ABCs of Flash Writing: B is for Brevity

Posted by on Apr 19, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: B is for Brevity

This might be a bit obvious, right? I mean, c’mon, “brevity” in a series on flash. Yet the fact of it must be addressed. Concise. Exact. Just the right words and only a very few of them (though that seems to be negotiable); the challenge being to express the breadth and depth of a thing fully within the constraints of brevity, to write beautifully, evocatively, to essay a specific truth without succumbing to wordiness.

Poetry does this. The constraints of form and structure seem designed to inspire precision and, by definition, poetry is concentrated. The formality of the genre creates a sort of elegant sparseness, each word “curated” in the most hipster-ish sense of the word. But flash is not poetry, flash is flash so…what? It seems easier to interrogate what flash is not than it is to define what flash is.

Flash is not merely brief, the whole endeavor is much more complex than that. Flash requires the strict attention to form required of poetry but without the illusory “comfort” of rules concerning syntax and tempo and all the rest.

Flash is unlikely to contain all the elements of fiction and CNF we learned about in our Intro to Lit classes. Cast aside any expectation of mapping flash using Freytag’s infamous pyramid. Which is not to say that there is no chance for conflict, or climax, or the release of emotional tension, or even a resolution. It’s just that flash delivers these elements with more … brevity.

Flash is not a kind of literary parlor trick. At one point I set myself the challenge of writing a series of flash CNF, one a day for 30 days. Six-word memoirs. Personal essays told in four paragraphs, three, two, one. The story of a day told in 1,140 words (one for each minute), the story of an hour in 60 words. I believed this would be easy.

I was wrong, of course. What I’d forgotten is that there is so much discipline required to tell a story well that to insist on the additional constraint of telling a story well and briefly seems almost like an exercise in self-flagellation. But when it works it is awesome.

None of my flash pieces actually achieved what I would call success but my experiment wasn’t a complete disaster. If nothing else, I reined in my tendency to use twenty words when five will do. I played around with tension a lot and explored the whole idea of showing vs. telling (or doing neither). As a result, my writing became more concise, clearer, more evocative; it may even have become more true.

The most important thing I learned is this: Flash is fully capable of creating emotional resonance, a moment of grace deftly revealing that this story matters and how much it matters. There is, in fact, a sort of cleanliness in flash that nestles up to its close companion godliness (when the “god” in question is “story”).

Elizabeth Hilts writes as much as she can as often as she can. She is more interested in brevity than she used to be.

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