Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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")

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