I’m honoured and excited today to be hosting my friend fellow crime fiction writer and fellow blogger Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen! Dorte has just released a new collection of deliciously creepy short stories called Liquorice Twists. She’s also published two other collections: Candied Crime, also in English, and Blandede Bolsjer, a collection in her native Danish. She’s also published a standalone short story, Heather Farm. Not only is Dorte a talented author, but she’s also a terrific blogger whose posts are full of excellent reviews, lovely ‘photos and some great flash fiction. She blogs in both English and Danish (which is more than I can say about my own blog) and her blog is one of my absolute must-stops on my daily blog rounds. So please offer a warm Confessions of a Mystery Novelist... welcome to... Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen!
First I want to express my gratitude to Margot, not only for your invitation to visit you during my blog tour, but also for your never-wavering support of my writing. Though I have never met you in real life, you have become a highly valued friend!
As this headline and the title of my new collection Liquorice Twists suggest, most of my flash fiction stories could just as well be called twist fiction. Flash fiction stories come in all genres, and most writers have their own ideas about what works; still I´d like to share a few of my tricks of the trade with you today. (Most of the examples are from Candied Crime, published in February, and Liquorice Twists)
1) The all-important ending.
It is not all writers of flash fiction who agree on this, but I am very much in favour of a final twist. That is why I nearly always begin with the ending. Now I won´t spoil any of my stories for you, but if you jump to "Every Day Fiction" for a minute or two and read the first story I ever sold, Lollipop, I can tell you that when I had written the last sentence, around twenty words, it was very easy to set up the scene which lead to that conclusion. In my opinion, this is ´real´ flash because the story wrote itself in less than an hour and was only edited slightly afterwards.
2) Obviously, a good opening sentence is another must. If you have not captured your readers´ attention, they may never read the twist you thought was so clever.
"Poor Betty lost her little dog and her husband on the same night." This is how I open Casualty, and now you may think I have spoiled the ending for you, but there is more than one way of twisting a story.
"She came home a couple of hours earlier than usual, and as soon as she opened the door she knew there was someone in the house." This story is called In a Flash, a story where I practised keeping the narrative pace very slow by adding a wealth of details. The idea was to let the reader experience the creepy feeling of knowing there is a stranger in the house while they move further inside it together with the main character.
3) A good way of saving space is using a context your readers are already familiar with.
Once in a while I have written a flash story inspired by a fairy tale, e.g. The Princess on the Pea. I am sure my English readers will remember Hans Christian Andersen´s tale when they meet my somewhat triumphant girl who has just married her Frederick. No further introduction is needed; we can jump to a few bits and pieces good old Andersen left out.
A similar example is End of Christmas in which the reader meets the corpse, a red-and-grey-clad old man in the first sentence. I think you know who so don´t let innocent little children read this one.
4) You will also need the ability to draw your main characters in a few sentences.
Grammy is both the title of a story and the name of the main character. My inspiration was one of my own German teachers. "During most of fourth form Martha Gramstrup was our German teacher. Grammy was the thin and nervy type, a walking skeleton with rattling necklaces and bracelets." You can all see her now, can´t you?
And here is ´the wife´ of Take-Off: "She flopped down on a chair and kicked her shoes off before she began rummaging for a mirror in her voluminous handbag to check that her curls and the plum-coloured three-piece suit sat where she left them in the morning."
5) Finally, if you are at a loss for ideas, you may use writing prompts - or ask your blog readers what they want in a story.
Once in a while I have posted a picture on my blog, asking my readers what they want to see in the story. I am afraid I tend to take those stories less seriously, probably because I look at my readers´ contributions and think ´no one can ever make a coherent puzzle out of these pieces´, or perhaps it is just because I have so much fun writing them. Nevertheless, they are excellent opportunities to practice your writing skills - and I suspect stories like The Red Shoes and Heather Farm are among my readers´ absolute favourites.
Thanks so much, Dorte, for sharing your insights about writing flash fiction. I must admit that’s a style of writing I haven’t mastered, so I know I learned a lot. Folks, be sure to visit Dorte’s terrific blog, DJ’s Krimiblog, and check out Liquorice Twists on Smashwords!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chubby Checker's Let's Twist Again.