Edgar Allan Poe had a brilliant career writing about death. He died in 1849 and we are still reading his work. He is part of the culture. Death is a valid subject for any serious writer even if the writer writes comedy. And the flash fiction short story can handle any subject matter, even the subject of death.
I’ve gone back into the archives and pulled out an old story of mine to illustrate this point; but the story is also a great illustration of show don’t tell writing. The story has very little exposition in it. Exposition is telling.
Now I’m not saying there is no place for exposition in fiction. Obviously there is; but the more telling you do the less immediacy your story will have for the reader. Action is the name of the game. By the way, dialogue is action, too. And action is built on concrete, sense details: things the reader can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Of these five sense details, sight is the most important one. You want your reader to “see” the action in your story.
Edgar Allan Poe also made a career out of exposition, of telling the reader what was going on; but unless you are a literary genius like Poe you are better off with show don’t tell.
I based the follow story on my experiences as a young soldier in Vietnam.
Oh, one final thought before we get into the story. Because the flash fiction story is so short, the more exposition there is in your story the more it will read like an essay. Now we don’t want that, do we?
It sounded like a fast ball pitched against the port hull of the big chopper. Scott Delaney felt his stomach flutter and the pulse beat faster in his throat. The door gunners were searching the jungle below. Viet Cong were known to be in the area. Over the deafening sound of the twin rotary blades and the high-pitched whine of the twin jet engines in the stern, the sharp impact came again.
Like Scott, many of the soldiers were teenagers, their sweaty faces gaunt with sunken eyes. The door gunners were in harnesses as they leaned far out, one to port and one to starboard, trying to see where the rounds were coming from. Scott held his toy-like rifle, the butt against the vibrating floor plates, up between his knees and waited. Over the deafening noise the sharp impact came again.
The new kid sitting directly across from Scott screamed and lurched forward and hit the deck. His rifle clattered and his helmet rolled away on the deck. Scott and others had been splattered with gore. Scott had never been splattered with gore before. The kid was crying, pleading for his mother. Sarge started wrapping the kid, but soon it didn’t matter. Scott had never seen anyone die before.
The door gunners were returning fire now. The spent shell casings spewed into space. The sharp impact came again. Scott sensed the big chopper losing altitude.
Burt Johnson tapped Scott on the shoulder and nodded at the porthole behind them. In the jungle below was a clearing, the unit landing zone. A four man landing crew waited on the ground. That’s when Scott smelt it.
Scott looked forward. The two pilots struggled to keep control. Scott looked aft. The crew chief was standing, and then he crouched down and dipped the first two fingers of the right hand into a dark liquid on the deck. He rubbed the liquid between the thumb and first two fingers. He smelt it. He tasted it. He stood up and began speaking rapidly into the mike of his head set to the pilots up front.
Scott looked out the porthole behind him. Now he could not see the landing zone. There were only trees everywhere. Suddenly they were in the trees. Scott was flung against the port hull. Everyone shouting. He was flung back against the starboard hull except now it was the deck. Others fell on top of him, everyone shouting.
There was a loud, guttural WHOOOOOOOOSH! Scott felt the great heat. The crew chief came running wildly from the stern, his uniform ablaze. He stumbled to his knees in flames. Scott struggled to get up. He grabbed someone’s leg. He was kicked and stomped until he let go. Above him everyone pushed and shoved while others stepped on him. He had lost his helmet. He had lost his rifle. He couldn’t get up. The smoke choked him. Men screamed. He knew he was going to die.
Burt Johnson got him under the arm pits and pulled him up. Other hands lifted him up. More hands pulled him out.
What was let of the crew chief was found in the smoldering wreckage.
Filed under: Writing Flash Fiction | Tagged: culture, death, Edgar Allan Poe, essay, exposition, flash fiction writer, sense details, Viet Cong, Vietnam, young soldier | Leave a Comment »