Flasher 101: The Art of Writing a Flasher by Gary Russell
What exactly is a Flasher?
A flasher is a story with an erotic element, no longer than 200 words, excluding the title.
It sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it? But as soon as we start to write one, we realize how difficult they are to write, but what a delightful challenge they are. But firstly, what sets apart a story from a scene?
Story Vs. Scene
What is a Story?
There’s plenty of room for argument there, but for me, a story conveys a feeling of completeness. It must have a beginning, middle, and an ending. A story should have at least one character working toward a goal. This goal brings him/her into conflict with your other characters, but the conflict is ultimately resolved. Every story should involve conflict and resolution.
What is a Scene?
A scene is a unit of action defined by time, place, and characters. When any of these elements change significantly, a new scene begins. A scene does not necessarily contain a denouement, IE the factors that bring together all the loose ends to form the story’s climax.
Here’s a quick practical demonstration showing the differences between story and scene.
1.) In an abandoned mansion, a couple discovers a secret hidey-hole. They climb into it, and make love.
2.) In an abandoned mansion, a couple discovers a secret hidey-hole. They climb into it, and make love. After, the man discovers the door is locked; they’re trapped. “We’re trapped?” replies the woman, vanishing into thin air.
Example one is a scene. There’s no conflict, no resolution.
Example two is a story. The conflict arises when the man realizes the door is locked. The story resolves itself by revealing that the woman is a malevolent ghost. The character’s goal- the woman wishing to trap and kill the man, has been realized. The denouement is the woman walking through the locked door.
Of course, the conflict in your story does not mean your characters have to scream at one another, hurl crockery or custard pies. The conflict is often internalized. The conflict can be the heroine’s desire to experience the unknown, tempered by her naiveté, uncertainty or fear. The conflict can be a simple matter of deciding on what to wear. The conflict can be huge- a spaceship crashing into the heart of a sun while the two inattentive occupants make love, for example. There may be more than one source of conflict. In the example I cited, there are two levels of conflict that between the ghost and the man, and the man’s experience of conflict when he realizes he is trapped inside the cupboard.
Where do Stories come from?
Tolstoy read a short article in a provincial newspaper about a woman who committed suicide by throwing herself under a train. 900 pages later, and he’d finished writing Anna Karenina. Stories are all around us.
Simply put, plot is the action within a narrative.
The King, and then the Queen died.
That’s a plot.
The King died, and the Queen died of grief.
That’s a story.
With flashers, don’t worry overly about plot. It is not possible to structure a complex plot. No one expects something with a many-tentacled plot as in John Fowle’s ‘The Magus’, or Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. With a flasher, much has to be implied.
Let us say that the lead character of your flasher is married, but has decided to cheat on his wife with a stranger. A conventional story would expect a certain amount of back story, giving the reader vital information like the state of his marriage, and why he wants to cheat on his partner. Your flasher doesn’t give you this luxury of expansion. Maybe you might want to give the flasher a title that explains the back story ‘The Unfaithful Husband.’ Okay, it’s not very imaginative, but you’ve set the scene before you’ve even begun to mine those hundred words. Here’s where we might go with this premise.
The Unfaithful Husband
“Feeling guilty, Jack ordered two beers. The blonde sipped hers; Jack downed his in one swallow.”
With the title and two sentences we’ve established everything that a story requires in its beginning. We’ve established character. Jack is the unfaithful husband, as implied by the title. He feels guilty. The blonde, sipping her beer, is the cool, detached lady of the night. I would have inferred that she’s not known to him by the use of, ‘the blonde.’
We’ve established setting, a bar.
We’ve also established Jack’s mental state, his sense of guilt, and his nervousness, which is shown how he drinks his beer. We’ve partly established the relationship between Jack and The Blonde. In sixteen words, we’ve established what might take a chapter if this were a novel.
What happens next, is down to you and your imagination. From that simple situation you can go anywhere. And you’ve got nearly eighty odd words to tell it. When you’ve established situation, character, and setting in less than twenty words, suddenly eighty five words seems like a lot of mileage to build a fully formed plot with a definite ending.
I’d like to conclude by truncating all of the above into one sentence. A little while ago, we had a fun competition to see who could write the shortest flasher. The outcome, thanks To Christine Walls’s off list observation, was the quintessential flasher told in three words, if one uses the Latin. Six, if you use English.
It is this:
I came, I saw, I conquered.
— In no particular order
All the essential ingredients for flasher writing that I’ve touched upon here are contained within that most famous quote.
Thank you for reading.
Flashers Editor, Erotica Readers and Writers Association (ERWA)
If you have questions or concerns about Flashers, please get in touch with our Flasher Editor, Gary Russell.