by Sly Rabbit
©2003 Sly Rabbit -- all rights reserved
A picture is worth a thousand words. So, is a thousand words worth a picture? This is the question the short-short tries to answer. Some call it flash fiction, others call it a scene, but whatever the name, it strives to convey one point in a painfully short story. At their worst these tiny stories are too short to be too annoying. At their best these mini-stories make the mind do a backflip with a half-twist. So how do you avoid that 'worst' label? Phil called in a replacement rabbit to tackle this subject while he takes a short vacation.
To start with, you must remember that a short-short must always retain forward motion. In fact, the best short-shorts will consist of minimal introduction, a short climax, shorter resolution, and a whole mess of rising action. Think of it as a rock ballad; if the drummer doesn't keep the beat moving along at a decent clip, the song will be about as appealing as Yoko Ono singing a cappella.
Great, you now know the secret to the short-short. What follows is merely advice from personal experience: Take it, leave it, flush it down the toilet like so many other half-wit writing columns.
Keep it simple, stupid. Every word has to count in a short-short since there are so very few to work with. Don't make a reader look at a sentence twice just because you pulled out some rusty old Latin synonym. Dime-a-dozen words are your best friend; never 'propel your craft' when you can 'row your boat'.
By the same token, describe only the important things. I don't care if your character has a lovesick puppy that lives in a Victorian-style doghouse complete with upper balcony, or if he has a great story about baiting his fly fishing line with old razor wire. If it doesn't matter to the plot, don't go into great detail.
A rough plan is usually best for these short-shorts, just so you know what you need to include. It doesn't have to be that horrid outline schoolteachers are so ga-ga over; a simply written group of phrases will do just fine. This will help you achieve the driving motion that is so vital to the short-short.
Find some music to listen to -- good music, that is. Pick a song that speaks to you on a deeper level, bonus points if it gives you goosebumps when you listen. When I was learning to write these short pieces I would pick a good Rockapella song, throw it on repeat, close my eyes, and just imagine the scene until it formed completely. Then I'd sit down and write. That's great practice, by the way; grab some songs and write from one per day, each time tackling a different issue. Besides being a lot of practice the songs will have the same driving motion you want your short-short to have.
Tap into your emotions. That is why short-shorts are so wonderful; you can deal with personal issues that would otherwise go untouched, and share them with the world. Write about the stuff that stung you. I myself have written of attending my own funeral, losing on the wrestling mat, letting teammates down, growing up, fighting responsibility... anything goes. Just make sure it jerks on the ol' heartstrings, and let the word choice reflect that.
And remember the forward motion. I only mention it again because it is vital to a good short. Don't believe me? Take a peek at anything Hemingway wrote.
Are you noticing a theme? Good. Maybe something from this column will stick after all.