Instant gratification reigns supreme in today’s fast-paced society. I could go into a spiel here about Twitter, DVR, multi-tasking, and Big Macs, but we all live it (and, in most cases, love it) every day.
Writing is no different. E-readers are replacing traditional books (some e-books even use short video clips throughout the story), and narrative summary, back-story, and omniscient POV are “four-letter words” in the writing industry now. Why? Because readers want books that read like movies. And it better not take much longer to read than it did to watch, either.
So that’s where we are. Sharp. Hard hitting. To the point. In and out, nobody gets hurt. Enter: Flash Fiction.
First, let’s establish what flash fiction is NOT. It’s not a PART of a bigger story, or a synopsis for a novel, or a short story trimmed down to fit the 1,000-word maximum. It’s doesn’t cause brain-strain with convoluted point-of-views and time shifts. And it absolutely, unequivocally, down right DOES NOT require the reader to go back and read the story again to understand what the heck is going on.
So what is it? A flash fiction piece is a self-contained story (beginning/middle/end grade school English stuff), 1,000 words or less, that can entertain, intrigue, and satisfy a reader during an F5 tornado. That’s it. No genre restrictions, age requirements, or prior experience needed. Just quick, clean stories.
So how does one craft a fresh, unforgettable story in less than four pages? The same as with every other story, just quicker. Here are some good ideas to get you started:
1) You’d better have one heck of a hook. Splickety’s readers have busy lives and short attention spans, so your first task is to convince them your story is worth their time.
2) Put your characters in conflict with someone or something. You have less than 1,000 words to create a character, to mess with her so she feels totally wrecked, and then to resolve the problem one way or another. Not all conflict has to be resolved for the character’s benefit. In flash fiction you don’t have to have a happy ending, but there needs to be some sort of problem or issue for your character to face, otherwise we’re bored.
3) Satisfy your reader. “To be continued” works for sitcoms and comic books, but not for flash fiction. In and out, remember? Wrap your story up so tight and so fast that your reader can’t help but love you for it.
With that in mind, be creative. Use a Bible verse to form a thoughtful allegory. Write something from a wasp’s viewpoint. Kill your MC in the first line. Have a grandma tell about the time she stubbed her toe, but for your readers’ sakes make it interesting.
*And, of particular interest but no actual importance: I HATE semicolons. Use them at your own peril. On the other hand, if you want a personal challenge, use them profusely (and correctly, of course) in a story so well written that I have no choice but to publish it
Finally, here’s a list of personal pet peeves sure to push you to the back of the line:
1) Leave me confused even after I’ve re-read the story 3 times.
2) Bore me to tears even after I’ve re-read the story 3 times (or use clichés like “bore me to tears”).
3) Use hokey dialect instead of giving a character an actual voice.
4) Use profanity or inappropriate sexuality (They have their place in literature, but it’s not in Splickety).
5) Send us your submission without a title or author name.
6) Fail to provide a plot.
7) Use incorrect (or un-factual) history in a genre where accuracy matters (like historical fiction).
8) Use your story as a soapbox.
Here are Seven Steps to Flash Fic Success:
- Subscribe to the MBT Flashblog and download a free copy of our latest issue of Splickety to see how it’s done.
- Create a compelling character. Highlight only his/her most important features and details.
- Pick a setting. Describe only its most unique aspects. Your readers will fill in the rest.
- Put your character into conflict with something/someone externally, then identify his/her internal struggle(s). Please note that you need BOTH kinds of conflict, even in such a short story.
- Don’t forget your plot: plan your beginning, middle, and end.
- Add some more conflict in there. More tension for your character usually makes for a better story.
- After you’ve written and edited your story, give it to a test reader or a critique partner. Then submit it for publication.
Any questions? If not, then go forth and write on. If so, well, go forth and write on anyway.
Andrew Winch, Senior Editor of Splickety, is a sports physical therapist by day and a speculative fiction writer by night. When not wearing his “professional” hats, Andrew can be found relaxing at his 130-year-old Missouri home with his beautiful wife, Alaina, and their boxer, Luna.