Sun 22 Mar 2009
The best flashes come to me after serious hard thinking, following a prompt along its many tangents, discarding the ideas I feel have been done before or would be ‘flat’ on the screen (or page). Eventually, I’ll find a thread I think I can work with, and then I get weaving.
Of course I also get inspiration from reading other stuff, or may want to write a flash that tackles a particular idea or theme. I’ve had tremendous fun writing 250 word flashes around instances of historical crime. Researching some truly grisly or bizarre or just plain boggling crimes and teasing out a scene from in amongst the facts and the mythical stuff that accompanies stories like Lizzie Borden’s. (My flash about Lizzie won the Fish Historical-Crime Award, and will be published online in Yellow Mama, a venue specialising in crime fiction.)
The trick, for me anyway,when writing historical flash is to find a single scene and build it into something compelling enough to feel either very ‘real’ (like you’re there, watching it happen) or very moving (by which I mean it can be disturbing or sickening or pitiable or sad), while at the same time avoiding treading old ground and/or extrapolating too far beyond the evidence which exists on record. This works well for historical flash fiction because the ’story’ (as a whole) often exists in the public domain – you don’t have to build it from scratch – but the fine detail or the pathos or the resonance (the things that give a story substance) are either missing or lost in the annals. By using a title which pins the story down, I have the freedom to work within a defined space to bring the past to life. Assuming I’m lucky enough to get the words down right.
For me, flash fiction is a unique combination of discipline and freedom. I stopped writing flash briefly when I was deep into the first ms of a novel, thinking I couldn’t afford the distraction and needed to dedicate my every available writing hour to the novel. But my writing suffered for it, as did the novel. So I switched to writing a full length crime novel AND doing a flash challenge every week, and the two things were not only compatible they were positively zinging – the one from the other and back again.
Flash is a great way of flexing your writerly muscles. I can’t recommend it enough.
Sarah Hilary is a frequent contributor to Every Day Fiction (Lolita’s Lynch Mob is an all-time favorite) and on other flash sites around the web. Check out her blog, Crawl Space, where she lists all her online writing and then check out her other brilliant FLASHES of fiction. Her most recent piece, Flood Plain, is up at Prick of the Spindle.