Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ask the Editor: Flash Series?

RaenaEnchant asked: Can flash fiction be individual stories in a series, using the same characters and setting?

ANSWER:  Sure!  Maybe.

It depends on whether each individual story in the series can stand alone as a story.  If they can't, they're scenes in the larger story, not flash fiction.

If you want an example of an author who has done something similar quite successfully, look at Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.

Dandelion Wine is a novel, but not quite a novel.

With Dandelion Wine, Bradbury strung a bunch of short stories together into a narrative that he cemented together with additional transitionary scenes.  The result is a novel with a fairly thin plot--it has no more resolution than simply the end of the summer--but with some amazing stuff happening in the middle.  Most of the 'chapters' in Dandelion Wine can stand alone as short stories, or can do so with only a very small amount of narrative removed.

Denoting Scene Breaks

Scene breaks can be an effective device to regulate pacing, change point of view, or, simply, change the scenery.

In plays, a scene break is usually clearly denoted by the movement of scenery or actors off and onto the stage, manipulation of lighting, etc.  Occasionally, those scene changes can be fairly subtle.  Sometimes one actor remains on stage, within the same physical scene, while other actors move offstage, to be replaced by a new set of actors who bring their own opinions, passions, actions.

In fiction, scene breaks should never be subtle. 

In a final draft, the published version, the publisher makes the choice whether or not to denote scene breaks,  Often that choice depends on where on the page the scene break happens.  

A careful perusal of published novels will show that a symbol of some kind is not always used, but it is always used when the physical location of that scene break makes it ambiguous.  

For example, many books simply use space to show scene breaks.  But if the scene break happens to fall at the end of a page, some kind of symbol will be used to show that a scene break occurs.  Otherwise that fact is not clearly signaled to the reader, leading to confusion.

We don't want readers to be confused.

But more than the reader, we don't want the editor to be confused.  Especially the acquisition editor. Me.

How do we avoid this?

We use a symbol, as mentioned above, to denote a scene break. 

An extra space between paragraphs is not enough.  Just like that book with the ambiguous scene breaks, an editor considering a story might not be certain of the writer's intended scene transitions.

When it comes time to make that break, simply insert a # or a *.  Don't be clever.  Don't insert clever or lyrical symbols from some symbol-oriented font.  If my computer doesn't support or doesn't contain that particular symbol font, I may see nothing at all, or I may see some ambiguous box on my screen.