Social media is often criticized, but it is through it that I met my guest and friend, Adrea Kore. Adrea is luminous, and the first person I have known to do a right on American accent! She is a brilliant, brilliant writer of all forms–and today she is going to flash us! I mean prep us all to enjoy the art of flash fiction. Get comfortable, and savor every word of hers…
I’m delighted to be here with F. Leonora, as her guest blogger. As a regular contributor to her Friday Flash monthly meme, I want to share some thoughts on the short-short story or “flash.” Sometimes also referred to as micro-fiction, flash fiction is the quickie of erotica.
I started writing seriously, and getting published, in the erotica genre in late 2012 – so I still feel like a relative newcomer. My very first story accepted for paid publication was actually flash fiction – on a femme-porn and erotica site called For the Girls. Then Go Deeper Press accepted Dangerous Curves for their flash fiction anthology, Dirty Little Numbers. Of the twenty or so paid story publications in anthologies and online since then, about a quarter of them have been for my flash fiction. A fan of both short stories and poetry from way back when I was in pigtails, it’s no surprise that I succumbed to the allure of “flashing” as soon as I discovered that such a thing existed.
Although length definitions differ for flash fiction, most publications seem to opt for 500 words as the maximum word-count. Some insist on even leaner stories, cinching in the word limit at 200 or even 100 words.
The practice of writing flash fiction, with the restraints of that svelte word-limit, can hone your powers of description and storytelling in wonderful ways. Each word has to work harder to convey meaning and emotion – which inevitably makes us better writers when we return to longer fiction. Whether on the page or in the boudoir, it seems I’m definitely into restraint.
The more flash fiction I read, the more incredible variations I see in style, expression and tone. A lot can happen in five hundred words. The form seems to deftly distill a writer’s style and voice, so that the reader may experience it more vividly.
Flash fiction is a tablet and mobile-friendly fiction, a way to showcase your style to your readers, which is also why I’d recommend giving flashing a go and getting some on your blog or website. It’s fiction for the nomadic, distracted population with truncated attention spans that we have supposedly become. That said, as a reader, I approach them more like poems, preferring focused time to contemplate them. Writer Vanessa Gebbie describes them as “a flash of narrative lit up, then extinguished,” but also stresses that a good flash is “never incomplete.”
I’ve observed that a compelling flash embodies elements of both poetry and film.
Like a film, it may show the reader crucial narrative “beats,” as quick cuts from one image to the next in order to tell its story. These could be close-ups or wide shots, but not lingering or panning shots – you simply don’t have the luxury of wordiness and leisurely pacing for too much of the latter. The reader sees these images via a few crafted words and sentences before moving onto the next element, but the information lingers in the retina, the memory, gathering detail, momentum and meaning. Like a film, it may also utilize dialogue as a narrative device to progress the plot with fewer words than descriptive narrative.
Like a poem, flash fiction may harness imagery, word play and metaphor to convey narrative, subtext, and atmosphere in compressed form. Additionally, the use of poetic language allows for multiple layers of meaning, using the same cluster of words. This approach allows you to say and suggest far more than you may initially think is possible within that leaner number of words. Like a poem, pared-back language is desirable; part of revising drafts may be to eliminate excess words such as “the,” “and” and “now.”
I’m comfortable writing flash in the zone of 400 – 500 words. It’s amazing how much scope five-hundred words allows to create a story arc and some steamy erotic detail. A 200-word limit for me is like trying to make a luscious cake with only flour and water. Given a 100-word limit, I may as well (and more happily) be writing poetry. I’ll leave those shorter versions for more hardcore flashers. Give different word limits a try, and see what works for you.
I once read somewhere that the Chinese term for flash fiction translates as “the cigarette-long” story – something you can mull over on a cigarette break, taking about as long to read as it does to finish your smoke. As a non-smoker, and a lover of coffee, perhaps I’d rename it the espresso-long story.
Here are my tips for crafting compelling flash fiction. Like any “tips” list, they are not prescriptive, but rather intended to provoke thought; whether they work for you may depend on your style.
Work your verbs hard
Lazy, vague verbs such as “went” tend to immediately require adverbs to prop them up. Why write “He went quickly towards her,” when you can write “He careened into her?” Why write that your character “said” anything, when instead they can leer, whisper, insinuate, proposition? A specific verb can convey so much about a character – how they walk, talk and kiss. Sweat the verbs, and you’ll need less adverbs, and less words generally.
Choose adjectives like they’re gourmet chocolates
They’re expensive, so you want to choose the perfect ones with just the right flavors for your story. To choose too many will weigh your story down and make it too fat to fit the flash format.
Build atmosphere with quick shots of imagery and word-play
This is one of my favorite ways to write flash fiction – take your central themes and refract your imagery through the story, like different facets on a cut diamond. They’ll all sparkle in a slightly different way, but make the whole more dazzling. My latest flash, Hurdy-Gurdy Love, takes the carnival theme as a metaphor for a relationship and riffs on that in several layers.
Start near the middle of your story, not the beginning.
I borrowed this one from flash fiction maestro David Gaffney. You don’t have space for preamble. Crash land the reader closer to the middle of the story in terms of action. You can make nimble references to backstory when necessary. See here for how that can be achieved.
Use dialogue to convey character and give narrative momentum
Some writers excel at using dialogue in this way. You could try writing a flash that is ninety-percent dialogue, if you’ve ever fancied yourself the screenwriting type. Or you can see how I use fragments of dialogue here, in Celluloid Dreams to convey character, backstory and theme.
Maximise the function of your Title
Your title is a bonus few extra words for free, so make them count. Like a well-made poem, a flash title (the title of any work of art, really) can be employed to reveal another element of your story, or create the lure of a double meaning. I love a flash that, once read, has me returning to the title to ponder, and find something new.
The sentence fragment is your friend
One, two, three-word sentences seem right at home in micro-fiction. Micro-sentences. They can work well scattered through “proper sentences.” To convey fragmented perspective. Suspense. Movement, fast or slow. Futility. Finality. See, I’m doing it here, and it’s so much fun.
Pay special attention to the last line
David Gaffney beat me to it, but this tip probably shows up on all flash fiction craft articles. After readers devour your flash fiction, give them a final line that will linger in their senses; an aftertaste, an aroma that doesn’t make this a read they can easily forget.
Gaffney is firmly against flash fiction that deploys a punch line or last-minute gag ending, saying that a “story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma.”
I agree, although I may have been guilty of writing at least one punch-line flash along the way. Sometimes, they are just fun, especially when the topic is playfully sexual.
Create some Negative Space
Just as if it were an abstract sculpture or a charcoal sketch, give your flash some negative space as part of its overall effect. One way you do this is to eliminate and pare back excess words, as I’ve mentioned. Another way is to play with ambiguity, or place some spaces in the narrative for the reader to enter. This is particularly effective, I believe, in erotic flash fiction. Let the reader catch a glimpse of themselves in a hotel room mirror. Let them recall that exquisite orgasm through your erotic detail of a mouth, a hand, a sensation. Vanessa Gebbie aptly surmises:
“A great piece of flash fiction creates a complete world in very few words, draws you in, and makes you complicit. You become the creator too, in partnership, filling in the gaps the writer leaves behind … And because it is, to some extent, ‘yours’, it has a lasting effect.”
There’s lots of great flash fiction available online to read, and I’ve provided a few links below. I love Leonora’s meme here , because as a writer I often respond well to an intriguing image as a prompt. If you’ve not done this before, give it a try. Writing a flash story can also be a good warm-up exercise after a writing dry spell, or to begin exploring an idea for a (longer) story.
So, take that spark of an idea, set that pen on fire and light up a little narrative with your own writerly brilliance.
Adrea Kore is a writer, poet, and developmental editor, focusing her lens on female sexuality and creative expression. Her erotic flash fiction, short stories and poetry have been published online and in numerous anthologies. Most recently, her poem “Made in Darkness” landed in Lustily Ever After, erotic re-tellings of myth and fairytale.
Adrea enjoys being distracted from her long-term writing projects by short term pleasures such as this article. She collects corsets and antique tea-cups. Find her wearing one and sipping from the other here, and browse her flash fiction gallery from the menu.
Look out for her sexy story “Dance for Me,” featured in the newly-released erotic anthology For the Men: And the Women who Love Them (edited by Rose Caraway). Available on Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks and coming soon in audio-book format.
Read Adrea’s latest post about her story in the anthology here.
Online Sites / Journals for Flash Fiction