ABC of Flash Writing: J is for Judgment

Posted by on Apr 27, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABC of Flash Writing: J is for Judgment

When writing a flash piece, the most important thing to ask is “What is the story I want to tell?” You don’t have room to meander, for lengthy exposition, or for a long build up to the inciting incident. You must be careful about what words you use, and what words you choose to omit.

Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote a story in six words: “For sale, baby shoes; Never worn.” While this may just be a literary urban legend, there is no doubt that those six words make a story. What makes this example stand out is not the six words themselves, but the implied story, the words that aren’t on the page.

It is easy for us to imagine a grieving mother or father, posting this classified ad after a tragic event that caused a miscarriage. We can see a man’s family, after he lost his pregnant wife, cleaning out his house and trying their best to be rid of every reminder of his deceased family. There are so many images those six words can evoke, and most of them are heartbreaking in some way.

The story isn’t in the words, but in the absence of other words. The story takes place in the white space around the words, in the world beyond the page, in the mind of the reader. It doesn’t matter what story Hemingway intended to tell – and it is obvious there was some kind of intent – because it is still an effective story regardless of what image your mind dwells on.

With any creative writing, the author has the task of picking their words so that the story they want to tell comes through. When focusing on the economy of words, though, it becomes important to pick the words not to use. The shorter the piece, the more important the white space becomes. The implied story has to come to life. While many writers are encouraged to abandon adverbs as unnecessary, when writing flash pieces an author can abandon many adjectives as well. Develop characters only as much as they need to be to convey the story, which can often mean little more than a name. The author has to determine which aspects of the setting, if any, are relevant. In Hemingway’s story there is no setting, no characters, no plot – and yet the reader fills in all of the blanks, adding all of the above to bring the story to life.

Use judgment to determine exactly what needs to be said to tell the story, and what can be left off the page, and left to the mind of the reader.

John Faugno received his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University, and is an Adjunct Professor of English at the University of New Haven. He is currently working on his novel, “Ivory Skyline” and lives with his wife Dana and two cats.