Saturday, May 23, 2015

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")


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)


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.

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 . . .")

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