Archive for March, 2009

Erin M. KinchWhen I first started writing, I thought of myself as a novel person. All my ideas were grandiose and sweeping, with tons of characters and a multitude of subplots. My first novel had no less than seven point of view characters!

 

Then I took my first creative writing class. Suddenly, I had to shoe-horn my ideas into restrictive word counts for a grade. The torture! How could I constrain my muse like that?

 

A few years ago my writing group tried its first collaborative writing project – a collection of short stories. My contribution topped out at a whopping ten thousand words, and that was after heavy editing on my part.

 

But, these days, a story that reaches eight thousand words seems like a monster to me, and I immediately wonder what unnecessary words I can cut. Delving into writing flash fiction in 2007 is a big part of my change in perception.

 

The first time I heard of flash fiction, I wondered who the heck could write stories that were less than a thousand words, and how a story so short could possibly portray anything meaningful. Then, some of my writing group mates began experimenting with flash, and I was introduced to Every Day Fiction, the website that publishes a piece of flash fiction every day. When I saw what great stories other people could write in this format, I itched to try it. My first three fiction publications were all flash fiction (one of those being “Remember?” at EDF).

 

Writing flash taught me that every word counts, no matter your final word count. Extraneous words weigh down your story, whether it’s flash, a short story, or novel-length. Chiseling my prose down with a sharp editing blade has made my writing that much stronger, something that helped me eventually get short stories published in addition to flash.

 

These days, I go over and over each story with a critical eye for every word, wondering if it is truly crucial to the story and if there is a shorter, better, or more impactful way I can say it. That’s another thing I learned from flash fiction – words need to be strong. They should convey as much as possible. Why write, “She started to laugh,” when you can cut straight to the point and say, “She laughed.” The latter is more active, and it paints a more vivid scene in the reader’s head.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself only a flash person these days. I still enjoy writing longer stories, and I even have several novels in various stages on my laptop that I work on now and then. But my love affair with flash is far from over, and I’m grateful for the ways writing in this format have improved my craft as a whole.

 

Erin M. Kinch lives and writes in Fort Worth, Texas. Visit her blog, Living the Fictional Dream (www.erinmkinch.com), for links to her published stories and more of her musings on writing.

 

I think the main reason I write is for catharsis. But it’s more a kind of growth from a love for reading. As a kid I loved to read and teachers soon found out my passion. A seventh grade English teacher handed me The Iliad and I just devoured it. But too often when some teachers want you to read, say, Dickens, they give you Great Expectations. Now, G. E. is okay, but Bleak House would have been  a much better book from my perspective when I was young–I mean Pip was such a wimp it was hard to stay with him–and Bleak House had so many things going on that were entertaining–the detective being most notable.

 

I really work on voice. I have to be able to hear a story I write as I read it back. Whether it’s first, second, or third person (I like reading and writing all) it has to speak to me. The subject matter doesn’t mean as much–it’s how one translates the thought into information–especially in flash.

 

Flash is fairly new for me as something to write–challenging–and now with sites like Every Day Fiction a good and quick response, not to mention all those comments–and I do take note of the flamers, but, for the most part, the comments are straightforward and I’d say helpful for the next flash you undertake.

 

So good luck and happy writing. I’ll be trying hard at publication–and learning how to improve with helpful sites like this.

 

DJ Barber writes stories, flash, poems, and novels. He was born in the northeast and lives in the northwest. When not writing he has a wife and two dogs that keep him busy.  He has been published online at Every Day Fiction, Moon Drenched Fables, Tales From the Moonlit Path, Big Pulp, Every Day Poets, and Everyday WeirdnessIn Print DJ has been published by Darker Intentions Press, Odyssey Magazine, has a short story in the anthology, Damned in Dixie, and has a flash in the Best of Every Day Fiction 2008

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DJ would like to remind everyone that even a broken clock is right twice a day. 

A number of people I know have commented that they find flash fiction difficult to write: how can anyone come up with engaging characters, back-story, a full plot, and a setting in only a thousand words?

 

So try getting it all done in ninety minutes.

 

This was how I got into writing flash fiction. A couple of years ago I joined speculative-fiction-writers’ site Liberty Hall, where every weekend members compete in a Flash Challenge. They choose when to receive the trigger, and then have ninety minutes to write a story inspired by it. The rest of the week is spent reading and critiquing the other stories (or a group if a large number of people take part), and voting on who should receive the coveted “pips” for best story and techniques.

 

My first flash was largely incoherent and will never again see the light of day, but I enjoyed the challenge of writing it. Over subsequent weeks I tried again and found that my stories improved. The time constraints encourage fast thinking and focus. Openings must grab, characters be engaging, and the plot complete. I learned not to waste a single minute. In the challenge, as in flash fiction, economy is key.

 

All of the flash fiction I’ve had published was written in this way. It helps me to overcome perhaps my biggest flaw as a writer – thinking too much about an idea. The Flash Challenge forces me to write the idea I have and see it through to the end. Editing is something that comes later, it requires time and attention.

 

I still go to Liberty Hall to flash and they have a sister site, ShowMeYourLits, which focuses on more literary flash in their challenges. But a flash challenge can be undertaken solo, if you’re so inclined. Sit down with a kitchen timer then stick a pin in a newspaper, visit a Word of the Day website, or pick up the featured article on Wikipedia‘s front page. Better yet, do all three. Multiple triggers can do wonders for creativity.

 

Recently, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Liberty Hall story Evil Robot Monkey was nominated for a Hugo. So go on, try it. You never know what you might come up with.

 

C.L. Holland is a fantasy writer from the UK who was a winner of Writers of the Future for 2008. Her works have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Hadley Rille Books’ Ruins Metropolis anthology, and A Fly in Amber. She has an ever-growing collection of books and expects them to reach critical mass any time now.

Alex Burn's MeanwhileI thought I’d take a moment and discuss that dreaded foe of flash fiction: exposition.

Whether it’s the history of a country, the origin of a hero, a family tree, or the airspeed velocity of a European swallow, exposition is the basic facts behind a story. Exposition doesn’t have to be boring; on the contrary, how King Lillybeard III came to power is likely a fascinating story. The key is understanding when to cut the exposition, and when backstory is needed, make sure the story doesn’t come to a screeching halt. A flash piece can easily become a sudden info dump, leaving the reader wondering why the heck they just read all this information about a place in which nothing apparently happens, or a person who sits around thinking about history all day instead of getting of her duff and doing something.

This seems particularly to be a problem with fantasy flash. Fantasy fiction usually requires a lot of world building and establishing rules for places and systems that have been, for the most part, simply made up by the author. Science fiction can be the same way. Authors spend an immense amount of time coming up with these worlds and fantastic systems of magic or clever gadgets and complicated new political paradigms. And this is before a single pixel gets committed to screen. All this creative flavor informs the stories written within those worlds, and is a blast to invent. But is it necessary to give the reader all that information?

Most of the time? No.

Will people want all that history and setting exploration? If you’ve done a good job, yes. Hope they do – otherwise the world you have created may not be worth their time.

Nonetheless, resist! Flash fiction needs to be focused. You’re telling a particular story, about a particular moment in time, about just a few (heck, maybe even just one or two) particular people. Flash fiction is about distilling a story down to its absolutely essential ingredients. Those ingredients need to be the most potent spices on the rack. Determine what the story is about and keep it tightly focused on the characters and elements that add to that. Everything else is distraction.

Trust me, of all the criticisms you receive, “I want this to be a novel” will not be the one that leaves you curled up on the floor, with the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

Alexander Burns lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He writes because he doesn’t have a basement in which build robots or time machines. His work has appeared at Every Day Fiction and A Thousand Faces.

Sarah Hilary's Crawl SpaceThe best flashes come to me after serious hard thinking, following a prompt along its many tangents, discarding the ideas I feel have been done before or would be ‘flat’ on the screen (or page). Eventually, I’ll find a thread I think I can work with, and then I get weaving.
Of course I also get inspiration from reading other stuff, or may want to write a flash that tackles a particular idea or theme. I’ve had tremendous fun writing 250 word flashes around instances of historical crime. Researching some truly grisly or bizarre or just plain boggling crimes and teasing out a scene from in amongst the facts and the mythical stuff that accompanies stories like Lizzie Borden’s. (My flash about Lizzie won the Fish Historical-Crime Award, and will be published online in Yellow Mama, a venue specialising in crime fiction.)

The trick, for me anyway,when writing historical flash is to find a single scene and build it into something compelling enough to feel either very ‘real’ (like you’re there, watching it happen) or very moving (by which I mean it can be disturbing or sickening or pitiable or sad), while at the same time avoiding treading old ground and/or extrapolating too far beyond the evidence which exists on record. This works well for historical flash fiction because the ’story’ (as a whole) often exists in the public domain – you don’t have to build it from scratch – but the fine detail or the pathos or the resonance (the things that give a story substance) are either missing or lost in the annals. By using a title which pins the story down, I have the freedom to work within a defined space to bring the past to life. Assuming I’m lucky enough to get the words down right.

For me, flash fiction is a unique combination of discipline and freedom. I stopped writing flash briefly when I was deep into the first ms of a novel, thinking I couldn’t afford the distraction and needed to dedicate my every available writing hour to the novel. But my writing suffered for it, as did the novel. So I switched to writing a full length crime novel AND doing a flash challenge every week, and the two things were not only compatible they were positively zinging – the one from the other and back again.

Flash is a great way of flexing your writerly muscles. I can’t recommend it enough.

Sarah Hilary is a frequent contributor to Every Day Fiction  (Lolita’s Lynch Mob is an all-time favorite) and on other flash sites around the web.  Check out her blog, Crawl Space, where she lists all her online writing and then check out her other brilliant FLASHES of fiction.  Her most recent piece, Flood Plain, is up at Prick of the Spindle.