The following is in response to three essays written on the craft of writing the short story or flash prose from authors Gabrielle Hovendon, Lisa Shafter, and Robert Olen Butler.
Gabrielle Hovendon urges writers everywhere to ask themselves one simple question when reviewing a manuscript of flash prose—“Does every sentence have a purpose?” I find this good advice because flash prose has to be written in a small frame and in order for you to “have room to adequately develop” the story every word must be necessary. What do you do when that portrait of you at the park is too big for its frame? You trim the photograph, just like you should trim your flash prose piece—you leave the essentials, your face, your new fedora, that smile, and cut the less vital parts like the glimpse of a passerby in the far left corner.
I like that Lisa Shafter advises writers to use “meaty nouns” and “active verbs” and “vivid description”—so instead of your character hiding in the brush he or she is camouflaged in the lush azaleas. I also like the point that she makes about how you should just start writing; you can worry about transforming it into something wonderful late, so just write anything. “Writing is the key to writing, after all”—a simple enough deduction, but so true.
I like what Robert Olen Butler says about yearning; that it is what drives a character, that “fiction is the art form of human yearning” despite the length of the piece. What is even more interesting is the way he describes the moment when a characters yearning is brought out into the open “in all the tiny, sense-driven, organically resonant moments.” Thinking back to Jayne Anne Phillips’ short “Sweetheart,” I can see a yearning for learning about sexuality when the two characters are spying on the older kids.