Friday, June 12, 2009

Setting The Scene In A Flash

by Helen E. H. Madden

Do you like to write short stories? How short? 200 words or less?

Sounds like a challenge, doesn't it? And it is. Every Sunday, the Story Time group at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association is open to flash fiction. Flash fiction is a category of stories with extremely short word counts. Depending on who's doing the counting, the limit may be as high as 1000 words or as low as 100 words (and some writing groups and publications set the limit even lower!). ERWA sets the limit at 200 words, and every Sunday writers do their best to craft a sizzling tale that falls within that range.

It's tough to do. Flash fiction is an exercise in precision storytelling. When you only get 200 words, you have to be very careful what you write. Stories are stripped to their bare bones, no extraneous words allowed.

So how do you set the scene for a tale that short without blowing your word count?

The most efficient way would be to consider up front how much setting is really needed to tell your tale and just write that. Unless the details of the setting are crucial to the story, less works better. Your characters can either be making love in a brass bed that squeaks like a hamster in heat, or they can simply be making love in a bed. The later option is not nearly as descriptive, but if all we need to know is that the characters are in a bed and not that fact that said bed sounds like a rodent ready to breed, then the latter option is what gets the job done and frees up words for use elsewhere.

However, most of us can't find that right level of detail right off the bat. There are times when no matter how hard I try, I simply must cram in every single detail. It's ALL important to the story, right? Wrong. Not when we're talking flash fiction. But it's okay on the first draft to go on and on about where the story is set. Describe the bed if you think you must, the first time around. Hell, give me the whole bedroom if need be, and the adjoining master bath. Tell me the color of the sheets and the texture of the carpet. Get every detail perfect. Then, once you've gotten that out of your system, save your story under a new file name and start trimming.

Adverbs will be the first to go, followed by adjectives. You'd be surprised at how many of those kinds of words get packed into a short story and how many of them are related to setting. If losing these words leaves the story flat, go back and tinker with your nouns and verbs. Look for words that do double duty. For example, the wind doesn't blow loudly, it howls. That's a verb and an adverb right there, all rolled into one!

Need more examples? Your characters aren't making love in an antique bed, they're wrestling naked on a divan. Sounds pretty rich and decadent, doesn't it? Though if your setting isn't so posh, they could be humping on a mattress. Pull out your thesaurus and see which words best describe your scene and cut your word count.

Slowly but surely, you'll whittle the entire story down to its bare essentials, leaving just enough detail to tell us who your characters are, where they are and what they're doing. It may frustrate you at first, but it can be done. Go through as many drafts as you need until you get there. You'll soon learn a flash fiction can hold an entire bedroom or an entire universe, and every setting in between.

Like the White House, maybe...


The Oval Office

by Helen E. H. Madden

200 words

"You want to do it in here?"

Bobby, a White House intern, stood in the Oval Office, gaping at his companion. Senator Bedford chuckled.

"What the president doesn't know won't hurt us. Now drop your pants and hop onto the desk. I've been wanting this all day."

Bobby complied, resting his bare buttocks on the desk's surface. The senator knelt and devoured the younger man's hardening cock. Bobby moaned. Senators always gave the best blow jobs.

When the lights flickered on, both men jumped.

"Madame President!" Bobby yelped.

The president glared. "Sorry to interrupt, Bobby. Does Defense Secretary Richards know about your other boyfriend?"

"No ma'am." Bobby blushed fiercely. Senator Bedford blanched.

"I see." She folded her arms. "Senator, your committee has the new Family Focus bill?"

"Uh, yes ma'am."

"We're changing it tomorrow. Eleven o'clock. Don't be late."

"Yes ma'am!"

After the two men escaped, the president punched up the intercom. "Jackson, did you record that?"

"Yes ma'am. Every detail."

"Good. When the first lady gets back from China tomorrow, let her know. We'll watch it together."

The leader of the free world settled behind her desk, sighing. "If only I had North Korea by the balls like that..."


  1. What a great flasher, Helen! A double take every paragraph!

    I've never been good at flashers. 'Course when I was writing them for Storytime, I only got 100 words, but I doubt I'd do much better with 200.

    It was always write the flasher, then hack away, count, hack away, count... surely I couldn't bear to lose that lovely word, it conveyed so much...

    However, here's the one flasher I ever wrote that I was happy with. And it does set the scene, I think:

    by Lisabet Sarai

    "I like your poems," she said, leaning closer across the cafe table, so that he could see the shadowed hollow between her breasts where the candlelight did not reach. "I like your images. I can taste them, roll them around on my tongue. They catch in my throat like unshed tears."

    He sipped his chianti, adjusted his glasses, pretended to ignore her stealthy hand on his thigh. Her fingers crept over his chinos, aiming for the swelling at his root. He thought of rejection slips, the dirty laundry scattered round his flat, the bills waiting to be paid. Useless. None of these mundane devices could prevail against her blonde adoration.

    He stood like iron. Her triumphant hand claimed him. "I like the way
    you can write 'fuck'," she said, "and make it into a poem."


  2. Hmm, well, I haven't really worked on flashers since they upped the word count from 100 to 200 words. Still an incredible flasher, Helen, tight, descriptive where it was really needed and you definitely got your message across. Let's see if I can even find my old flashers.

    Flasher (100 words)
    © Jude Mason

    Naked he stands, eyes straining to see through the tinted glass. Stepping closer, wrapping his hand around his shaft, he watches and fantasizes about the woman next door. The veins are pumped full of blood as he caresses himself, aching for a glimpse of her.

    Movement in her window; the drapes drawn aside and she’s there. Clenching his fist tighter, the cum climbs his shaft. His thighs tense as his pleasure takes control, his balls churning with lust. Fisting himself hard, one lurching step forward -- his erection touches the window. Gasping, he erupts, his climax trickles down the window.

    Fun post and thanks for the memories!


  3. Lisabet and Jude,

    I love flashers, and wish I had time to write more of them (though I do put out one a month, I think). What I love about the flashers you two posted here is that setting plays a key role in the story, and you both managed to convey those settings in the fewest possible words.

    Thank you both for the stories! They're wonderful!

  4. Helen

    I want to try my hand at flashers someday, I think I should just for practice. But I've rarely found flashers that satisfied me. Tell me a good story that's all.

    "Baby shoes for sale. Never used."
    Ernest Hemingway
    (when challenged by friends to write a story of no more than 6 words.)

  5. Garce, I'd love to see you write some flash ficiton. I know you tend to write longer stories, but once I think once you got the hang of flash fiction, you'd turn out some real gems. You have quite an excellent vocabulary and a taste for language that would really stand out in this format.

    Looking forward to seeing some flash fiction from you at some point in the future };)