As a poet and memoirist, I have studied flash fiction to gather strategic ways to write essential life stories. I am a believer in the idea that telling one’s life story effectively and movingly can be done in fragments because fragments evoke moments and when collected, as poems and essays are, the moments of perception accumulate into a whole.
Here are three strategies that I have used from my readings in flash fiction.
The short story writer Bruce Holland Rogers offers a short-short story in which he writes in the voice of a social service worker interviewing a woman whose boyfriend has abused her child.
Read the story "How Could a Mother."
For example, you might take something that annoyed you about the person and have that thing be the interviewer: “The Naked Cardboard Cylinder He Always Left on the Toilet Paper Holder Interviews My Ex-husband.”
Sometimes the best way to examine truths of your own experience is through characters, inanimate or animal or plant, whose beings create a fictional dream in which we can explore human problems.
Jim Heynen writes short pieces that examine human nature and what we do about it. My favorites of his stories are the ones he writes about “the boys” and their adventures and traumas while growing up on farms.
You can read one of them online: “Ice Storm.”
- Who would you like to address that you have not met yet?
- What would you like that person to know?
- Who might you write to about your life’s joys? Where would you be sitting as you write and what do you observe from where you are that helps you associate to past or present joys?
- Who might you write to about your life’s difficult situations? Where might you be writing from that would put you in transitional moment, a moment that you are moving from one situation to another and can open up about a big change in your life? Might you be on a plane like Robinson? Might you be on a train or sitting in the passenger seat of a car? Might you be in a waiting room at a doctor’s office? Find someplace to imagine you are sitting or remember you did sit, and write the letter, drawing from the action around you to create the setting, mood, and platform for associations.
Once you get going on flash nonfiction, you may become addicted to it as a form. Be sure to read in the genre for more ideas.
Brevity Magazine is an excellent source for examples. The flash authors also blog about the craft at this website.
Lynn chimes in:
The writing group I belong to (we call ourselves the Gang of 5) recently read a piece by William Zinsser titled, How to Write a Memoir, in which he encouraged us to "write small" and to "look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory."
I think in this blog post Sheila has offered us a number of ways to hone in on some of those small memories. Next up for me: take these 3 strategies to the Gang of 5 and see what we come up with.
Sheila Bender is founder of WritingItReal.com, a community and resource for those who write from personal experience. A poet, memoirist and personal essayist, she offers online classes and often teaches at writers’ conferences.
Sheila's two newest books are now available on line under the Writing it Real banner: Writing In A Convertible with the Top Down and Sorrow’s Words: Writing Exercises to Heal Grief.