Bacopa Literary Review

Writers Alliance of Gainesville's international journal in its 8th year
This blog cited among Top Literary Blogs for Writers and Publishing Agents

For examples of work we seek--follow, connect, read below, or click: flash story, poetry, fiction, nonfiction

Monday, May 29, 2017

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")


Friday, May 26, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: The Six C's and Compressed Scene/Story Line

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...")

CHAPTER 8
 Kaye's Rule of Six C's

Character Craves, Cannot have it, Conflict, Consequences, Change.

The Six C's can occur in another order. The three main aspects of a flash are conflict, consequences (what happened to the main character as a result of the problem?) and change. Change must occur in a story. The character might not crave something but have a problem that triggers conflict, consequences and change in that character or the situation.

The father in "Agoraclaustrophobia" has a problem and must leave his daughter alone in the vast desert. As a result, she experiences fear and anxiety. The conflict lies in the life-threatening situation of a breakdown in the desert, but also exists within the daughter who develops anxiety. The father's safe return is the positive outcome, resulting in a change in her anxiety levels and perhaps a return to trust that the father has not abandoned her. In addition, the father's success allows for a positive change in their predicament.

Prompt: Take a story you have been working on and mark the Six C's in red. If the C's are difficult to find, the story structure needs reworking.

CHAPTER 9
Compressed Scene and Story Line

The most difficult concept for writers to understand is the use of one story line in flash. In this genre, the story line may be likened to a compressed plot or series of events. I have read and reviewed thousands of very short stories by excellent writers who have difficulty maintaining a story's track and introduced other story lines without realizing it. This gives the read an awkward "all over the place" feel. Consider this fact when analyzing a flash.

A writer should be able to recite the story line in one brief sentence which will serve as the skeleton on which to hang the flesh of the story. If it cannot be summed up in a short sentence, "the flash" will morph into "the rambling." Often, writers who do this switch points of view or tenses during the narrative. This creates a tangled mess.

Here is the story line of "Agoraclaustrophobia" in one sentence:
A car breaks down in the desert and the father must leave his daughter alone while she suffers an attack of agoraclaustrophobia, which resolves when her father returns with a solution to their predicament.
If we peer through the "keyhole" of the door, we can witness this slice-of-life event within one frame.

Prompt: You are at an amusement park with friends. While riding on a Ferris wheel, the machine stops and you are hanging in mid-air. Write a sentence about what happens next and another sentence about what changes.


Click here for CHAPTER 10 ("Stimulus, Response, and Chronological Order") 
and CHAPTER 11 ("Whose Story Is It?")


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: The First Few Lines and I Want it But I Can't Have It, So I'll...

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 ONE ("Small Frame"),  
CHAPTERS 2 and 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories"),
CHAPTERS 4 AND 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" and "A Striking Title")


CHAPTER 6
The First Few Lines

The first few lines orient the reader to the flash. They present the foundation of the house and give the story line its cornerstone.

In a very short story, begin the action or the first few lines in media res, in the middle of things. In "Agoraclaustrophobia," the first two lines set up the story: the where (Australian desert, the last time she visited, driving to his childhood home), when, how, why:
"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 desolate setting is detailed and the background implied (the daughter is visiting). This one introductory sentence offers important information to orient the reader.

Prompt: Write 3 lines to introduce the reader to the middle of an action scene. Who is in the scene, where does it take place, what happens? Get right into the middle of the action, orient and hook the reader.


CHAPTER 7
I Want It, But I Can't Have It, So I'll . . .

The very definition of story is "human desire thwarted."

For a story to offer interest to the reader, conflict must exist. When the main character does not get what s/he wants or needs, conflict arises and launches the story line.

Prevent a character from getting what s/he wants and you have a story.

The father in "Agoraclaustrophobia" wants to get to his childhood home but is prevented from doing so when his car breaks down in the middle of the desert and he must search for material to repair the radiator hose. What happens as a result of the breakdown in the desert? The impact of the situation affects not only the father but the daughter. He must search for a solution to a potentially life-threatening breakdown in a desert and the daughter must cope with fears of abandonment.

Prompt: Recall something you have wanted. What prevented you from getting it? List the consequences of not getting what you want.

Click here for CHAPTER 8 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's") 
and CHAPTER 9 ("Compressed Scene and Story Line")


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Compression, Minimalism, a Striking Title

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.

Click these links for CHAPTER ONE ("Small Frame") and 
CHAPTERS 2 and 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")

CHAPTER FOUR: 
 Compression 

Flash mandates the skill of compression. That includes writing with compression for the following story elements:
  • plot line of story events or no plot line at all (crosses into prose poetry)
  • linked scenes
  • story line
  • beginning, middle and end
  • story arc--a change or epiphany, documented in a small space
  • frame
  • time and space
  • word choice
  • word number
  • dialogue
  • number of characters
What does compression mean? It means constriction or minimalism. For example:
  • the use of a limited number of adjectives and adverbs, or none at all
  • a tiny amount of dialogue used only to make a point or move the story forward
  • eliminating "the" and "a" when possible
  • use of words that carry meaning (word weight)

Minimalism

A cousin to compression, minimalism means tight, sparse writing. It implies the use of only the essential. The essential in flash means using only those elements needed to demonstrate the story. Again, minimalism holds the place of a close cousin to compression. I refer you to the minimalistic writing of Ernest Hemingway in his short story, "Hills Like White Elephants."

Prompt: Write a story in 25 words or fewer. Cut unnecessary words. Write the story's essence. Now distill it down to 15 words, then 10 words, then 6 words.


CHAPTER FIVE:
A Striking Title 

The first hook to a story or novel lies in its title. Consider the following titles:
"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll
"An American Blue Comrade's Didactic Evisceration Flaming George's Geopolitical Havens, Hopefully Igniting Jabberwocky Jihad" (from Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics)
"The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop
"Agoraclaustrophobia" by Kaye Linden
Which title would you pick up and read?

Because the title hooks a reader, it must work hard. Follow up with the promise of a tasty treat. If you want a reader to remember your story, offer a compelling title. "Agoraclaustrophobia" suggests multiple emotional layers. The word hints at abandonment, fear of small and open spaces, imagined terror, and other emotional implications.

Take these steps to choose a title:
  • Choose a temporary title (a working title)
  • Once your writing is complete, browse through the piece and choose a few words or a phrase for a permanent title
  • Take the main word from your title and search for its synonym in the thesaurus. Can you find a better choice for your title?
  • Use a catchy phrase in the story
  • Refine the story into its six-word essence and use that as a title
Prompt: Open the thesaurus or dictionary. Close your eyes. Open at another page or section and circle your finger to a random place on a page and point to a word. Write down the word. Repeat this process 3 times. Mix up the words, use one for a title or to trigger a poem or narrative.

Click here for CHAPTERS SIX ("The First Few Lines") 
and SEVEN ("I Want It, But I Can't Have It, So I'll . . .")


Saturday, May 20, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: The House Theory and Slice-of-Life Stories

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 2: The House Theory (continued from CHAPTER 1)

In Bruce Holland Rogers' Flaming Arrows, Kate Wilhelm compares the writing of a very short story to a visit to a house. This theory appears in expanded form in this manual. What follows clarifies the differences between a novel, a short story, and a flash.

Any fiction, no matter what its length, builds on a foundation like a house, and the frame holds up the story. Each detail must offer relevance in the weave of the story. Otherwise you will produce a "Frankenstory." Each piece, each event, each character and action, must fit into the puzzle to produce a whole and perfect building.

The Novel Analogy
You approach a house in the neighborhood.
     The family invites you for dinner. The evening offers stories, entertaining characters, conflicts, discussions, and new people. After going upstairs to the bathroom, you sneak a look in the closets and find out how these people live. Are the clothes organized and meticulously hung or are they crammed together in disarray, piles of dirty laundry on the floor?
Short Story Analogy
One evening, you notice the house living-room windows are open and the lights are on. You peer in, able to view only one room, let's say the living room. You heaer the conversations and arguments, and witness the character interactions and current events as the characters sit around a coffee table. You recognize a few of the people from dinner the other night and remember one or two of their stories. Your view is limited to the living room.
The Flash Analogy
Tonight, like a voyeur, you peer into the keyhole. The lights are on. Observe the living room happenings through the narrow keyhole frame that limits your view to one tiny fraction of the room.
Now let's apply this third theory and add flesh to its bones, or boards to its frame:
Prompt: Curl your hand and peer through it as if you are looking through a keyhole. Describe in 15 words or fewer what you see.

CHAPTER 3: Slice-of-Life Stories

The slice-of-life story encompasses a small piece of a life: a day, hour, or minute. The writer begins the story in Medias Res, in the middle of things. The writer takes the big picture (the house), stares through the keyhole and focuses on "the middle of things."

In "Agoraclaustrophobia," the scene captures a father and daughter whose car breaks down in the Australian desert. The story represents a slice of life as framed by an imaginary keyhole or a pair of binoculars. I often wish I could be "a fly on the wall." Well, it's the same principle. In a slice-of-life story, you are the fly on the wall, with a narrow view of the events.
Prompt: Write a flash from the perspective of a fly on the wall in someone's living room. Limit the event to 1 hour in time.
 Click here for CHAPTER 4 ("Compression, Minimalism") and CHAPTER 5 ("A Striking Title")



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story

From 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing, by Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden

Flash Story was one of Bacopa's contest genres this year, with a $400 prize for the best flash. We'll be encouraging more flash story submissions next year, as well, and offer readers a closer look at the criteria we use to select our flash prize winner. This is also your chance to read my book on the subject for free: Thirty-Five Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story.

These posts will offer you a skeletal frame on which to hang a story. Successful flash stories demand knowledge of structure and craft. The information here can apply to creative flash nonfiction or flash fiction or flash memoir stories, but for brevity I'll refer to "flash." Enjoy the art of brevity!

CHAPTER 1:
Small Frame

Flash has a small framework, with no more than 1500 words. Commonly used terms and word counts for the most familiar flash forms include:
  1. Drabble: 100 words
  2. Dribble: 50 words
  3. Flash: 750 to 1500 words
  4. Hint: 25 words or fewer
  5. Microfiction: 250 words
  6. Nanofiction: 55 words
  7. Napkin, postcard, six-word, furious, minute fiction: fits on a napkin
  8. Prose poetry: variable word counts
  9. Sudden fiction: also known as flash fiction and variable up to 1500 words
My flash story below, "Agoraclaustrophobia," published in The Feathered Flounder (Spring 2012) will demonstrate chapter points as we move along.
Agoraclaustrophobia

     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.
     "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. The mind expands because there's so much room, so much to fear--caves with ghosts, rock spirits, quicksand. Look how many places there are out there to bury a body. Who would know if you went missing? Who would ever find you?"
     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.
     "A sunny day," they'd said. "Just like any other day." She wandered off and never came back from "out there" where it's easy to melt into a chimera, to get lost, lose the trail, meander along the western track instead of the eastern track, sink into the never-never land with its ancient secrets, its unanswered cries from lost children, its whitewashed human bones, its half-decayed cattle with jaws wide open in a scream.
     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. "Put up the windows, Dad."
     He laughed. "Hearing voices?"
     The engine putt-putt-putted and stalled out.
     My father slammed his fist on the dashboard. "I'll be damned. Better brace yourself, Girlie. We have bigger problems than voices." He jumped out of the jeep and opened the hood over the steaming, hissing engine, climbed under the car and around the car, flitting like the shadow of a poltergeist. "The stupid idiot in Alice Springs didn't see a leak," he said. "There's a bloody hole in the radiator hose." My father searched under the seats. "Damn it. No tape. You got any chewing gum?"
     I shook my head. "Sorry."
     My father pointed to the sky. "Get into the jeep. It's getting dark. I need to find gum tree sap and plug up the hole." He grabbed a flashlight and handed me one. "Back in a jiffy. Sit tight."
     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?"
     Whispers whispered down the hot wind. My fingers grabbed the warm metal of the door handle and I inched out of the car. Bile rose up my throat, sand shifted beneath my feet and images of my father flashed across my vision--my father lost inside a cave with a broken leg, drowned in a sinkhole, kidnapped, shredded by dingoes while searching for his way back to the jeep. Had we missed the signs of sacred land never-never to be crossed at night? Had the spirits cursed us?
     When streaks of pink stained the dawn sky, I pulled a heavy blanket around my shoulders, curled into a ball and shivered on the front seat. I imagined my father's jaws wide open in a dying scream.
     A shadow fell across the windshield of the jeep, and I sat up, eyes wide open. My father's drawn, white face appeared at my window and I sucked in a gasp of surprise.
     "Bloody long night," he said. "It took hours to find a gum tree with sap, and when I did, I was so tired, I fell asleep on the ground. Hope you didn't worry too much," he said.
     "No," I said. "Not at all. I fell asleep too." I bit my lip. "Just hungry, that's all."
     My father plugged the hole in the radiator hose and we bumped and rocked our way once more towards his childhood home, Thousand Acre Sheep Station, dead center Northern Territory.

Click here  for CHAPTER 2 ("The House Theory") & CHAPTER 3 ("Slice-of-Life Stories")