496 Words on Writing Flash Prose


1. Last year, I started writing a novel. Along the way, craving completion, I wrote and published seventeen pieces of flash prose. Instead of an epic, I accidentally created a flash chapbook.

2. Okay, maybe not accidentally. I took a break from the novel for a few months to focus exclusively on flash. Why am I telling you this? Why should you care?

3. See, my writing tends to be too careful. In flash prose, I took risks with sound, form, structure, setting, character. I experimented with collective voices, famous figures, buried secrets.

4. When my novel research revealed unneeded treasures, I built those shiny objects little nests and let their stories take wing. (Some never did take wing. Some were failures.)

5. Come to think of it, this whole blog post could be a failure. Even so, it’s 496 words of failure. A small commitment for us both, right?

6. Though small, flash prose packs a wallop. Look at Lauri Anderson telescoping time, space—in three hundred words!—in “The Heart is the Least Like Soap.”

7. That story is from NANO Fiction. Want more? See SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Necessary Fiction, Hobart, Atticus Review, Superstition Review, Corium, Wigleaf, The Collagist, and Memorius.

8. Remember these sources of flash nonfiction: Inch, Brevity, Carve, Defunct, Tin House’s “Flash Fridays,” Sundog Lit. Like your flash with monsters? Try Molotov Cocktail.

9. Surprisingly, writing flash ignited my ideas for novels. Who’d expect, in trying to win Indiana Review’s 1/2K Prize, I’d discover my novel’s prologue?

10. Not me. But flash imposes friction, a chafing against word counts and deadlines—constraints that propel my aspirations towards the high wire.

11. Walking this tightrope of tension—evoking emotional shifts, revealing information—requires a writer’s nimbleness, agility. Nimbility. (Shouldn’t that be a word?)

12. Words, you see, acquire stature, heft, symbolic power in flash. Compression rules. So does voice. You have to be selective.

13. On selectivity in fiction, Flannery O’Connor said that every word must count. In flash prose, every word counts double.

14. Counting my metaphors? Here’s another: good flash is narrow, stacked, intensely constructed, like a slice of twelve-layer cake.

15. Once, I made a German chocolate cake with coconut icing. It was perfection, but oh, so fussy!

16. Fussiness is another appeal of writing flash, for me, anyway. I like to fiddle and fret.

17. Novels, however, do not grow through fretting. Novels dwell in prolonged states of mushy ugliness.

18. Mushgliness! (Okay, maybe not.) Anyway, flash offers a tidy workspace amidst a novel’s clutter.

19. Tidy—and small enough to ask: what all can I do in here?

20. Doing this post was thirty-one times more fun with a five-hundred-word limit.

21. (By accident, I made this goal with four words to spare!)

22. For even more fun, I constrained line length and connections.

23. I’m looping lines like a fence around a playground.

24. Loops, right? That prompt’s from Rose Metal Press.

25. Rose Metal runs flash chapbook contests; DIAGRAM,

26. Black Lawrence, New Delta Review, too.

27.Let’s review. No, instead, let’s

28. jump from swings! See

29. how we’re measuring

30.clearance to

31. land?


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