by Jim Harrington 

I’m sure some writers wonder why they should bother with flash fiction. After all, how many times has someone, after you tell them you’re a writer, asked, “Oh. Do you write flash?” Right. That’s what I thought. Flash isn’t . . . well . . . flashy (yet). Still, writers might consider attempting flash fiction for a number of reasons. Here are a few–in no particular order.

Practice different voices and genre: Writing a novel is a long process, one that leaves little room for experimentation or practice. Flash offers the opportunity for both. Want to try a new voice or a different genre? Writing a short-short story provides that opportunity.

Get a morale boost: Write flash for (almost) instant gratification. You can complete a story in a brief period of time and feel that rush when you write “The End” and mean it.

Take a break from a longer project: Stuck on your novel? Consider writing a piece of flash (or two, or three), instead of waiting for the next scene of your novel to expose itself. Perhaps by the time you return to your novel, the words will flow with renewed urgency.

Develop a character: Need to develop a character? Use flash to create a new situation. Perhaps your space traveler, Cathy, reveals she’s not much of a homemaker but then changes the subject as the novel’s plot moves her in a different direction. Maybe there’s something about this revelation that could be important to the novel, but you don’t want to wander off in that direction. It’s flash to the rescue! Put Cathy (before she ever thought of becoming an alien hunter) in a kitchen back on planet Earth and see if she reveals why it’s uncomfortable for her to be there. Maybe she looks out the window and notices something that triggers a memory–or maybe it’s something that’s not there that used to be. One caveat: take the character far, far away from the novel she appears in. Otherwise, you may learn nothing more about her than you already know.

Short on time: You’re writing a novel but you’re traveling for work or working long hours, and you don’t feel you have enough time or energy to do the next section of your novel justice. Write something short that fits the time you have available. This way you shouldn’t feel bad about not writing.

Create a publication history: One aspect of writing that many new authors are unaware of is the importance of a publication history. Many publishers want to represent authors with a track record, authors who already have a following. How do you do this when you’ve just begun writing? Some writers will find representation without previous publications, but most won’t. So what does one do, give up? Maybe you plan to self publish you novel or your collection of short stories. Okay. Who’s going to buy them? I have a large extended family. Even if a majority of them purchased a copy of my new collection, I’d still only sell around 85-90 copies. I need a lot more than that to make a living.

Whether you’re writing a novel or hope to publish a collection of stories, there are several options available to improve your prospects. One is to publish a few stories in respected publications in your genre. Now you can show your potential publishers and readers that you are a serious writer with a solid track record. Another avenue to explore is contests. Being able to say that three of the stories in your collection are contest winners will help grow your potential market and impress publishers since other editors and judges thought the stories worthy. Of course, it’s best if the contests are run by reputable journals or the selection is by a respected guest judge.

So, if you haven’t, give flash a try. Write it to help you with other writing. Write it to get yourself known. Write it to build a market for your longer works. Write it to boost confidence in yourself as a writer. Or write it just for the heck of it.

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Jim Harrington discovered flash fiction in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. His Six Questions For. . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” He’s also the Markets Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles’ Flash Markets Page. You can read his stories on his blog. He can be contacted at jpharrin [at] gmail [dot] com.