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")

 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.

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")

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