On Writing / Publishing

Flash Fiction – A “How To” With Guest Writer Mark Bacon

I wanted to offer you some instruction and education on how to write a flash fiction story before you went ahead and entered into our Mystery Flash Fiction contest. As I was clueless myself concerning what flash fiction is and how to write it, I figured I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. And anyway, aren’t we supposed to learn something new every day? Let this be your something!

After re-reading Mark’s guest post, I was able to understand what flash fiction is: in its most basic function it is a very short story with less than 500 words, in many cases, 100 words. Adding to this challenge is the story genre of ‘mystery’. My mystery writing days were abundant when I was in grade five. Really. I wrote this whole chapter book about this woman trying to find out who her husband was having an affair with. It was totally hard-boiled, hot and sexy. (Yeah, my teacher said it was too ‘grown-up’ for me to be writing it. Only made me work harder!) In any case, writing mysteries can be a mystery to me these days, but I did my best.

Here’s what we did:

  • I wrote my flash fiction story giving myself a 300 words or less word limit. Jumping straight into a 100-word piece made my chest tighten and my saliva thicken.  I wanted to ease into it.
  • I sent it to Mark for his feedback and guidance.
  • He responded and I edited and re-sent.
  • He responded again, and I edited and re-sent.
  • Through our back-and-forth, I completed a flash fiction story – based on his suggestions and what I thought best fit the story I wanted to tell.

I’ve included our whole email stream in this post so you can take the same journey we took – and hopefully, it will teach you how to write your own flash fiction mystery, and inspire you to enter our contest.

Here goes:

FROM VANESSA TO MARK #1

Hi, Mark,
Below is my flash fiction story. It’s longer than 100 words on purpose. It would be great if you could critique it based on whatever points you see fit – and then, make suggestions as to how I could edit it to get it down to 100 words.
i’ll post our conversation on my blog, then we can get started on the contest.
i hope you like it!!
vanessa

ICE
By Vanessa shields
Word count: 278
 
The first thing I noticed was her cleavage. You’re a sick man, Mahoney. I cursed himself. It’s a shame to lose a dame with a cleavage like that. I coulda appreciated that cleavage. Now it’s all for the devil. I walked to her body, hanging stiffly from a dirty rope attached to the wood beam in the living room of the Dorchester Mansion.
“Another one of his lovers?” Sully asked as he snapped a photo of the scene. Sully wasn’t looking at the dame’s breasts. He was all work and no play.
“Maybe,” I said.  There was something about her curves, the fire in her red hair, the shine on her black pumps that made me think otherwise.
“I’ll get the coroner,” Sully said from behind the camera.
I shook my head. Nope, there’s more to this scene. I looked for a purse, a lipstick-tipped cigarette, a note. There was nothing. Just a puddle beneath a gorgeous dame hanging from the ceiling.
“Whoa, what’s all this?” Sully stopped in tracks, his shoes sloshing in the water.
“Ice,” I said. “Or at least it was.”
Sully’s face wrinkled. “You losin’ it, boss?”
“Not at all,” I crouched down and stuck my finger in the puddle. She was smart, this dame. But was she strong enough to lug a huge chunk of ice into this place by herself?
“She stood on a block of ice, waited patiently ‘till it melted, then it’s crunch time,” I told him.
“No kiddin’?” Sully snapped a picture of the pool of water.
Because I was thirsty and hopeful, I licked my finger. Now that’s new. It wasn’t water, it was booze. The good kind.

FROM MARK TO VANESSA #2

Vanessa,
Whoa. What a great idea, getting slowly hung as a block of ice melts. A terrific ending.

I like the noir-ish language:  a dame with a cleavage like that, something about her curves, the shine on her black pumps, for the devil…..

After I read this I realized that my flash fiction writing has changed. I write a lot closer to 100 words than I used to. Nearly every story of mine has to be cut, but now it’s often a matter of cutting 10, 20, maybe 40 or so words. There used to be a lot more to cut. But cutting 178 words, that’s a challenge.

I’m not sure where to start. This can be tightened up, but that much? Making this a good 200 word story or 150 word story would be an easier goal.

Let’s start with a few clarification questions.

  • “I cursed himself” is a typo for myself, right?
  • “Another one of his lovers.” That refers to some unnamed person the cop thinks might have done the murder?
  • So it’s suicide? Why are her personal effects missing? Maybe it’s not suicide?  No suicide note? No hint of a motive here.

And although I like the last words here, I’m not sure the idea of frozen booze would work.  Ever put a bottle of vodka in the freezer? It just turns slushy. I’m not sure what percentage of alcohol would freeze solid. Very low proof, I’m guessing.

For drastic cutting you could eliminate everything except the body with cleavage, the cop and photog and a mysterious puddle.  Too drastic?

FROM VANESSA TO MARK #3

Great feedback, Mark! I’ve made some changes. Taken out about 50 words…changed the ending a bit. I like the other version better because there was more room for Mahoney’s character to shine, but taking his bits out still made the story understandable.

There’s a fine line between character development and plot even in a story this short. I think plot is more important when you can only use so many words…I think adding Dorchester in the end may add a bit more in terms of motive. But does there have to be a motive within the piece?

You’re right about frozen booze. I’d never thought of its consistency, and it wouldn’t freeze into a big chunk. Good catch!
Looking forward to your next response…

ICE – second draft
By Vanessa shields
Word count:220
I noticed her cleavage first. You’re a sick man, Mahoney. I cursed myself. I walked to her body, hanging stiffly from a dirty rope attached to the wood beam in the living room of the Dorchester Mansion.
“Another one of Dorchester’s lovers?” Sully asked as he snapped a photo of the scene.
“Maybe,” I said. There was something about her curves, the fire in her red hair, the shine on her black pumps that made me think otherwise. I looked for a purse, a lipstick-tipped cigarette, a note. There was nothing. Just a puddle beneath a gorgeous dame hanging from the ceiling.
“Whoa, what’s all this?” Sully stopped, his shoes sloshing in the water.
“Ice,” I said. “Or at least it was.”
Sully’s face wrinkled. “You losin’ it, boss?”
“Not at all,” I crouched down and saw my ruddy reflection in the puddle. Was this dame strong enough to lug a huge chunk of ice into this place by herself? And without getting noticed? Nah, this is an inside job.
“She stood on a block of ice, waited patiently ‘till it melted, then…,” I told him.
“No kiddin’?” Sully snapped a picture. “That’s a long time to wait, ain’t it, boss?”
“That’s a long show to watch,” I said. “Get Dorchester.
“That’s a long show to watch,” I said. “Get Dorchester. Let’s see how he feels about ice shows.”

FROM MARK TO VANESSA #4

Vanessa,

You’re absolutely right about character development vs. plot and plot resolution.  In 100 words it’s pretty difficult to do both. Doing just one would be enough. I lean toward a pat finish to a story, but FF could be just a character description with a few thoughts of that person.

Does there have to be a motive?  Within 100 words you’re really down to the bare bones. For a mystery, a motive helps the reader try to sort out the story before the ending.  But again, not necessary, as in this story; although your “ice show” idea provides a reasonable and inventive, albeit sick, motive.

More than 100 words gives you flexibility to work on character and plot.

I think you’re close to a finished story here, with just a bit more tightening up.   Rather than give you my rationale now, let me just suggest these:

Cut: “that made me think otherwise.”

Cut: “you losing it”

Cut: “Not at all.”

Cut: “And without getting noticed?  Nah, this is an inside job.”

Change: I told him to I said.

Instead of including the question, “Let’s see how he feels about ice shows.”  Just rename the story Ice Show.  Sometimes clues can hide in a story title.

Now you’ve got a tight, grim, noirish mystery in about 200 words.  (If you can’t figure why I suggested the cuts, let me know.)

Oh, I forgot.  I’d also cut the “I cursed myself.”  Perhaps a cop would notice the cleavage first, then remonstrate himself.  But don’t overdo it.  Mahoney is a man.

MY FINAL DRAFT AND FINAL THOUGHTS:

If you’re like me, cutting words out of stories, poems or anything I write, can be challenging both for the integrity of the story and my own psyche. I mostly feel like everything needs to be in! Not just because I think the piece needs it but also because I think it’s good, therefore it should stay in. Alas, one of the most important lessons a writer learns throughout her career is that cutting is essential and that even if all parts of good, you’ve got to search for the best parts within the good, then scrap the good and scrap the crap, ’cause it’s definitely in there too!

Writing flash fiction is a wonderful, creatively challenging way to really hone the skill of writing efficiently and keeping only what needs to be there to tell the story. It is absolutely possible to tell a story in less than 200 words. Heck, in 100 words or less, right? Although I started with 278 words and I did some serious cutting and re-writing, in the end, my story has 187 words. I’m okay with this. It was a great challenge to get down to 187 words.

I find that I like a good mix of character spice and plot power. It’s difficult to get both into a flash fiction story but it is possible to find the balance of both. It seems like you have to choose to focus on one or the other – meaning, I could have made this story more about Mahoney the detective, using inner thoughts and descriptive language, and less about the potential murder that occurred. Or, I could have made it more about the murder by taking out any reference to Mahoney’s inner voice. I think I found a good balance of both – and this is why the story is over 100 words. Had I stuck to one or the other, I could have made the 100 word cut.

Since this was my first real foray into writing in this style, I opted for balance.

I hope through Mark and I’s conversation and the edits I’ve made and showed, you are able to get a good idea of what flash fiction is and how to write it.

Here’s my final draft.

ICE SHOW

By Vanessa shields

Word count: 187

I noticed her cleavage first. You’re a sick man, Mahoney. I walked to her body, hanging stiffly from a dirty rope attached to the wood beam in the living room of Huntington Dorchester’s Mansion.

“Another one of Dorchester’s lovers?” Sully asked as he snapped a photo of the scene.

“Maybe,” I said. There was something about her curves, the fire in her red hair, the shine on her black pumps. I looked for a purse, a lipstick-tipped cigarette, a note. There was nothing. Just a puddle beneath a gorgeous dame hanging from the ceiling.

“Whoa, what’s all this?” Sully stopped, his shoes sloshing in the water.

“Ice,” I said. “Or at least it was.”

Sully’s face wrinkled. I crouched down and saw my ruddy reflection in the puddle. Was this dame strong enough to lug a huge chunk of ice into this place by herself?

“She stood on a block of ice, waited patiently ‘till it melted, then…,” I said.

“No kiddin’?” Sully snapped a picture. “That’s a long time to wait, ain’t it, boss?”

“That’s a long show to watch,” I said. “Get Dorchester.”

***

Stay tuned, writers.  Our Flash Fiction Contest details will be along soon. 

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Flash Fiction – A “How To” With Guest Writer Mark Bacon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s