Monday, May 21, 2018

The Light of the Flash: Short Stories and Shorter Stories

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The novelist ... does not convey the quality of human life, where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, now there, in darkness. Short story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the art of the only thing we can be sure of - the present moment. Nadine Gordimer (quoted by Karen Lazar in "Writing by the flash of fireflies," 20 Nov 2013, Mail & Guardian)
Last year our short genre was Flash; this year's Short Story genre could also include something very short (at least 250 words), as long as it revolves around a central story core, with tight writing and a powerful voice.

Short Story Editor Kaye Linden has written, "You want the reader to get in and get out, the emotional impact of the words resonating beyond the words." In Chapter 2 of 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story (also included in a former blog post), she describes the House Theory: 
The Novel Analogy: You approach a house in the neighborhood. The family invites you for dinner. The evening offers stories, entertaining characters, conflicts, discussions, and new people. After going upstairs to the bathroom, you sneak a look in the closets and find out how these people live. Are the clothes organized and meticulously hung or are they crammed together in disarray, piles of dirty laundry on the floor?

Short Story Analogy: One evening, you notice the house living-room windows are open and the lights are on. You peer in, able to view only one room, let's say the living room. You hear the conversations and arguments, and witness the character interactions and current events as the characters sit around a coffee table. You recognize a few of the people from dinner the other night and remember one or two of their stories. Your view is limited to the living room.

The Flash Analogy: Tonight, like a voyeur, you peer into the keyhole. The lights are on. Observe the living room happenings through the narrow keyhole frame that limits your view to one tiny fraction of the room.
Here's an example from last year's Flash genre that meets the above criteria and would work just as well for this year's Short Story. Kaye Linden described Chelsea Ruxer's "Purple Light" as "lovely in its pale imagery and nostalgic mood, a small piece that suggests with power."

Purple Light (287 words)
by Chelsea Ruxer
The walls won't stay one color. The light changes them through the day, and the whites we started with in their fresh little squares have turned grey and green, and even brown up in the creases of the crown molding.
     I hold the paint card under the lamp, remember buying it the night we closed on our first house together. We ran our fingers along the bumpy edge of the shade, hundreds of triangles of colored glass I thought could go anywhere.
     I look around the room, hold the little white cards up to the mantle and imagine what this should be. The lamp brings out the blues in my sisters' bridesmaids dresses and Angie's graduation robe, dark greens from Ka'ala, pinks in our smiles there and in Angie's first picture, her skin blotchy against the crisp sheet of the hospital bed.
     The painters will come again in the morning. Maybe we'll change the trim this time, or the ceiling. They won't stay long enough for the light to change.
     I hear his phone ding in the kitchen just before a flash of turquoise illuminates the wall behind it. It's a color that doesn't go. The light brightens for a moment, a notification box on the screen. Then it disappears. It always does, if you just leave it alone.
     The sun through that window is blinding now, but the light will soften. I stay long enough to watch it turn from the slanted golds of late afternoon to sweet reds that get sucked into amber and then those few, funny moments of purple before a shadow falls across the table and the sky sinks into the deeper blues of the night, when the window just shows me.
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(Chelsea Ruxer is an MFA student at the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her work has been published in 5x5, Adelaide, Flash Fiction Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, Jersey Devil Press, Maudlin House, New Pop Lit, The Airgonaut, and others. One of her short pieces was nominated for 2016's Best of the Net)

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