Seven Flash Fiction Exercises for Novel Writing

by Alicia Audrey
published in Writing

Many writers struggle with time management. Most of us have full time jobs or other commitments that keep us away from the writing desk. We wish we had the time to write, but it just doesn’t seem to be there. Most published authors tell us in their blog posts and interviews that we need to make the time to write. On the best of days, we nod our heads in agreement. On other days, we scoff at the suggestion and stew in our jealousy, wishing we had the luxury of dishing out advice.

So how do we make this work? We love writing, and we have stories to tell, but it’s a race against a clock that doesn’t stop for us. The answer, really, is to seize every small window of opportunity, wherever and however it may come. This may seem impossible when you’re working on a mammoth of a novel, but what if you broke down into smaller projects? Here’s a guide to using 15 to 30 minute flash fiction writing exercises to build the foundation for your novel.

Write a Summary

Find a creative way to write summary of your novel. It doesn’t have to be a boring outline, or a blow-by-blow of all the things that will happen in a tell-all way. You could craft your summary as a letter to your best friend. You could even write the letter to one character from another. The summary could also be a dialogue experiment, or written from the perspective of an inanimate object. Go the way the muse leads you, but be sure to include everything. This summary will be your guiding light, and can be both helpful and as entertaining as you’re willing to make it.

Write a Mini-version

Imagine your completed novel is magically minimized to a tiny book that fits in the palm of your hand. You and your flash fiction skills are the magic that needs to make that happen. Write a miniature version of your novel. This will take more than one 15-minute session, so don’t panic. Expect to spend about an hour writing your tiny novel. This pared down version of your novel will come in handy as you write the whopper.

Explore Characters

Short writing sessions are the best for getting to know your characters. The best of characters are known to pop in for short stints before taking off and being about their business. A 15-minute sessions may be just the right amount of time to sit down and interview your characters, whether they are quiet, smart, quirky, or annoying. Write a conversation between you and a character, or between two or more characters, or let them tell you a story. Find out as much as you can about what each character wants, needs, loves, despises, fears, and hopes to see.

Describe Scenes

You’ve probably put a great deal of thought into what would happen in your novel. What is less likely is that you thought deeply about the places where these things would happen. Where will she get the phone call? Which church will be chosen for the wedding? What does the shopping mall look like? Does the gym have an indoor pool? Take yourself on a mental tour of the setting for your novel. Let the walls speak to you. Meet the people who laid the bricks for the structures. Bring history and character to every location, even if it won’t all make explicitly make it into your novel. If you’re writing a young adult novel where most of the action takes place at school, you may want to write a short story from the janitor’s perspective. Maybe the girls’ locker room has a few secrets to tell. Leave no rock unturned, and no building undiscovered.

Develop Backstory

Many writers have difficulty controlling the backstory. We spend so much time developing our stories and digging into our characters’ past that it becomes difficult to separate it from the story. Writing the backstory in short segments over a period of time can safeguard against the dreaded info dump. Using flash fiction to write the backstory can help to get it out of your system, increase your knowledge of the story, and keep the unnecessary details out of the pages of your book.

Develop Character Voice

The true mark of a strongly written character is in the speech. If you never say the name of a character, your readers should be able to tell who is speaking at any given time in the novel. Spend some time focusing on each character, paying special attention to their word choice, tone, and overall style of speech. Flash fiction writing in short spurts gives you a great opportunity to experiment, practice, and refine.

Test scenes and chapters

Once you’re happy with the foundation you’ve laid for your story, it’s time to take it for a test drive. Although you know what happens, some things may be up in the air with regard to the way you deliver the story. Use your short writing sessions to play with the setup. You may have expected to have Character A narrate the first chapter, but find that Character B has a much more engaging way of recounting the same events. You may even find that some scenes, when written, don’t quite fit where you thought they might. In the early stages, it works to your advantage to take your scenes out for a test drive.

There are lots of things you can do to make great use of the tiny pockets of time that become available to you throughout the day. Whether it’s the 15 minutes you have while waiting for the bus or the 20-minute wait for dinner to finish in the oven, every single minute of writing time is valuable. It can be overwhelming to think about writing a novel using only 15 minutes per day, but that process can be broken down in many ways to fit any schedule. Try out these exercises over the coming week and see how they work for you. I’m sure you’ll find yourself writing more, and with greater clarity of the story you are destined to write.

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Alicia WallaceAlicia 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.

  • Kim Spivak

    Great article, flash fiction seems to be my thing these days, and it’s nice to see how I can use this form to advance my novel writing aspirations. Thanks.

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