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Author Topic: Flash-fiction beginnings
Grumpy old guy
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Flash-fiction is not my forté. That said, in the interest of expanding my repertoire I have started to consider the structural elements of such stories. By flash-fiction I mean those stories touted as being a thousand words, or less. In that vein, I have been reading the flash-fiction first thirteen submissions and comments on this site and have been struck by the similarities of a lot of the openings.

As we are all aware, all stories should have a beginning, middle, and an end. Because I have only been looking at flash-fiction first thirteens, I will confine my comments for the moment to beginnings.

A story beginning is a time for introductions: milieu, character, plot, wants, and desires. In a novel, or a short story, there is ample time to develop all of these narrative necessities. In flash-fiction there is hardly any at all. And yet, most of the beginnings for flash-fiction stories I have read here linger over ‘setting the stage’ instead of ‘cutting to the chase’.

Assume a thousand word limit. On average, a first thirteen will use up around 120 words, or 12 percent of your word-count. And, most of the submissions here haven’t even begun to address the story by then, they’re simply giving us scene dressing. A story is essentially about character in conflict: either against other characters or themselves. Everything else is just travelogue. This is especially true with flash-fiction.

There is a valid and oft repeated mantra on this site about the start of stories: Who’s the main character and why should I care about them? In flash-fiction, you have no time to ramble along with a languid introduction; you have to get to the meat of these two questions ASAP. My preference (unlikely as the possibility is) would be in a single opening sentence, perhaps two if you really must. But if you use two they should try and do double duty.

That’s my challenge, if you will, and an exercise anyone considering writing flash-fiction should try. Introduce a character and make me care about what happens to them in a single sentence--or two. The task may sound impossible, but the attempt will get you to focus on the necessary at the expense of the irrelevant.

But don’t leave it there. Introduce milieu, conflict and want in single sentences as well. That’s four sentences (at a nearly impossible minimum) and by then you should be in the heart of your story--escalating conflict and its final resolution.

Phil.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I would recommend to those who are serious about attempting this that they don't write huge, undiagrammable (remember sentence diagramming?) sentences (similar to the ones entered in the Bulwer-Lytton contests--google it if you don't know what I mean).

Really try to write eloquent, tight, every-word-counts sentences, okay?

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extrinsic
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I favor narratives of any length that simultaneously develop event, setting, and character and scene. Complication's wants and problems align with all four. Moreover, a narrative must relate to a moral human condition. That's where theme comes into the recipe, a theme based upon a life-complicating moral struggle.

An opening sentence that introduces a complication and theme-moral and starts on event that melds into setting and character development about does for me what a first sentence ought best do.

Flash fiction, though, is more appealing when of a poetic nature, not per se rhyme, rhythm, or ornamentation, though rhetorical figures which are expansively transcendent, more than double-duty words and punctuation: exponential duty, and vivid and lively.

A flash fiction opening line need only surprise and engage on at first a nonconscious intellectual level. Implication is a noteworthy method for evoking surprise and intellectual engagement, puzzle or mystery-like.

The opening paragraph of John Steakley's novel Armor, for example: "He drank alone." Instant mystery.

Flash fiction is often labeled prose poetry. The best of both, in my estimation, is when a narrative is both.

For example, from Charles Simic's The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems "We Were So Poor:"

"We were so poor I had to take the place of the bait in the mousetrap."

The narrative is sixty-six words. The collection won the 1990 Pulitzer for poetry.

That line has event, setting, character, and theme-moral development, albeit condensed, and mystery and surprise. Like William Gibson's Neuromancer opening line, the rhetorical figure is metalepsis. "The sky was the color of television -- a dead channel."

A line I composed for a topic response that was saved in a clip file for future use: "Static -- the white-noise hiss of a corrupted transmission signal."

Another that's reverberating in my mind: "The friend of my enemy is my enemy, he thought, and I work for the enemy."

A peculiar and illustrative poetry method informs artful and appealing flash fiction composition; that is, the concept of dramatic turn. A close examination of stanza poetry reveals how poets turn a composition. The empty lines, for example, signal turns. Enjambment likewise signals turns. A change in the diction and syntax, any change of any kind, signals turns. Plot-like, a poem's first quarter introduces a complication, a middle half develops the complication satisfaction efforts, and a final quarter satisfies the complication, denouement-like.

Shakespeare's "Sonnet No. 130," for example:

"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare."

The sonnet's line divisions are mine to illustrate the major turns. The Elizabethan sonnet form has three quatrains and a couplet; Petrarchan sonnets break into an octave and sestet. Those divisions likewise represent turning points. Shakespeare's original sonnet has no line-break turns; he was the innovator of the Elizabethan sonnet form. Ah, the turns, there's the rub, no matter a composition's length.

[ March 20, 2015, 08:44 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic:
quote:
"Static -- the white-noise hiss of a corrupted transmission signal."
Needs editing; white-noise or hiss is redundant.

Just my opinion.

Yes, Kathleen, a good point. It's not a competition about who can write the longest sentence. It's about packing as much as you can into the least number of words.

I was prompted when thinking about this to jot down this line:

Glass held the little kitten's broken body as the rain hid her tears clawing the mascara down her face.

And that got me thinking far too much. And this is the fourth time I've edited one sentence--and I'm still tweaking. Make that five times.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
extrinsic:
quote:
"Static -- the white-noise hiss of a corrupted transmission signal."
Needs editing; white-noise or hiss is redundant.

Just my opinion.

Depends on the context. If an aural sensation, perhaps that is a tautology, maybe for emphasis. If a visual or audiovisiual sensation, perhaps not.
quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I was prompted when thinking about this to jot down this line:

Glass held the little kitten's broken body as the rain hid her tears clawing the mascara down her face.

Run-on sentence awkwardly connected by static conjunction word "as."

As is a correlation conjunction word all too often used exclusively for a time coordination conjunction. Those actions and their ideas may be temporally congruent and even causally simultaneous, probably logically not, nor coordinated, nor corollary, however. Their sequencing, best practice, is more fluent if they are portrayed sequentially. Sensory stimuli scene, then reaction summary scene; in other words, scene and then summary; cause and then effect.

"Clawing" is an awkward word choice, too, unless more artfully developed a rhetorical figure. In any case, a comma is indicated after "tears." Also, this is patently a narrator's perspective from the outside looking in. Tell more so than scene show.

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Grumpy old guy
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Yes, I know the sentence as is, is awkward. I know what I want to say, how I think I want it to sound, but I just can't get it out. I'll get there--eventually.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Consider that the sentence contains four independent ideas and two dependent ideas.

Glass holds a dead kitten.
Glass cries.
Rain falls.
Rain and tears streak her mascara.

The rain obscures that Glass cries.
Glass is sad. (Implied)

To me, that amounts to a paragraph or more content.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:

I was prompted when thinking about this to jot down this line:

Glass held the little kitten's broken body as the rain hid her tears clawing the mascara down her face.

And that got me thinking far too much. And this is the fourth time I've edited one sentence--and I'm still tweaking. Make that five times.

I'd do this with it:

Glass held the kitten's broken body. Rain hid her tears, clawed mascara down her face.

[I'm presently assuming 'Glass' is a name, tho at first I thought it was, um, glass.]

When a sentence with an "as" clause (or any other conglomerate of clauses) seems difficult to get right, that's usually because it needs breaking up.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
That’s my challenge, if you will, and an exercise anyone considering writing flash-fiction should try. Introduce a character and make me care about what happens to them in a single sentence--or two. The task may sound impossible, but the attempt will get you to focus on the necessary at the expense of the irrelevant.

But don’t leave it there. Introduce milieu, conflict and want in single sentences as well. That’s four sentences (at a nearly impossible minimum) and by then you should be in the heart of your story--escalating conflict and its final resolution.

Phil.

Okay, I dumped one over here

http://www.hatrack.com/ubb/writers/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=11;t=004762

for y'all to dissect as a flash piece. I'm sufficiently pleased with it; you may not be.

[And yes, later on it does include the magical child, or however the prompt was described.]

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Robert Nowall
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A thousand words and I'm just clearing my throat...when things are going well, I'm generally a five-hundred-words-a-day writer...besides that, all I can manage quickly are sarcastic rude comments in online forums and the occasional poem or song parody.

(I did just finish about three thousand words of short story just this morning, but the circumstances were special. For one thing, it's a not-for-publication "novelization" of a comic I saw online...testing my skills, trying to shake off a month of nothing much...besides, I was attracted by how utterly sympathetic I found the two main characters.)

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