When I first heard of flash fiction I assumed it was something to do with dirty old men startling unsuspecting ladies in dark alleys – possibly by uttering quotes from Lolita or Fifty Shades of Grey. When I discovered it was nothing of the sort my interest quickly waned, but as someone who is always interested in new things (I think there’s a word for that, probably beginning with neo) I made a mental note to find out about it one day.
Well, this is that day! At very great expense and after lengthy negotiations with her agent lasting into the early hours (my client has to receive an invitation written in gold on a pink background; must be provided with a newly created font to work with commissioned from David Hockney etc etc) I can now provide my readers with a special guide to flash fiction written by Chloe Banks of the excellent Made by the Potter blog (http://madebythepotter.blogspot.co.uk/)
FLASH FICTION – CHLOE BANKS
Although there’s no precise definition of flash fiction, it’s generally accepted to be short stories under 1000 words in length. These can be very short indeed – sometimes only a few words or a couple of hundred characters.
There’s already a lot of information out there on how to write flash fiction, so I won’t try to pretend I’m an expert by doing the same. Instead, here is a quick set-up guide to get you started in the world of flashing.
Eight Things to Know
- Clichés are welcome. Writers are usually told to avoid clichés, and they need to be used with caution even here. But when every word must count, the use of clichés, stereotypes and common cultural references can help paint a picture without wasting any of them.
- The market is growing. Short stories are notoriously hard to sell to publishers, but this is the digital age. With the rise of e-readers and tablet computers, people are (supposedly) downloading more short fiction to read on the daily commute. In a busy world, brevity is king.
- The pay rate is awesome. If you can persuade somebody to pay you, that is. You’re unlikely to make your fortune, but if you can find a paying market, or win a competition, the money-to-time ratio is pretty impressive. If writing a winning 154-character story for Txtlit only takes you 20 minutes from first idea to polished final edit, you could win the equivalent of £150 per hour!
- It’s perfect for twisted minds. Twist in the tail stories get harder to pull-off, the longer they are. Flash fiction is perfect for devious twists and sudden reveals, without being dissatisfying or resorting to deception. This works even better when coupled with clichés or stereotypes which can be shattered in the final few words.
- It can be a cruel world… By far the most common outlets for flash fiction are dedicated fiction websites. These are often open for comments. Don’t submit work to them if you’re not prepared to have another writer or reader publicly criticise your characterisation/plotting/use of the Oxford comma.
- …But it’s a lot of fun. It’s hard to imagine a writer tearing their hair out over a failed piece of flash fiction. Playwrights and novelists might be prone to depression and dark moods, flash writers don’t have the time!
- Failure is easier to take. It’s hard to feel devastated when nobody wants to publish something that only took you an hour to write. And if you get to the end of writing something and realise it’s embarrassingly awful, you haven’t wasted the last year of your life – just the last day. You’ll be over it by tea time. (Of course some stories at the top end of the word count scale might take considerably longer. Feel free to feel dejected about them.)
- It’s a great place to start. Partly because it’s actually quite hard to get right. Every writer needs to learn to be economical with their words, and flash fiction is the perfect way to build that skill. There’s no room for purple prose. You can get it wrong over and over (and over) again more times in a year than you could with writing a novel, and the more you get wrong, the more you learn. Plus, because writing a dazzling piece of flash is so hard, people will be bowled over by your genius* when you tell them a moving and inspirational story in the time it takes them to drink their coffee.
*Possibly. Results not guaranteed.
Four Places to Start
Two Microscopic Stories to read
- “I said I’d love you until death, didn’t I?” He leant in closer to her, his fingers stroking her neck. “The thing is, I’m not sure if I love you anymore.” His grip tightened. “And I always keep my promises.”
- [This one from Dan Purdue, taken from his anthology Somewhere to Start From] Albert loosened his black silk tie. He removed his shoes and cufflinks. He stood by the window, watching bumblebees. The grandfather clock chopped out long, sluggish chunks of time.
He turned around. Mary’s armchair wasn’t just empty; it was a hole in the world where a person belonged. Her gardening magazine wilted over one arm. Knitting yarns peeked from a basket beside her slippers.
Albert felt a plunging sadness and went into the kitchen. As the kettle whistled, he broke down. Next to the teapot stood a tragedy in miniature; placed there by uncounted years of routine: two teacups, side-by-side, waiting.
One Extreme Competition to Enter
- Think you’ve got what it takes to write the shortest story of all? In honour of Ernest Hemingway, Fleeting magazine are running a competition to write a story in six words. Up for grabs is a stay at the New York hotel where Hemingway’s own six-word story was written.
So now I know – and I for one can’t wait to have a go!