My name is Gay Degani and I’m a flash-a-holic. I wrote my first flash fiction piece in 2007, and since then, I haven’t been able to turn my back on a single scrap of conversation, writing prompt, provocative first sentence, or saxophone solo.
I’m a sucker for that tingly feeling I get when inspiration hits, but in the old days, I didn’t act on the fragile ones, the ones too slender to develop for 3000-4000 words. I didn’t know if I had enough time or ability to do them justice. Then I got hooked on flash.
Here’s why. All those tiny epiphanies are perfect for flash fiction. Since flash is short, usually under 1000 words, I know I’ll be able to get my words into a document before the wisp of an idea disappears. I don’t worry about going off on tangents because I’m focusing on a single moment in a character’s life. I’m not intimidated because no matter how bad it is, it’s only going to be 300 words, 500 words, a thousand words worth of bad. And because it’s concise, I can usually write from beginning to end before real life interferes. And if it does, it’s easy to get back into the story.
It’s this promise of “do-ability” that first drew me to flash fiction, but before I continue, let me say the following are not rules, but steps I take to develop my own fiction. Because of the short nature of flash, I’ve learned to see the elements needed to write a story—content, structure, and language—as individual components and this has helped me to tackle complex pieces with confidence.
I commit (when I am disciplined) to a minimum of three drafts, each draft with a different focus.
The first draft is about content. I am writing for characters, events, voice, mood, tone, and whatever else comes out of my initial inspiration. This is a right brain activity, me letting the “muse” guide me with little thought of structure or language.
The second draft is about structure. I have rough, inconsistent content with holes in the logic so next I need to find the purpose in the story. This allows me to figure out the order of the story beats. A beat is the character in conflict, taking action. This is what moves a story forward . This is the “how” to the story—how it will unfold from first sentence to last.
Something happens (precipitating incident) to create a desire, and that desire creates a need for action that is thwarted by this and that and this and that until, finally, there’s resolution.
At the center of a good story is the impact of the resolution. This is what my character learns from the action of the story. If there isn’t an “aha” moment in the rough draft, I need to look at what my character wants and what stands in her way, what action she takes and what outcome follows. It is the result of this “journey” that creates the “aha” moment, the emotional core where universal truth is revealed.
This truth does not need to be earth-shattering. It can be quiet self-awareness such as “I didn’t know I could be so mean,” or “I didn’t realize I mattered to my uncle.” Flash fiction allows for bigger truths too, but I never know what it is until I look and “see.”
Once I’ve applied this left brain activity, I have a story with content and structure. It’s beginning to make sense, even though I may want to shift things for more impact.
The third draft is for language. I look at each sentence, the visual images, specific nouns, and vigorous verbs. Many of these sentences work. I’ve written them while creating content. I’ve edited them while working on structure, and I’m always striving to write the best sentences I can, every time. However, even if many of them are functional, there is always more they can do.
I start by reading my piece aloud to get a sense of rhythm. Each story has, depending on subject matter and my viewpoint, its own rhythm. This rhythm and the story’s tone should be consistent throughout. Reading aloud also helps me to find unnecessary words.
Unnecessary words exist in repetitions. Because flash is limited by word count, usually there’s rarely a need to repeat information. Since flash is short, I assume the reader will retain what I’ve written. But if I feel a reference to a previous action is needed, I word it so something additional is revealed. Dual purposing words is always a goal.
Unnecessary words can be found in most first-draft sentences. When I create content, my main focus is the idea, not how I convey that idea. Therefore, I find words in first drafts I do not want in my final.
Most people sprinkle their writing with words such as “just,” “so,” “pretty,” “well,” “only” and these words can add to the voice of a piece, but often they add nothing. Elimination also of the words “then” and “that” can make sentences fresher. I have to watch out for “old” and “little.” Amazing how often they pop up.
Another thing I look out for—especially in flash—are prepositional phrases. Most of these can be converted to adjectives and make writing more dynamic. These edits are more easily caught because at this stage I am concentrating on language.
Content, structure, and language occur during all drafts of a story, but by focusing on one aspect in each of my first drafts, I have a clearer picture of what I’m doing. If I get stuck, reverting to this process gets me unstuck.
So yes, I’m a flash-a-holic because flash fiction has given me a straightforward method to approach each story and a deeper understanding of how fiction works, but even more, it has allowed me to capture inspirations for stories that might have otherwise slipped away.