When I started blogging in 2014 one thing I discovered pretty much immediately was flash fiction. I came to blogging to enhance my writing. Up to then my focus had been predominantly novels and, to a lesser extent, poetry. I tried a few short stories, about 5000 words but, if I had heard of flash fiction I certainly hadn’t given it any thought.
To begin with I thought it gimmicky. How can you write a story in so few words? I knew of Hemmingway’s famous (though maybe apocryphal) 6 word story: ‘For sale, baby shoes, never worn’. Which was very clever and all that, but surely there couldn’t be a meaningful structure that could constitute the super short story?
Still, I mused, if so many were trying it, where was the harm? After all, one of my personal challenges is to avoid overwriting so this had to help bring more precision to my prose.
Thus began a journey that has taken me from sceptical beginner to passionate advocate of the benefits, for all writers, of creating flash fiction. I hope I can share with you some of my thoughts and ideas and encourage you, if you haven’t already, to participate in creating flash fiction.
Today, I will look at definition and structure. Then there will follow pieces on: precision drafting; editing; using prompts; digging gold from your imagination; and where to go to benefit from the community of flashistes.
One challenge is in definition. What is ‘flash’? Here’s one attempt (from good old wiki)
Flash fiction is an umbrella term used to describe any fictional work of extreme brevity, including the Six-Word Story, 140-character stories, also known as twitterature, the dribble (50 words), the drabble (100 words), and sudden fiction (750 words).
The form isn’t new, even if the title is and it is increasingly popular as a method of writing. There is even a National Flash Fiction day in June (25th).
I feel the best thing about flash is the discipline of a word limit. Like in poetry when you commit to a form (sonnet, pantoum, etc.) it brings its own rewards. So when structuring your flash, start with a word count and stick to it. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can bring yourself within that word limit.
When I began, I had a tendency to tell the story, simply, blandly. It seemed too indulgent to commit to the well-known mantra of ‘show, don’t tell’ because, let’s face it, that tends to take more words, a luxury you don’t possess. All that does, often, is you end up with a block of prose, little or no dialogue and a story that fails to enrich. After all, what flash seeks to do is tell a story that leads the reader to a greater story. It is not an anecdote, but an imagination tempter. It asks the reader to adopt his or her own what ifs and to ride around the unwritten periphery of the words to complete the story themselves.
Ok, so the five lessons I’ve learnt when structuring a flash piece?
Limit the number of characters
No preamble, no back story, your beginning is the story
Adjectives and adverbs are toast
Don’t fear ambiguity: your readers will work for you
The last line is crucial, more so than the first. In a novel, you need to hook the reader to a marathon. Here, they will give you the benefit of the doubt and read to the end of 150 or 300 words but they’ll hate you if you end flat.
Try it and see, do. You’ll fall in love, whether you write fiction, memoire or even poetry. And it sure helps when you need a synopsis or a blurb. There is something in it for everyone.