This is the first in my blog post series on writing, particularly flash fiction. This post was on the WOW-Women on Writing site in 2013.
Many writers think ‘brief’ these days. Short fiction is popular both on the internet and in print and whether you call it flash, postcard or micro fiction it all comes down to your story’s bottom line: reduce your work to its barest bones.
One guideline is to eliminate literary devices. We are told that although we may write: “He was Usain Bolt in his running shoes, sprinting towards the hospital.” This is a no-no in flash. Change this to: He sprinted to the hospital. You just went from eleven to five words.
This advice saves the writer six precious words. It also ups the story’s pace, intensifying the drama and focus and flash fiction is nothing if not about focus.
What about the meaning of the story? Has it changed? If the writer is pulling in a metaphor for speed willy nilly from anywhere, then no, nothing has changed. (If the writer is pulling literary devices out of the air, she’s misusing them. Literary devices primarily function to back up your theme, but that’s a different article.) But let’s say the writer deliberately alludes to Usain Bolt in order to figuratively bring in Usain’s story into her own. Maybe she wants to foreshadow an incident that’s right around the corner or inject a certain mood she feels shifting the reader’s mind towards this famous athlete engenders. The deletion means the story is shorter, but it may have just lost a little—or a lot—of impact and focus.
What is an allusion? An allusion is a direct or indirect reference to something (a person, place, event, myth, literary/art work) outside of your story. Some allusions have become cliché such as, “Drop the gun or you’ll get your fifteen minutes of fame as a corpse!” or “This ain’t the city that never sleeps, turn off the lights!” These references bring a whole other dimension, atmosphere and tone into the story and a good writer uses them purposefully to insert an entire work and all of the accompanying emotions and atmosphere, into her own in half a line. Now that’s saving a lot of words.
Before you delete those ‘needless words,’ consider your literary devices and their relation to your theme and focus. Don’t get so caught up in ‘delete’ that your flash falls flat. Consider allusions to figuratively increase your stories way beyond the size of a postcard; they may contain the impact that brings your flash to life.