There’s an often neglected and untapped power in writing. Enter Flash Fiction.
Flash Fiction is an exercise in purity and perfection. It’s lean, mean, with nothing extraneous allowed—to do so sickens and bloats the very soul of the piece.
The first time I heard about flash fiction my thoughts were, “1,000 word story? Cakewalk.”
I laboriously wrote 2,100 words, then watched my cake walk and bleed. Every cut word, a scratch on the soul. Every sentence, a slash. Every paragraph . . . I dare not reimagine it. But somehow I cut 1,100 words and SURVIVED, just barely . . . my story, not so much.
I couldn’t look at what was left. It was scrawny. Skin wrapped on bones. Before the madness, what I wrote was shapely, full and beautiful, decorated—“art”. All necessary to the health and happiness of my story. But without it all?
I debated about abandoning the wretch. No discovery, no shame; no one need know . . . except I would, aaannnnnnd I’m just not like that.
It noticed my pity and whisper-hissed.
Surely I’d misunderstood, I mean how—
“Yes,” it said, “there’s still a little fat here. Would you mind?”
With is famished appearance I thought, You want to die, you bastard. T-to waste my time.
It searched my soul with clear white eyes and focused pupils. Madness. I hadn’t noticed it before.
“Are you like everyone else?” it said. “You just gonna sit there while I whither? Give me what I need.”
“You can’t eat. You’re cursed at 1,000 words.”
It assured me that I was cursed. Despite its claim I moved to compassion. “Let’s be done with your restraints. Let me, please, free you.”
“No,” it said. “I’m not the real prisoner. But my bones are strong, my skin is rough. Feed me better, it’ll be enough.”
Its rhymed words haunted me as I ransacked the depths of every cupboard I had. All I could offer was a steady diet of innutritious verbs and protein-swapped-for-carbohydrate nouns. I was ashamed. I wouldn’t eat this myself, but it’s all I had. Indeed, the state of things was damning—my story was right.
Almost sensing my thoughts it repeated, “My bones are strong, my skin is rough. Feed me better, it’ll be enough.” Over and over it repeated the phrase until I took a pound of flesh from my side just to shut it up. My story swallowed it whole and asked for more.
Pound after pound I watched it vomit ME, keep some of ME down here or there, or quickly shit out the rest. I had to get stronger to feed it. I had to replace my cupboards with nutritious verbs, solid protein nouns, and rich spices. Weakness replaced with strength for both of us. I found the power in Flash that made me free my story, which then freed me.
Now that memory-put-to-story has many elements used in Flash. The story may go over some people’s head. That’s okay. For others it will be prophetic. Either way, how Flash trains you to write better . . . it’s all worth it. The skills gained even in the attempt translate well to virtually all forms of writing and give your novelettes, novellas, and novels more impact. Now here are few tips to give you a head start:
Keep your cast small. Flash is best when it’s intimate. Besides, there isn’t time for lots of characters.
Is it best to “start with action” or “in the middle”? The latter. Action is often a ploy or technique for hooking the reader or building interest. This can work well with longer works because the reader can catch up with the character afterwards. However, in Flash, starting with action rarely works out well because by the time the action is over, there is no time for the reader to fully identify with the character. A swath of actions with no motivation or understanding doesn’t work and comes across gimmicky. In Flash—as in all stories—the key is emotion. Only in Flash you have to get to it quicker. This leads to number 3.
Let go. Experiment. Allow yourself to be surprised. It’s hard to plot Flash Fiction. In the beginning, write as long as you need. Be creative. Stroll down the road that appears to be a waste of time, seeking for something. If you seek the moment, it will happen! It’s about learning, trying new things and being open. Beyond unlocking this power, Flash helps in seeing patterns and opportunities where reduction in words with the right words instead amplifies the story.
Edit using colors and symbols to identify key parts of the story. Go through the piece and mark key plot elements in a color of your choice, conflict elements in another, and character details/motivations in another. (Anything not circled isn’t impactful enough and doesn’t belong.) Now rank these things according to how they emotionally impact you. This will help you see the story down to its bare bones.
With #4 done, hack off what doesn’t belong and trim the fat off of what does. Keep all the scraps (just in case), then build off the skeleton left. This can be brutal but having the courage to bend or cut away more fat may reveal a wrist, elbow, knee, or ankle underneath that can take your story in a new and rewarding direction.
I try to cut things down to at least 250 words under the limit. As much as backstory can be fun, understand there isn’t time for it. So, the actions or dialogue of the character MUST reveal the past. That being said, do not neglect the past. A motivation-less story is BOR-ing. Use objective correlation. (Shhh, it’s your friend.) The point is, poor writing can be transformed into something useful. Either way it will guide you in your efforts for tighter writing and establishing motivation.
Every word matters. Have a reason for each word written. Kill unnecessary words. Unneeded, lazy or pet words are weak. Just toss them. And if you’re in a pinch use contractions, there’s for there is, couldn’t for could not, etc. Also, bear in mind elipsis “. . .” will look like three words to a word counter. If you did your job correctly this is when you can build the word count up with style if you want or things heightening the emotion further.
Make sure you have grounded the reader the early. i.e. Begun with what’s relatable and clear, yet intriguing. Abstract metaphors, “intelligent or deferred creative synergy” read exactly like they sounds, yawners. Don’t let tripe mask as the source of white pearl caviar. Let the reader jump from stable, discernible ground, before taking them on an amazing journey.
Make sure the ending isn’t the ending. In Flash the ending’s purpose is to reveal a deeper state of things—like an echo sounding in a cave—so the reader has to think beyond the ending and carry the story with them. End with a “punch” or with depth. Preferably with both. The story that takes your breath away and stalks your thoughts is powerful, but the latter creates a more lasting impression if you have to choose between the two.
Perfect the title. This seems like common sense, but with Flash it’s even more so. With so little words available in Flash Fiction the piece’s title needs to do some heavy lifting. Let it work for you to create a curiosity that demands attention and one that drives the story forward.
All these skills gained from Flash Fiction. That’s what happens when you force yourself to work with less words. This is why Flash is an untapped power. It’s a great teacher that exposes your weaknesses and demands that they be strengthened. Now have fun and go write!