Gone in a Flash

We’ve read little blurbs on Twitter that give us just a glimpse in the lives of those we follow. The little short stories that captivate and give a taste of the world the character or person lives in. On the other side of the spectrum are the epic novels thick enough to stack up and save a house from an impending flood.

All have something in common—they tell a story. Yet they are uniquely different.

A novel at any length gives the writer the opportunity to slow the pace down and let the characters breathe and take in everything within sight. To take the time as the character witnesses the passing cars on the highway or the chirping of birds as they traverse a forest on a mystical quest. Novels have several characters for the author to play with and use for point of views. We get everyone’s thoughts, hopes, and dreams.

The short story has elements of a novel and certainly, as any story could, be expanded into something bigger. It has its slow periods but they’re few and far between. A short story is defined as more than 1,000 words but less than 7,500 words. Generally, one Point of View is employed though it’s possible to use two. Having too many characters, however, could make this jumbled and lead to question whether the work in progress is better served to be expanded into a novel.

Readers have different tastes and wants when they read and not every story is going to be their cup of tea. Some like description of a grandiose scale rivaling Cee-Lo Green in his rooster outfit from the 2011 Grammies. Others want the author to brush one stroke of color across the canvas and get on with the meat of the story.

Description is a wonderful tool for the visually impaired. An author has every right to dab every bit of color into their creation like Claude Monet. This works especially in epic fantasy where sometimes every facet of a conifer’s branches are displayed needle by needle. The magic isn’t just a peal of lightning from the tips of a wizard’s extended hand. It’s the electric charge emanating from deep within his core. It builds up a static jolt to the end of his fingertips and unleashes bursts of purple and white hot flashes of death. Each crackling spine has its own hiss and snap as it slams into the shiny scales of the ginormous lizard king. Etc, etc.

You get the point.

To write like this in a short story would be wasting pretty words on something that should have small valleys and a little more peaks. Description works so long as the author doesn’t over indulge. After all, it’s about the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Not the amount of times the character dons a blue dress or how many tangerine flavored gumdrops she consumes in a day. While these mundane things can slide easily into a novel size works, putting it in a short story serves no purpose to the story—unless those gumdrops are her down fall.

The hardest, in my opinion, to get across is flash fiction. It’s the hardest for people to understand that the 1000 words or less is a story that stands on its own. You have a little room for descriptions but the words have to be used well. Saying that Gerdie has a pink floral dress with intricate patterns of roses mixed with posies does nothing for the story.

Absolutely nothing.

In a piece of flash you’ve got to get the story across so anything that doesn’t get the point across doesn’t belong.

A story involving a lot of characters is also out of the question. I like to use the rule of three with one being the dominate Point of View. Never stray from one of the character’s view of the surroundings. If they close their eyes, describe the scenery with the senses left—taste, touch, smell, and hearing. Give the surroundings in shocking detail without saying it is what it is. For example, saying “She saw the doll sitting on the chair” try “The doll sat on the chair, a crooked stitched smile on its face”.

Can you visualize it with this little bit of information? Does your vivid imagination latch on?

You’ve got to soak and saturate the reader into your world. Suck them in and don’t let go until that last sentence spills out. Want to convey abuse without writing a scene of the character taking it? Convey it in a bruise on the cheek or the fear in the character when their eyes behold the person who does it to them. Same with a secret love affair or the character finding the inner strength to do what is needed. Actions can say so much more than words of dialogue.

If you’re reading flash fiction and wanting more, you’re not seeing the prose or crux of the story. Perhaps flash isn’t for you because while the story is there, start to finish, it isn’t going to answer every question in your head. You’ve got to take it for what it is—a little glimpse into the world of one character overcoming one obstacle in their life.

There’s always going to be more because no story—big or small—is ever finished. Just like this blog post could go on but I think I’ll keep it to a little piece of flash.

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4 responses

  1. This is exactly why I just write. The ideas are in my head, and I write them down, stage by stage, step by step, action by action, scene by scene (or chapter by chapter), and they end up where they’re supposed to be without me trying to make the work into something it’s not.

  2. I definitely agree with you there. If I start writing something and realize it’s not going to work as a shorter piece, unless I’m challenging myself, I let it flow.

    Sometimes I make it a shorter piece to prove it can be done too.

  3. I will try to understand flash and shorts, I will try to understand flash and shorts, I will try to understand flash and shorts…Gah! I can’t do it!

    This is why I neither write nor crit them. I really wouldn’t be doing the author any favours. BUT, I do have one that’s been sitting on my reading list on Scrib, staring at me balefully. I shall endeavor to crit it in the spirit of your post 🙂

  4. I agree that it’s all about what floats the reader’s boats. Some want lots of description; some (like me) gloss over it. Some want to know the details and backstory that you can fit into a novel; some enjoy the small bite that flash can deliver.

    And JAB is right too; you have to let the story decide what it needs to be. I’ve written flash that’s turned into short stories, novels that have stopped as novellas.

    None of it is better or worse; it’s all about what works for the piece and for the reader.

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