Monday, June 22, 2015

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Surprise the Reader & Sentence Structure/Phrases

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")
CHAPTERS 22 & 23 ("Don't Underestimate Your Reader" & "Word Weight")
CHAPTERS 24 & 25 ("Concrete Details/Imagery" & "CUT Adverbs/Adjectives")
CHAPTERS 26 & 27 ("Dialogue" & "The Verb 'To Be'")
CHAPTERS 28 & 29 ("Subtext/Implication/Backstory" & "Myths and Tales")

 Surprise the Reader

Interesting surprises and twists are not mandatory in flash but create interest and delight for readers. Don't trick them with a predictable twist but offer a subtle or surprise ending or development.

When the father in "Agoriclautrophobia" left his daughter alone, the reader might sense surprise because that appears to be odd behavior for a father, but the eccentricities of human behavior offer interest.

Another tool for surprising a reader lies in the language, specifically the reworking of clichés. Clichés are hackneyed, tired sayings that have lost their impact over time. Avoid them. Use fresh expressions to offer an image: "Half-decayed cattle with jaws wide open in a scream."

This image extends to later in the story when the daughter imagines her "father's jaws wide open in a dying scream."

Part of the surprise in the story is the combination of the concepts of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. The surprise lies in the fact that people can and do feel claustrophobic in open spaces. Some people feel that way out in the middle of the ocean where "there's so much, room, so much to fear . . ."

Prompt: Take an old story and  cross out clichés with a red pen. What can you change to offer a fresh phrase, surprise, or perspective? Try changing the point of view, or change the main character into one of the minor characters. How would another character's perception change the story? Surprise yourself.

Sentence Structure and Phrases

Flash has its own rhythm, produced by compressed sentences and phrases that give a particular rhythm and pacing to the sound of very short prose. Depending on the writer's intention, breaking grammar rules such as eliminating commas or periods and the use of repetition can offer a wonderful sense of urgency in a compressed narrative flash.

Prompt: To practice writing from a different angle, write a series of questions mixed or not mixed with a couple of sentences. Place a tiny twist at the end. For example:
 "What am I doing here? Where is he? What time is it? Why is he so late? Should I leave? Why are my palms sweating? Am I going to throw up? Did he dump me? Do I have the wrong restaurant or the wrong time? Why is that waiter looking at me? It's because I'm on my fourth whiskey, isn't it? Do I have on too much lipstick? Maybe my lipstick's a mess. I'd better take a look in the mirror. What the heck happened to him? Where the . . . Oh, there he is now. Hi there. How are you? Sit down. What did you say? I look tense? I don't know why. I was just relaxing with a drink."
You get the picture: Up the ante by playing with sentence structure and rules. Great stories arise from playing with structure. 

Here is an example of a flash fiction I published in 2015 in The Rat's Ass Review. Note the pacing, the breaking of grammatical rules, and the minimal dialogue. This flash piece also works as a prose poem. 

The Wet
Kaye Linden
Ma, aboriginal toothless shaman, throws her ninety-nine-year-old bones into the front seat of the windowless jeep and jams her foot down on the accelerator. Desert driving, flash flood driving with rising waters at the hubcaps and trackless tires sinking fast into whirling mud swirls. Sky blows blacker than her skin, wind whips red welts into her hanging jawline, Ma pains on, the falling down mulga-wood homestead in sight, too distant on the boiling roiling horizon, straight one line straight line straight ahead no wavering but straight the shortest distance between two points. Rain pouring pouring pouring torrential blinding into her old eyes she keeps driving driving driving through driving rain to get home home home before the rusty untrusty jeep sinks deeper into sudden ravines and eddies that grow rounder and hungrier taking but seconds to fill holes in the ground. She reaches the leaning splitting woodpile homestead in the raining pouring driving wet, the wet, the Alice Springs wet, the wet that only those people who live in The Alice know, understand, and brace for each five years. The homestead swirls under water, turning and topsy and turvy and upside down and inside out, her broken armchair floating in pieces, rusted pots afloat, the sheltie dog swimming to meet her, tongue lolly-gagging hello, eyes yellowed and alight, but Ma's jeep coughs and rattles and chokes and sinks with Ma not a swimmer but a hiker with strong old hiking legs, army boots that anchor her down into water. She grabs the old dog's matted wet back and they both go down and around, thunder announcing their pending demise, kookaburra laughter long gone, gasping and hacking and face just up level with water, eyes turned up to the heavens, to the ancient gods whose hands don't read out. "Where are you, you bastards?" Ma shouts to the sky and the dog whines a carping whittling fingernails-down-the-blackboard kind of cry that only those from The Alice understand, only those who have seen white brittle bones bleached in desert heat and sun after those on a run for their lives have lost. Panting dog and woman cling to each other, going down, going down, going down but with a whoosh and a gurgle the water stops, the rain stops, the rivers cease running, the widening knife-like gaps in red mud close and Ma stands on her feet again, holding the dog in her arms, sinking to ankles in army boots, but standing in remnants of a flash flood in Australian desert,
        here now,
        there now,

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 32 ("Fixed and Experimental Forms")
and CHAPTER 33 ("Mastering the Genre")

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