Flash Memoir–A Versatile Tool

LipsMany memories are tiny, so tiny they fit in a short paragraph. So tiny you may not think them stories at all. But don’t brush them away. They have stayed with you for a reason, and a much larger chunk of memory is usually attached to that alluring tag, one with deep richness that can develop into a lengthy tale, perhaps even a full-length memoir. Those fragments are worth exploring.

Journaling and writing practice are traditional ways of digging more deeply into the roots of memory. Flash memoir is yet another. In flash memoir, variously defined as stories under 500, 800 or 1000 words, you are challenged to develop a story concisely, framing it with crisp precision.

Writing flash memoir has more benefits, but first, an example. The following  474 word story grew from a micro-memory of mine:

First Kiss

He wraps his arms around me. I raise my head and his lips brush lightly against mine.
          Does this count as a kiss? My thought lasts longer than the kiss does. I smile bravely up at my tall date, hoping stars dance in my eyes. After all, I’ve been waiting my entire life for this moment, my first kiss from a boyfriend.     
          Is he a boyfriend? I’m not sure.
          His smile seems unsure. His arms fall as he steps back.
          “Uhm, well, goodnight…” He turns and walks down the steps and back to his truck that smells of hay and manure and damp cowboy boots. I open the door and go in.
          I feel empty, disappointed. This is not what I’ve dreamed of. I don’t feel any tingles with him. He’s tall, has a nice smile, but this six-foot-four, baby-faced cowboy seems bland as butter. Does he feel more passion for me than I do for him? We don’t hang around or have classes together. We only know each other from square-dancing. I think he needed a date tonight. So did I.
A month passes and we go square-dancing again. He picks me up early and takes me to his house and introduces me to his parents. His mother slouches on the couch with a book and cigarette. No makeup adorns her craggy face. Does she ever comb her stringy hair? It looks like she cuts it herself in the dark. This hag is married to a division head?
          Said division head sits in another corner of the room with the newspaper. He glances up and nods. Both smile when they hear that I just won second prize in the state Make-It-Yourself-With-Wool contest.
          “That’s nice,” says his mother, her beady eyes peering through wire-frame coke bottle glasses.
          We leave. Mission accomplished, I guess. What was this all about? Is he trying to make points with his parents? Why?
          During intermission, instead of gabbing with kids in our square, we wander outside. He puts his arm around my shoulders, maybe to keep us both warm in the evening chill. He talks about his horse. This is more like it. Will he kiss me for real? There may still be hope.
          He doesn’t.
          When he takes me home his lips brush mine twice. This time I don’t care.
Fifty years pass and we meet at a class reunion. He’s lean, weathered just right, still wearing cowboy boots. His smile lights up the room, twinkles flashing in crinkly eyes. This man evolved from that boy? Wow! He wraps his arms around me, right there in front of his dumpling queen wife, who watches with tiny sad eyes sunk deeply into her face. A lifetime of what-ifs swirls in my heart as our bodies cling together for six sizzling seconds.  
          I do not lift my face.

I worked for hours on these few words and discovered additional benefits from this compressed form:

    • It forced me to focus like a laser on the story topic and message.
    • It forced me to examine every word and prune anything that did not add value.
    • Ditto with details.
    • It forced me to craft precise, imaginative descriptions.

    As I pruned and clipped and crafted, a trove of related memories gushed to the surface, ready to be recorded for use in other stories or an expansion of this one. “Start small, grow big.” As I delved, I got deeply in touch with my insecure young self, realizing how much I didn’t yet know (and he probably didn’t either!). All that angst, that longing, came flooding back.

        This was beyond the usual concern with truth and general memoir considerations

        I urge you to have fun with flash memoir and use it to hone your editing skills. For an ongoing discussion of this sub-genre, tons more tips, and a list of places to post stories, visit Christine Houser’s FlashMemoirs website.

        By the way, I did not do all this editing in a vacuum. I shared the story with a group who pointed out rough spots I had not noticed. Never underestimate the power of a group for fine tuning stories.

        Write now: think of a micro-memory and draft a flash memoir of at least 100 words, but not more than 1000. Practice focus in every respect – content, wording, and description. 


        SuziCate said...

        This inspires me to work on some of those flashes that I thought were useless.

        Sharon said...

        Yay for that. Have fun and make a collection.

        KathyPooler said...

        There is so much in this enticing and evocative little snippet, Sharon. You certainly capture the essence of that teenage angst and bring it full circle to your 50th reunion. My 50th is this summer and no doubt it will take me back in time. Writing my memoir has also done that so I'm in "flash-memoir mode". Thanks for an inspirational post.

        Sharon said...

        Kathy, I think you've mentioned on your blog that you had to hammer and claw your way through each individual event and scene. Those scenes are the equivalent of flash stories, so you indeed have experienced the effect I mention. And you did it SO MANY times! I can't wait to see your finished volume.