Previously I talked about the benefits of writing flash fiction; today I’d like to focus on some of the mechanics.
Precision Drafting – focus on the story
Perhaps I should emphasis here that these aren’t rules. The glory, for me at least, of writing fiction, any fiction, is that you say ya boo sucks to rules. These just happen to be the ‘rules’ that work for me. They may be anathema to you.
Let us assume you are aiming to write to a word limit. You have an idea (ok, easier said than done but bear with me, we will talk about that in a moment). How do you start when you know you have only, say, 100 or 300 words and it feels like it is a novel wanting to burst out?
Well for me, the rule one is it is the same as any piece of writing: you just write. It would feel great, wouldn’t it, if you wrote and ended up with 300 words, give or take a few? Wouldn’t it?
The hell it would. Because don’t kid yourself that there isn’t a ton of editing you can and should do and you might well end up with a heck of a lot less, or more after that process. Just write it.
Of course, there is no denying that the amount you exceed the limit, the tougher you’ll have to be in editing but you must give your story its shape.
And that for me is rule two: it’s all about the story. Flash fiction is about story. You have to be sparse with spending words on mood and tone. You certainty do not have the luxury of much descriptive prose that isn’t part of the story, part of what your character is experiencing.
Editing flash isn’t so different to a novel. Most people overwrite somewhat and often say things twice (or more) to make their point. Don’t; take them out. Using a passive voice often extends the word count. Be parsimonious with adjectives, adverbs: sprinkle with salt, don’t cover in cream.
Example: Alfred needed a cigarette; he left Elise inside the café while he went outside to smoke (16 words). This could say Craving nicotine, Alfred left Elise in the café, going outside to smoke (12 words) How important is mentioning the café here? Or Alfred’s need. If these are not essential then we could have Alfred left Elise, going outside to smoke (7 words). I’m sure with work you can make this shorter still.
For the beginner I heartily recommend prompts. I’m well aware that a lot of people find the most challenging aspect of fiction writing coming up with an idea. Using a prompt can be a godsend. And there are many that apply to flash: using a picture, or a word, title, character, setting or genre. The word limit itself can force out the idea.
Sometimes people fail because they think their ideas trite, not worthy of pursuing. If that is so then try and look at what might be thought of as the subsidiary characteristics of the prompt. If the image is of a sunset, don’t think about the star-crossed lovers leaving each other, but the angel sitting on the clouds watching them. A gushing river might be an adventure, an escape from some awful situation, but equally image the fish who is commuting home up the water shoot every day and welcomes the weekend when he/she can stay in the pool. There are always subversions you can find if you just pause long enough and look.
Some of the prompts I use include:
Sue Vincent’s #writephoto every Thursday (picture prompt, no word limit)
Charli Mills Carrot Ranch also every Thursday (idea prompt, strict 99 words)
Microcosms every Friday (two or three elements e.g. character, setting, genre – no more than 300 words)
Flash Frenzy every Sunday (picture, no more than 360 words)
Blog Battle from Rachael Ritchey on Tuesdays (theme and genre, no more than 1000 words)
Writespiration from Sacha Black on Wednesdays (word count – 52 words – and theme/idea)
Esther Newton’s Monday Motivations (one word, no word limit usually)
There are so many; find your own and surprise yourself.