by Gay Degani
My first online story was published in 2007 at Every Day Fiction. It was new to me, writing stories to be read on a computer rather than in a magazine, but the possibility of publication was higher.
“Flash Fiction” is partly defined by length, stories limited to 1500 words or fewer, and I soon discovered that writing shorter stories made me more critical of my work, more careful in word placement, more conscious of finding an emotional center, and becoming clearer about my own intention.
I’d like to share how and why writers can juice up their craft by writing and publishing flash fiction.
What flash does for those who write fiction:
1) Flash forces clarity
Flash fiction depends on immediate reader engagement. There aren’t enough words available to waste on lengthy set-ups. The reader should “see” the place and situation at the same speed as someone first sees a picture in a museum.
A shape, a feel, a sense of breadth, a color, the reader needs something to hang on to, something that allows him or her to become immersed. This cannot be achieved without a commitment to clear imagery, finding specific words and details to pull the reader into the story. I call this giving the reader a visual anchor.
2) Flash insists on carefully chosen language
To continue to engage the reader, a writer must employ taut, muscular language that features specific details and must choose each word deliberately with an awareness of double meanings and inference. There must be no unnecessary words.
3) Flash requires a writer to think about structure
What concerns the structure of a piece of writing? Characters, tense, POV, order of events, theme, setting, all these elements need to be considered. Stories require a shape that will fit the concept and enhance the experience. A writer may have a vague outline in mind, but he or she cannot always work from a planned framework.
Sometimes the words come first and the structure follows, but the order in which a writer proceeds doesn’t matter. What matters is consciously studying the elements of a story so they will have the most impact. When a writer deals with 1000 words, it becomes easier to look at structure and discover what the story needs. A writer can experiment and become expert at matching content to structure.
4) Flash demands meaning, large or small
Flash fiction counts on meaning to make an impact. That meaning can be a life-changing event or a small revelation, but something must happen. Too often writers forget that language is the tool used to move readers. While readers love and appreciate beautiful words, they are stirred by words that give meaning to the human experience. There must be a emotional shift in readers perceptions.
5) Flash requires characters who resonate
More than anything else, the characters in a piece of flash must show their individuality, their desires, their fears, their humanity. The writer must be clear about why he or she has chosen these characters to write about. If not, who cares? They can be humble or rich, kind or violent, but they have to be living individuals, and this must be achieved by using the slightest phrase, the sparest language, in dialog and/or in telling gesture.
6) Flash bestows confidence
Writing flash allows a writer to work with focus on a short piece in a more present way than possible on a longer story, especially if he or she is struggling with craft. It forces the writer to study every word, every nuance of a piece, to weigh the contribution each word and each phrase makes to the whole. It also challenges the writer to make sure most ( or all) the elements do some kind of double duty in terms of enhancing the theme.
Flash builds self-confidence because with so many journals online hungering for strong, well-written flash, a writer receives feedback in a relatively short period of time. Even if the response is a resounding NO, the writer usually knows quickly. This offers the opportunity to look at the story again. If that writer is you, you may see something different. You make it better. And eventually, your skills at understanding how to craft a story become expert.
(This piece was originally published at Bang2 Write on March 13, 2016)