If novel writing is like a stair climber, then flash fiction is like free weights. You don’t really have to do it, but it sure would help to build your strength.
Writing flash fiction teaches you to fine-tune your writing, whittling away at chunks of exposition that just aren’t necessary. It makes your writing lean and strong. It even gives you an eye for self-editing.
I often search for writing prompts to get my writerly juices flowing. I find words, phrases, images, music, and videos to inspire 100 to 500 words of story. This is a great way to start a writing day for those who are not fond of free writing. It gets rid of the feeling that you’re writing words for nothing. These words have purpose, because they weave together the tiny pieces of a story only you can tell, and in less than 1,000 words.
In my flash fiction practice, I’ve reaped two great benefits. If you allow them to, flash fiction stories:
- Serve as a catalyst for longer works.
- Give your readers a taste of your style.
At a writers retreat last year, I read a flash fiction piece I wrote in response to a prompt in the previous year. After the student reading session, several of my fellow students came to me to talk about the stories. They asked me for the character’s backstory, what ended up happening to him, and whether or not anyone ever recognized him. They asked me about the girls who was kind to him, and if it was because she knew who he was. The questions really got my wheels turning, and also let me know that the story had a life beyond 400 words. It could spread its wings and become a novel. It didn’t have to settle for a spot in my flash fiction collection.
Though it was my only experience of its kind, I have often thought about characters who only got 5 minutes of fame. I toy with the idea of building their stories out, and letting them fill a few hundred pages. In conversations with other students at the retreat, I mentioned that I may revisit the main character’s life and make it a larger story. The response was enthusiastic, positive, and encouraging. It showed me that flash fiction is a powerful tool for captivating audiences and introducing them to your storytelling style.
The benefits of writing flash fiction can’t be denied. In addition to testing and sharing new story ideas and formats, flash fiction can teach you, as a writer, lessons you may not otherwise learn without hours and hours of classes and hundreds or thousands of dollars. Here are my three favorite lessons everyone can learn from writing flash fiction:
1) Make Every Word Count
When a story is born, it knows no bounds. It simply wants to be told. While you may have decades of a character’s life in your head, you can only share a brief moment in your flash fiction piece. Every aspect of the scene you’ve painted in your mind cannot be shared. The word count limit looms ahead, warning you not to pass it. This forces you to cut the adjectives and adverbs, be discriminating with your details, and pack more punch with less words.
2) Edit Like a Pro
More times than you’d like, you will exceed the word count. Even when you don’t, you will look at your story and just know that there’s too much meat. You’ll think about the person reading it while having a cup of tea, and find the parts they’d skip. “In a story so short,” you’ll tell yourself, “no one should be skipping anything. This will push you tighten up your story.” You’ll learn to include the parts the reader just can’t miss, and delete the parts that aren’t vital to the story.
3) Focus on One Element of the Story
Flash fiction is a great time to practice. You can choose areas to focus on, much like you may decide today is leg day at the gym. If you’ve been struggling with dialogue, you may write a 300 word story that is nothing but dialogue. The same exercise could help you to develop character voice. Will the reader be able to keep track of who is speaking, even without speech tags? Maybe you want to improve your presentation of non-verbal communication. Your story could be completely void of conversation, but leave the reader knowing exactly how two characters feel about their situation.
Flash fiction can whip a practicing writer into shape, one area at a time. Since we’re at the start of the calendar year, you’ve probably a writing goal or two for yourself. Why not use flash fiction to help you reach them? If you want to increase your monthly word count, commit to writing a flash fiction piece. You could even make it a part of a larger project. Take the challenge to strengthen your skills. Focus on something new each time you sit down to write a flash fiction piece. Need a nudge? I challenge you to write the story of a break up using no more than 400 words and no dialogue. Share your story in the comments, or post it to your own blog and leave a link here. ………
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.