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.