagery" & "CUT Adverbs/Adjectives")
CHAPTERS 26 & 27 ("Dialogue" & "The Verb 'To Be'")
CHAPTERS 28 & 29 ("Subtext/Implication/Backstory" & "Myths and Tales")
CHAPTERS 30 &31 ("Surprise the Reader & "Sentence Structure/Phrases")

CHAPTER 32
 Fixed and Experimental Forms

As you have seen in the previous chapter, flash lends itself wonderfully to experimentation. The writer can try any playful writing in a short piece because there is not a lot of time or emotional energy invested. If it doesn't work, it's easy to rewrite.

Here's an interesting fixed form for you to work with:
With each new sentence, double the word count of the sentence before.
An example:
One. One story. Of black teeth revealed. Black teeth revealed behind luscious wet red lips. Lips parted, seductive, her chiseled face in a bar, mirrored behind one glass, smudged with lipstick.
Fixed forms are fun. They unleash the wild muse.

An example, one of my experimental flash nonfiction pieces that won first prize in Bacopa Literary Review's 2015 annual contest for creative nonfiction, is here. I wrote the flash in one sentence, an experimental handling of form. The one-sentence structure reflects the continuity of the tattoo patterns over a man's body.

Prompt: Turn the timer on for 5 minutes. Write about an epiphany or "aha" moment you had had, but write it in a long sentence. Don't think too much, just write.
 

CHAPTER 33
Mastering the Genre

Read, read, read flash fiction and nonfiction flash stories and learn from the masters.

Borrow techniques, initiate variations and deviate with your ideas while you practice from famous examples and develop a unique flash style. Join flash critique groups either in your town, online or take classes. Start your own critique group.

In the next blog post you'll find a list of resources that include a sprinkling of flash writers and their work.

Prompt: Study a tiny story by a famous flash writer and substitute each word with your own. Warning: Be careful not to plagiarize or copy any other writings.

There are sites online, such as Grammarly.com, where you can copy and paste your work to make sure you have not plagiarized by mistake.


Stay tuned for CHAPTER 34 ("The Four Keys to Revision")
and CHAPTER 35 ("A Few Tips About Prose Poetry")



Monday, June 22, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Surprise the Reader & Sentence Structure/Phrases

In the current posts Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")
CHAPTERS 20 & 21 ("The Ticking Clock" & "Chekhov's Gun")
CHAPTERS 22 & 23 ("Don't Underestimate Your Reader" & "Word Weight")
CHAPTERS 24 & 25 ("Concrete Details/Imagery" & "CUT Adverbs/Adjectives")
CHAPTERS 26 & 27 ("Dialogue" & "The Verb 'To Be'")
CHAPTERS 28 & 29 ("Subtext/Implication/Backstory" & "Myths and Tales")

CHAPTER 30
 Surprise the Reader

Interesting surprises and twists are not mandatory in flash but create interest and delight for readers. Don't trick them with a predictable twist but offer a subtle or surprise ending or development.

When the father in "Agoriclautrophobia" left his daughter alone, the reader might sense surprise because that appears to be odd behavior for a father, but the eccentricities of human behavior offer interest.

Another tool for surprising a reader lies in the language, specifically the reworking of clichés. Clichés are hackneyed, tired sayings that have lost their impact over time. Avoid them. Use fresh expressions to offer an image: "Half-decayed cattle with jaws wide open in a scream."

This image extends to later in the story when the daughter imagines her "father's jaws wide open in a dying scream."

Part of the surprise in the story is the combination of the concepts of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. The surprise lies in the fact that people can and do feel claustrophobic in open spaces. Some people feel that way out in the middle of the ocean where "there's so much, room, so much to fear . . ."

Prompt: Take an old story and  cross out clichés with a red pen. What can you change to offer a fresh phrase, surprise, or perspective? Try changing the point of view, or change the main character into one of the minor characters. How would another character's perception change the story? Surprise yourself.
 

CHAPTER 31
Sentence Structure and Phrases

Flash has its own rhythm, produced by compressed sentences and phrases that give a particular rhythm and pacing to the sound of very short prose. Depending on the writer's intention, breaking grammar rules such as eliminating commas or periods and the use of repetition can offer a wonderful sense of urgency in a compressed narrative flash.

Prompt: To practice writing from a different angle, write a series of questions mixed or not mixed with a couple of sentences. Place a tiny twist at the end. For example:
 "What am I doing here? Where is he? What time is it? Why is he so late? Should I leave? Why are my palms sweating? Am I going to throw up? Did he dump me? Do I have the wrong restaurant or the wrong time? Why is that waiter looking at me? It's because I'm on my fourth whiskey, isn't it? Do I have on too much lipstick? Maybe my lipstick's a mess. I'd better take a look in the mirror. What the heck happened to him? Where the . . . Oh, there he is now. Hi there. How are you? Sit down. What did you say? I look tense? I don't know why. I was just relaxing with a drink."
You get the picture: Up the ante by playing with sentence structure and rules. Great stories arise from playing with structure. 

Here is an example of a flash fiction I published in 2015 in The Rat's Ass Review. Note the pacing, the breaking of grammatical rules, and the minimal dialogue. This flash piece also works as a prose poem. 

The Wet
Kaye Linden
Ma, aboriginal toothless shaman, throws her ninety-nine-year-old bones into the front seat of the windowless jeep and jams her foot down on the accelerator. Desert driving, flash flood driving with rising waters at the hubcaps and trackless tires sinking fast into whirling mud swirls. Sky blows blacker than her skin, wind whips red welts into her hanging jawline, Ma pains on, the falling down mulga-wood homestead in sight, too distant on the boiling roiling horizon, straight one line straight line straight ahead no wavering but straight the shortest distance between two points. Rain pouring pouring pouring torrential blinding into her old eyes she keeps driving driving driving through driving rain to get home home home before the rusty untrusty jeep sinks deeper into sudden ravines and eddies that grow rounder and hungrier taking but seconds to fill holes in the ground. She reaches the leaning splitting woodpile homestead in the raining pouring driving wet, the wet, the Alice Springs wet, the wet that only those people who live in The Alice know, understand, and brace for each five years. The homestead swirls under water, turning and topsy and turvy and upside down and inside out, her broken armchair floating in pieces, rusted pots afloat, the sheltie dog swimming to meet her, tongue lolly-gagging hello, eyes yellowed and alight, but Ma's jeep coughs and rattles and chokes and sinks with Ma not a swimmer but a hiker with strong old hiking legs, army boots that anchor her down into water. She grabs the old dog's matted wet back and they both go down and around, thunder announcing their pending demise, kookaburra laughter long gone, gasping and hacking and face just up level with water, eyes turned up to the heavens, to the ancient gods whose hands don't read out. "Where are you, you bastards?" Ma shouts to the sky and the dog whines a carping whittling fingernails-down-the-blackboard kind of cry that only those from The Alice understand, only those who have seen white brittle bones bleached in desert heat and sun after those on a run for their lives have lost. Panting dog and woman cling to each other, going down, going down, going down but with a whoosh and a gurgle the water stops, the rain stops, the rivers cease running, the widening knife-like gaps in red mud close and Ma stands on her feet again, holding the dog in her arms, sinking to ankles in army boots, but standing in remnants of a flash flood in Australian desert,
        here now,
        there now,
        gone.

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 32 ("Fixed and Experimental Forms")
and CHAPTER 33 ("Mastering the Genre")



Sunday, June 21, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Subtext/Implication/Backstory & Myths and Tales

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")
CHAPTERS 20 & 21 ("The Ticking Clock" & "Chekhov's Gun")
CHAPTERS 22 & 23 ("Don't Underestimate Your Reader" & "Word Weight")
CHAPTERS 24 & 25 ("Concrete Details/Imagery" & "CUT Adverbs/Adjectives")
CHAPTERS 26 & 27 ("Dialogue" & "The Verb 'To Be'")

CHAPTER 28
 Subtext/Implication/Backstory

Flash consists of the unwritten, the unsaid, reading between lines, a hint or two, a tiny signpost, a suggestion. The reader picks up clues that fill in the emotional tone, gaps or past events of the story. For example:
The last time I visited my father, we drove to his childhood home--Thousand Acre Sheep Station, dead center Northern Territory, an endless expanse of red soil and gum trees, fenceless and defenseless from hungry dingoes and buzzards. The open jeep bumped and shook its way through scrubby mulgas, around sinkholes, and over the occasional dead wallaby. I leaned back and studied the blue sky with its wispy white clouds.
Note the subtext or implications:
The narrator is speaking of the last time she visited her father. The questions arise: Why was she visiting? Where was she living? The relationship is long-distance? Where was her mother? It was his childhood home, not hers The home was a huge sheep station (ranch) in the center of Australia's desert. Such are the questions that lead readers to wonder. Let them fill in these blanks with the implied information, the subtext.

Prompt: Read "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway. This short story is rich with subtext. Examine how Hemingway handles backstory and implication. Then write a micro-flash of under 250 words in which the writing implies what has happened without stating what happened.
 

CHAPTER 29
Myths and Tales

Rewrite myths and tales, study them, and learn from their story lines. These are the basic stories of heroes and heroines and offer wonderful ideas for twisting, experimentation, and rewriting.

Study Joseph Campbell's model of "the hero's journey." I have adapted the hero's journey to my writing of flash. These are aspects of this journey that offer a solid foundation for story. A perfect example is Star Wars.



Prompt: Write a fairy story or myth from a different perspective, a different point of view, in another tense, or turn the hero into the bad guy and the bad guy into the hero.

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 30 ("Surprise the Reader")
and CHAPTER 31 ("Sentence Structure and Phrases")



Friday, June 19, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Dialogue & The Verb "To Be"

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")
CHAPTERS 20 & 21 ("The Ticking Clock" & "Chekhov's Gun")
CHAPTERS 22 & 23 ("Don't Underestimate Your Reader" & "Word Weight")
CHAPTERS 24 & 25 ("Concrete Details/Imagery" & "CUT Adverbs/Adjectives")

CHAPTER 26
 Dialogue

Even the inclusion of one line of dialogue in a flash can offer support for story line and character strength.

Keep dialogue tags simple: "he said" "she said."

Simple dialogue tags are not "heard" by the reader's conscious mind. Dialogue tags such as "he screamed," "she called out aggressively" or "he yelled annoyingly" slow down the read, irritate the reader, and overwhelm the story.

Most people use word contractions when they talk, so use them:
"I'm not feeling well," she said.
Keep dialogue realistic. Listen to how people converse with each other in the real world.

Prompt: Rewrite a story you have written by examining the handling of dialogue. Apply the above tips in the rewrite.
 

CHAPTER 27
The Verb "To Be"

Among excellent free tools available to writers is the "To-Be" Verbs Analyzer.

Copy and paste a story of any length into the analyzer and get ready for a surprise. You will not believe how much of the narrative contains "to be" verbs such as "is," "was," "had," and so on. A successful flash contains no more than 20 percent of such verbs. Many of these add nothing to a story and a writer can replace most of them with a meaningful verb.

The Analyzer tool checked "Agoraclaustrophobia." Following are the "to be" verbs it found, and the statistical analysis of the story:
Matched 'are': how many places there are out here to bury a body.
Matched 'be': be damned . . . better brace yourself, Girlie.
Matched 'was': Then he was gone.
Matched 'be': we missed the signs of sacred land never-never to be crossed at night?
Matched 'was': took hours to find a gum tree with sap, and when I did, I was so tired, I fell asleep on the ground.
        7.8% of your sentences have 'to be' verbs.
That's pretty tight writing. I could have revised "be damned" to "damn it," but the sentence would lose its drama. Use "to be" verbs only when another verb won't work.


Prompt: Copy and paste a story you are working on into the above website. Surprised at what you discover? Find substitutes for the "to be" verbs and rewrite.

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 28 ("Subtext/Implication/Backstory")
and CHAPTER 29 ("Myths and Tales")



Monday, June 15, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Concrete Details/Imagery, CUT Adverbs/Adjectives

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")
CHAPTERS 20 & 21 ("The Ticking Clock" & "Chekhov's Gun")
CHAPTERS 22 & 23 ("Don't Underestimate Your Reader" & "Word Weight")

CHAPTER 24
 Concrete Detail/Concrete Imagery

Word weight and concrete detail merge. The use of concrete description means the words used have meaning and therefore word weight. For example:
I wiped damp palms across my shorts, put on sunglasses, and took a swig from a bottle of beer. Some years ago my cousin had disappeared out here when her tour bus stopped for a water break.
Compare that with:
I wiped my palms and took a drink from the bottle. Some years ago my cousin had disappeared out here.
Concrete details include "damp palms," the verb "swig," the shorts and sunglasses, the bottle of beer, the tour bus, and the water break. These offer descriptive words that readers can "see" in their heads. They are not general descriptions but "painted" words that imply much more than they say.

Concrete imagery refers to pictures the words paint in the reader's head. Consider the following contrasting examples for illustration:
The sun shone down and burned my body. Sweat poured over my skin as the sun went down.

Sun seared into my temples and burned my arms.and thighs Sweat fell in drip, drip, drips, down the front of my T-shirt, like tears for a life cut short. The sun drifted down the horizon.
Which version offers more imagery for the reader? Weigh each word before it goes onto the paper and, when revising, CUT, CUT, CUT.

Prompt: What kind of day is it today? Go outside and pick a corner of the yard or street. Make notes about what you see. Now write the scene using words that carry weight and contribute to images in the reader's mind. Revise the description with meaningful words without lengthy description. Allow the reader to "see" the scene just as you did. 
 

CHAPTER 25
CUT Adverbs and Adjectives

What do you think of the following rendition? Read it aloud:
My annoyed father angrily slammed his large fist on the hard dashboard. He jumped hurriedly out of the yellow jeep and noisily opened the car hood over the steaming, hissing engine and climbed under the hot car and around the car flitting around like the dark shadow of some poltergeist.
A little excessive?

Now, before referring to "Agoraclaustrophobia," cut the adjectives and adverbs from the above rendition and read the result aloud.

Tightening a piece of flash writing includes cutting most, if not all, of the following.
  • adverbs
  • adjectives
  • unnecessary words such as "the, "a," "an," "as," "like," and "and."
Alternative word choices exist, but you might need to restructure the sentence, rewrite the narrative, rethink how much information the reader needs to hear, or cvut some or all of the backstory.

Prompt: Take a story you have written and read it aloud. Circle in red the unnecessary words. Circle in orange or blue all adverbs and adjectives. Leave only those words that add to the story. Now tighten by cutting most of these words and read the story out loud. Sound better?  

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 26 (Dialogue)
and CHAPTER 27 (The Verb "To Be'")



Sunday, June 14, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Don't Underestimate Your Reader & Word Weight

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")
CHAPTERS 20 & 21 ("The Ticking Clock" & "Chekhov's Gun")

CHAPTER 22
 Don't Underestimate Your Reader

You have invited readers into your story house, and now you are the host. Don't underestimate their intelligence, their ability to clue into the writer's games. For example, honor your contract by offering a great story avoiding stale, clichéd endings or stories the reader has read over and over again (such as hackneyed love stories, or what happens in Vegas).

True, there are no new subjects, but there are new angles and perspectives on all subjects.

Make sure readers are oriented to who, what, where, why, and when. Keep readers interested, but don't beat them over the head with information they MUST know.

Most readers are intelligent people who "get" what the writer is trying to convey. Beware of inserting chunks of explanation, narrative or excess dialogue and backstory. If readers don't understand the story it is usually because the writer has not produced a clearly written story. For example, if there is more than one story line, or too many characters, or tense inconsistency, or switches in point of view, readers will feel confused. Don't assume they understand or care why you have written the story the way you have. The author has an unwritten contract to offer readers a clear and interesting story. Keep it clear. Keep it simple. What do you want readers to take away from this story? What truth or philosophy about life would you like to convey?

Prompt: Set a timer to 15 minutes. Write a story about a journey. Orient the reader to time and place, but keep the story simple. Make sure the character undergoes a change during the journey. Review and tighten to 100 words. What is the essence of this story in 10 words or fewer?
 

CHAPTER 23
Word Weight

Each new word or sentence must advance the story. Each word must weigh heavily with meaning or imagery. Use concrete details and not vague generalizations. This is not always an easy concept to understand. Let's demonstrate with "Agoraclaustrophobia."

Version one of paragraph one:
The last time I visited my father, we drove to his childhood home--Thousand Acre Sheep Station, dead center Northern Territory, an endless expanse of red soil and gum trees, fenceless and defenseless from hungry dingoes and buzzards. The open jeep bumped and rattled its way through scrubby mulgas, around sinkholes and over the occasional dead wallaby. I leaned back and studied the blue sky with its wispy white clouds.
Consider the following alternative without the use of specific concrete detail. How does it change the meaning and the visual the reader gets?
The last time I saw my father, we drove to his home in the Northern Territory. It was an expanse of desert with trees scattered about. The car drove through the bush and around holes. I leaned back in my seat and watched the sky go by.
Even the simple change of word from "visited" to "saw" changes the meaning of the sentence. Was this the last time I saw him? Visiting implies a visit from somewhere else, as from the U.S.A. to Australia.

The second example paragraph is sterile, without color. It lacks the words that offer the reader an image or scene in his or her head. Word weight includes the elimination of the verb "to be" wherever possible and the use of a meaningful verb instead.

Prompt: Take a short story you have written and cut it to 2 paragraphs, then to 1 paragraph and then to 1 sentence. Now you have its essence and can re-expand the essence into a story.      

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 24 ("Concrete Detail/Concrete Imagery")
and CHAPTER 25 ("CUT Adverbs and Adjectives")


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: The Ticking Clock & Chekhov's Gun

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")

CHAPTER 20
 The Ticking Clock

Simply said, this title refers to the ticking away of time, the ticking bomb, time pressure on a character or characters to resolve the problem before the bomb goes off and everyone dies.

Will the father find a solution to a car that has broken down in the middle of a desert before he and his daughter dehydrate, are eaten by crows, collapse, get caught in a flash flood, in a sandstorm, or a thousand other possibilities?

Flash compresses time and begins in media res but even compressed time offers heightened tension, as in "Agoraclaustrophobia."

Time pressure works well. Use it.

Prompt: Up the ante on a flash you have written or take a short story that isn't working and employ the element of time pressure. How does it change the story?
 

CHAPTER 21
Chekhov's Gun

Delete everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a gun hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter, it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there. So said Anton Chekhov.

In 1889, 24-year-old Ilia Gurliand noted these words from Chekhov's conversation: "If in Act One you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act."

To translate this idea into flash application, consider the following:
Whispers whispered down the hot wind. I stared at a pair of old army boots in the back seat. My fingers grabbed the warm metal of the door handle and I thought about the sword in the back seat. Bile rose up my throat.
What if the army boots and the sword were never mentioned again in "Agoracclaustrophobia"? You might then wonder what these items had to do with the story. Unless they serve a function later, unless the woman kills an attacking coyote with the sword or wears the army boots to track down her father, there is no point in mentioning them. In a flash story each image must count, and each word works towards the ultimate goal of the story.

Prompt: Examine one of your stories for information that does not advance the story. Strike it out with a pencil. Now read the story aloud to hear the connection of imagery and information.     

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 22 ("Don't Underestimate Your Reader")
and CHAPTER 23 ("Word Weight")

Monday, June 8, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Point of View, Tense Choice

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("The First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It, So I'll...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene & Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")

CHAPTER 18
 Point of View

Point of view confuses most writers. When analyzing flash work that sounds awkward and rambling, I first examine the point of view and whether it offers consistency or suddenly switches from one character's viewpoint to another. A multitude of great books have been written about point of view and I will outline the main points to clarify this difficult topic.

Point of view refers to the choice of character through which the reader observes story events. Your story will change depending on the point of view you choose for the storyteller. Imagine using a telescope to look through the keyhole of your story, zooming in and out with distance and intimacy, through only one character's eyes. In fiction the narrator in first-person viewpoint is a specific character, but in creative nonfiction the narrator is most likely the writer.

In "Agoraclaustrophobia," the point of view is the daughter's, and we enter into this viewpoint immediately: "The last time I visited my father . . ."

The most common viewpoints are:
  • First person: I or We.
  • Second person: You is used to allow the reader to relate more intimately to the subject, but it is a difficult view to maintain without the reader becoming irritated or tired. In a tiny flash, a micro, it might work. I suggest avoiding second person in flash work unless the writer is skilled in its use.
  • Third person: He, she, it. Close or distant? This can get complicated.
For stories fewer than 1500 words, keep it simple. Choose one viewpoint and stick with it for the entire flash. That consistency creates tight, clear writing.

To stay in a close viewpoint, eliminate "I/he/she thought" and stay tight within the action:
Then he was gone. Night bore down like a gigantic stone hand. Hours passed and the flashlight faded. The great emptiness shrouded my body like dirt around a tomb. "Dad? Where are you?"("I thought" could be inserted here, but it isn't necessary, so it was cut.) Whispers whispered down the hot wind.
For a more in-depth discussion about point of view in all genres, I recommend Alicia Rasley's book The Power of Point of View, from Writers Digest Books.

Prompt: Take a flash story that you or a famous author have written and change its point of view to another character's view. How does that change the story? This is one way to stimulate ideas for stories.
 

CHAPTER 19
Tense Choice

Inconsistent tenses create awkward stories. As with point of view, the tense must remain consistent throughout. If you choose past tense, stay with past tense. There are exceptions, such as offering the reader a truism--"Life is short," but I hope the author will not use truisms unless they are the author's unique creation.

My personal preference is to write in past tense, because the reader tends to read past tense with the most ease. "A shadow fell across the windshield of the jeep and I sat up, eyes wide open."

Writing in present tense might have limitations, but it can offer immediacy and increased tension. "A shadow falls across the windshield of the jeep and I sit up, eyes wide open."

Handle past perfect tense with the respect you might give to fire. "A shadow had fallen across the windshield of the jeep and I sat up, eyes wide open." Why add the "had"? Use it only when necessary and remember one use of "had" might be acceptable, but after the use of one, there's no call to use it again. My rule: No need to use "had" at all in flash stories. If many "hads" appear in the story, rethink its structure. There might be too much backstory or chunks of extraneous information.

Prompt: Rewrite one of your stories in a different tense. How does it change your story?

Click here for CHAPTER 20 ("The Ticking Clock") & 21 ("Chekhov's Gun")

See also, Kaye Linden's 35 Tips for Writing Powerful Prose Poems

Saturday, June 6, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Setting/Weather/Crowds as Characters, A Sense of Meaning

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame"),  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories"),
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("The First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It, So I'll...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene & Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")

CHAPTER 16
 Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters

Nature offers terrific characters. Bad weather such as storms and tornadoes set up atmosphere, story, and foreshadowing by their unpredictable behavior. Unusual characters, such as crowds or mountains, can reflect a character's emotions like a mirror. A tense leader will create a ense crowd, and vice versa. The mountains appear dark and gloomy in a storm and can reflect the main character's mood.

n "Agoraclaustrophobia" the Australian wilderness plays the part of reflecting the daughter's fears.

Prompts: Your character lives on a remote research facility in the Antarctic. A blizzard approaches. What happens to the main character during the blizzard?

Let a crowd behave badly. How does this offer conflict and tension? What does the main character do to survive the crowd's behavior? What does the crowd want and how will the crowd achieve its desire? What will block the people from getting what they want?

CHAPTER 17
A Sense of Meaning

The reader must care about your main character. If the reader doesn't care what happens to him/her, the story won't matter and the reader will not read on. Create a character of interest or a character in an interesting situation.

What are the stakes for the main character?

The higher the stakes, the higher the tension.

In flash, the compressed size limits dynamic change. Change in the character or the situation will not be huge, but the scene can demonstrate a small episode with a situational or character change. In "Agoraclaustrophobia" the father found a solution to the broken-down car while the daughter experienced overwhelming anxiety. This tension was relieved when the father returned. We have a change in situation and a change in character emotion.

Prompts: Shady, precious, giant. Write a scene using these 3 words in any order, creating a character of interest. Restrict the scene to 100 words or fewer.

Or, open a thesaurus and close your eyes. Randomly pick 3 words to combine into a tiny story. 

Click here for CHAPTER 18 ("Point of View") & 19 ("Tense Choice")

Thursday, June 4, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Consequences of Desire Thwarted & Characters

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame"),  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories"),
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("The First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It, So I'll...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene & Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")

CHAPTER 14
 Consequences of Desire Thwarted

Story formula = Character craves chocolate, cannot have it, creates conflict, causes consequences, then complications, and then change.

Build the story from the foundation up, like building a house.

In "Agoraclaustrophobia," the father and daughter want to reach his childhood home. A car breakdown interrupts their journey.

Much of the conflict or tension in this story is implied in subtext. A tone of foreshadowing lies beneath the narrative. Conflict involves tension and high stakes.

Your character must go through a meaningful change.

In "Agoraclaustrophobia," the daughter confronts her fears of the open spaces that, oddly, can close one in like small spaces. The story resolves because the father returns with a solution to the breakdown and the car starts again. One way this story could improve is by demonstrating the daughter's realization that her fears were unfounded, or by demonstrating, in one line only, that she has accepted her fears, another change in the story line. For example, we could add: "Her body relaxed into the cracked leather of the front passenger seat, and she fell asleep, after resolving to accept the outcome."

Prompt: Invent a character and put an obstacle in the way. What does your main character desire? What blocks the attainment of this desire? Follow the formula above.


CHAPTER 15

Characters
How Many is Too Many?

In flash, compress the number of characters to a maximum of three. In the cited story, there are two main characters, the father and the daughter. In addition, we see the landscape, the relationship between father and daughter, and her imagination. Each of these can behave like a character. Certainly, nature plays a wonderful character in this story because it is unpredictable and dangerous. As long as the focus stays on two or three main characters, the story will stay focused and balanced. The use of too many names or other supporting characters becomes confusing to the reader of flash. If the reader has to stop and reread to figure out who is who, there is a problem.

Prompt: Three men climb Everest together as a team in a competition to reach the top. One falls and hurts his ankle. The second discovers his equipment is faulty. The third has to decide whether to stay and help or forge ahead and win the competition. Who is the main character and what does he decide?

Click here for CHAPTER 16 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters")
& CHAPTER 17 ("A Sense of Meaning")

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Moving the Story Forward & The Shape of Flash

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame"),  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories"),
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("The First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It, So I'll...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene & Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order & Whose Story Is it?")

CHAPTER 12
 Moving the Story Forward

In short and long stories, events and sentences advance the story. Compression lies underneath the tiny narrative of flash, and therefore each element must be compressed. Balance each movement forward (desire, event, conflict consequences, and so on) with a similar length of sentence and structure.

Character action can advance the story or circumstances can move the story along.

Prompt: Take a short story you have written or one by a famous author and use a red pencil to underline each action that moves the story forward. Circle in orange the events or actions that keep the story stagnant. What can you cut to tighten this into flash?


CHAPTER 13
The Shape of Flash

Do flash stories have a shape? Yes.

Shape equates to structure which reflects plot or connected events.

After years of writing flash, one develops a knack for knowing and reworking the rules. In the beginning, keep events chronological, but don't be afraid to play with the rules after you are comfortable.

Stories have a "shape" on the page and that narrative pattern or line drawing of its beginning, middle, and end must appear balanced. To understand this concept further, I refer you to Kurt Vonnegut's book A Man Without a Country in which he outlines "story shapes."

The various shapes of stories apply to flash, but the flash shapes are compressed. The story can start with the climax and go down from there, work backward from end to beginning, and not do anything at all in terms of a climactic event. Very short stories don't always contain a plot, but each new work or sentence must move the story line forward. Stories most often consist of a dense core that circles out into a satisfactory ending, and often the ending circles back to the beginning.

(Google the term ouroboros.)
"If tension falls to zero anywhere in the story, it will probably fail." --C.S. Lewis
Prompt: For fun, and to understand the sequence of events, write your story's events backward. Diagram the shape of the story with a line pictograph. After that, write the story in chronological order and diagram the story.

Take a look at narrative poetry, line poetry, prose poetry, acrostic poetry, and examine the shapes on the page. Some poems are shaped on the page on purpose to reflect a theme. Experimental flash can do the same within limits. (Check out the concept of "concrete poetry," and apply it to flash.)

Click here for CHAPTER 14 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted")
and CHAPTER 15 ("Characters")

Friday, May 29, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order and Whose Story Is it?

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame"),  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories"),
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("The First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It, So I'll...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene & Story Line")

CHAPTER 10
 Stimulus, Response, and Chronological Order

No matter how insignificant the action, maintain chronological order. If chronological order is skewed or out of sequence, the reader will become disoriented to the story, time and place.

Stimulus results in a response. Remember Pavlov's dog? Whenever the bell rings, the dog salivates because it is in the habit of receiving treats at the ringing of a bell.

Stimulus and Response

Pay attention to the sequence of one sentence after another and how one action or event triggers the next, and the same for paragraph sequencing.

Examine the following example from "Agoraclaustrophobia" to see how each sentence leads into the next:
"Some people get claustrophobic out here," my father said.

I laughed. "In millions of acres of open land?"

"Yes. It's the lack of familiar things," he said. "There are no cafes or buildings to hold you up in The Great Empty."

"You mean people get agoraphobic," I said.

"Both. Think about it. Anything could happen. . ."
Here are some of the "beats" or triggers and responses in the story:
Stimulus: Car breaks down in the desert.
Response: Father must search for natural adhesive to repair the radiator hose.

Stimulus: He leaves the daughter alone in the car.
Response: She develops the anxiety of abandonment in the desert at night, feeling closed in by the openness of the desert, imagining terrible scenarios.

Stimulus: The father returns and repairs the hose. The mechanical problem resolves and the father returns in good health.
Response: The daughter feels better and they continue on their way.
I devised this rule: "For a story to succeed it must follow karmic law. Every action triggers a reaction."

Prompt: You have won $5000 at the local Walmart store but have only 20 minutes to shop. Using stimulus and response, write the scene.


CHAPTER 11
Whose Story Is it?

The relationship of the father and daughter serves as a character in this story. There is the question of whether or not the father will return.

This is the daughter's story, but at the same time it speaks volumes about their relationship. The focus is on the daughter and her reaction to the problem. The father's conflict might be whether to leave the girl or take her with him. He leaves her alone, which precipitates anxiety. She lacks the trust that he will return. What are the implications of this? For interest, consider the possible backstory of this lack of trust.

Prompt: Ask "what if?" What if you were left alone at night in the desert? Left in the streets of a big city? Left with no money? No food? No water? If the story were a long short story, we could introduce other plot events like these, but it is a flash, and we keep its story line simple.

To stimulate a story ask "what if?" What if the father and daughter were caught in a flash flood? What if . . . ? What other examples of agoraclaustrophobia could you write about?


Click here for CHAPTER 12 ("Moving the Story Forward") 
and CHAPTER 13 ("The Shape of Flash")