Briefly,On Brevity.

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Every word counts. That’s the myth, I believe, of flash fiction. It’s a literal truth, surely, when one is given only so many words to make a flash. But that’s often the extent of the advice flash fiction writers get about working with brevity: make every word count. As if such a thing were possible.

So what does it (really) mean to work with brevity? I won’t keep repeating this warning, but here it is one more time: of course, all that follows are my subjective ideas about writing, and are in no way meant to represent the all of writing.

Imagine an opening sentence, like this one:

The bullet not meant for the driver of the car missed him, instead hitting the passenger next to him. (19 words)

Brevity might impose itself on this sentence first by looking at “less wordy” ways of expressing the same idea. For example, driver of the car might become the car’s driver. Two words recovered! The him after missed him might not be needed. Another word! So that leaves us with this:

The bullet not meant for the car’s driver missed, instead hitting the passenger next to him. (16 words)

In a world where every word is trying to matter and literally counts, then implication becomes another tool of the writer working with brevity. Does driver imply car? Does passenger imply next to him? If so, we now have this:

The bullet not meant for the driver missed, instead hitting the passenger. (13 words)

What about not meant for the driver modifying bullet? Is there a word that captures that sense? What about this:

The stray bullet missed the driver, instead hitting the passenger. (10 words)

But is brevity only about cutting things to the barest essentials? I think it’s also about adding “weight” to the words, to see how much information, theme, backstory, character (and so on) each word might carry. The who of this story might be more clearly defined by this addition.

The stray bullet missed the driver, instead hitting his wife. (10 words)

Notice how the his implies the driver’s gender and relationship (husband). Why did the bullet miss? I always think having a character be somehow responsible for the action adds interest and tension. How might the husband be responsible in some way? What if he had ducked at the sound of gunshot? How might brevity help get that information into that sentence? What word might capture that movement: Duck? Dodge? Evade? Is the husband someone who dodges things in general? Maybe. But missed the dodging driver sounds odd and unclear to me. Maybe the sentence needs to be changed so the driver is doing the action.

The driver ducked, the stray bullet instead hitting his wife. (10 words)

Does it make sense why he ducked? Does that need to be made clear?

At the sound of the gunshots, the driver ducked, the stray bullet instead hitting his wife. (16 words)

or

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the stray bullet instead hitting his wife. (12 words)

Does that second sentence kind of capture the husband’s progression, so that the sentence itself hears it, ducks, and then veers elsewhere? Maybe. The original sentence clocked in at 19 words. What might we do with those other 7 words?

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the stray bullet instead hitting his wife. Reflex, he said, in the ambulance. To leave me uncovered, she said. (24 words)

Oh, no. Five words over the original 19! That won’t do.

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the stray bullet just missing his wife’s heart. Reflex, he said, in the ambulance. To leave me uncovered, she countered. (25 words).

Oh, fudge. Now six words too many.

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the bullet barely missing his wife’s heart. Reflex, he said, in the ambulance. To dodge, she countered. (22 words).

Getting there. Now three words too many.

He heard gunshots, ducked, the bullet barely missing his wife’s heart. Reflex, he said, in the car dialing 911. To dodge, she countered. (23 words).

The driver heard gunshots, ducked, the bullet barely missing his wife’s heart. Reflex, he said, awaiting help. To dodge, she countered. (21 words)

Wait! If this is the first line, maybe the title can help out in some way. What if the title were “While Driving”?

He heard shots, ducked, the bullet barely missing Sara’s heart. Reflex, he said, awaiting help. To dodge, she countered. (19 words)

So what is brevity exactly? I don’t know. It’s about getting words to count more than they might in other less-compressed forms. It has something to do with being aware of needless words and the power of implication. It’s about adding weight to words by making each one carry a number of important things within the story. The above opening might incite a story in which the man’s reflexive desire to “dodge” keeps leading to that shot (of Cupid?) missing his wife’s heart, and this incident brings that conflict to the surface. His reflex runs counter to what the wife imagines love should be; he should reflexively protect her, not duck out of the way.

*This post was written by Randall Brown and culled from flashfiction.net. It can be read here:

http://flashfiction.net/2013/01/flash-fiction-craft-so-what-is-brevity.php

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Flash Fiction. What? and How?

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Flash fiction is a form of short story writing that is very tight and concise. It pulls the reader into the story with the barest minimum of exposition and gets into the middle of the conflict quickly. A flash fiction story does have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but those elements occur in as few words as possible.

With the advent of the Internet, editors are looking for shorter works, more easily read on a computer screen. The current term is “flash fiction”, a tale between 300-1000 words long. Longer than micro-fiction (10-300 words) but shorter than traditional short stories (3000-5000 words preferred by most magazines), flash fiction is usually a story of a single act, sometimes the culmination of several unwritten events.

Writers of flash fiction are very passionate about this writing form. It has been around for quite awhile, but has really become a popular form of writing since its enthusiasts have been able to spread the word and share their writings through the Internet.

Here are seven great steps that could help in writing Flash Fiction.

1) The small idea

Look for the smaller ideas in larger ones. To discuss the complex interrelationship of parents and children you’d need a novel. Go for a smaller piece of that complex issue. How kids feel when they aren’t included in a conversation. What kids do when they are bored in the car. Middle child. Bad report card. Find a smaller topic and build on it.

2) Bury the preamble in the opening

When you write your story, don’t take two pages to explain all the pre-story. Find a way to set it all in the first paragraph, then get on with the rest of the tale.

3) Start in the middle of the action

Similar to #2, start the story in the middle of the action. A man is running. A bomb is about to go off. A monster is in the house. Don’t describe any more than you have to. The reader can fill in some of the blanks.

4) Focus on one powerful image

Find one powerful image to focus your story on. A war-torn street. An alien sunset. They say a picture worth a thousand words. Paint a picture
with words. It doesn’t hurt to have something happen inside that picture. It is a story after all.

5) Make the reader guess until the end

A little mystery goes a long way. Your reader may have no idea what is going on for the majority of the story. This will lure them on to the end. When they finish, there should be a good pay off or solution.

6) Use allusive references

By using references to a commonly known story you can save yourself all those unnecessary words. Refer to historical events. Use famous situations from literature. If the story takes place on the Titanic you won’t have to explain what is going to happen, who is there or much of anything. History and James Cameron have already done it for you. Beware of using material that is too obscure. Your reader should be able to make the inferences.

7) Use a twist

Like #5, the twist ending allows the writer to pack some punch at the end of the story. Flash fiction is often twist-ending fiction because
you don’t have enough time to build up sympathetic characters and show how a long, devastating plot has affected them. Like a good joke, flash fiction is often streamlined to the punch-line at the end.

One purpose of ‘Flash Fiction GH’ is to have Ghanaian settings, names and situations in flash fiction stories. This will be evident to any remotely Ghanaian reader and thus, we cannot set the bar for everyone. For instance, we cannot dictate that a village Aneum setting is more Ghanaian than an urban East Legon setting for your story. However you wish to write your story, do make sure it betrays ‘Ghanaian-ness’(no matter how undefined that is).

Hope these tips help. Get to writing!