Jayne Martin on writing Tender Cuts
“Tender Cuts” is a collection of 38 flash fiction stories, all but two under 300 words, the shortest at just 48.
“What is Flash Fiction?” you may be asking.
The Meriam Webster dictionary describes the word “flash” as: a sudden flame or flare; to move with great speed; of sudden origin and short duration; brief exposure to an intense altering agent.
In flash fiction, we meet characters right at the moment when they are most vulnerable. Our encounters are brief and intense, leaving the reader with an emotionally altering experience.
Unlike traditional fiction, flash does not tie its endings up in a neat bow. The writer must think like a painter, relying on vivid, visceral imagery rather than exposition to engage the reader’s imagination and emotions.
Toni Morrison said, “It’s what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.” Flash withholds, teases and entices the reader to enter and then lingers like an all-too-real dream. In cooking, flash would be the equivalent of making a reduction sauce, paring down each tale to its essence, giving it time to simmer, until you have an explosion of taste.
My background as a writer of movies-for-television (“A Child Too Many,” Lifetime; “Big Spender,” Animal Planet, among them) made me well-suited for writing flash fiction. Scripts are written in scenes where writer must get into the action right away, move the story along, and leave the viewer wanting more. In flash fiction, the writer must also think in scenes as in the title story of the collection.
Julie-Sue’s hair cascades in golden ringlets past her tiny shoulders, falling near her tightly-corseted waist. The corset pinches her skin, but Mama says to keep smiling so she does. The “Little Miss Soybean Pageant” pays $150 to the winner and Mama says they need the money.
Next to the stage, the stench of livestock rises from a pen where the 4-H animals await their turn at auction. Flies swarm in the summer heat and Julie-Sue bats them away from her face.
“Stop your fussing,” Mama scolds.
She will dance the can-can just like she’s been taught. She wanted to twirl a baton like Becky or sing a song like Bonnie-Jean. She doesn’t like raising her skirt up and showing her panties, but Mama says she has nice legs and she should use what the good Lord gave her.
The auctioneer’s voice rises and cheers explode from the nearby tent. Someone’s prize heifer sells for a thousand dollars.
Her music starts and Mama pushes her onto the stage. She will kick as high as she can.
I describe “Tender Cuts” as tiny tales for the time challenged. Most of us lead busy lives. We’re moms, wives, professionals. We love to read, but our time is rarely our own. So we may not be able to get through the latest 800-page Donna Tartt tome, but we still want a good story with rich characters that resonate with emotion. Whether grabbing a moment while waiting for our daughter’s dance class to finish, sipping our now cold cup of coffee after getting the family off for their day, or dropping into bed exhausted from our own, there is a satisfying story to fill that brief timeslot in “Tender Cuts:”
A woman leaves her cheating husband, taking his beloved Schnauzer with her in “Gone;” a grown daughter still being fat-shamed by her deceased mother through a Ouija board in “Dearly Departed;” the awkward first intimacy of two teens in “Prom Night;” the widow who carries her husband’s ashes around the world in Baggies. From the sad to the surreal, these tales will resonate with the reader’s own wounded heart.
For those interested in learning more about the form I recommend “A Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction,” from Rose Metal Press. Visit my website for several articles on the craft: www.jaynemartin-writer.com.