For new authors just starting out, or for those of you just looking to flex your writing muse muscles, there’s a quick and dirty way to get down by writing a story called flash fiction.
Since I just covered fan fiction, it hit me that this is another aspect of writing, one in which I’ve dabbled as well.
WHAT IS FLASH FICTION?
The actual definitions and parameters of flash fiction are all over the place, but to put it in some kind of nutshell, a flash fiction story is quick and dirty, to-the-point and usually ranges from 50 to 1,000 words. Some even measure it in characters, ala Twitter.
Flash fiction has been around as long as people have been rubbing charcoal on paper or etching grooves into stones. It’s been called from nothing to various names over the ages and just recently, probably in the past decade or so came around to the name flash fiction.
The point is that it’s a short burst of an idea without all the details. The best stories tell a tale with a beginning, a middle and an end. They give everything you need, to get the point across, but with no literary rambling at all! Lean and mean. Little to no development, just as Joe Friday says in Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
IT CAN BE QUITE A CHALLENGE
If you thought writing your regular novel or short story was tough, especially when you are trying to write lean and mean and getting to the point, try flash fiction!
The style of a flash story is that you have no room to ramble. If you don’t get to the point right away, you’ve busted the style and it’s no longer flash fiction. It’s a short story or even something else like a novelette.
Flash fiction is a great way to learn to write lean – cut out the extraneous material. If you do enough of these stories, you’ll start to learn what you need and don’t need to get your point across!
When we first moved to Indiana back in 1999, the local paper in Gary, I think it was the Lake County something or other, had a contest for fifty-word short stories (hey, folks, it was free or I never would’ve entered). They could’ve very well called them flash fiction stories but at the time, the term didn’t exist, at least not around there, so it was just fifty-word short short stories. You could submit as many as you wanted, but the key was the fifty-word limit.
I wrote I think thirty-plus stories. I don’t even remember how it all came about, but I just sat down at the computer after work a couple of days in a row and spit them out, one after the other. Most of them were a bit longer and I had to edit them down. The trimming was tough, but I got them all within the fifty word limit. I then submitted the best twenty to the paper.
I didn’t win diddly, or even get an honorable mention in the paper. The ones I saw that won had me scratching my head. I can’t find any of those stories! I’ve looked every so often through my computer files and zip, nada. Oh well…I had a lot of fun and didn’t pay a thing, not even postage because I was able to submit them electronically.
On the other hand, I’ve written several short flash pieces of a couple hundred words when the must hit me. One of them I submitted to my writer’s group for a “guess who wrote this” thing they were doing a few years ago. It’s called The Word Factory. It was just one of those flash pieces that popped into my head.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Okay, flash fiction is often associated with contests. You all know how I feel about those! On the other hand, if you want to, and want to potentially throw away the bucks, why not?
Whether you write flash fiction for a contest, or just do it to hone your chops, I’ll tell you that it helped me tremendously.
As many of you know, I’m not a literate type writer. I’m a genre writer – I like to get to the point! From flash fiction, I learned to get to the point! Even when writing novel-length stuff, I write to the point and don’t ramble. By doing that, my stories get a whole lot more done with fewer words. Not only that, I can describe people, places and things with better economy and not bore my readers to tears.
I’m not going to make fans with literary readers.
On the other hand, those that love genre fiction will appreciate me giving them just enough to draw them into the world. I’ll let them paint their own pictures with me guiding them.
Writing fan fiction taught me the economy of perfecting that technique.