ABCs of Flash Writing: C for Concise, Comprehensive Creation

Posted by on Apr 20, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: C for Concise, Comprehensive Creation

The assignment: tell the story of an event, a life, a nation. And do it in a page or less.

Not an easy task. There’s no time for lavish pontificating or (as Elmore Leonard called it) “hooptedoodle.” Every sentence has to sizzle.

No worries. You got this, if you follow the three C’s of flash writing – Concise, Comprehensive Creation.

I’ll tackle them here individually.

Concise: Flash literature means different lengths to different editors. You may be limited to 1,000 words. Or 500. Or 50. Maybe you feel your word count has you unfairly shackled. But if you’ve ever retweeted someone’s humorous commentary about Jared Leto being unhappy with how Suicide Squad turned out (or whatever pop culture reference speaks to you), then you know that many great stories are told within the constraints of 140 characters (usually about 25 words) or fewer. The battle lines have been drawn. Know your specs. And then move on to the next step.

Creation: I’ll skip over the second C for now and jump to Creation. Once you know your word length requirement, you can hit the ground writing. Rome wasn’t built in one day, but it just may be that your magnum opus can be written on one page. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish. A lot of flash writing centers around one incident, a fleeting moment in time. This fits nicely into the overall concept of a short piece. That said, I was once fiction editor for an online literary journal, and one of the best submissions we ever published (in my humble opinion) was a four-paragraph flash piece in which one sentence told me everything I needed to know about the main character’s entire life. What takes some writers multiple chapters to accomplish, this writer achieved in the span of about 14 words. Don’t let the limitations of your word count constrain the content. You’re still the captain of this ship.

Comprehensive: Writing a piece of literature is like pitching a baseball game. And in flash writing, you’re on a tight pitch count. Your editor is calling the balls and strikes, and has the tightest of strike zones. This means every word has to cross the plate with pinpoint accuracy. Hit your target. We’ve all been lectured about how adverbs are literary cancer. There are exceptions to every rule (including the war on adverbs). But in The Elements of Style, Strunk & White’s famous Rule 17 – “omit needless words” – dictates that when you’re up against a quick word hook, the phrase “Godzilla trampled on Tokyo” conveys your point more efficiently than “Godzilla walked heavily and destructively on Tokyo.” It conserves valuable space. It’s shorter, and yet somehow it sounds more comprehensive. There’s less wiggle room for ambiguity. Omitting needless words is a best practice in any writing style, but it’s crucial in the flash form.

Writing of any length is tricky. It’s even more challenging when you have precise word restrictions.

But if you follow the three C’s, you can open the window into your characters’ entire life. You can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. You can move your reader.

And you can do it all in less than 1,000 words.

So far this decade Phil Lemos has worked on everything from payroll to pallet jacks. Currently he teaches shell-shocked college freshmen how to cobble together their thoughts into written form, and changes ads on supermarket shopping carts. A bunch of people have asked him if he’ll ever finish that novel he’s working on.

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