Sunday, June 14, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Don't Underestimate Your Reader & Word Weight

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 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")
CHAPTERS 20 & 21 ("The Ticking Clock" & "Chekhov's Gun")

 Don't Underestimate Your Reader

You have invited readers into your story house, and now you are the host. Don't underestimate their intelligence, their ability to clue into the writer's games. For example, honor your contract by offering a great story avoiding stale, clichéd endings or stories the reader has read over and over again (such as hackneyed love stories, or what happens in Vegas).

True, there are no new subjects, but there are new angles and perspectives on all subjects.

Make sure readers are oriented to who, what, where, why, and when. Keep readers interested, but don't beat them over the head with information they MUST know.

Most readers are intelligent people who "get" what the writer is trying to convey. Beware of inserting chunks of explanation, narrative or excess dialogue and backstory. If readers don't understand the story it is usually because the writer has not produced a clearly written story. For example, if there is more than one story line, or too many characters, or tense inconsistency, or switches in point of view, readers will feel confused. Don't assume they understand or care why you have written the story the way you have. The author has an unwritten contract to offer readers a clear and interesting story. Keep it clear. Keep it simple. What do you want readers to take away from this story? What truth or philosophy about life would you like to convey?

Prompt: Set a timer to 15 minutes. Write a story about a journey. Orient the reader to time and place, but keep the story simple. Make sure the character undergoes a change during the journey. Review and tighten to 100 words. What is the essence of this story in 10 words or fewer?

Word Weight

Each new word or sentence must advance the story. Each word must weigh heavily with meaning or imagery. Use concrete details and not vague generalizations. This is not always an easy concept to understand. Let's demonstrate with "Agoraclaustrophobia."

Version one of paragraph one:
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 rattled 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.
Consider the following alternative without the use of specific concrete detail. How does it change the meaning and the visual the reader gets?
The last time I saw my father, we drove to his home in the Northern Territory. It was an expanse of desert with trees scattered about. The car drove through the bush and around holes. I leaned back in my seat and watched the sky go by.
Even the simple change of word from "visited" to "saw" changes the meaning of the sentence. Was this the last time I saw him? Visiting implies a visit from somewhere else, as from the U.S.A. to Australia.

The second example paragraph is sterile, without color. It lacks the words that offer the reader an image or scene in his or her head. Word weight includes the elimination of the verb "to be" wherever possible and the use of a meaningful verb instead.

Prompt: Take a short story you have written and cut it to 2 paragraphs, then to 1 paragraph and then to 1 sentence. Now you have its essence and can re-expand the essence into a story.      

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 24 ("Concrete Detail/Concrete Imagery")
and CHAPTER 25 ("CUT Adverbs and Adjectives")

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