Posts Tagged ‘Flash Fiction’

Quick Character Development

Monday, October 5th, 2009

In my previous post, I discussed the possibility of character development in a piece of hint fiction, defined as having a word count of 25 or less. The 25-word limit seemed sufficient for the two types of character development I discussed–establishing three-dimensionality and showing character change throughout a story. Character development is certainly possible in hint fiction.

In this post, I now argue that character development is even possible in fewer than 25 words. Careful word choice and believable dialogue both contribute to character development. Examine the following examples, where character development happens in fewer than 25 words.

Example 1:

Dale held the beer bottle to his lips and spit. “That ain’t my truck.”

In fourteen words, the reader learns a great deal about Dale and the kind of person he is. This type of character development serves to round out Dale’s personality but does not show any character change.

Example 2:

“Well,” Priscilla blinked. “I have my maid do it for me.” She set her teacup down with a gentle tinkle and smiled stiffly.

This twenty-three-word example also serves to develop a well-rounded character. As in Example 1, dialogue and action combine to establish character.

Example 3:

The room suddenly seemed smaller and shabbier than he had remembered it. Jonathan wondered how he had ever thought it elegant.

In twenty-one words, this example demonstrates an interior shift in character. Although there is no dialogue, the character’s thoughts indicate a significant personality change that will be important in the story’s development.

Example 4:

“Hello, Charlie,” she said, leaning in for the kiss he usually gave her.

“Hello.” He turned his back to her, repulsed.

This twenty-one-word example shows character change through dialogue. Although the example contains very few words, the reader witnesses a significant shift in the behavior and emotion of the male character.

Thus, character development is possible in very few words–even in fewer than 25 words. Dialogue and careful word choice are important to character development. Writers who choose both judiciously can develop character quickly and efficiently.

Please send me your thoughts and comments about this post. I would love to hear from you.

How Many Words Do You Need to Develop Character?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

In a recent tweet, writer/editor Robert Swartwood made an interesting observation about character development in the new genres of short, short fiction. He mentioned a horror anthology seeking submissions for stories of 500 words or less. The anthology editors said that character development would be impossible in so few words. Robert Swartwood countered that character development is certainly possible in 500 words and that even hint fiction—a genre he himself created and with a word limit of 25—allows for character development. Of course, Robert Swartwood continued, we must all agree on the definition of “character development.”

I believe that character development is of two types, and both are possible in the 25 words of a piece of hint fiction. I also think character development of at least one type is possible in a shorter piece, although that will be the topic of a later post.

As I understand it, the term “character development” can refer both to 1) the action and descriptions that establish a character as realistic and three-dimensional and also to 2) the growth and change a character undergoes throughout the course of a story. The first type of character development is, perhaps, more static than the second. But in either case, the idea is to create a well-rounded and believable character.

In hint fiction, character development is severely limited by word count and by the fact that, by definition, hint fiction merely hints at character (as well as plot and conflict). Hint fiction can have a meaningful title (not included in the 25-word limit), which can be a big help in character development. As the following examples illustrate, character development of the first type—merely creating three-dimensionality and believability—does seem entirely possible in 25 words or less, although showing character might take away from creating plot. Character development of the second type—showing character change throughout a piece of fiction—might also be possible, although this character development relies heavily on plot.

The following piece of hint fiction shows character development of the first kind. Although we learn what Lucretia is like at the particular moment the story describes, she undergoes no change throughout the piece. The title contributes to characterization:

Bully

One tableful of drunken wedding guests sat together the entire night. Lucretia was among them, snickering.

“Hey, Dottie,” Lucretia called mockingly. “Come talk to us.”

In this particular example, one might argue that plot has given way to character development. In order to establish Lucretia as a bully, little happens in this story.

Character development of the second type is more difficult in a piece of hint fiction. In general, character change in hint fiction probably comes across through plot, rather than through a character’s emotions. The following shows plot-dependent character development. Once again, the title contributes:

Redemption

Dwight cocked his pistol and walked into the bank. He chose the youngest teller. A child waved at him. Dwight put the safety back on.

Developing character and showing character change are both possible in hint fiction. However, the first might tend to take the place of plot, and the second might tend to rely very heavily on plot.

Please read my next blog, in which I explore the possibility of character development in less than 25 words, and leave your comments about character development in short fiction. I would love to hear from you.

Interesting New Market for Short, Short Fiction

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Writers of the shortest of short fiction have an interesting new market for their brief works. In a recent blog, writer Robert Swartwood solicits submissions for a new W.W. Norton anthology of hint fiction.

Shorter and more mysterious than the traditional 1,000-words-or-less flash fiction, hint fiction has a maximum word length of 25. Unlike flash fiction, hint fiction merely suggests a larger story, rather than telling it outright. However, a piece of hint fiction still manages to encompass the overarching idea of a complete story.

Read Robert Swartwood’s blog for details about the online submission process and for helpful—and enviable—examples of hint fiction. The submission deadline is August 31, 2009.

Flash Fiction

Monday, April 27th, 2009

flash1Short-short stories, or flash fiction, provide the entertainment of short stories in a fraction of the time. “Flash fiction” usually refers to stories that are less than 1,000 words long. The flash fiction genre is popular among the literary magazine set and is  ideal for new authors hoping to break into publishing. However, flash fiction can be difficult, because magazines only publish short-shorts with well-developed plots and significant character development. Authors must make the most of very few words.

What follows is an unedited piece of flash fiction. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

Sondrine waited for her turn at the soldering iron. She shifted her weight from one foot to another, because she couldn’t wait to see how her ring looked when she had completely finished making it. She was taking a jewelry making class at the local community college, and her big project was to make a ring. Last month, their instructor had told them all how to plan their design and how to think about ways of making their rings look good. Sondrine had spent a long time in her quiet study, thinking about the ring she would make. It needed to have just the right heave—the amount of weight that would make her notice the ring when she lifted her hand to select a can off the grocery store shelf or opened her—usually empty—mailbox in the morning. She had drawn a diagram of her ring, and it was in her pocket now.

“Are you done yet?” Sondrine asked Chelsea, who was huddled over the soldering iron. “We have to leave soon.” Sondrine looked again at the clock—8:37.

“I know class ends at 9:00,” Chelsea said, as though Sondrine had been just about to remind her—as if she would, Chelsea could be so annoying sometimes. Chelsea looked over her shoulder—furtively, it seemed to Sondrine. Sondrine tried to look over Chelsea’s shoulder to see what she was making.

“Class, you have five minutes until it’s time to put everything away until next time,” the instructor, Maxwell, intoned.

Sondrine clutched her metal wire, itching to get her hands on the soldering iron. Chelsea continued to use the soldering iron, humming away contentedly as she worked. Sondrine cleared her throat. “I know. I know,” said Chelsea. “I’m hurrying.”

Maxwell had begun to shut off the lights in the back storage area, where the students stored their unfinished work.

Sondrine looked longingly at the soldering iron. Just then, Chelsea stood up and snapped her chewing gum. “I’m done,” she said. She held a ring between her thumb and index finger.

“OK. That’s it until next week,” Maxwell said. He walked up to the soldering iron and shut it off with a resounding click. Chelsea smiled at Sondrine phonily.

“Well, there’s always next week,” she said. Chelsea set her ring carefully on the table and bent down to pick up her purse from the floor.

In the instant when Chelsea’s head was out of sight, Sondrine caught sight of Chelsea’s ring. It was perfect—everything that Sondrine had imagined her ring would be. Had Chelsea copied Sondrine’s diagram? But no, Sondrine hadn’t shown her ring diagram to anyone, and there it was—still folded in her hand. But the ring had everything Sondrine had imagined for her ring. There were the braids of gold, the interlocking whorls of silver, and the smooth curves that formed a central band. It was just as Sondrine had planned her ring. The whorls Sondrine had imagined weren’t quite so intricate, and she hadn’t actually put the braiding or the smooth part in her drawing, but it was the same ring—exactly the same, except without the dragon’s head Sondrine had drawn. She was filled with a strong sense of jealousy. Why should Chelsea have Sondrine’s ring? She had taken up all the soldering time and had—somehow—copied Sondrine’s design.

Chelsea straightened up and looked over her shoulder to shout goodbye to Maxwell. Sondrine grabbed the ring—her ring—still warm from the soldering iron. It fit her perfectly, and she admired her finger for a moment. “See you next week!” Chelsea called. Sondrine quickly put her purse over her shoulder. The ring had just the right heft, as she had known it would when she raised her hand to her purse strap. She pushed open the door and walked outside.

She wouldn’t be back next week.

The final story reads something like the following:

Sondrine waited for her turn at the soldering iron, shifting her weight from one foot to another. She couldn’t wait to see how her ring looked once she had finished it. She was taking a jewelry-making class at the local community college, and her final project was to make a ring. Last month, their instructor, Maxwell, had taught them how to plan their ring designs. Sondrine had thought a long time about the ring she would make. It needed to have just the right heft—a weight that would make her notice the ring when she lifted her hand to select a can off the grocery store shelf or opened her—usually empty—mailbox in the morning. She had drawn a diagram of her ring, and it was in her pocket now.

“Are you done yet?” Sondrine asked Chelsea, who was huddled over the soldering iron. “We have to leave soon.” Sondrine looked again at the clock—8:37.

“I know what time class ends,” Chelsea said, as though Sondrine had been just about to remind her. Sondrine tried to look at Chelsea’s ring. Chelsea looked back at Sondrine over her shoulder—furtively, it seemed.

“Class, you have five minutes until it’s time to put everything away,” Maxwell said. He began to shut off the lights in the back area, where the students stored their unfinished work.

Sondrine clutched her metal wire, itching to get her hands on the soldering iron. She cleared her throat. “I know. I know,” said Chelsea. “I’m hurrying.”

Just then, Chelsea stood up and snapped her chewing gum. “I’m done,” she said. She held a ring between her thumb and index finger.

“OK. That’s it until next week,” Maxwell said. He walked up to the soldering iron and shut it off with a resounding click.

Chelsea smiled artifically at Sondrine. “Well, there’s always next week.” She set her ring carefully on the table and bent down to pick up her purse from the floor.

When Chelsea’s head dipped below the table, Sondrine caught sight of Chelsea’s ring. It was perfect—everything that Sondrine had imagined her ring would be. There were the braids of gold, the interlocking whorls of silver, and the smooth curves that formed a central band. It was the very ring Sondrine had designed. The whorls Sondrine had imagined weren’t quite so intricate, and she hadn’t actually put the braiding or the smooth part in her drawing, but it was the same ring—exactly the same, except without the dragon’s head Sondrine had drawn. Had Chelsea copied Sondrine’s diagram? But no, Sondrine hadn’t shown her ring diagram to anyone, and there it was—still folded in her pocket. She was filled with jealousy. Why should Chelsea have her ring? Chelsea had taken up all the soldering time and had—somehow—copied Sondrine’s design.

Chelsea straightened up and looked over her shoulder to shout goodbye to Maxwell. Sondrine grabbed the ring—her ring—still warm from the soldering iron. It fit her perfectly, and she admired her finger for a moment. “See you next week!” Chelsea called, still looking at Maxwell. Sondrine quickly put her purse over her shoulder. The ring had just the right heft, as she had known it would when she raised her hand to her purse strap. She pushed open the door and walked outside.

She wouldn’t be back next week.

Below is the text with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.):

Sondrine waited for her turn at the soldering iron, shifting . She shifted her weight from one foot to another., because sShe couldn’t wait to see how her ring looked oncewhen she had completely finished making it. She was taking a jewelrymaking class at the local community college, and her big final project was to make a ring. Last month, their instructor, Maxwell, had told taught them all how to plan their ring designs and how to think about ways of making their rings look good. [In its original form, this sentence makes it sound like Maxwell gave them some ring design ideas. For your story, I think you want to make clear that each student makes his or her own design. This is a good place to introduce Maxwell’s name.] Sondrine had spent a long time in her quiet study, thinking thought a long time about the ring she would make. It needed to have just the right heaveheftthe amount of a weight that would make her notice the ring when she lifted her hand to select a can off the grocery store shelf or opened her—usually empty—mailbox in the morning. She had drawn a diagram of her ring, and it was in her pocket now.

“Are you done yet?” Sondrine asked Chelsea, who was huddled over the soldering iron. “We have to leave soon.” Sondrine looked again at the clock—8:37.

“I know what time class ends at 9:00,” Chelsea said, as though Sondrine had been just about to remind her—as if she would, Chelsea could be so annoying sometimes. [It doesn’t seem like Chelsea would actually mention the class ending time, since both she and Sondrine know it.] Sondrine tried to look at Chelsea’s ring. Chelsea looked back at Sondrine over her shoulder—furtively, it seemed to Sondrine. Sondrine tried to look over Chelsea’s shoulder to see what she was making.[The two mentions of Chelsea’s shoulder tend to get confusing, and switching the two sentences around seems to work better.]

“Class, you have five minutes until it’s time to put everything away until next time,” the instructor, Maxwell, intoned said. [“Said” is sufficient.] He began to shut off the lights in the back area, where the students stored their unfinished work. [I put both mentions of Maxwell together in one place.]

Sondrine clutched her metal wire, itching to get her hands on the soldering iron. Chelsea continued to use the soldering iron, humming away contentedly as she worked. Sondrine She cleared her throat. “I know. I know,” said Chelsea. “I’m hurrying.”

Maxwell had begun to shut off the lights in the back storage area, where the students stored their unfinished work.

Sondrine looked longingly at the soldering iron. Just then, Chelsea stood up and snapped her chewing gum. “I’m done,” she said. She held a ring between her thumb and index finger. [Cutting back and forth between Sondrine and Maxwell tends to undercut the tension of the story. I’ve tried to tightened up the action here.]

“OK. That’s it until next week,” Maxwell said. He walked up to the soldering iron and shut it off with a resounding click. Chelsea smiled at Sondrine phonily.

Chelsea smiled artifically at Sondrine. [I don’t think “phonily” is a word.] “Well, there’s always next week.,Sshe said. Chelsea set her ring carefully on the table and bent down to pick up her purse from the floor.

In the instant Wwhen Chelsea’s head was out of sightdipped below the table,[I’m trying to keep you from using “sight” twice in one sentence.] Sondrine caught sight of Chelsea’s ring. It was perfect—everything that Sondrine had imagined her ring would be. Had Chelsea copied Sondrine’s diagram? But no, Sondrine hadn’t shown her ring diagram to anyone, and there it was—still folded in her hand. But the ring had everything Sondrine had imagined for her ring. There were the braids of gold, the interlocking whorls of silver, and the smooth curves that formed a central band. It was just as Sondrine had planned her ringthe very ring Sondrine had designed. The whorls Sondrine had imagined weren’t quite so intricate, and she hadn’t actually put the braiding or the smooth part in her drawing, but it was the same ring—exactly the same, except without the dragon’s head Sondrine had drawn. Had Chelsea copied Sondrine’s diagram? But no, Sondrine hadn’t shown her ring diagram to anyone, and there it was—still folded in her hand pocket. She was filled with a strong sense of jealousy. Why should Chelsea have herSondrine’s ring? She Chelsea had taken up all the soldering time and had—somehow—copied Sondrine’s design. Chelsea straightened up and looked over her shoulder to shout goodbye to Maxwell. Sondrine grabbed the ring—her ring—still warm from the soldering iron. It fit her perfectly, and she admired her finger for a moment. “See you next week!” Chelsea called, still looking at Maxwell. Sondrine quickly put her purse over her shoulder. The ring had just the right heft, as she had known it would when she raised her hand to her purse strap.[What about, “as she had known it would when she designed it”?] She pushed open the door and walked outside.

She wouldn’t be back next week.

[For very good listings of magazine publishers—including those who publish flash fiction—visit Duotrope’s Digest.]

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]