For Sale, Used Once

A writing tip from JoeAnn Hart

When telling a story with just a handful of words, it helps to think outside the arc of traditional narrative, which demands a clear beginning, middle and end, not to mention plot and character. All stories need a revelation, no matter how short, but sometimes a little shift to a different format can open new possibilities, especially in flash fiction.

Think of this: Every classified ad has a story behind it. Why is someone selling a new-from-the-box wedding dress, or a handicap van with less than a thousand miles? Try telling your story within the confines of an ad, or some other existing format. I have a special fondness for real estate listings, and I once wrote a short-short in the guise of a recipe, which has its own precise language meant to convey a great deal of information with the least amount of words. Consider social media. Battling voice mails, phone texts, or a volley of tweets between two or more users can tell quite a story in under 250 words. When you start to think small, you realize the short form is all around us, from notices in the church bulletin, to community calendars, even obituaries. Especially obituaries! Not only are all these examples of condensed writing, but the very act of borrowing from non-literary formats can help the writer let go of structure—since it's already handed to him or her—and relax into the imaginative world.

JoeAnn Hart is the author of the novels Float and Addled. Her short fiction and essays have been widely published. You can like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

When everything around you is sinking, sometimes it takes desperate measures to stay afloat. When Duncan Leland looks down at the garbage-strewn beach beneath his office window, he sees the words God Help Us scrawled in the sand. While it seems a fitting message—not only is Duncan's business underwater, but his marriage is drowning as well—he goes down to the beach to erase it. Once there, he helps a seagull being strangled by a plastic six-pack holder—the only creature in worse shape than he is at the moment. Duncan rescues the seagull, not realizing that he's being filmed by a group of conceptual artists and that the footage will soon go viral, turning both him and the gull into minor celebrities.

Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

1 comment:

Midge said...

I once wrote a short story in the form of Facebook status updates. Tons of fun. This is a great exercise, JoeAnn -- thanks for sharing!