ABCs of Flash Writing: N is for Neccessity

Posted by on May 1, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: N is for Neccessity

What do you need? No, really, what do you need?

You don’t really need all of those adjectives and allusions and alliterations.

You don’t need several achingly beautiful metaphors.

You don’t need all of those sly nods to the reader.

Do you? Do you need them? Or can you get away with one perfectly placed descriptor, one punch-in-the-gut simile? One reference to rule them all?

When I write flash nonfiction, I agonize over what is necessary. What serves the most purpose. What says it all, but in the smallest way. Because flash is just that—a flash. Lightning strikes, and it’s gone as soon as it’s there. Too much language makes the reader go blind.

I know—it’s so tempting to write and write. We love our own writing, even when we hate it. We love what bounces from our head to the page, and we crave more and more of it. But yards of language—no matter how poetic—do not a good short essay make.

One of my favorite examples of flash nonfiction is Sonja Livingston’s remarkable “Thumb-Sucking Girl.” Look at the details she chooses to include: uneven bangs. Broken-down shoes. Smooth, flat seashells. My favorite—“the line of bone under your eye.” Each so meticulously chosen that they don’t read like they’re meticulously chosen. There is so much packed into this essay, and it’s because the barest of necessities lead to a complete fullness of spirit.

Another great example: Brian Doyle’s “Joyas Voladoras,” which so moved me as an undergraduate student that I sat on my bed in my cramped dorm room and cried my eyes out. This is a master class in economical choices; each one is another tap on the shoulder to remind us of the beauty in the world. It’s a perfect mix of facts and observations, facts and observations. The list at the very end—the shatter of glass in the road, a child’s apple breath—cuts so deeply, is so artfully crafted, that it lingers long after the essay ends. There is not a word wasted.

My advice for flash nonfiction: wield your mighty red pen. Cut it down to what needs to be there. Read it, and read it again. Move that sentence. Delete that word. Because we can always put more thought into what goes onto the page.

Mary E. Lide is currently working on a collection of essays. She is a 2015 graduate of Fairfield University’s MFA program. Her writing has appeared in Tinge Magazine, Welter, Hippocampus Magazine, Spry Literary Magazine, The Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review, and The Delmarva Review. More information available here.