Monday, September 14, 2009

from Ryan W. Bradley

On Panties, I Mean, Details

It's in the cut of the panties, not the color. That is, writing flash fiction is about the details, but the right ones. If a character is wearing granny panties or a thong, you will be telling more about her personality than if she's wearing green or blue ones. The same goes for a man's underwear. With so much less space, every detail's importance gets heightened, as does every sentence, every word. Flash fiction will, at the very least, teach a writer about the economy of words. Ultimately, these skills that develop inherently from the process of writing a very short story, will begin to translate to everything you write.

As I began writing this miniature essay I wanted to catch myself in a contradiction, so I looked back on my story, "Accidentally Ahmed," knowing full well it wasn't packed with meaningful details. Read it here at Gander Press Review. I thought if I could show an example that went against the argument I'd set up in the first paragraph, it would provide a better opportunity to learn. What I realized, though, is that despite the ambiguity of the story (let's be honest, it deals in vagueness), it is entirely set up by a detail, not one necessarily integral to the reading of the story, but certainly important to my character. And that happens in the first line: "The license says my name is Ahmed, but really it's Rick." Sure, it's no whopper of a line, but in a story that revolves around a taxi and mistaken identity, the most important detail would be the license posted on the back of the seat. And like many good writers, I can't claim to have made that choice on purpose, it was ingrained in the idea itself, and I was lucky enough to tag along.

In this circuitous fashion there may be no better proof of how important the right details are. I could have written a different opening to "Accidentally Ahmed," but without the detail about the license the only thing that would have stood out about the story would have been its vagueness. That single detail forgives the lack of other details, because every bit of the story hinges on the mistaken identity factor.

The tricky part, or maybe if we're being honest, the crappy part, is that the right detail is always going to be different, and sometimes may not be the right one at all. But that's the wonderful thing about revision, that with each time going through a story we see each detail in a new way. We can alter those panties, make them a different cut, a different size. We can make them belong to the husband instead of the wife until, like some demented Rubik's cube, everything clicks into place.

Bio: Ryan W. Bradley writes very short fiction accidentally, often thinking he's written thousands of words, only to check the word count and find it's only ninety-six. Then he revises and it's down to sixty-four. Some such recent examples have been published or are forthcoming from Gargoyle, Third Wednesday, Space Squid, and Tulip. You can find him raving like a mad man at his blog, Ryan W. Bradley


  1. Accidentally Ahmed made me laugh... I can only imagine the much longer word count version.

  2. Thanks, GO! the longer version wasn't very good. it mired in his search for the missing cabbie, and got very unfocused.

  3. You're so right, it's all about the right words, the careful choices.

  4. Thanks, Ethel... I'm glad I didn't sound too lame... all the other contributors leave big footprints to live up to.