How to Write Flash Fiction

Writing flash fiction that has meaning is as simple as following a formula. Now some people hear the word formula and they immediately think derivative however I don’t believe that. I think formulas are useful. I’m going to share what I use as a formula that I learned from Holly Lisle’s How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck.

First you take a character plus a need plus something standing in the way of their need and you have the beginning of a story. This can be for a flash or even a longer story. My example is a lost (need) fairy (character) searching for home as the sun sets (problem).

Next you add two complications to your problem (three for longer works). My example complications are sun sets and with it her powers disappear (complication one) and then the night creatures come out to stalk her (complication two).

Finally you resolve the problem, either giving the character what they need or denying the character what they need. Add some meaning to it and you’ve got your story. I find the endings are the hardest part of writing flash fiction. Tying everything up and then leaving the reader satisfied but wanting more is a tough challenge. I find that I tend to use two different kinds of endings. One is the opposite of what the reader expects and the other is the opposite of what the character expects happening. My example ending is the fairy uses her wits to outsmart the night creatures and finds home. Nice happy ending for my story. (Which is rare for me. The ending I’d expect is for her to get eaten, but that isn’t very satisfying).

Check out Holly Lisle’s FREE flash fiction course for more detailed breakdowns of beginning, middles and ends. What she says about endings is particularly awesome. And its free.

My example isn’t great but it wrote itself basically in ten minutes or so. I just did the small amount of planning beforehand and then wrote. Your finished piece won’t necessarily look like your outline (just as it is with longer works).

If you have a hard time coming up with ideas, random generators are always fun to use. Just don’t feel constrained by them. Use it to spark your own creativity.

How do you write flash fiction? How do you get your ideas?

Short Fiction: Yay or Nay

Another common question often asked is if it’s important to write and sell short fiction. I personally think anyone can benefit from writing and selling short fiction, even if it isn’t something that is natural to you. My natural story length seems to be novellas, up to 50,000 words but not shorter than 17,500. It is work for me to write a complete story in less words or even more words. And while there is a market now for novella length fiction in e-books, other traditional markets are closed off. I’ll talk later about the benefits of writing novel length fiction at a later time. Today I want to focus on writing short.

Other than not taking the same amount of time as a longer work, there are many benefits to mastering (or at least learning) the short form. Not all of these skills transfer over to longer works, but many do. First, when writing to a certain word count, the value of each individual word goes up in direct proportion to how low the word count is. Flash fiction, that is stories shorter than 1,000 words, will drill into you the importance of the right word. It will also limit info-dumping and over explaining.

A short story has all the components (beginning, middle and end)of longer works, you can just get them out much faster. This allows us to practice our beginnings, middles, and ends over and over rather than just once with a given novel. Every writer has a weakness to one or more of these. Some struggle with how to start, others how to end and even more how to get from one to the other.

Short fiction also has a more visible finish line. For those of us who struggle with finishing our work (our hard drives are usually full of started but not completed manuscripts languishing about lazily), we can complete an entire work in the time it would usually take us to write a chapter or two of a novel. This not only gets us to focus on finishing a work before beginning the ever enticing edit, it gives us a burst of endorphines for crossing that finish line. I know for me, it doesn’t matter what the length of the work is, I always get that rush when I type the words the end.

Finishing gives another upside of getting us to the point of being able to practice that all important skill revision. The famous adage that writers don’t write, they rewrite is true. While its hard to consider that our hard won first drafts are crap (though repeating the phrase that all first drafts are crap while writing often does shut up that inner critic), the power that revision gives us as writers to take what’s in our heads that are now words on paper that can now be shaped closer to the perfect vision in our heads. But revision is a skill just like all other aspects of writing, a skill that needs to be practiced and worked in order for us to grow. However, I strongly believe that a work should not be touched with revision’s pen until it is completed. Now looking at a novel, how many can you write in a year? Compare that to the short story, which can take a day or a month, but is still a whole lot faster, which means a whole lot more to practice.

Remember writer’s write. Whether its long or short, every bit of writing is further practice, further refinement. You lose nothing by working on shorter fiction, nor does it mean you can’t also work on longer fiction at the same time, benefiting from the lessons learned while writing short.

All these benefits does not mean that a short story is just a novel written in fewer words. Short fiction is a form all its own and mastering it does not translate to mastered novels. I’ll post in the future some ideas on how to write short fiction and resources for study.

A big stated disadvantage to short stories over novels is selling your work. There just isn’t the same amount of traditional markets for short fiction, though there are markets out there (especially for you speclative fiction writers like myself).

Who else writes short fiction?