Last week’s challenge was to write a 100 word story to share how you got your name. Here’s mine:
They weren’t big on surprises, my parents. They wanted to know right away. The suspense wasn’t fun, or sexy, or something they wanted to prolong.
Repeated again and again, to family members, friends, and complete strangers the word carried hopes and dreams with it.
My father’s name out of the question, they had to consult more experienced people. Grandmothers and aunts sat around a table, tossing ideas back and forth.
“No. They’ll say Alan-uh. we’d have to add a “u” and it wouldn’t make sense.”
“Pronounce it Uh-lee-see-uh.”
“I like that.”
“Perfect… Unless it’s a boy.”
One of the best things about flash fiction is the space it gives the writer. We can start at the beginning, or at the end. We can tie things up nicely, or leave a question to linger in the mind of the reader. We can play a game of cat and mouse, or lay all of our cards on the table.
In my naming story, I decided to keep it simple. There is a bit of mystery in the first few sentences, but it isn’t hard to guess the subject matter. With only 100 words to work with, I didn’t have much room for long, drawn-out suspense. I had to set it up in an uncomplicated way while leaving just enough to allow for intrigue. Hopefully it worked! I like my flash fiction pieces to have a little bit of a twist, but this story is pretty straight forward. I decided to toss in the last four words just for an air of uncertainty. My name is Alicia, so we all know how it turned out, for the sake of the story, maybe readers will think, “Oh, no! They had a boy, and had to name him Alicio.” Who knows?
In any story, you have to choose your elements carefully, but flash fiction forces you to make tough decisions. Some of the things you have to limit in a flash fiction piece are:
A story of 500 words can’t hold the number of characters a full-length novel can. With a limited number of words, your focus needs to be on driving the story forward rather than including characters that are not vital to the plot.
With fewer characters, you can get away with dialogue free of speech tags. You may need one here and there, but every other line should not need to tell us who is speaking. Of course you may not able to develop characters so fully that their speech is distinctive as you would in a longer work, so a little bit of he-said-she-said is fine. Just make sure it’s not distracting and does not eat into your word count. In my naming story, I didn’t bother to name the speakers because it really doesn’t matter. The reader already knows there a few people at the table and the decision that is being made. It’s not necessary to say who said what in this case, so I opted to leave speech tags out completely.
Though you can set the stage a bit – and you may need to – flash fiction is not the place for lengthy exposition. Unless they are critical to the understanding of your story, the color of the leave, model of the vehicles, cook on the eggs, style of her hair, and brand of his jeans probably shouldn’t make the cut. Whenever a detail makes it way yo your page, ask yourself if its removal would change or obscure the meaning of your story. If everything remains in tact without it, you don’t need it.
Points of view
More than one point of view character can be very confusing in a short story. Successfully pulling it off would require great skills. Even if you could do it – and do it well – you should have good reason. If the story can be told from one point of view, tell it that way. Changes in point of view can be jarring, and flash fiction does not give much time for recovery.
It is important to stay in one tense and one point in time. Flashbacks, dream sequences, and multiple timelines often work well in novels, but present problems in flash fiction. Avoid confusing the reader at all costs. Find ways to share relevant information without taking the reader from 2014 to 1913 and back in 60 seconds flat.
Rules, as they say, were made to be broken, so don’t be disheartened by what may seem like restrictions. These are just five things to keep in mind when you’re telling a story with finite words. You may be able to use speech tags to your heart’s content in a story of 250 words, or include two points of view in a 300 word story. Nothing is impossible, but when you’re just starting out, you may want to keep it simple. Tell the story. Stick to the basic and necessary points. Play with the order of the story, length of sentences, and the amount of information you share. Flash fiction is more fun to write and enjoyable to read when there’s a bit of mystery.
Alicia Audrey is a writer, editor, blogger and social and political commentator living and working in Nassau, Bahamas. She enjoys writing flash fiction, and is currently working on a women’s fiction novel entitled The Whispering Willow. She prides herself on keeping the local post office open by sending far too many penpal letters and packages to friends and strangers alike on a weekly basis. Her favourite things include journals, tea, cupcakes, sarcasm, challenges, and autumn. She tweets her musings to everyone, but no one in particular, as @_AliciaAudrey.