What can flash fiction do for you?

Yesterday I posted my entry to the Second Crusade Challenge (entries can still be submitted up to just 11:59pm on Friday 25th March, I believe, but check the site for details). The challenge was to write a flash starting with the words “The goldfish bowl teetered” – the whole thing had to be 100 words or less.

I’ve had some comments on my piece and I’ve gone round looking at others – this is, after all, supposed to be a community-building exercise. There are some awesome writers out there. I’m sure you all knew that already, but I’m going to say it again – there are some awesome writers out there. Some of them told a story out of everyday life but in such a way that I had to laugh, and others produced a fantasy so vivid I wanted, no, needed to know the rest of the story.

I know I’ve posted about short fiction before, but I feel it bears saying again. Flash is an excellent tool for honing your writing skills. There is no room for extraneous detail, every word must count. Personally, when I write flash, I like to make every sentence trip a question in the reader’s mind. A comment yesterday with half a dozen questions made me laugh because it was exactly the reaction I was going for when I wrote the story. How did they get there? Are all the characters important to the big picture or only to this particular moment? Is this the inciting incident? Is this the grand climax? If this were part of a full-length novel (or even a short story) what would come before and after?

You ask yourself if even the small details are important but you can’t know unless you read “the full story” which may not even exist. When you read a full length book it’s so easy to skate over what look like minor details but later turn out to be incredibly important. Flash is good for that kind of thing. Because you pick and choose which details go in (and you have to be very choosy because of the length limitation) the reader will automatically assume that every detail is important. But what if some of them are actually only important to the larger “story”? There’s no way of knowing until you write it.

I used to belong firmly in the “I can’t possibly do flash fiction” camp. It was too short, I couldn’t fit a proper story into that kind of word limit (interestingly, I used the same excuse for not writing any kind of short fiction), I had no idea where to start, I had no idea where to finish… The excuses went on and on. In the end, that’s exactly what they were. Excuses.

Since I stopped complaining and just got on with it I’ve found a wealth of fun and entertainment. Flash is short, so there is a limited amount of planning. You can also get valid ideas from absolutely anywhere and because of all that they take up a lot less of your plan than a full length manuscript. Yet a good flash shows off your writing skills just as well as any longer format. Strangely enough, if you can carry a story over a hundred words, you should be able to carry one over a hundred thousand.

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About Mhairi Simpson

Writer, dreamer. Magic, dragons, pink mice, cake. Come say hi!
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16 Responses to What can flash fiction do for you?

  1. knittingknots says:

    ah flashfic, I do a lot of it. I prefer not to do the 100 word perfect drabble very often, but stuff in the 300-800 word range is probably actually my favorite thing to write. I blame it on me being a compulsive poet.

  2. Cherie Reich says:

    Great post, and I completely agree. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing flash fiction so much because every word counts, and if you can pull off a story that short, then you better hope you can pull off a much longer one.

    • Exactly. And it’s a skill that you can hone in short spurts, rather than putting your all into a novel for months, or even years, and then moving on to the next one. Flash practice is much faster!

  3. This was such a fun challenge. I’ve written short stories before but had never tried flash fiction. It was so much harder than I would have anticipated and you are absolutely right about every word having to count!

    • It’s very addictive once you shoehorn your brain into the right mindset, as KnittingKnots can tell you!

      PS. When I try to go to your blog the link doesn’t work – has it moved or something?

  4. I haven’t done much flash fiction but after reading your post I’ll have to give it a try. You made some good points of how flash fiction can hone your craft. I think I’m more like knittingknots. I’ll start with the 800 word story and work down! Great article.

    • Excellent idea – I’m glad I inspired you! If it helps, anything up to 1000 words is considered flash fiction, as far as I know. I think microflash (could just be my term) is anything up to 100 words. Just see what works for you. Chocubus (also on this blog – 12th February) was written as a 1000 word flash fiction. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do it 🙂 Then I got into the micro stuff. Just take it in stages 😀

  5. K.B. Owen says:

    I haven’t tried flash fiction yet, but it looks intriguing!

    BTW, Anne, where’s your twitter button on here? I can’t find it.

    • Hahaha You asked me that before and I replied in the comments that I can’t put one up on a wordpress-hosted site – this is the free version, you see. When I get my own site that will definitely be there 🙂

  6. Trisha says:

    I only recently discovered flash fiction too. Probably about 15 years ago, I wrote some very short stories, like one sentence or a couple long, and I had no idea until 2010 that it was actually a common thing. I can’t believe I lived under that rock for so long 😀

    I totally agree it’s an excellent craft honing exercise. I think the lessons can be taken to our writing of longer works too. I still think every sentence and word should count, in those.

  7. The Crusader Challenge was the first time I attempted Flash Fiction–it was fun to write a short piece. 🙂 For me it’s short stories that are the hardest; I always want to turn them into novels!

    • Shorts go on for long enough that you really think there should be a novel there somewhere! The microflash I wrote for the Challenge was the first flash that made me think about writing a full length novel. Chocubus, for instance, a flash I wrote way back in February was just a bit of fun. No novel there!

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