As any Bang2writer knows, I LOVE short stories (aka “flash fiction”, dependant on word count), which is why I threw my hat in the ring over at www.create50.com for its “Twisted” initiative! (Read my short story for Vol 1- THE RETRIBUTION OF ELSIE BUCKLE, here. Plus you can also check out my entry for Vol 2, SUPER NITS).
So Gay Degani has some GREAT advice if you’d like to join me over at @Create50 – or indeed enter any other short story contest … Lawks knows there’s PLENTY OF THEM! You can get a free PDF of 25 of my favourite short story contests, HERE.
Over to you, Gay!
My first online story was published in 2007 at Every Day Fiction. It was new to me, writing stories to be read on a computer rather than in a magazine, but the possibility of publication was higher.
“Flash Fiction” is partly defined by length, stories limited to 1500 words or fewer, and I soon discovered that writing shorter stories made me more critical of my work, more careful in word placement, more conscious of finding an emotional center, and becoming clearer about my own intention.
I’d like to share how and why writers can juice up their craft by writing and publishing flash fiction.
What flash does for those who write fiction:
1) Flash forces clarity
Flash fiction depends on immediate reader engagement. There aren’t enough words available to waste on lengthy set-ups. The reader should “see” the place and situation at the same speed as someone first sees a picture in a museum.
A shape, a feel, a sense of breadth, a color, something to hang on to: something that allows them to become immersed. This cannot be achieved without a commitment to clear imagery finding the specific words and details to pull the reader into the story. I call this giving the reader a visual anchor. MORE: A Look In The Spec Pile: 12 #Twisted50 Thoughts
2) Flash insists on carefully chosen language
To continue to engage the reader, a writer must use taut, muscular language using specific details, choosing each word with deliberate care with an awareness of double meanings and inference. There must be no unnecessary words. MORE: 6 Things To Remember When Dealing With Writing Feedback
3) Flash requires a writer to think about structure
What concerns the structure of a piece of writing? Characters, tense, POV, order of events, theme, setting, all need to be considered. Stories require a shape that will fit the concept and enhance the experience. A writer can’t always work from a planned structure.
Sometimes the words come first and the structure follows, but the order in which a writer proceeds doesn’t matter. What matters is consciously studying the elements of a story so they will have the most impact. When a writer deals with 1000 words, it becomes easier to look at structure and discover what the story needs. A writer can experiment and become expert at matching content with structure. MORE:5 Great Story Twists
4) Flash demands meaning, large or small
Flash fiction counts on meaning to make an impact. That meaning can be a life-changing event or a small revelation, but something must happen. Too often writers forget that language is a tool used to move readers. While readers love and appreciate beautiful words, they are stirred by words that give meaning to the human experience. There must be a emotional shift in the readers perception. MORE: WHY This Story? … Or 8 Questions They’re **Really** Asking
5) Flash requires characters to resonate
More than anything else, the characters in a piece of flash must show their individuality, their desires, their humanity. The writer must be clear why he or she has chosen these characters to write about. If not, who cares? They can be humble or rich, kind or violent, but they have to be breathing living individuals, and this must be achieved in the slightest phrase or a telling gesture. MORE: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters
6) Flash bestows confidence
Writing flash allows a writer to work with focus on a short piece in a more present way than possible on a longer story, especially if he or she is struggling with craft. It forces the writer to study every word, every nuance of a piece, to weigh the contribution each word and each phrase makes to the whole. It also challenges the writer to make sure most of the elements do some kind of double duty in terms of enhancing the theme.
Flash builds confidence because with so many journals online hungering for strong, well-written flash, a writer receives feedback in a relatively short period of time. Even if you get is a big fat no, you know quickly. So you look at the story again. You see something different. You make it better. And eventually, your skills at understanding how to craft a story become expert. MORE: 5 Top Tips For Making The Leap From Short Stories To Novels
GET YOUR FREE PDF OF 25 TOP SHORT STORY WRITING CONTESTS BY SIGNING UP FOR UPDATES, HERE.
BIO: Gay Degani has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books released her collection of stories, Rattle of Want, (November 2015). She has a suspense novel, What Came Before, published in 2014, and a short collection, Pomegranate, featuring eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be found.
Thank Lucy for the opportunity to write about flash. I owe the practice of writing flash so much.
I always learn so much from Gay, whether it’s tutorials like this or reading her powerful stories and seeing how she has applied the craft of which she speaks. Thanks, Gay!
Great insights here and all very true. Thanks for this thoughtful, accessible essay, Gay.
Why are playful endings such a no-no in flash fiction?
Playful endings can work, I think – but they do have to match the tone of the rest of the piece.