Sunday, May 17, 2015

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!

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.

     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")

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