Mon 30 Mar 2009
When 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.