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flash-fiction-pic-with-words

I have a confession to make. A year ago, I thought writing short stories of around three thousand words was a waste of time. (I can hear you gasping now.) I was a novelist, pure and simple. Anything shorter than fifty thousand words wasn’t worth looking at. Still, as part of building my online presence, I wrote short stories about a favourite character. It depicted her life (her considerably long life) long before she would enter any of my novels set in this century.

The depth the character has shown me, the story of her life forming in front of my eyes, the tears I shed as she went through one horrible experience after another… I know that there are pieces still missing from her story, but I would never have thought to write about her as a main character if it hadn’t been for short stories.

In a novel one can go about in a circuitous route to show backstory. A short story is known for its intensity, brevity, concentration and sense of completion. So each time I wrote a new short story for Saphira, I had to remember the “rules” to writing short stories. And it gave me a better understanding about the character. And conflict.

What does this have to do with flash fiction?

It was an easy transition to go from writing short stories reaching five thousand words, down to three thousand words and then just reaching the thousand word mark.

Some would argue that flash fiction is anything below a thousand words. Most flash fiction competition sites, though, only accept stories of about three hundred words or fewer.

Do you know how difficult it is to write a proper story, give the reader a sense of the world and the characters while still having conflict, in only three hundred words?

Try it. Take any of the prompts from my Twisted Tale Tuesday posts and write a story in only three hundred words.

twisted tale tuesday image

Not easy, is it?

What flash fiction should be: a story of extreme brevity where the classic story elements are mostly implied. (Classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution.)

As a flash fiction competition winner, one would think that I have a perfect recipe. I don’t.

I do, however, know why it’s a good idea to write flash fiction.

One: you learn how to say a lot with only a few words. You learn which words would say exactly what you mean. Compare “the canopy of dark blue night sky twinkling with the brightest stars stretched over the battle-scene” with “stars broke the cobalt sky and illuminated death”. Do you see the difference?

Two: you learn how to get to the heart of your story. While writing a longer piece, you might get bogged down with everything you need to say. You might even forget what your story is really about.

 

Supremacy

By Ronel Janse van Vuuren

@miladyronel

86 words

‘I don’t want to be worshipped…’ the young woman at the head of the table whispered, staring at her reflection in the gleaming wood surface. ‘I want to terrify!’

Wind rushed through the room and blasted all the gifts away.

Everyone sat up straight; no-one dared look at her. Though they adored her for getting rid of the enemy navy with her power over air, she still scared them.

‘Too bad. Eat your eggs,’ her mother said as she placed a plate in front of her.

 

Now, this story could’ve been an entire novel. This unnamed main character could’ve had this epic adventure saving her world; people could’ve worshipped her for saving them; the reader might’ve even thought she was amazing. Then, in a twist ending, she could’ve become Sauron or Voldemort (insert your favourite villain). And, because that’s what your story has been about all along, it should’ve been obvious in the little things throughout to be believable (called foreshadowing and themes and a lot of other writerly things that are important to a proper novel).

Three: you can try out different voices, genres and subgenres. (Though, that’s true about short stories as well.) I mostly stick to writing Fantasy. But I’ve tried different voices, styles and subgenres (from High Fantasy with Dragons and other magical creatures to Dark Gothic Fantasy with Witches and Werewolves). I’ve learned what I like, what I can do and what I feel uncomfortable with.

Four: it’s fun. And it’s a good way to write when you’re not feeling like it.

Writing, no matter what.

Writing, no matter what.

Those are my four reasons for writing flash fiction. As for judging flash fiction? (Yeah, I’ve judged Cracked Flash Fiction Competition twice now…) Sitting on the other side of a story, trying to figure out why it works and why it doesn’t teaches so much.

Reading the stories every week, one would think I’d know the usernames by now and what to expect. So it’s very freeing to remove all identifying features and keep only the title and story: that way I can judge without having any preconceived notions about how good/bad/funny/scary/etc. a story should be.

I’m sure some of the contestants might have an issue with me competing in the weeks I’m not judging (even though I haven’t won or placed since becoming a judge), writing flash fiction improves other aspects of my writing, so I won’t be giving up something that’s good for my craft. And the other judges are cool with it. Besides, you’ve read my reasons for writing flash fiction.

“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” – William Feather

Taking just my word for why you should write flash fiction, is a foolish idea. It’s almost as bad as some of the writing rules people have been making up. Check out Anne R Allen’s post for the recent craziness. Talk about the blind leading the blind… Whenever people start talking in absolutes like the Sith lords in Star Wars, well, I have this urge to laugh and then channel my inner Lois Lane to uncover the truth about these so-called rules.

So here’s why flash fiction is great, from an interview with Tania Hershman on Damyanti’s blog “Daily (W)rite”.

  1. You specialize in flash fiction. Could you link us to a few articles that might help a writer attempting the genre?

After having just taught a week’s flash fiction course where we started with a little theory and soon moved away from that, I would suggest no-one reads anything about anything before they start to write, just read as many flash stories as you can because to start with theory may end up being off-putting. Many people have “rules” about writing. For me, there are no rules about what a short story – or a poem, or a flash story – is, has to be, and the more you read the more you see everything it can be. Then you can attempt your own take on it! That said, there are some good articles here.

  1. Other than length, is there a difference between short story and flash fiction writing?

This is a hard question to answer because it presupposes that there is a good definition for either a short story of a piece of flash fiction. I read around 1000 short and very short stories every year, and they are very hard to pin down – as they should be! If you mean the writing process, every time I think I understand how my own writing process works, it surprises me! I generally take longer to write a short story, it can take years, but then again, so can a piece of flash fiction. Writing short stories is about learning how little you need, about what isn’t written as much as about what is on the page. Flash fiction takes this to the extreme – but there are no constraints in terms of how many characters, for example, or how much description, how much time can pass. It’s all up for grabs!

 

On the Writers in the Storm blog, they tell you exactly why you should write flash fiction. Here are the highlights.

What is flash fiction? Definitions vary, but generally, they’re complete stories of anywhere from 100 to 1,500 words. All genres lend themselves well to this type of story.

How do you write it? There are some guidelines:

  • Start at the flashpoint –By definition Flash begins at the moment of conflict, when all the action is nearly complete. Think: the final gesture of a love affair, or the start of a good old-fashioned gang fight. All of this is to say we need to avoid preambles or introductions (unless working on a specific conceit).
  • Focus on the powerful image(s)– Find one or more powerful images to focus your story on. A wartorn street. An alien sunset. A Going Out of Business sign. They say a picture worth a thousand words. Paint a picture with words. It doesn’t hurt to have something happen inside that picture. It is a story after all.
  • Hit them where it hurts– Go for an ending that offers an emotional impact. As flash writers, we are in the punch-in-the-gut business. Play against expectations with a sense of narrative mystery or devastating twist, a poignant implication or declarative last sentence that leaves the reader breathless, and going back for more.

Why write it?

  • Get your name out there.
  • People can read it fast, so they’re more likely to read.
  • You can write it fast.
  • Sharpen your skills, learn to write tight.
  • Can count toward membership in professional writing organizations.
  • You can use it as free content for marketing.
  • Competitions.
  • Inspiration.

kermit typing

I hope this has given you something to think about – and even try out! What about you, fellow scriveners: do you write or read flash fiction? What did you think of the flash fiction piece I used as an example? Do you have anything to add?

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