On my desktop is a whisky wheel, a device that’s supposed to help you with your tasting notes when sampling single malts. Does your drink have a touch of black pepper on the nose? Or is it orange blossom? Is it lactic or nutty on the palate? Is the finish more toward the end of mint or tobacco? And how long does it linger on the tongue?
Those who know me have probably realised I’d eventually get around to using whisky as a metaphor for writing. Flash fictions – stories under 1000 words – are like a good dram. You savour them, roll them around in your mouth, are left with resonant remnants. Here’s a little guide to tasting flash fiction:
The nose – the tone, voice or mood is set in the first few lines. Or if it’s a really short one, in the first few words. Some flavours the opening might go for: intriguing, dark, buoyant, amusing, suspicious, arresting. Or, indeed, honey, smoke or cloves.
The palate – we’re into the story now. There’s a character or characters. Something happens, has happened or is about to happen. The flavours (if it’s a good dram of story) are working together to create a cohesive effect. Something could be coming through very strong, like smoke or desire. The flavours are setting off little pings of association in your brain: your childhood, your fears, his garden, her lipstick.
The finish – All good things come to an end. But there’s a lingering in a good, complex dram or story. Did it slide down smoothly? Or is there a hint of bitterness left at the back of the tongue? Are you experiencing a jolt of sweet sherbet? There might be a warming in your chest, a sudden clarity, or a fading melancholy.
How powerful some flavours are: fresh cut grass, wet dog, roses, butterscotch. The flavours themselves, and the associations they uncover, can remain in the memory long afterwards.
With flash fiction, you have so few words to work with – 30ml worth, perhaps. There are many different types of flash stories, though a series of them from one author might take on a certain flavour profile (like single malts from a single region). Reading a range of stories from different authors will help to build your palate, help you to find out what you yourself can do.
Join me in the bar and let’s enjoy a dram or two.
Angela Meyer is a Melbourne-based author, editor and literary journalist. Her books are Captives (Inkerman & Blunt, May) and The Great Unknown (as editor, Spineless Wonders). She recently completed a Doctor of Creative Arts through the University of Western Sydney, and has been blogging for seven years at literaryminded.com.au.