Flash fiction can feel very flat without a palpable sense of urgency (both narrative and emotional urgency).
But how to create urgency in a very short space without overplaying your hand and resorting to melodrama? One way is to make use of anaphora and parallelism.
“Anaphora is the deliberate repetition of the first part of the sentence in order to achieve an artistic effect.”
And what exactly is that “artistic effect?”
Think of how anaphora effects you as a reader (or listener). Think of incantations. Of ritual. Of prayer.
To me, these create a unique connection between writer and reader. A wavelength. The reader tunes into the writer’s frequency. How does the writing “sound” in the ear of the reader? And that sound enters into and is processed by another part of the brain.
Think of how famous speeches have made use of anaphora (MLK’s “I have a dream” speech, for example). It’s very effective for delivering a powerful, important message. It’s effective in persuasion.
This is from a fascinating article on both of these by Lynn Davidson at Cordite Poetry Review:
“To be honest, I don’t entirely know what I mean by foundation songs, but I do recognise them. No, actually, I recognise the structures that lift them from the ether to the ear. Most importantly, the measured returns of anaphora and the echoing of form in parallelism that allow incantation, chant, prayer, spell, and poem; sounds that have shaped and defined social, spiritual and geographical communities across the world. Constructions from which we have called for protection, for shelter, for food, for solace, for guidance. Calling the dinghy into the shore, the deer to the arrow, the heart back home.”
“Ali Smith’s novella Girl meets boy looks like prose but is also poetry – a big harvest poetry moon on a broad inky prose landscape – and is transported by poetic repetition through the work. The repetition allows for multiplicities: girl is also boy, boy is also girl, I is also you, you is also we. It draws on and draws up Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a poem that has transformation at its heart. It shows us that change is the only constant. And it shows us that connection is the still point where we live. Here’s an except from the novel where Anthea and Robin / Iphis and Ianthe make love:
… it was loamy, it was good, it was what good meant, it was earth, it was what earth meant, it was the underground of everything, the kind of soil that cleans things. Was that her tongue? Was that what they meant when they said flames had tongues? Was I melting? Would I melt? Was I gold? Was I magnesium? Was I briny, were my whole insides a piece of sea, was I nothing but salty water with a mind of its own, was I some kind of fountain, was I the force of water through stone? I was hard all right, and then I was sinew, I was a snake, I changed stone to snake in three simple moves, stoke stake snake …”
“Parallelism refers to using elements in sentences that are grammatically similar or identical in structure, sound, meaning, or meter. This technique adds symmetry, effectiveness, and balance to the written piece.”
I always stress the importance of emotion in flash fiction. Anaphora and parallelism can create a sense of emotional urgency by the sheer relentlessness of their rhythm. Yes, you are repeating words, which may seem unnecessary or superfluous in word-limited flash, but the overall effect is well worth it.
In short, the use of these poetic devices in flash prose is a powerful addition to your writerly toolbox.
So, you guessed it. I’d like you to write a flash using anaphor and/or parallelism (or repetition) in any way you wish to use it. You may find the one paragraph form particularly useful here.
Go for sound and rhythm. Go for incantation. See if you can build and create movement with your repetition. And see how that movement creates an arc for your story.
If you need a nudge, you might try to repeat the following phrases:
Her mother never…
In the morning…In the evening…in the afternoon…
Try a collective POV maybe:
Allow whatever comes. Write fast. Keep going. Writing automatically and repetitively will let your subconscious out to play. What emerges may surprise you!
See the effective parallelism employed in Tommy Dean’s story, “Here,” recently published in New World Writing. Each paragraph begins with “We all live…here” the changes in what comes after serve the progression of the story.
I also use repetition and anaphora in my story, “Praise Rain,” in Masters’ Review.
What “felt experience” does the repetition in these stories give you? Does the repetition work on your body as well as your mind/heart? Is the emotion of the piece heightened or enhanced by the rhythm of the prose?
If you know of other flash that employs anaphora and/or parallelism please do share!
Kathy Fish has published five collections of fiction, most recently Wild Life: Collected Works
from 2003-2018, (Matter Press). Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Copper
Nickel, Washington Square Review, Denver Quarterly, Electric Literature, and numerous other
journals, textbooks, and anthologies. Fish’s “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild,” will
appear in an upcoming edition of The Norton Reader. The piece was also selected by Sheila Heti
for Best American Nonrequired Reading and by Aimee Bender for Best Small Fictions 2018. Fish
teaches for the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver and runs numerous courses of her
own design online and for the video teaching platform, Skillshare. She is the recipient of a 2020
Ragdale Foundation Fellowship.
Artwork by: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos