ABCs of Flash Writing: X is for X-Factor

Posted by on May 11, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: X is for X-Factor

The letters leading up to this have talked about the meaty, more tangible parts of flash fiction (I’m guessing, having written this piece in ignorance and obscurity). The stuff you can quantify and qualify. But the letter X resists that kind of compartmentalization. It requires imagination, creativity, and a suspension of what you believe to be possible.

Much like flash fiction.

The “X-factor” in regards to flash is twofold. First, the simple definition: the stuff has to be good. You’re writing something that is hardly the length of a page—or even a paragraph. Your flash fiction has to have “it,” the ineffable quality that hooks in your audience while they’re reading and keeps them thinking of your words after the fact. The second layer of flash-fiction’s X-factor brings us a little closer to the ethereal “goodness” we seek: the shape of the x itself.

An x is an intersection, the place where paths meet. Flash fiction thrives within this nexus. In well-done flash, we find the convergence of all that is good in literature. Given its constraints, flash must showcase the best of every element of craft without a sentence to spare. It must tell the most interesting story, use the tightest prose, and take the sharpest pictures of place and character. Like an x, these four points rush toward each other and meet for a moment in time, only to blast off once again in their own directions. When done correctly, you can follow these trails to and from the point of contact—the flash itself—and imagine the stories that exist beyond the page: those that come before, and after, the little scene you’ve just read.

Without the X-factor, your fiction isn’t flash. It’s a page, a paragraph, an idea: an important start, but not a finished work that will move or inspire. X marks the spot, so keep digging. Examine the points again and see what needs nudging toward a better intersection. Choose different words, different imagery; hell, tell a completely different story altogether. Do anything you can to angle all points toward the beautiful collision at the heart of x.

This is starting to feel more like algebra than art, so I’ll end here. But I hope you’ve learned, from this letter and those that came before it, just how tricky it can be to write fantastic flash fiction. If we are to write it,  we must afford it the time and study and reverence we bring to other, longer forms.

And you thought flash would be easy!

Kate Gorton is a writer and editor based in Worcester, MA. She has been published in Spry Literary Journal and Mason’s Road (now Causeway Lit) and has edited and proofread several full-length fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. She was recently awarded an artist residency at Vermont Studio Center for her novel-in-progress.