Lately I’ve been trying my hand at flash fiction. For those not familiar with the concept, flash fiction is generally considered a story that’s under 1,000 words. (Some definitions stretch it as high as 2,000, but that’s getting into short story territory.) A flash is a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. It has all of the elements of a larger story: Character development, plot, setting, conflict, and conflict resolution. Flash fiction is not a scene from a larger work, a character sketch, or a synopsis of a larger work.
I started using this form of writing to boost my creativity and try out some new ideas. Initially, I dismissed flash fiction because I felt like I wasn’t getting anything done, or I was taking time away from my “real work” of writing novels. What I’ve found, though, is that flash fiction is not only beneficial, but fun. I hope to eventually have some pieces that I feel good enough about to post. In the meantime, here are sixteen reasons why you, too, might want to give flash fiction a try.
- It teaches you to be concise. When writing a novel or a long piece of non-fiction, you can get away with rambling a bit and going off on tangents. You can’t do that in flash fiction. Instead, you must learn to get to the point and stay there.
- It teaches you to use powerful language. When every word matters, you can’t spend whole paragraphs describing one smell, article of clothing, or sound. You need to find and use powerful, descriptive words that get the job done with minimal waste.
- It sparks your imagination. Flash fiction is similar to free-writing in that you can write almost anything just to see what sparks your creativity. If it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted much time. You can try all sorts of weird things that you wouldn’t even think of devoting an entire novel to.
- You can use it to market longer work. You can write flash fiction about the characters/places in your existing works and give the flashes away as promotional material. You can also write flashes as a way of bringing attention to your writing in general. A great flash story can spark interest in you as a writer.
- It can be social. Flash fiction is about the most social form of writing I’ve found. There are plenty of Facebook groups, critique groups, contests, blog prompts, and websites like Wattpad where you can post your flashes and interact with readers and other writers. The flash community is very robust and active.
- It can lead to an idea for a longer work. You may find yourself so enamored with something you came up with for a flash piece that you decide to spin it off into a full blown novel, novella, or short story.
- You can combine your flashes into a longer work. It’s possible to make a book out of collected flash fiction, just as it’s possible to publish a collection of short stories or poems.
- It teaches you the basics of story. Flash fiction reduces a story to its most basic elements and teaches you how to weave them together without all the distractions and flourishes that can come with a longer work. When the story is what matters, you learn how to get down to business and create something that is intriguing.
- It teaches you to edit, edit, edit. Since flash fiction has to be short, it teaches you how to cut away anything that isn’t relevant or necessary. Editing is a skill that’s required in every form of writing and flash fiction can make you a pro.
- It’s becoming more popular and salable. It used to be that no one thought about selling their flash fiction, but that is changing. There are more markets for short pieces and more demand. People want something that they can read quickly, yet still find satisfying. I don’t know that you can make a living by flash fiction alone, but you can make some money.
- It teaches you the art of the hook. The hook is what grabs your reader and drags them into the story. Novelists are advised to put the hook front and center, but you can sometimes get away with delaying a bit if it’s in the service of creating a strong setting or character. You cannot delay in flash fiction. You must hook your reader from the first sentence. Once you get comfortable writing hooks for flash fiction, it becomes natural to create better hooks in your longer works, as well.
- It builds confidence. A novel is a great confidence builder, but it can take months or years to be able to say, “I did something awesome.” Flash fiction pays off much quicker. In a day or two you have something to look at and say, “That’s pretty cool.” It’s also great for people who struggle with finishing their writing pieces. Flash fiction gives you a quick “win” and you can tell yourself, “I am capable of finishing something.”
- It lets you take risks. You can try out new styles, story lines, characters, and genres without sinking a lot of time into something that doesn’t work out. If you’re predominantly a non-fiction writer, it can be a way to try fiction without investing in a novel or novella. If you don’t enjoy it, you haven’t wasted much time.
- It’s challenging. If you think flash fiction is easy, think again. It’s bloody difficult to shrink an entire story arc into so few words and still have it make sense and be interesting. Flash fiction stretches your brain in new ways, forcing you to think about the importance of everything.
- It might lead to bigger things. If you post or sell your flashes, you might catch the attention of a publisher or agent. It probably doesn’t happen often, but you never know who is reading your blog or trawling Wattpad looking for talent. Flash fiction can be a way to build up a body of work that may lead to bigger things.
- It’s fun. Flash fiction is just a heck of a lot of fun. I enjoy throwing ideas out there and trying to make something out of them, knowing that if it doesn’t work out I haven’t lost much. It’s very freeing in that respect, plus I enjoy the challenge of thinking in new ways.
As with all forms of writing, flash fiction won’t be for everybody. You might try it and hate it, and that’s okay. But I encourage you not to dismiss it so quickly, as I did. Give it a shot. You might enjoy it and find that it improves your other work.
(Photo courtesy of dertrick)
Picture book texts are at about 1000 word count, and must be complete in world-building, full characters, and story arc. They are great writing exercises, and challenging to do well.
How serendipitous that you post this. I’ve been working on my flash fiction this past week. And it’s hard work! I don’t write fiction at all, and I’m finding this to be exceptionally difficult. I haven’t produced anything but ideas.
Love this! I can’t wait to try — I’ve been wanting to play with flash fiction, but just never sat down to do it. Thanks for sparking my curiosity 🙂
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