What is the role of language and voice in flash? Are the roles more emphasized than in other forms of narrative?
An online conference about women who write flash fiction
January 8, 2016 at 2:45 PM
Voice is a defining element, maybe “the” defining element in fiction and informs non-fiction as well. Would Malcolm Gladwell have sold all those books if there hadn’t been something about his voice? I don’t think so. That said, voice is especially key to writing flash. Because word count limits the about of description, dialogue, and action, every element of craft must be employed to carry the story forward and convey meaning. In flash, Voice is the way into the story for the reader. It allows him or her to follow confidently along the path because the writer is present through his or her voice, whispering the attitude of the main character, signaling the warning of drama ahead and then revealing it, hopefully leaving the reader with something to ponder.
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January 8, 2016 at 8:02 PM
Outstanding explanation of the importance of voice in flash, Gay. I would add one thing: In flash I think it is imperative that the voice be active. There is little space for the luxury of a passive voice in flash, and perhaps this is one element that may differentiate flash from prose poetry, where the language itself is often more a focus than the story elements . In prose poetry, a reader expects to linger over language. In flash, a reader might not be so patient. I know I’m not.
January 9, 2016 at 3:49 PM
Good point, JAYNE! Active verbs create riveting sentences!
January 9, 2016 at 5:22 PM
Yes and yes to Gay and Jayne! One exercise I always have my students do, and I do myself, is to read the story aloud. Take in the rhythms and connotations of each word and phrase. Dump what sounds clunky, uninspired. In all stories there is a movement, a voice that reaches out and pulls us in as readers and belting it out helps to uncover the undesirables. Pets are very active listeners. Even the couch will slouch in to listen.
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January 10, 2016 at 6:53 PM
I would love to pick everyone’s brain on voice and POV. Do you find that flash lends itself best to first person perspective, as some have argued, or can voice be achieved just as powerfully with other POVs? What are your thoughts on the second person POV in flash?
January 12, 2016 at 12:14 AM
Leonora I LOVE (well done, obvi) second person POV. I dig it just bc I do, altho I know a lot of ppl don’t! I’m okay with that. 🙂 I’m not super-picky abt the POV if I dig the work. I think most times when I dig in to something and writing I lean towards first-person POV, but I like them all, depending on the story.
January 11, 2016 at 12:26 PM
I tend to write in first and third person present tense a lot. I like using present tense for its ability to place the reader right in the moment. I use second person more frequently in my essay work. I’m not sure that I’ve ever written a flash using second person. I’ll have to look, but if I haven’t it’s certainly something I should try. I can’t see why it wouldn’t work in flash.
January 13, 2016 at 7:18 PM
I have found that I write in first person most of the time and present tense, but also love the intensity of 2nd person as Leesa was saying, and the challenge. Another great exercise is to write each story in all three POV’s and see which one penetrates the deepest.
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January 15, 2016 at 12:20 PM
“…write each story in all three POV’s and see which one penetrates the deepest.”
What a fabulous exercise, Meg!
I would add to mix it up with the use of tense, as well: Past, present and future in combination with playing with the POVs. The potential for variety kind of blows my mind now that I think about it.
A brilliant example of this kind of “mixing it up” is in Helen MacDonald’s memoir “H is for Hawk.” She will change POV and sometimes tense in the middle of a paragraph and it’s freakin’ seamless. It’s one of the few books I’ve ever read back-to-back, once for the beauty of the story and then again for the study of her technique.
January 17, 2016 at 12:38 AM
I love hearing that it’s okay to mix tenses and POV, as it’s something I enjoy experimenting with. Now if only I can be as seamless as Helen MacDonald someday!
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January 15, 2016 at 12:55 PM
I’ll have to read that, Jayne! Sounds amazing! Thank you for adding the tense also! YES!
January 16, 2016 at 4:25 PM
On POV–I think one of the wonderful things about flash is that, because it’s short, you can experiment a lot more. Second person POV or going backwards or writing in a list or all the different “gimmicks” that might NOT work in a longer work (I’ve only read one novel that was entirely in 2nd POV) have a chance of working in such a small venue. So in a way, I think all bets are off and anything is possible.
Voice and language–I think voice is just as important in flash as it is in any other work (like your comment about Gladwell, Gay), but since there is less of it what is there has to count more. It’s the difference between having an hour to give a pitch and 90 seconds to give a pitch–if you only have 90 seconds than you better really go for it and not dawdle. In flash we probably don’t get the luxury of an entire paragraph devoted to backstory, or an explanation of why things are the way they are. We just have to “hear” the scars in their voice, intuit the backstory from what is said. Their voice and language should be haunted by all the things you will never tell us.
January 16, 2016 at 8:33 PM
“Their voice and language should be haunted by all the things you will never tell us.” Pure gold, Nancy.
January 17, 2016 at 12:41 AM
Nancy, I love the idea of being able to “hear the scars” in the language. What a wonderful way to put it.
January 17, 2016 at 11:53 PM
Excellent question Leonora. I think it is important to realize that there are no POV police. Well ok, there are but they have no authority. Playing with POV and tense is where lots of the magic happens and the solution to most of the things we believe we can’t do.
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January 18, 2016 at 2:31 AM
My feeling is that voice and language are the keys to the kingdom because its all an illusion anyway. There is no story, there are no characters, in the same sense that a Playboy Centerfold is not a naked woman but only some marks on a piece of paper that we reconstruct as a naked woman. Several people have mentioned that voice is the way in. I believe this too. And language answers the question, “Into what?”
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