Flash fiction is a bit of an art form. It squeezes a very short story into a very tight space, which could be anything from 50 to 500 words. It’s concise and to the point – it has to be.
Its very nature means that every word counts. Unlike short stories and novels, where you have room to explore things like characterisation, setting and plot etc, flash fiction affords no such luxuries. This means being economical with words and sentences, yet bringing forth the right exposition, narrative and description. It also means, to a certain degree, that it must have a rudimentary beginning, middle and end.
Like short stories, flash fiction should observe the Greek Unities:
- Flash fiction covers the bare minimum time frame.
- It should take place in one location only.
- The action should remain from POV, two at most.
Telling a story in as few words as possible but with as much narrative as you can allow, requires discipline and thought to the craft of writing. If you have 200 words in which to tell your story, you have to begin and end the story in those 200 words, and where possible, to include some description, dialogue and narrative (though not necessarily all three, depending on what you write).
It all sounds very easy, but it isn’t. It’s about making a sentence from four words instead of ten, it’s about relating your theme in a few simple words, it’s about creating expression from little more than a few sentences, it’s about creating a whole thing from very little.
How does this improve your writing?
The very tight, concise nature of flash fiction demands the best of a writer. It makes you strip writing down to its bare minimum and focus on the important elements. When you come to write full-bloodied short stories and novels, you can build upward from these stripped down elements.
This kind of writing also forces a writer to find a great closing line, because sometimes that closing line makes the entire flash fiction story; it leaves a lasting impression with the reader. Doing this kind of exercise can help you find those little teasing closing lines at the end of your chapters.
Writing flash helps a writer focus on the best words to use and the most effective words to use. It makes a writer examine the very worth and meaning of words.
It makes a writer understand the balance of narrative, dialogue and description in writing.
It makes a writer appreciate exposition. Showing rather than telling, in so few words, will help you improve how you write exposition.
It forces a writer to examine every paragraph, every sentence and every word in much closer detail and eliminate unnecessary words.
It makes a writer appreciate which words work and which ones don’t – it makes the writer appreciate the structure of prose.
It makes a writer pinpoint their character – the reader must resonant with him or her with only a few words of dialogue or description to work with, so a writer must make the character count.
I recommend writers to go and try writing flash fiction because it’s one of the best disciplines around for writing. After a few practices, you will find your writing will have improved instantly, because it will make you focus on what is most important in writing.
Here’s an example of one of my flash fictions, a story of 100 words:
Her stomach churned like an acidic tide, washed against her insides. Her ribs shrank in the deluge of adrenaline, squeezed her.
A sulphurous hue freckled her skin. She leaned over the rail, waited for the bilious torrent, yet it stayed in her stomach, coaching the swell into a thick sickness.
Ocean froth hissed in her ear. She heard the excited Irish horde behind her.
She peered up; saw Liberty’s golden flame poking through the mist.
Amber tinted fear pooled in her eyes. Her father’s semen remained warm between her legs, but his blood was cold on her fingers.
© A J Humpage 2011
You will find plenty of flash fiction sites on the internet, like 6 Sentences, where you have to write a story in six sentences. They have competitions too, the best ones making it into publication. If people like your story, they will offer feedback.
Another one you could try is the weekly flash fiction challenge found at Lily Childs Feardom, where you’re given three key words to write a flash fiction story around, and it can be anything you like as long as it contains those three key words. Not only that, but other writers will offer valuable feedback on your entry and Lily will also do a summary of your piece as part of the judging process.
This really is a great way to get a feel for your writing, but to get feedback from other writers too, some new to writing, some a little more established, and some that have been published and have years of experience to offer.
Get disciplined and give flash fiction a try!
Next week: Problem solving – spotting mistakes and flaws.