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Writing Short Fiction: Voice and Writing Style

July 31 2013

Dave Hood

The writer’s voice is everything the writer brings to the experience of writing short fiction, including education, socialization, values, beliefs, religion, opinions, and life experiences. The writer’s writing style is part of voice. This writing style is what makes a writer authentic, original, different from other writers. It is what readers hear when they read the short story. The writer’s voice is their “public persona,” which is revealed on the page. The most important features of writing style are word choice or diction, sentence patterns, literary techniques, and tone.

One of the popular writing styles of fiction is the minimalist style. It was a style popularized by Ernest Hemingway, and also endorsed by Raymond Carver. This style focuses on the belief that “less is more.” Writers use short paragraphs, short sentences, write with the active voice, and use action verbs and concrete verbs. The writer omits or deletes every detail that is not essential to the writing. Subtext plays a strong role in this style of fiction.

You can develop your fiction writing style by reading and analyzing short fiction, and then incorporating the techniques of other writers into your own fiction.

(Note: You will also use these same guidelines and techniques to write poetry, personal essays, and other types of creative nonfiction.)

In this article, I’ll discuss writing style as it applies to fiction writing.  The following will be covered:

  • How to identify the author’s writing style.
  • Define Hemingway’s minimalist style.
  • Suggest a writing style to use for writing fiction.
  • Learning to write lyrical prose.
  • Developing your own writing style.

Analyzing Short Fiction

The writer’s style of writing is expressed through word choice or diction, tone of the writing, the use of imaginative language, such as simile, metaphor, imagery, the types of sentences or syntax , as well as the choice of fictional techniques.

The best short fiction writers use everyday language in a fresh and original way.  They also avoid using avoid clichés and jargon. Often they share an interesting word that we’ve never heard—a word that has powerful meaning.

The best short fiction writers use a variety of sentence patterns, such as the use of loose and periodic sentences, sentence fragments, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentence.

The best short fiction writers use a variety of literary techniques, such as flashback, suspense, dialogue, showing and telling, and interior monologue.

The best short fiction writers also use the poetic devices of poetry, including simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration, and allusion. Some writers use similes and metaphors infrequently, such as Carver and Hemingway. Other writers use them a great deal.

The best short fiction writers use a tone that is conversational and respectful. Tone refers to the writer’s attitude to his/her subject and view of the audience. Never use a condescending tone. Learn to write fiction by reading short stories as a writer. Analyze how the writer used the elements of fiction, literary techniques, and poetic devices to constructed the short story. As you read, answer these questions:

  1. How does the writer begin the short story? With conflict? With setting description? With dialogue? With action? With a memorable event?
  2. How does the writer develop the setting? What is the time and place of the story? Is it real or fantasy? Does the setting create a mood? Is the setting the antagonist? Does the setting provide a backdrop for the story?
  3. A short story must include conflict, turning point, and resolution. Identify the conflict, turning point, and resolution of the story.
  4. Which point of view does the writer use?
  5. What is the theme? How does the writer reveal theme to the reader?
  6. Where does the writer use scene and summary? What are the features of each scene?
  7. where is there dialogue in the story?  How does the writer use dialogue? What conventions are used?
  8. What fictional techniques does the writer use? What poetic devices does the writer use?
  9. What is the writing style of the writer? Does the writer use simple or fancy words? Does the writer use simple sentences , compound sentences, or fragments?
  10. How does the writer end the story? Does it include an epiphany? Lesson learned? Is the ending open, closed, or a summary?

One of the popular writing styles of short fiction is minimalism, popularized by Ernest Hemingway. He wrote minimalist short fiction. Years later, short story writer Raymond Carver also embraced this style of storytelling. Minimalist short fiction has these attributes:

  • Concrete nouns and action verbs
  • Few adverbs and adjectives
  • Short sentences
  • Short paragraphs
  • Short words and everyday language, as well as familiar instead of fancy words.
  • Minimal character and setting description
  • Minimal background details
  • Very little use of figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification
  • Insufficient resolution or ending to the story

Popular Fiction Writing Style

To write short fiction, develop a writing style that includes:

  • Concrete nouns
  • Action verbs
  • Active voice
  • Sentence variety
  • Figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, symbolism, personification, allusion
  • Lyrical prose, using alliteration, assonance, repetition, parallel structure

Develop a writing style that is friendly and conversational. Learn to show and tell readers. Use sensory detail, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. As well, read and master the advice in Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”

Learning to Writer Lyrical Prose

Author Constance Hale, in “Sin and Syntax,” explains how you can learn to write literary prose. There are found components: voice, lyricism, melody, and rhythm.

Voice

The writer must consider the literary meaning and implied meaning of words, as well as avoid using clichés and jargon. The writer should also use a variety of sentence patterns, such as a fragment, simple, and compound sentences.

Lyricism

The writer can create prose that sound musical by using the following:

  • Imagery-Use of sensory details.
  • Metaphor-Making a comparison between unlike things, without using “like” or “as.”
  • Simile-Making a comparison between unlike things, using “like” or “as.”
  • Personification. Describing things and objects and ideas by using human attributes. Example: The bible preaches its wisdom to anyone who takes the time.
  • Description. Using concrete, significant, and particular description. Example: He pressed the shutter on his black Nikon, full-frame camera, using a wide-angle lens, capturing a fleeting moment in time, a man being shot by police, for all the world to see.
  • Repetition. Repeating words and phrases in a sentence or sentences that are close to each other.

Example:

Streets and highway filled with an avalanche of snow. The plows bulldoze it away. Icicles hang from the eaves like a work of installation art. Cars stuck, spinning their wheels. The Maple leaf, stands, watches, as the neighborhood shovels. Kids frolic, build snow forts, toboggan down hills of snow in the park behind the school. The storm has interrupted daily routines and rituals.

Melody

The writer can create prose that have a melody by using the poetic devices of:

  • Assonance-Positioning two or more words with the same vowel sounds close together in a sentence.
  • Alliteration- Positing two or more words with the same initial consonant sounds in a sentence.
  • Internal rhyme Selecting words that rhyme and using them in the middle of a sentence.
  • Onomatopoeia -Using words that sound what they describe. Example: The fire crackled.

Rhythm

The writer should strive to create sentences that have rhythm. It refers to pattern, pace, repetition, and parallel structure of a sentence. A simple way to create rhythm is to count the stressed syllables in a sentence. The writer can slow down the pace with long sentences, and speed up the pace with short sentence. Create rhythm in your prose by developing sentences with a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Learn to use repetition and parallel structure. Example: He smoked, drank, womanized, and died one day, lounging on the beach in the sunshine with a smile. ( Slow pace)

Developing Your Writing Style

Part of learning to write is developing your own writing voice. How do you do this? There are several ways. The most important advice I have read was written by Elizabeth Berg, the author of “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.” She suggests that you can develop your writing voice by putting down on to paper the words you are hearing in your mind. In other words, be yourself as you write. Use your own words, and don’t imagine you are someone else as you write. Write honestly—share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, impressions, stories that are important to you. And share them by using your own language–how you speak. She also suggests that you should not write about what you know but that you should write about what you love, what you are passionate about.

Next, you should write often and regularly. Start by keeping a journal. Write everyday in this journal, recording observations, interesting quotations, memorable lyrics, overheard conversation, lines of poetry. Write poetry, anecdotes, short, short essays. Try using the technique of stream of consciousness. Write by freewriting. Record “small, fleeting moments.”Ask a question to yourself, and then write an answer. Include interesting photograph, news stories, advice columns. Write about your emotional truth—how you felt about something. In your journal, you can write about anything. Journal writing helps you develop the habit of writing and your writing skills. It can also be a place where you record “possible ideas” for a poem, short story, and personal essay.

Also, learn all about writing style. The best and easiest book to read is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It provides the rules and guidelines of a good writing style. If you intend to write essays or other creative nonfiction, you should also read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Both of these books are classics, are used in university and college writing courses, and are recommended by most writers. Every writer should have copies of these inexpensive paperbacks on their bookshelf for reference. As well, read Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax.”

Next, read short stories to learn how the writer constructed the story. If you are not sure, read “How to Read Like a Writer” by Francine Prose.

Fourthly, make sure you understand the rules and guidelines of grammar, such as for use of verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and more. If you don’t know these rules or guidelines, pick up a copy of “Woe Is I:The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. Another great book that presents grammar in with a humorous tone is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I also recommend “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn the rules of punctuation. How to use the comma, exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, semi colon, colon. Essentially, you must memorize the rules. To learn the rules of punctuation, I suggest you read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn to the major types of sentence patterns and then to write poetry, short fiction, and personal essays. The syntax of a sentence is an important feature of the writer’s voice. To develop your own voice, learn to write simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentences. Learn when to use a sentence fragment and how to write using parallel construction. Learn how to use items in a series. Learn how to write both periodic or cumulative sentences. Where can you go for advice?

Language choices contribute to writer style. Therefore, you should own a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them for enjoyment and to improve your language skills. Develop your language skills by looking up the meaning of words you don’t understand in a dictionary. Find the precise word by checking your thesaurus, which includes synonyms. To expand your vocabulary, begin learning a word a day. Use the words you learn in your writing. Don’t write to impress. Instead, use language to express yourself, to communicate meaning, to entertain, to share important ideas, knowledge, and wisdom with your audience.

If you aspire to become a creative writer, learn how to write imaginatively. Imaginative writing involves learning how to show and tell the reader, writing vivid descriptions of sensory imagery–language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. It involves using literary devices of simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, and other devices that you find in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction. There are countless books on the market that you can purchase. For a good overview on how to write creatively and imaginatively, I suggest you purchase “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by writer/instructor Janet Burroway. It’s a superb text that will help you.

Another way to develop your voice is to share emotional truth in your writing. It means telling others how you feel. For instance, if you lost your job–tell your readers how it felt. If you were diagnosed with a serious disease, share your thoughts and feelings with your readers. If you split up with a girlfriend or marital partner, tell the audience how you felt by expressing the emotional truth. Keep in mind that two people can have different emotional views on a situation. And so , there is no right or wrong “emotional truth.” Emotional truth has to do with how you felt about a person, about an experience , about an event.

It takes time to develop your writing voice, providing you write on a regular basis. Many writing instructors suggest you keep a journal and experiment in it. In part, developing your voice is an unconscious effort–you learn by reading and writing, without making a conscious effort. In part, you can make a conscious decision to develop your voice. For instance, you can learn to read like a writer. You can learn grammar, spelling, punctuation. You can experiment with language and sentence variety. You can make a conscious choice about what sort of tone to use. The easiest way to develop your voice is to “put down on paper” what is on your mind.

Your writing voice is what a reader hears when they read your words. Your writing voice is your “public persona,” which is expressed in your writing. It is revealed in the language that you use, the types of sentences that you use, and your tone–your attitude toward the reader and the topic or idea you are writing about.

Additional Reading

To learn more about how to develop your developing and polishing your writer’s voice, read the following superb books:

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
  • The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  • Woe is I: the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway

Writing Free Verse Poetry: Stanza, Line Break, Style

Dave Hood

The best free verse poets use several techniques of style to compose their poetry. Four important stylistic choices available to the poet are:

  • Stanzas
  • Line breaks
  • Syntax or sentence structure or sentence variety
  • Grammar of a poem

A stanza is a group of lines in a poem, separated by white space. The stanza is the body of the poem. Sometimes you’ll see stanzas of two lines, three lines, four lines—-or one long stanza. The stanza in free verse is a way to organize related ideas, a way to create a pause, a way to add emphasis to related lines.

A line break is a tool that the poet uses to create a particular effect, such as a pause or to emphasize an idea, word, phrase. Sage Cohen, author of “Writing the Life Poetic“ writes: “Lines act as the engine that moves the reader through a poem.”

A good understanding of syntax or sentence structure will help you write better poetry. Sentence structure contributes to the rhythm of a poem.

The style of a poem is determined by the poet’s decisions about word choice, syntax, poetic devices,  and tone.

The best poets follow the rules and conventions of grammar. They use the active voice, write with concrete nouns and actions verbs, and use adjectives and adverbs sparingly.

In this post, I’ll discuss how to use the stanza, line break, syntax, and grammar to write good or memorable free verse poetry.

Stanza

What is a stanza? It is a group of lines in a poem, separated by white space. Stanzas are the body of a poem. They follow the title. The stanza in a poem is like a paragraph in prose. Sometimes a stanza is short, consisting of only a line. Other times, a stanza is long, making up the entire poem.

How do you know when to create a new stanza? The stanza in poetry is a device for organizing related ideas.

A new stanza is also a way to signal a change in time, place, perspective, and so forth.

The stanza is also used to tell the reader to stop and ponder. The white space before or after the stanza signals this to the reader.

The stanza also influences the momentum of a poem. Sage Cohen, author of Writing the Life Poetic writes: “Stanza’s influence the poems momentum. Line breaks cause the reader to linger an extra beat; the space between stanzas bring the reader to a sharp stop.”

The stanza is used to change direction. For instance, the poet who composes a narrative poem about “my day” might have one stanza for what happened during the “morning, another stanza for the “afternoon,”  and a final stanza for the “evening.”

In traditional poetry, there are rules for determining the number of lines and number of stanzas in a poem. For instance, the Shakespearean Sonnet is one stanza of 14 lines. Each line is an iambic meter. It is also an ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18)

by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

In contrast, the modern or contemporary free verse poem requires no particular stanza length and no particular rhyme scheme. A free verse poem can have one of three types of stanzas:

  • A single stanza.
  • Several stanzas with the same number of lines.
  • Several stanzas, each with a different number of lines.

Free verse poets sometimes use stanzas found in traditional poetry. Kenneth Koch, poet and author of “Making Your Own Days”, writes that the most common “stanza in English is the couplet, two rhyming lines together.”

In free verse poetry, you are free to determine when to break begin a new stanza and to determine the number of lines in each stanza. Remember that each time you end a new stanza, you tell the reader to stop–and take a long pause.

Line Breaks

In traditional poetry, the poet must often break a line to comply with a particular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. In free verse poetry, the poet doesn’t have to comply to any rules. The poet can break a line for any number of reasons. Here are the most popular reasons why a poet breaks a line and begins a new line:

  • To emphasize a word or phrase at the end of a line.
  • To signal a pause to the reader.
  • To speed up or slow down the pace.
  • To create a sense of forward motion.
  • To change of thought.
  • To create an  interruption.
  • To comply with the rules of grammar.
  • To create a metrical pattern or syllabic pattern.

Suppose you wanted to write a short poem about spring, you could write:

Sunshine, blooming tulips, green grass, a warm breeze

A leisure ride on a bike—-

These are the ingredients of a favorite spring day.

Or you could write:

Sunshine

Blooming tulips

Green grass

a warm breeze

a leisure ride on a bike

These are the ingredients

of  a favorite spring day.

Or you could write something else.

Here are a few popular ways in which you can create a line break:

  1. Use white space on a line, between lines, between  stanzas.
  2. Indent a line of a poem with white space.
  3. Use end stop, such as comma or period.
  4. Use enjambment to break a phrase in half, creating a sense of forward motion.
  5. Use a dash, question mark, exclamation mark.
  6. Break a line at the end of a phrase or sentence.

Use a line break emphasize words or an idea at the end of a line, or to follow a rhythmic pattern,  or to signal the reader to pause after reading the line.

Syntax/Sentence Structure

The words “syntax” and “sentence structure” are used interchangeably. Syntax refers to the types of sentence structures a poet selects to write a  poem. In free verse poetry, there are no rules for the types sentences structures you can use. However, to avoid writing dull poetry, you`ll want to vary your syntax or sentence structure. For instance, if you desire to speed up the pace, you`ll write a short sentence or series of short sentences. If you desire to create a poem with lots of depth, you might use appositives, compound sentences, or complex sentences. If you want to create rhythm, you`ll use parallel structure. If you want to create a poem that moves to a climax, you`ll use the periodic sentence. What types of syntax ought you use to write poems? Here are the popular types of sentence structures:

  • Simple sentence (A single independent clause) Example: The ship sailed/across the sea.
  • Compound sentence (Two independent clause separated by a coordinating conjunction, such as  and, or, but, for, so, nor, yet. Example: The ship sailed across the sea/and the crew worked like slaves.
  • Complex sentence (A sentence with one independent clause, and at least one dependent clause. Example: While the snow fell, the old man in the living room/ sipped hot coffee/ read the newspaper/ next to the warmth of the fire place.
  • Cumulative Sentence. An independent clause, followed by several subordinate phrases or dependent clauses.
  • Periodic Sentence. Several subordinate phrases or dependent clauses, ending with a independent clause. A few logs/Kindling Wood/a match/ a fire place/marsh mellows/a roaring camp fire/
  • Inverted Sentence. It is a sentence in which the predicate or verb comes before the subject, or the complete subject and verb, coming after a . Example: Rarely have I eaten better spaghetti.
  • Sentence Fragment. A sentence that is a phrase or dependent clause. Reading the newspaper. Snapping a photograph. Playing the piano.
  • Parallel Structure. Nouns, verbs, phrases, clauses that have the same function or express similar ideas should match grammatically. Use parallel structure for items in a series, coorelative conjunctions, and coordinating conjunctions.

Here is an example of how a poet can use different sentence patterns in a poem:

Piano 

by D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;

Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see

A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings

And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song

Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong

To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside

And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor

With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour

Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast

Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

In this poem, D. H. Lawrence uses several types of sentences. Here are four:

  • And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings. (Simple sentence with a single independent clause)
  • In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song betrays me back…(Complex sentence)
  • Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep, like a child for the past. (Complex sentence)
  • Softly, in dusk, a woman is singing to me. (Simple sentence with a single independent clause and phrase)

If you are not sure about the syntax of a sentence, such as the difference between, a fragment, simple sentence, complex sentence,  you should read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark,  and “Sin and Syntax“ by Constance Hale,  and “Woe is I“ by Patricia T. O`Conner.

The Grammar of a Poem

All good poets follow the rules and conventions of grammar. The poet know the parts of speech and how to use them. The poet knows the parts of a sentence and how to use them. The poet knows punctuation and how to use it. (The period, the dash, the question mark, the comma, and semi-colon, and so forth.) Here are a few grammatical guidelines you should following when composing a free verse poem:

  • Uses concrete nouns whenever possible.
  • Use action verbs whenever possible.
  • Use adjectives sparingly.
  • Use adverbs sparingly.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Make sure the subject agrees with the verb.
  • Make sure the pronoun agrees with the noun it refers to.
  • Use words, phrases, clauses, sentences variety.
  • Use parallel structure.

As well, it is acceptable to:

  • Split infinitives
  • End a sentence with a preposition
  • Begin a sentence with “and” or “but“
  • Use sentence fragments

Finally, when composing a poem, you ought to use correct punctuation or no punctuation at all. However, if you desire to become a good poet, you’ll create poems with correct punctuation—and when you don’t use proper punctuation, you’ll know why. It is really only acceptable to break the rules when you know why. And so, you must know how to use:

  • The coma.
  • The period.
  • The dash.
  • The colon.
  • The semi-colon.
  • The exclamation mark.
  • The ellipse.
  • The parenthesis.

If you are not sure about your grammar, you can read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark,  and “Sin and Syntax” by Constance Hale,  and “Woe is I” by Patricia T. O`Conner.

Resources

To learn more about writing free verse poetry, read the following:

  • How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch
  • The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
  • The Poet Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt
  • A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
  • Creating Poetry by John Drury
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
  • The Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
  • Making Your Own Days by Kenneth Koch
  • In the Poem of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit

Writing Free Verse Poetry: An Overview

Dave Hood

Most modern and contemporary poets write free verse poetry. Unlike traditional poetry, which is based on a particular metrical pattern and often a rhyme scheme, the free verse poet writes poetry without rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Read any collection of modern or contemporary poetry, and you’ll quickly discover that the poets have composed their poetry as free verse.

Many contemporary poets have written memorable free verse poetry–poems that will stand the test of time. A century from now, readers will view these free verse poems as  works of art. Read the poetry of the poet laureates, such as Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Louise Gluck, Rita Dove, and you’ll experience something delightful, something memorable. These poets have written poems about anything you can think of, such as war, happiness, death, misery. Here’s a good free verse poem by poet laureate Rita Dove called “Golden Oldie:”

I made it home early, only to get

stalled in the driveway, swaying

at the wheel like the blind pianist caught in tune

meant for more than two hands playing.

The words were easy, crooned

by a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover

a pain majestic enough

to live by. I turned the air-conditioning off,

leaned back to float on a film of sweat,

and listened to the sentiment:

Baby, where did our love go?-a lament

I greedily took in

without a clue who my lover

might be, or where to start looking.

She writes in the first person, shares an anecdote or story, uses the poetic device of allusion, creates a conversational tone with language that all readers can understand. At the end, she shares a universal truth about youth. This poem has meaning. Good free verse poetry has meaning, like an illuminating quotation by a famous person.

In this article, I’ll provide you with an overview of free verse poetry. The following will be covered:

  • Types of free verse
  • Building blocks of free verse
  • Voice and style of the poet

Types of Free Verse

Free verse poets have written about any subject you can imagine. From love, to hate, to death, to a personal experience, to a fleeting moment.  For instance, the poem in the introduction is a narrative. It tells a story. It could also be an anecdote. Once you start reading modern and contemporary poetry, you discover that poets write various types of free verse. Here are some of the most common types:

  1. Narrative poem. The poet tells a story. Often, there is rising action, climax, and resolution, like a short story. The poet composes the narrative by using simile, metaphor, imagery, vivid description, line breaks, and so forth.
  2. Prose poem. The poet uses complete sentences and the techniques of poetry, simile, metaphor, imagery, and vivid description. Stanzas become paragraphs. The language of the poem is lyrical.
  3. Anecdote. The poet describes some incident or experience or event that is humorous or interesting, and ends the poem with some insight. Poets also use anecdotes to illustrate a truth.
  4. Image poem. The poet writes a poem about an image, and relies on language that appeals to the sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing to describe the image. The poet also composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.
  5. Meditative poem. The poet begins by describing a scene. This scene triggers a meditation in the mind of the poet. The poet then returns to the initial scene with better understanding or resolution.  The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.
  6. Lyrical poem.  A traditional form adopted by many modern/contemporary poets. The poet writes a poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings about an idea, person, experience. The poet uses imagery and description to create a mood. The poet also uses sound effects to make the poem sound lyrical, like music. These sound effects include alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, internal or end rhyme.
  7. Confessional poem. A poem that is autobiographical. The poet writes about personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Instead of looking outward, observing the world, and then writing about it, the poet peers inward to the psyche, writes about the world in relation to themselves. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth.  See the poetry of Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, Jane Kenyon.
  8. Elegy. A traditional form adopted by some modern/contemporary poets.   A poem that laments the death of a loved one, such as a friend. The poet composes the poem using line break, simile, metaphor, and so forth. See “Oh Caption! My Caption” by Walt Whitman and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickenson

Building Blocks

Unlike a traditional poem, such as a sonnet or blank verse, where the poet must follow particular rules, such a particular number of lines in a stanza, a particular metrical pattern, and a particular rhyme scheme, the free verse poet can compose a poem in any way he/she desires, without adhering to any rules. However, if the poet aspires to write good poetry, or memorable poetry, or poetry that is worthy of publication, then the poet must follow the conventions and guidelines of free verse poetry. A good free verse poem uses the following building blocks or techniques:

Syntax and grammar. Poets use a variety of syntax, such as fragments, simple sentences, compound sentences, periodic sentences, and  parallel structure.  They follow the rules of punctuation and the rules of grammar.  They use both action verbs and concrete nouns . They write in the active voice instead of the passive voice. (The noun performs the action of the verb.) They use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. (to avoid wordiness and repeating an idea that can be presented by the right verb or right noun.)

Line breaks and Line length. Poets use line breaks such as white space, enjambment, or end-stop (period or comma) to  indicate the reader to pause, to create emphasis, and to create rhythm.  They write short lines to speed up the pace, and long lines to slow down the pace.

Figurative Language. Most good free verse poetry includes simile or metaphor.  A simile makes a comparison using “like” or “as.” A metaphor makes a comparison with “is” or “of” by stating that one thing is another. Example: She  is the devil in disguise. And when required, the poet also includes symbolism and allusion and personification.

Figurative language can make a poem pleasurable to read. It  can clarify meaning. It entertains the reader. It turns the ordinary into something meaningful, something memorable. Often an abstract idea can be made concrete to the reader by using similes or metaphors. Example: Love is a drug….We are addicted to love. In the poem, “Golden Oldies”,  poet Rita Dove uses the technique of allusion to make reference to pop culture. She writes: “Baby, where did our love go?” It is a famous song by The Supremes, who were a popular singing group in the 60’s and early 70’s.

Appropriate word choice or diction. Free verse poets choose words for their meaning (denotation or dictionary meaning), implied meaning (connotation), and sound (rhyme, alliteration, assonance). Example: The boy sat on the soiled sofa/sipped a cold soda/ read a comic book. Most free verse poets use everyday language, words that you’d here in a conversation. The following  poem by Louise Gluck  is a good example of how poets can use everyday language to create a powerful poetry:

Memoir

I was born cautious, under the sign of Taurus.

I grew up on an island, prosperous,

in the second half of the twentieth century;

the shadow of the Holocaust

hardly touched us.

I had a philosophy of love, a philosophy

of religion, both based on

early experience within family.

And if when I wrote I used only a few words

it was because time always seemed to me short

as though it could be stripped away

at any moment.

And my story, in any case, wasn’t unique

though, like everyone else, I had a story,

a point of view.

A few words were all I needed:

nourish, sustain, attack.

Imagery. Good free verse poets use language that appeals to reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing.  The poet uses imagery to show the reader what happened or what the poet experienced with his/her senses. Imagery brings a person, object, image, moment, experience to life. Imagery recreates what the poet experienced or imagined as a the scene in the mind of the reader. Imagery helps to create “word pictures.”

Symbolism. On occasion, the free verse poet uses symbol, metonymy,  or synecdoche. A symbol refers to something other than its literal meaning. Some poets use well-recognized symbols. ( Examples: cross, dove, bible) Others create their own. (A blooming yellow tulip in the garden can be a symbol of birth or springtime.) Metonymy is a figure of speech in which the poet replaces the word of one thing with the word or phrased that is closely associated with it. (Example: Crown instead of Monarch)  A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the poet substitutes the  “part for the whole.” This part or attribute or characteristic is used by the poet to refer to the entire person, place, thing, object, and so forth. (Example:  The teenager purchased a “set of wheels.”  Wheels refer to a car or truck.

Sound Devices. A memorable poem has a pleasing sound when read aloud. This  pleasuring sound is created with particular  poetic devices, such as alliteration (repetition of consonant sound of two or more words on a line or lines) and  assonance (repetition of vowel sounds of two or more words on a line or lines). When required, poets also use onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, or end rhyme. Free verse poetry is meant to be read for its meaning and sound. Both invoke an emotional reaction.

Rhythm.  A good free verse poem has rhythm or beat. This rhyme is based on  the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables on a line. Meter can be part of rhythm. For instance, a poet can include rhythm by using a particular metrical pattern. Though a free verse poem doesn’t have to comply to a metrical pattern, such as iambic pentameter, many modern and contemporary poets rely on  “syllabic meter” to create rhythm.  For instance, the poetic might create a poem in which each line has the same number of syllables.

Poets also use other techniques, such as parallel structure and repetition, to create rhythm.

Line break is also an important way to create rhythm. The poet can use white space, enjambment, or end-stop, such as a period or coma.

Poets also create rhythm by changing the pace. The poet can speed up or slow down the pace of a poem, make it fast or slow,  smooth or interrupted—even irregular by using different lengths of line.   A long line slows down the pace, while a short line speeds up the pace. Usually a longer line has more syllables than a short line.

Point of view. Free verse poetry can be written from different poets of view—first person (“I”), second person (“you”), or third person (“he/she”). Before selecting a point of view, the poet should determine how he/she is going to present the poem to the reader. The poet has two choices: First, the poet can turn inward–and then write about thoughts, feelings, perceptions. Secondly, the poet can turn outward—and write about other people, objects, things, events, topics in the world. If the poet turns inward, to the psyche or self, then the poem is usually written in the first person (“I.”) If the poet turns outward—to view the outside world, the poet can still write in the first person. However, usually the poet writes in the  third person using (“he/she.”)

Sometimes the poet writes in the second-person point of view using  “you.” In this case, the poet is referring directly to the reader. Example: You smoke your cigarette/ You read your paper/You sip your morning coffee/You ponder how another day will unfold/You’ve learned that a day can play out like a football game/ Often you don’t know who will win until the very end.

Sometimes, the poet invents a persona, and then composes a poem as if he were someone else. For instance, the poet might write a poem in the voice of someone dead or alive or famous. Most free verse poems are written in the first-person point of view (“I”), or the third person point of view (“he/she”).

Appealing Voice and Style. Voice and style are used interchangeably. They refer to tone, word choice/diction, and sentence variety. A good poem has a respectful tone, is constructed with everyday language, and a variety of sentence structures, such as fragment, parallel structure, simple sentence, compound sentences, and more. For instance, here is a poem, written by Ted Kooser,  that is like a conversation:

Flying at Night

by Ted Kooser

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.

Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies

like a snowflake falling on the water. Below us

some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,

snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn

back into the little system of his care.

All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,

tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Voice and Style of the Poet

Whether you write fiction, poetry, personal essays, voice and style refer to the same thing. The most important aspects of style or voice are tone of the writing, word choice, and sentence structure. Every particular writer has a unique voice or style that is expressed on the page.   Voice or style is what the readers hears when they read a writer’s work. Style or voice is developed as the writer gains more experience. In other words, the more the poet writes and learns about poetry, the more polished the style. Favorite poets will have a voice you like. Several elements create the poet’s voice or style. These include:

  • Subject Matter. The subject you choose to write about will contribute to the voice of your poem. For instance, if you desire to write about grief and death, you’ll probably want to use a serious, respectful, melancholy tone.
  • Word Choice. The types of words you choose, the sound of these words, and the meaning of these words will contribute to your voice. A good poet uses everyday language, which can be understood. A good poet also writes poetry that has a pleasing sound when read aloud.
  • Sentence Types. The sentence types you use are part of your voice that you express on the page. You can use different types of sentences, such as a fragment, simple sentence, compound sentence, complex sentence, fragment, and so forth. A short sentence speeds up the pace, where as a longer sentence slows the pace.
  • Grammar.  Poets are told to use the active voice,  concrete and specific details, concrete nouns, and action verbs. Each contributes to the voice of a poem. You should following these suggestions to help create a pleasing voice.
  • Figurative language/Poetic Devices. In part, your  style is determined by the poetic devices you use to create your poems.  You might use alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia to create a particular sound. You might also use simile, metaphor, imagery, symbolism to create an entertaining poetry and to explain. Many poets prefer particular poetic devices over others. Most good free verse uses simile or metaphor.
  • Tone. The tone of the poem is determined by the poet’s attitude toward the reader and the subject. The best tone is friendly, conversational, respectful. Write your poetry as if you’re talking to a friend.
  • Point of View. The personal point of view ( “I”) is more intimate. Use it to write about yourself.  The third person (“he/she”) provides some narrative distance. Use it write about the world around you.
  • Life experience. Every writer is socialized by the world in which he/she lives. Religion, the mass media, education, family, personal experience shape the writers view of the world.

The four most important aspects of  developing style are tone, word choice, sentence variety/syntax, and poetic technique.

Resources

For more information on writing free verse poetry, read the following books:

  • How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch
  • The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
  • The Poet Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt
  • A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
  • Creating Poetry by John Drury
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
  • The Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie
  • Making Your Own Days by Kenneth Koch
  • In the Poem of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit

How Should You Revise a Short Story?

By Dave Hood

There are a number of ways to revise your short story. You might want to write the first draft and then revise it for each of the elements of fiction-setting, character, plot, theme. You might want to revise your story for voice, style and tone.

Revising is not a rewrite. A rewrite is where you throw away the original story and then begin again. Revising a short story means to improve your story, refining your story, correct weaknesses in your story. For instance, you might change words, condense sentences, delete repetition.

I suggest that you write your story by first using a macro approach, followed by a micro approach. The macro revision involves revising your story for the elements of fiction, such as setting, plot, character. In the micro revision, you revise for style, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and so forth.

In this article, I’ll explain how to revise your short story using macro and micro revision techniques.

Macro Revision

Here are some of the things you need to consider when revising the elements of fiction:

Setting and Time

  • Is the setting realistic and believable?
  • Does setting provide a backdrop to the story?
  • Does the setting create a mood or atmosphere?
  • Is the setting a motive for the character to take some course of action?
  • Do you show and not tell the reader?

Plot/Plot Structure

  • Does your story have an inciting incident?
  • Does central character face setbacks/obstacles as he/she attempts to achieve a particular goal?
  • Does the story include a climax or turning point?
  • Do you resolve the story by answering the conflict?

Character and Characterization

  • Does the character have desire to reach some goal?
  • Does your story include flat and round characters?
  • Have you employed action, dialogue, description of appearance to develop your central character?

Point of View

  • Is your story told from a consistent point of view?
  • What point of view are you using? First-person POV? Second-person POV? Third-person POV?

Vivid Description

  • Do you show and not tell?
  • Do you use sensory details to show what happens?
  • Do you use specific details to who what happens?
  • Do you use figurative language as a form of description?

Figurative Language

  • Does the story include similes?
  • Does the story include metaphors?
  • Do you use allusion?
  • Do you use personification?
  • Do you use symbolism?

Dialogue

  • Do you include dialogue in scenes?
  • Does the dialogue reveal conflict, move the plot forward, reveal character?
  • Do you include quotation marks and dialogue tags dialogue?
  • Does the dialogue sound realistic?

Theme

  • Does your story have a theme?
  • Does each element of fiction contribute to the meaning?
  • Do the symbols help to develop the theme?
  • Is the theme revealed in the conflict?
  • Is the theme revealed in the consequences of the story?
  • What is the meaning of the story?

Voice

  • Do you tell the story with a particular voice?
  • Does the story have a consistent voice?
  • Does the diction support the voice?

Showing and Telling

  • Does your story include narrative summary?
  • Does your story use scenes to show how important events, such as setbacks, conflict, and the climax unfold?

Micro Revision

In the micro revision, you correct the following:

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Writing style, such as diction and syntax

If you don’t complete understand grammar, you need to purchase and read a copy of “Woe is I” Patricia T. O’Connor.

One of the best books on grammar and most entertaining is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” [Hardcover] by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I urge you to purchase a copy if you don’t understand the difference between and adjective, adverb, verb, and noun. I urge you to purchase a copy if you don’t understand the difference between an independent clause, dependent clause, verbal, infinitive, gerund. This book provides an easy and entertaining way to learn and of master grammar.

The best writing style embodies the principles and advice of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”, a short classic text on how to improve your writing style. If you haven’t read it, you should read it. If you don’t own a copy, you need to purchase it, read it, and master the advice.

Final Thoughts on Revision

Too much revision can damage your story. You might make it incomplete. So, ask yourself: What can I cut or eliminate or improve without damaging the story?

As well, revise only until you feel your story is complete, and then stop.

Share your story with people you trust. Have them read your story and provide their opinions. Then decide whether you want to revise your story with their suggestions.

 

Additional Resources

For more information on how to revise your story, you can read the following:

  • Writing Fiction from the Gotham Writer’s Workshop
  • Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway
  • Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor
  • The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed [Hardcover] by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.

 

The Voice and Style of a Fiction Writer

All great writers, such as Faulkner, Chekhov, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov, wrote their fiction with a unique voice and writing style.

Hemingway, for instance, wrote stories using a minimalist style. He used short sentences, nouns and verbs, short paragraphs, and vigorous language to tell his stories.

Cormac McCarthy also wrote “The Road” with a minimalist writing style. He often used short sentences, sentence fragments, and fancy vocabulary. As well, he did not use quotation marks to indicate that characters were speaking.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the novel,” Lolita”, a tragic comedy using a creative style of long sentences and fancy words, irony and wordplay, such as verbal puns and anagrams.

Each of these writers narrated the story with a distinct voice and unique writing style.

In this article, I’ll discuss voice and style as it relates to  novels or short stories. The following will be covered:

  • Definition of voice in the story
  • Writer’s voice versus narrator’s voice
  • Definition of the writer’s writing style
  • How an aspiring writer can develop his/her voice and style

Voice of the Story

What is voice in fiction? Voice is one of the elements for analyzing fiction and a technique for writing a short story or novel. Voice is what the reader hears when reading the story. Voice is the narrator of the story.

Writers use several types of voices to narrate their stories. The important thing to remember is to keep the voice of the story consistent. Here some of the more common voices that writers use:

  • Conversational voice. As you read the story, you feel like the narrator is engaged in a conversation with the reader. The story is told using the POV of first person. J.D. Salinger uses this voice to tell the story of “Catcher in the Rye.”
  • Informal voice. It’s not as conversational. The narrator of the story uses everyday language. The story is told using first person or third person POV. Raymond told the story of “Cathedral” with an informal voice.
  • Formal voice. The narrator is detached from the main character as the story is told. The narration uses fancy prose and language. Both the stories of “Lolita” and “The Great Gatsby” were told using the formal voice.
  • Other voices. Writers have put into use many other voices to tell short stories or novels. For instance, Virginia Woolf used stream of consciousness. Other writers have used a lyrical voice like as though writing poetry.

 Writer’s Voice versus Narrator’s Voice

The narrator of the story is not the author or writer of the story. Yet, it is easy to confuse because some narrators do speak in a voice that resembles the author of the story. This confusion can also occur when a story has a first-person point of view or narrative. You need to be aware that the narrator or voice of the story is a construction, a technique used by the writer, to tell the story.

To decide whether to refer to the author or narrator of the story, ask yourself the following questions:

Are you quoting the text of the novel or short story? If so, you are referring to the narrator or voice of the story.

Are you asking questions about writing style, choice of diction, literary devices, such as simile, metaphor, symbolism? Then you are referring to the author’s voice.

The writer’s voice consists of the writing style and writer’s view of the world, such as his/her beliefs, opinions, values, personal experiences. Essentially, the writer’s voice is everything he/she embodies and puts into use to write the story.

Remember: The voice of the story is the voice of the narrator.

Writing Style of a Fiction Writer

What is writing style? It refers to the various literary techniques and stylistic choices the writer puts into use to craft the short story or novel. In particular, the writer’s style focuses on the following:

  • Writer’s choice of diction
  • Sentence length, sentence variety, syntax
  • Paragraph length

Writer’s Choice of Diction

Diction refers to the word choices of the writer. It all depends on the voice and point of view of the story. Here are some types of diction that writers use:

  • Profanity and vulgarisms
  • Obscenities
  • Contractions
  • Conversational and colloquial
  • Formal language
  • Fancy language

Writer’s Sentence Style

A good writer writes a story using different types of sentences and different lengths of sentences. Here are the common styles of sentences writers use:

  • Sentence fragment (phrase or dependent clause)
  • Simple sentence ( A single independent clause)
  • Compound sentence ( Two independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunction )
  • Complex sentence (One independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A complex clause always has a subordination such as though, although, since, because…)
  • Periodic sentence ( modifiers + modifier +. Modifier…main clause at end)
  • Cumulative or loose sentence (main clause + modifier + modifier + modifier…)
  • Items in a series ( Main clause that includes series of items. Example: He wrote the first draft, revised it, printed a hard copy, handed it in to the professor.)

Writer’s Paragraph Style

There is no rule about how long or short a paragraph should be. Writers use different lengths, some very short, such as a sentence. Other writer construct long, detailed paragraphs.

Often writer’s craft a new paragraph for any of the following:

  • When a different character speaks
  • Shift in time
  • Shift in place
  • Change of action
  • New scene
  • Writing a summary

Some writers combine shifts in time and place and action, and so on. Other writers construct sparse paragraphs of only a sentence for dramatic effect. A short paragraph of only a single sentence is emphatic. A longer paragraph is has more detail, and so is slower in pace.

In the end, the choice of using short paragraphs or long paragraphs is a stylistic choice that each writer makes on his own, or with the assistance of an editor.

Developing Your Voice and Writing Style

As an aspiring writer of fiction, how can you develop your voice and writing style? In short, it takes time.

Essentially, you must experience life, read lots of short stories and novels, analyze the writing styles of great writer’s such as Hemingway, Chekhov, Atwood, Faulkner, Alice Munro, and many more. Write, write, write. In fact, you must write every day.

Here are a few suggestions for developing your voice and writing style:

  1.  Learn how to write well. Read and learn The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  2. Read and great fiction, such as Lolita, 1984, The Wars, Portnoy’s Complaint, The Road, Catcher in the Rye.
  3. Analyze great fiction. Understand how the writer used the element of fiction to craft the story. Understand how the writer crafted the opening and ending.
  4. Learn how to tell a story. A short story includes a motive, conflict, climax or turning point, and resolution.
  5. Read Francine Prose’s book “Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for those Who Want to Write them.”
  6. Learn the techniques for writing fiction. For instance, how to construct setting, create memorable characters, develop a plot, open and end your story. A good book to help you learn is Janet Burroway’s “Writing Fiction”, the Gotham Writer’s Workshop’s “Writing Fiction”, and Tom Bailey’s “On Writing Short Stories.”
  7. Read the great short stories in Norton Anthology of Short Stories, and then analyze them, to understand the writer’s style and literary devices used.
  8. Take a workshops or courses in writing short stories or novels.
  9. Write, write, write. If you want to become a writer, you must write. You must write every day. You must experiment with your writing. Start by keeping a journal.

In this article, I discussed the concept of voice and writing style. I also explained the difference between the writer’s voice and the narrator’s voice. I concluded by providing you with some useful suggestions on how to develop your voice and writing style.

If you really want to become a writer of fiction, you must work at it. Great writer’s learned the craft of writing fiction and read widely and deeply. You must do the same.

Writing Flash Fiction

What is flash fiction?

In recent years, flash fiction has become a popular form of storytelling on the Web. There are many names for this type of fiction, including postcard fiction, short, short fiction, and micro-fiction. There are are numerous blogs and websites devoted to publishing this type of creative writing, typically a fictional story that is 1,000 words or less. There are also contests and an award given out to the best micro-fiction story. So, if you are an aspiring creative writer, who wants to get some practise at storytelling, writing a flash fiction might be worth your time and effort.

In this article, I will discuss flash fiction. The following topics will be covered:

  • Definition of  flash fiction
  • Author’s style
  • Types of genre
  • Suggestions for writing flash fiction
  • Flash Fiction reading and publishing

Definition of Flash Fiction

There are many definitions for flash fiction, depending on the editor, writer, or critic. First, flash fiction is identified by different names. Other popular names for this type of storytelling are “postcard fiction, “short-short fiction, sudden fiction”, micro-fiction. Secondly, in terms of word count, flash fiction is a complete story, written in 1,000 words or less. It all depends on the submission requirements for the web-based publication or print-based publication. Thirdly, a flash fiction story includes all the elements of a short story or novel–such as an inciting incident, protagonist/central character, plot/plot structure, (conflict, climax/turning point, and resolution), supporting characters, setting, Point of View, theme, style, and tone. Finally, the story is very short, and can be read in less than 10 minutes.

Author’s Style

There are many aspects of an author’s style, including word choice, sentence patterns, point of view, narrator, and tone. For the purpose of this post, I will briefly look at tone. What does it mean? It refers to the attitude of the writer toward his audience and subject–the fictional story he/she is writing. Whatever tone the writer chooses to use will also impact the other elements of style. In flash fiction, the writer can use many types of styles to tell a story, including:

  • Satirical
  • Ironic
  • Literary
  • Whimsical
  • Sublime
  • Controversial
  • Conventional
  • Unconventional

The style the writer chooses will depend on the selected genre and type of fictional story.

Types of Genre

What types of stories can you write? Ideally, your story ought to be based on genre fiction, such as:

  • War
  • Western
  • Crime
  • Romance
  • Mystery
  • Sci-fi
  • Fantasy
  • Horror

However, some web-based publications accept experimental storytelling and other types of genres, including erotica. You must visit the website where you want to submit your work, and then read the submission guidelines and a few of the published flash fiction stories to get a sense of the types of stories published.

Suggestions for Writing Flash Fiction

How do you write a flash fiction story? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Tell a complete story. It requires an inciting incident, obstacles, conflict, climax, and resolution.
  2. Use the elements of fiction to tell the story—setting, plot, protagonist, theme, point of view.
  3. Exclude background information. Instead begin the story in the middle of the action.
  4. Use imagery, metaphor, simile, and symbolism to tell your story.
  5. Imply different elements of the story. For instance, you can reveal setting through the choice of dialogue. You can reveal a flashback in dialogue.
  6. Make every word serve a purpose. Eliminate frivolous details, adjectives, adverbs. Use strong verbs. Remember you are writing a flash fiction story, so choose your words carefully.
  7. Begin the story with a hook that grabs the reader’s attention. Often you can begin in the middle of the action.
  8. Tell a story that is plot-driven, not character driven. So, you will need a conflict or inciting incident that begins the story.
  9. Make every word serve a purpose. Therefore, you will need to eliminate trivial details or unessential details, eliminate adverbs and adjectives. Don’t use nominalizations (string of nouns in a phrase).
  10. Write dialogue to move the story forward, to its conclusion. For example, the dialogue could reveal the conflict.
  11.   Use the active voice, and avoid the passive voice to tell the story.
  12.   End the story with a plot twist or change the expected outcome of the story.
  13.  Write a complete story, and then ruthlessly revise and edit it until you get to 1,000 words or whatever the submission guidelines will allow.
  14. 

 Where to Read and Publish

Where can you read good flash fiction and post your own short, short stories? Here are a few popular websites:

To find out more about flash fiction, you can complete a Google search on the topics that interest you, including contests.

The best flash fiction entertains the reader, tells a complete story using the elements of fiction ( setting, plot/plot structure, characters, theme, point of view, voice, conflct), includes only the essential details, makes a point about the human condition, and leaves the reader thinking long after reading the story.

Elements of Fiction: Style and Tone

Style and tone are elements of fiction. The writer uses a certain style and tone to craft the story. Style refers to the writer’s choice of diction, sentence structure, literary techniques, and use of rhythm. For example, Hemingway wrote very short sentences and he used simple words. George Orwell, on the other hand, used long sentences, including periodic and cumulative sentence types, and more complex diction. Cormac McCarthy, in The Road, used many sentence fragments and everyday language. He also referred to the main characters as “the boy” and “the man”. They were never addressed by name.

In fiction writing, the writer’s style is also created by the choice of literary devices that are used to create the story, such as imagery, symbolism, allegory, personification, and other figurative language.

Tone, on the other hand, refers to the writer’s attitude toward his/her story and to the reader. The writer’s tone assists in creating a mood or atmosphere for the story. Philip Roth uses a humorous tone in Portnoy’s Complaint.

This article discusses the following:

  • Style
  • Tone
  • Narrative Voice
  • The writer’s voice

Style

Every fiction writer has a unique style. The writer’s style is based on many choices about diction, syntax/sentence structure, detail, dialogue, literary devices, and rhythm.

The writer’s style comes from the diction or word choice he/she uses. Does the writer use simple language or complex language? Is the language concrete or abstract? What does a word connote? What does the word denote?

The writer’s style comes from the types of sentence structure/syntax he/she uses. Does the writer use short or long sentences? Sentence fragments? Periodic or cumulative sentences? Simple or complex sentences? For instance, Cormac McCarthy, in The Road, uses many sentence fragments to tell his story.

Another way that the writer reveals his/her style is by the amount of detail presented to the reader. Does the writer go into great depth? Or does the writer use summary narrative or sparse prose?

And the fiction writer’s style is revealed by the content of dialogue. The dialogue a writer uses reveals a lot about each character, including the background and education of the character, his or her motivations, and what each character ultimately believes about the world. Much of what the writer says is based on personal experience, values, biases, and prejudices.

When reading passages of dialogue, the reader needs to consider how the characters’ remarks reflect or accentuate the writer’s voice. What do the characters say? How do the characters say it?

The writer’s style is also expressed by the choice of literary techniques the writer uses to construct the story, such as imagery, symbolism, personification, irony, metaphor, and symbolism. Many certain literary techniques over others.

The writer can reveal his/her style by the use of rhythm, which is the pattern of flow and movement created by the writer’s choice of words and the arrangement of sentences. What types of repetition does the writer use? Does the writer use alliteration? Rhyme? How does the writer use parallel structure? Single words? Fragments?

Tone

What is tone? It refers to the fiction writer’s attitude toward his/her subject and toward the readers. The writer’s tone creates an atmosphere or mood for the story. A writer’s tone can be humorous, satirical, passionate, zealous, sarcastic, condescending, and so on. The tone can be anything the writer chooses. For instance, humour is an important tone in children’s literature. Types of humour used by writers include surprise, exaggeration, incongruity, absurdity, and parody.

The writer’s choice of diction often reveals his/her tone. Tone is often expressed by the connotation of words. For instance, a certain expression might be interpreted as sarcasm. Another expression can be interpreted as vulgar.

Tone is also about the effect the writing has on the reader. What mood does the writer create in the mind of the reader?

The Narrative Voice

What is the narrative voice? It is the quality of the narrative, whether the story is told in the first-person or the third-person.  It is how the writer chooses to tell the story–casually, seriously, humorously, and so forth. The Narrative voice will belong to a character within the story, such as the protagonist.  Or when the story is told in the third-person, the narrative voice will belong to an unknown character, someone who is not a participant in the story.

Before writing the story, the fiction writer needs to decide what narrative voice to use: Serious? Comic? Detached? Or entertaining? Once the narrative voice is selected, the writer can determine what sort of diction and sentence structure to use.

The Writer’s Voice

The narrative voice is an extension of the writer’s voice. The writer’s voice consists of many elements, including style and tone. But the writer’s is created by many other factors, such as socioeconomic background, education, belief system, values, writing experience, and so forth.

Frequently, a writer’s voice is expressed through the following elements:

  1. Diction. The word choice of the writer.
  2. Syntax. The sentence patterns chosen by the writer.
  3. Subject matter. What the writer chooses to write about and his/her views on that subject matter.
  4. Tone. The attitude that the writer intends to convey about the subject to the reader.

Developing a Unique Voice

How does the aspiring writer acquire his/her own voice? It takes time to create a voice. It begins by developing an original style. From style, the writer needs to write and gain experience. Over time, the writer’s voice emerges. It is a process.

To help develop a unique voice, the aspiring writer can do the following:

  1. Learn to write well. Learn the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And then learn when to break these rules.
  2. Expand his/her vocabulary. The writer must use the dictionary to learn the meaning of unfamiliar words. The writer should also use a thesaurus to find similar words with different shades of meaning.
  3. Read widely and deeply. The writer ought to read fiction by the great writers. The writer also needs to read nonfiction, like biographies, and person essays. By doing this, the writer can learn how the masters constructed memorable fiction.
  4. Analyze the styles of great writers, such as Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and George Orwell. Analysis teaches the writer how to create setting, plot, characters, and use other literary devices.
  5. Experiment with different writing styles, such as word choice and syntax. Only through practice and experience will the aspiring writer develop a unique style.
  6. Learn the element of fiction and use them. (Plot, setting, character, conflict, and so forth.)
  7. Learn the literary techniques and use them. (Imagery, symbolism, allusion, and figures of speech, such as simile, metaphor, and personification.)
  8. Make writing a lifestyle choice. The aspiring writer must write every day. Only by writing on a regular basis will the writer develop his/her unique voice.
  9. Write in a way that comes naturally. The writer needs to use words and phrases that are his/her own. Imitation is acceptable.
  10. The writer also needs to place himself/herself in the background. To do this, the writer needs to write in a way that draws the reader to the sense and style of the writing, rather than to the tone and temper of the writer. (Strunk and White’s Elements of Style)
  11.  Avoid using a breezy manner. The breezy style is a work of an egocentric, the writer who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of interest and ought to be written on the page. Instead, the writer needs to make every word count, each word should move the story forward, and each word needs to have a purpose. (Strunk and White’s Elements of Style)

 

To learn more on style, the aspiring fiction writer ought to read “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.

 Over time, and with practise and experimentation, the aspiring writer will develop his/her unique voice.