by Carol Brennan King at Abington Community Library via Zoom
Wow, we had such a great time at our flash fiction workshop this morning. I promised the notes from class, so here they are. Note that some of the information was borrowed from other sites, but they are identified at the bottom of the page. PS, It would be good for you to look them up.
And, before you read the notes, I must say it was wonderful to feel the “classroom” again, even if it was the new ‘pandemic’ classroom. We all could see and hear each other, and the discussion was great. I do love my students.
Flash Fiction: for those of you who are old enough, think Reader’s Digest Condensed version, though here it is a story condensed to under 1500 words, yet missing nothing important. To put it another way, flash fiction tells rich complex stories in under 1500 words at the most, but more frequently under 1000. And believe it or not, there are actually contests for micro fiction that call for a complete story under six words.
These stories are generally published in anthologies, journals, chapbooks, and journals. And contests. If you want to look into pubication possibilites, just google flash fiction or micro fiction markets.
The Five Elements of Flash Fiction Plus One
- 1. Like any story, flash fiction works need a plot. A plot is the sequence of events that make up a story and more specifically, how the story develops, unfolds, and moves in time. Think about someone who wants something and there is something that gets in the way. And you are going to tell their story.
- 2. A story has characters, though generally very few. It is also key to use telling details that help the reader have a clear picture of each character. And while we think about characters, the entire story must be told from a single point of view.
- 3. Again, like any story, a piece of flash fiction must have a hook, something that will draw the reader in from the beginning. One useful tool, and one that is necessary especially in flash fiction is beginning in media res, or in the middle of things.
- 4. A story, even flash fiction has a story arc: beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning the scene is set with the characters introduced. In the middle the conflict becomes clear as are the risks to the main character or protagonist. At the top of the middle and to the end, there is what we called denouement or the resolution of the conflict.
- 5. Flash fiction often ends with a twist. Think of how a joke ends with a surprise and makes you laugh. Flash fiction ends with a surprise that makes you think or wonder.
- 6. And editing. Any piece you write deserves your best, so even though flash fiction is short, with fewer characters and fewer scenes, it still must be edited before auditioned.
- About editing, I suggest you print your work out and let it sit for a while before giving it what you might want to think is a final edit. Otherwise, your brain will fool you. You may have typed saw instead of was. Your brain will help you out by switching the letters around to the way they belong. If you let the work get cold, your brain will be a little more objective.
- Then, read it out loud. If you read it out loud, you and your brain will have more processing time, and you will again catch simple typing and grammar or punctuation issues, but you will also hear awkward phrasing that you might miss otherwise.
Let me also suggest that you google great flash fiction so that you can get a sense of what is out there. Also, some flash fiction workshops will place great emphasis on the uniqueness of flash fiction as stand alone pieces. I would suggest that you might find that piece of flash fiction you dashed off deserves better treatment and development. It might well lend itself toward growing into a novel length treatment. So don’t think all this work on a piece of flash fiction is a waste. It might be just the birth pangs of something bigger than you ever dreamed.
And one more thought, spend some time in your own past poking around for stories that you might have told or heard at family reunions or parties. They may deserve memorializing for their permanent place in your family history. Maybe they might even grow into Christmas or birthday gifts.
We worked on the following piece in class today. It is something I wrote nearly fifteen years ago, but has something to say even today. There are some discussion questions at the end.
Carol Brennan King 2006
“I suppose I’d better go help the rabbi, Susan. He’s out there in the snow rooting through the dumpster. His wife must have thrown away something he wants.”
Steve grabbed the parka hanging on the hook beside the door and slamming the door behind him, hurried through the fresh snowfall. “Rabbi, Rabbi Potok, can I help you? Did you lose something?”
The old man, his eyes rheumy, paused his frantic search and straightened up, looked around, the front of his long black coat now stained with pizza sauce and who knew what those white smears were. He looked around and listened for a moment, then went back to his work.
Steve considered what he should do. Maybe the old man was crazy. Maybe he should call the police, or at least, check with the old guy’s wife, or maybe he should just go over there and see if he could help somehow. Maybe the old guy had finally gone full-on deaf, and that’s why he hadn’t responded.
Steve circled around the rabbi to the far side of the dumpster where he could get a better view of exactly what the old man was doing.
Steve watched the rabbi reach deep into the garbage and pull out a turkey carcass. Then Steve noticed the numbers inked across the rabbi’s wrist, and the orderly piles into which the refuse appeared sorted. One pile of bones – Steve recognized the turkey carcass from his own Sunday dinner, then the remains of a beef roast, and white now, chicken wings. Another pile consisted of carrot tops, potato skins, and unidentifiable greens. A third pile of rags, old clothes, and kids’ shoes filled the corner closest to the rabbi.
“Sir,” Steve started, as the rabbi nearly fell into the dumpster stretching for some unseen treasure. “Can I help you? Did you lose something?”
The rabbi looked up again, appearing to notice Steve for the first time, and in a conspiratorial whisper said, “Don’t tell. Please don’t tell the soldiers. The children are cold, so cold. They need the clothes, and the shoes. They took their shoes, the good ones anyway. Mama will make soup, a rich soup out of the vegetables and this meat,” he paused pointing, “for the children. There’s nothing left now. It’s all gone. The soldiers have taken everything ‘gut.’ Growing children can’t survive on the watery broth we have now. Please don’t tell.”
OK, what is this about?
When do you think it might have taken place?
Why do you suppose the rabbi did what he did?
And what made Steve do what he did?
What would you have done in Steve’s place?
The point is even flash fiction can be a tool used to move us, to change us, to teach us even.
Well, enough for this week. Now about next week and the one after.
Just remember to bring your notebook or journal and pen or pencil, f you like. And if you want to, and you can keep it away from your computer or tablet, make a fresh cup…