Effective Role Casting in Flash Fiction

In writing flash fiction stories, the writer has little time and few words to waste in character or role development. However, for three strategies that will help bring a character to life, consider the following:

Name:

Except possibly when writing in first person, giving a character a distinctive name helps the reader visualize the individual and subjectively attribute distinguishing traits or qualities to the character. In the novel “Zeke and Ned,” by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, for instance, one comes across a veritable welter of unusual and colorful names: Zeke Proctor, Tuxie Miller, Charlie Bobtail, Bill Yopps, Tailcoat Jones, Beezle. The characters’ names lend both individuality and a sense of reality to the various individuals in this rollicking story about life in the Oklahoma Indian Territory of the 1870s.

When writing a story from the first person point of view, the character telling the story can name him or herself, though often it “sounds” better to have a secondary character mention the narrator’s name. Getting the characters’ names established early on in the story enables the reader to picture them more vividly.

Action:

A second shorthand way to delineate a character in a flash fiction story involves careful utilization of the action that carries the narrative along. Story action can go a long way toward presenting the mental and physical traits of the character, as in this excerpt from a flash fiction story someone needs to write:

“Being short, stocky and of considerable age, Brimley Stokes no longer could take stairs two steps at a time. In fact, taking these rickety farmhouse steps one at a time made him huff and puff a bit. As he mounted the steps, Brimley’s heart began to keep pace with his panting at the thought of the possible outcome of this secret rendezvous with old Sim Cobblewhacker.”

The reader now knows Mr. Stokes labors under the restrictions of a somewhat advanced age and the likelihood of an escalating heart condition. Nevertheless, Mr. Stokes seems eager to discover what adventure lies before him during or after the clandestine meeting with Mr. Cobblewhacker.

Dialogue:

Dialogue, handled well, can help present characters without use of excessive verbiage, a necessary focus in a flash fiction story. To continue the foregoing episode:

“Controlling his respiration, Brimley moved quietly along the darkened hallway to a door under which shone a faint light. Without knocking, he pushed the door open.

” ‘You in here, Cobb?’ he asked.

” ‘Yes, dag nab it!’ responded Cobblewhacker, a thin form in the dim illumination of a small electric light bulb. ‘What kept you, Brim? Dang it, I’ve been waiting fifteen minutes! Are you interested in my proposition or not?’ “

The reader should begin to see Mr. Cobblestone as a somewhat irascible individual, given to scant patience for others’ supposed shortcomings. The story line also advances with the mention of a “proposition.”

Drawing out the traits, positive or negative, of characters in a flash fiction story requires a good deal of reflection and attention to detail on the part of the writer. If this results in life-like characters and a believable story line, the effort will prove well worthwhile.