Tuesday, June 2, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Moving the Story Forward & The Shape of Flash

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")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order & Whose Story Is it?")

 Moving the Story Forward

In short and long stories, events and sentences advance the story. Compression lies underneath the tiny narrative of flash, and therefore each element must be compressed. Balance each movement forward (desire, event, conflict consequences, and so on) with a similar length of sentence and structure.

Character action can advance the story or circumstances can move the story along.

Prompt: Take a short story you have written or one by a famous author and use a red pencil to underline each action that moves the story forward. Circle in orange the events or actions that keep the story stagnant. What can you cut to tighten this into flash?

The Shape of Flash

Do flash stories have a shape? Yes.

Shape equates to structure which reflects plot or connected events.

After years of writing flash, one develops a knack for knowing and reworking the rules. In the beginning, keep events chronological, but don't be afraid to play with the rules after you are comfortable.

Stories have a "shape" on the page and that narrative pattern or line drawing of its beginning, middle, and end must appear balanced. To understand this concept further, I refer you to Kurt Vonnegut's book A Man Without a Country in which he outlines "story shapes."

The various shapes of stories apply to flash, but the flash shapes are compressed. The story can start with the climax and go down from there, work backward from end to beginning, and not do anything at all in terms of a climactic event. Very short stories don't always contain a plot, but each new work or sentence must move the story line forward. Stories most often consist of a dense core that circles out into a satisfactory ending, and often the ending circles back to the beginning.

(Google the term ouroboros.)
"If tension falls to zero anywhere in the story, it will probably fail." --C.S. Lewis
Prompt: For fun, and to understand the sequence of events, write your story's events backward. Diagram the shape of the story with a line pictograph. After that, write the story in chronological order and diagram the story.

Take a look at narrative poetry, line poetry, prose poetry, acrostic poetry, and examine the shapes on the page. Some poems are shaped on the page on purpose to reflect a theme. Experimental flash can do the same within limits. (Check out the concept of "concrete poetry," and apply it to flash.)

Click here for CHAPTER 14 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted")
and CHAPTER 15 ("Characters")

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