"Four Tips for Writing Fantastic Flash"

My article about flash-writing was published today. Ta-da! Give the writing exercise a spin.

“Four Tips for Writing Fantastic Flash”

by: Melanie Faith

Good things come in small packages. Chocolate truffles. Earrings. Me—okay, that last one is wishful thinking since I round my height up to 5’2”, but you get the picture.

            Flash is the mighty genre that could and no exception to the small-packages rule of thumb. In both fiction and nonfiction, flash stories tell a narrative, develop a character and setting, craft conflict and tension to a surprising ending, and more—all in just 1,000 words or less. Pretty impressive!

            Use these four tips and the accompanying exercise to craft some stellar flash.

 

·         Set two characters against each other.  Ever lived in a dorm? Then you know that very rarely do even two people (much less a whole group) view similar experiences the same way. Such conflict is a key component of good flash. Whether your characters compete for the same person, place, or thing or just have opposing personal, political, or ideological views, one sure way to maintain conflict within a flash is to pair two characters in a clash of goals. When I judge flash contests, one of the key disappointments is when a good flash character or concept doesn’t have enough tension to sustain the flash, so the prose falls flat.

·         Ready, set, action!  Your protagonist or speaker must DO something. Flashes aren’t as dynamic if the character is inert or has things done to her or him. Detail your protagonist’s physical actions and responses. Many promising flash drafts I’ve read go off the rails when they include a character reflecting on something that has occurred—which is fine for a sentence or two, maybe, but for a flash to really zing off of the page, the character must push back in deed. In real life, I need a fair amount of reflection time, but in my flash writing, I avoid it. Wind those characters up and let them move on the page! Which brings us to our next tip:

·         When in doubt, include (a little) body language. Sometimes, jokingly, I’ve referred to dialogue without any speaker tags or visual imagery for several paragraphs as “floating heads,” because the characters seem to exist in outer space, without a clear physical presence. Readers don’t need to know every single cough, sneeze, or hand on the hip, but if your readers can’t imagine how characters are reacting to each other—whether through vocal tone, rolled eyes, tapping toes or shifting uncomfortably- then they probably won’t have as deep an investment in characters’ struggles. Much of what real people communicate in everyday life is demonstrated through body language; sprinkle a few well-placed images between the dialogue to show the conflict between what the character says and how the character or others physically react.

·         Contradictions make better flash characters. In other words: we’re all a mess, so why not mine it? Another problem in some flash I see are characters who are one-sided, with a single personality trait that is not-so-awesome for flash: they are too agreeable. Something bad happens, and they accept it as the way things are or they make a decision to ignore it entirely. Strong writing brings us characters who have a main trait—kindness, enthusiasm, anger—and an opposing trait that rears its head now and again—selfishness, mercurial moods, humor at the wrong moment. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Guess what—we all have these two opposing sides and must function, which creates the kind of exhaustion and frustration that doesn’t always make life easy but which makes for fantastic conflict, tension, and character development in flash.

 

Try this exercise:  Your speaker or protagonist has always reacted to injustice by ________________, but today, a different side of their personality is going to shine. Instead, they will _________________. Include inner thoughts of the character or speaker right before they decided what to do, during, and after. Include at least a line of dialogue in your flash where a person with a different opinion or view tries to stop your speaker or protagonist. What happens next? Go!

~~~~~~~~

Looking for a fun online writing class? Still a few spots in my Flash writing class that starts on Oct. 25th. :) In a Flash Details.

I’ll also be teaching a novel class in January. Outlining Your Novel with Ease Details.

Class-InaFlash-Nov2-Melanie-Faith.jpg

"How Sweet it is: Writing Resonant Flash Prose"

My craft article was published as a spotlight today at Women on Writing. If you’re interested in writing more flash, check out my online class that starts on November 2nd. :) In a Flash

“How Sweet it Is: Writing Resonant Flash Prose”

By: Melanie Faith

 

            When I was a kid, my dad used to stop on the way home from work each night to get the newspaper for my mom and a candy treat for me and my sister. One of our favorite treats was wrapped in a long, thin piece of see-through cellophane. Inside, was a string of thick white floss that had elasticity, and strung along this floss were shiny, bright candies. These circular gems, in popping pastel shades of yellow, pink, orange, and blue, were vaguely-sweetened like fruit and floral flavors (the yellow was slightly tart yet banana-ish and the blue, I recall, tasted like a cross between raspberry and the way a rose smelled).

Each candy bead had the kind of brittle crunch that a child relishes—chomp-chomp!—but which would make my adult teeth weep. The hues of the candies melted with each chomp until the string was bare and vaguely pinkish-whitish-yellowish-blue-orange by the time the last candy was presto-change-oed. After just a few moments, the candy dye bled onto fingertips, tongue, and face, revealing opaque-white candies’ underbellies.  

            A vivid sense memory I repeat is the internal debate—holding the cellophane-wrapped treat, after a hug from my dad: should I rip into the cellophane immediately and wear the candy-pretty necklace (sometimes I doubled it around my wrist like a fancy lady’s bracelet)? Yet, there was the candy, so tantalizing, that who could resist just a tiny bite? On the other hand, once bitten into, the string was sticky and not really conducive to wearing—destroyed, in a sense, for displaying.

It was a catch-22, albeit one of the best kinds, and the tension between knowing when to hold onto something and when to begin was the kind of life lesson that doesn’t have a perfect answer and yet which gets repeated, unbeknownst to the child’s mind, again and again in life. Timing— whether strung on a string or not, whether involving choosing a major or a love interest or a house or a car or another job or having a child— is an infinite loop of weighing pros and cons and, eventually, just diving in. A lesson, as a Type A elder daughter, I struggled with endless times, weighing the sour against the sweet, second-guessing myself:  Was it too soon? But could there be a too late? Even after the satisfying crunch, the soggy, lone string.

           

            In the above flash nonfiction, I began with a simple note I’d jotted this morning in my writer’s notebook while still half-asleep and making my to-do list for the day. Idea: candy necklaces we ate as kids.  Hours of student correspondence, errands, lunch, and dishes passed before I sat down again, opened my notebook on my desk and commenced to write the above passages.

            Clocking in at just under 400 words, my creative process and this piece highlight some of the best facets of the flash genre. Let’s examine them:

·         Flash begins with—well, a flash! Ever used a writing prompt? Sure, most of us have encountered them in writing classes, writing groups, and in books. The genius of a prompt is that it revolves around one idea. Good flash starts with a kernel of a topic which the reader then writes into in discovery. In the case of my candy-necklace flash, my random memory (which popped into my head after seeing a necklace online of white beads) became the prompt I explored.

·         Flashes are focused. Notice above how I say “one idea?” In flash, there’s not room for asides or diversions. Any details about the rest of my childhood—the scented dolls I adored, the children’s jokes I loved to tell and invariably flubbed the punch lines of, have no place in this piece—they need to be moved to their own flashes. One is plenty in developing flash.

·         Flashes are about what they are about, and they are also about something bigger than their subject, too. In other words: readers learn about you and your characters but they also learn something resonant about humanity. Sure, this is a flash centered on a personal memory, but it also has a theme that readers can connect with their own experiences: timing. How do we know when it is the right, or the wrong, time to do anything? The reader should walk away asking and connect to circumstances in their own past or present.  Consider universal themes.

·         It’s all about the imagery, baby! Without hitting readers over the head by spelling out theme, how can we explore themes and other literary language? One of the easiest ways is to develop imagery. Just like in poetry, another condensed form, flash nonfiction and flash fiction often employ plenty of sensory images to get the job done (as does this flash with taste, smell, auditory/sound, and visual imagery).

·         Flashes include tension. Without the final paragraph of my flash, there wouldn’t be a lot of resonance or conflict in my piece. Most of the other paragraphs are a nice memory involving candy—perhaps interesting for my nieces to read or some other Gen Xer or Baby Boomer who remembers this type of candy, but not the stuff of literature per say. The final two paragraphs introduce the pressure of both leaning on one’s own internal judgment and the suggestion (without spelling it out) of external conflict/judgment over choosing something too soon or being too late to spoil the fun.

 

Try this exercise: Set a timer and write for fifteen minutes without stopping about a food associated with your own childhood. Incorporate at least three of the five elements of successful flash either as you write or when you return to edit your piece after writing.

candy-necklaces-bulk-5lb-3.gif.jpeg.jpg

"Raising the Stakes in Flash Fiction" Published

The fine artistic folks at Nunum just published another of my craft articles! Check it out: "Raising the Stakes in Flash Fiction." 

 

They also feature great work & interviews with visual artists, such as Jon Fox, other articles about flash fiction (such as this one by Amie E. Reilly: "So What if You Don't Get Anywhere in a Flash"), as well as writing submission interviews (such as with literary luminaries Duotrope) answering the insightful questions: "How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you? and "If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?"

 

raising stakes andreas fidler unsplash.jpg

Image by: Andreas Fidler, www.unsplash.com