Writing Very Short Stories.
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
The shorter the story, the better.
Says the woman whose first draft of As the Crow Flies was 155k words. (I know. I know. That's what second...and third...and eighth...drafts are for.)
To be honest, I love short stories. I love how you can devour them in minutes and feel satisfied. I love writing them. My short story collection, Dagger and Cloak, has been amazing to write. There is just so much one can do in the realm of short stories.
The definition of flash fiction varies from person to person. My professor spoke of flash being almost like lyrical prose. In short (no pun intended), it is a work that is typically under 1000 words. The parameters can of course be slightly stretched.
Writing flash can be tricky. I tend to overextend myself while writing and flash fiction forces me to reel it back. You have to weed out what is truly important to the story and make the bare bones beautiful.
In a class last winter, we were given prompts to write a flash fiction piece. My prompt was a boy with wings, which drew up images of Icarus. I turned this idea into a 250 word story, in which Icarus ignores the sun. It was so different from anything else I'd ever written. And I had so much fun with it! It actually got published, in an anthology by indie publisher Ambient Heights. I'll link their Instagram below.
Flash fiction is about harnessing the heart of the story. Here are some thoughts on how to really dig in and find what you are looking for.
- Cut the flowery language, but keep it descriptive. You have to paint a picture with a handful of words. Make each adjective, adverb, and metaphor matter. (Of course, this applies to other forms of storytelling as well.)
- Keep the characters to a minimum. One to two, three if you must. There just isn't enough time to give the reader plenty of wonderful, developed characters.
- Give the story a strong ending. It may be short, but it still should feel complete.
I think a fantastic example of flash fiction is "Nicholas Was" by Neil Gaiman. (I love Neil Gaiman, so I'll probably reference him a lot.) In this 100 word story, we get a complete and chilling tale. It has a plot twist, stark realization, and an extremely strong voice. Despite being so short, it is one of my favorite stories.
Writing flash pieces can be used as a great exercise. You don't have to show them anywhere, but they are a great way to flex your creative muscles. You can write the most absurd things. The deepest things. You teach yourself to cut away the fat.
Here's a challenge for you, inspired by Gaiman. Write a 100 word story.
Then see if you can cut it in half.
Until next time,
Dagger and Cloak (where my short stories live)