ABCs of Flash Writing: K is for Keen

Posted by on Apr 28, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: K is for Keen

For this series, I took on the challenge of volunteering to accept the last remaining letter, regardless of what it was. Naturally, upon receiving K, my first thought as it relates to writing flash was “kickass!” As in: “Colin wrote a kickass flash piece!” But that obviously wouldn’t do. My second thought was to turn to one of my many literary/writing books. The index of the first displayed a glaring hole between the entries of J and L. The second yielded slightly better results: “kenning,” “kinds (of literature),” and “Künstlerroman,” or “artist-novel.” Obviously none of these apply to flash.

Next came the onslaught of C words: Klarity, Koncision, Konstruction, Konsciuosness, Konnotation, and so on until I was left with the words of Something Corporate ringing in my ears: “This is because I can spell konfusion with a K and I can like it…”

Finally, I landed on keen.

With seven given definitions in a typical dictionary, each of them applying to flash, it’s the perfect thing to keep in mind while writing.



  1. finely sharpened, as an edge; so shaped as to cut or pierce substances readily:

Good flash should always have an edge to it, and the substances you want to cut are the mind and emotions of your reader. This sharpened edge is also characteristic of what your editing will need to be. My students are often confused when I tell them to “trim the fat.” Apparently people just don’t eat steak like they used to. Yes, during the cooking process the fat gives the steak its flavor, but when it comes time to eat, you want just the substance and flavor. You may need to have a little fat in your writing process to get the flavor you’re looking for, but once the writing is done, find as sharp an editing edge as you can and leave nothing but the rich, meaty deliciousness that will entice your reader.

  1. sharp, piercing, or biting:

This is what will get your reader in. You need to start your flash piece, be it fiction or non-fiction (or even that untamed chimera we call prose poetry) as though with the point of a needle. You don’t want the puncture to be broad, you want it to be narrow, but cut deep. Of course, this definition also applies to any humor, wit, or insights you offer to your reader. Flash doesn’t allow us the room to wax poetic or philosophize. Hit them fast and deep; leave them breathless. (Use semicolons).

  1. characterized by strength and distinctness of perception; extremely sensitive or responsive:

This one packs a lot into one definition. The key word is distinctness. To successfully engage your reader in a flash piece, you have to have a strong handle on your voice as a writer. With less room to introduce yourself to your reader, that strength and distinctness that makes you the writer you are needs to be there from word one. As for the sensitivity and responsiveness, anticipate how your reader will react to each sentence, and make sure that each sentence is responding to the one immediately before it. This sounds obvious, but if you dissect any novel, you’ll find more space fillers than your most recent Amazon shipment.

  1. having or showing great mental penetration or acumen:

Great mental acumen not only ties back to the idea of sharp wit and incisive insightfulness, but the ability to do more work in less space. Ultimately, you want your flash piece to pack as much of a punch as a standard short story or essay (or chapter in a novel/memoir). If we continue scaling this, it means every sentence has to carry the weight of a page. As for the mental penetration, that’s what you want to do to your reader. Again, keep it to a sharp, deep point. What’s the one idea or emotion you want to get across? Got it? Good, now write only that, so they’re left with echoes of it long after finishing your piece.

  1. animated by or showing strong feeling or desire:

See above. Strong feeling or desire is the only thing you should be working to convey, and the less you say about it, the stronger your reader is likely to feel it. Think about that last great person you met. Did you fall for them when they sent you a million texts? Or when they sent you one text and then nothing for a day or two? The latter will get you every time. It reminds me of Debussy’s “music is the space between the notes,” and Miles Davis’ “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” Like a good boudoir photo shoot or lingerie add, it’s the suggestion of what’s there that will draw your reader in. You need to give them little enough to fuel their desire, but enough to leave them satisfied. Never more. Never less.

  1. intense, as feeling or desire:

This one may seem the most obvious, but it’s also the most difficult to pull off. Flash is like the 400m and 800m track events. It requires not only effective sprinting capabilities, but also the endurance to maintain that speed for longer than the typical sprinter. Having intensity is one thing. Having intensity for every. Single. Sentence? That’s far more difficult. But if you can pull it off, you will be a successful flash writer.

  1. eager; interested; enthusiastic (often followed by about, on, etc., or an infinitive):

If you’re not exited and interested in your subject, how can you expect your reader to be? Sure, this applies to longer form writing as well, but when put in the context of the previous six definitions, it becomes essential. Do you really think Dickens, Flaubert, and Tolstoy were enthusiastic about every brick, every tapestry described? No. They were interested in the fundamental nature of humanity, and those are the elements of their work that we remember. The trick in flash is to take that interest, that enthusiasm you have for your subject, and focus it. Apply the first six principles to hone it into the sharp point that will leave your reader contemplating your work long after they’ve put it down.

Colin D. Halloran is an internationally published poet, writer, photographer, and painter. He is author of the 2012 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award winner, Shortly Thereafter, a memoir-in-verse documenting his time in Afghanistan, which was followed by 2015’s Icarian Flux. His essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the anthologies Proud to Be, Retire the Colors, Incoming: Sex, Drugs & Copenhagen, and Why We Write, and his fiction was featured in 2017’s The Road Ahead: Fiction from the Forever War.