I had a blog all planned out today but as I sipped my double spice Chai tea this morning, I came across something better. Something great. Something that gets me flustered and sweaty and cooing with pleasure.
No, I did not meet Ryan Reynolds.
I found a flash fiction prompt! Even better, the challenge is hosted on Chuck Wendig’s blog, which I mentioned only yesterday.
What is this flash fiction thingy-ma-doodle, you ask? The simple answer: it’s fiction in a flash. You may have heard it called microfiction, postcard fiction, or short short.
Flash fiction is defined by word count rather than pages. It is typically restricted to 1,000 words or fewer, though no one seems to have a definitive number. It’s unique to other types of blurbs in that a flash fiction story is complete, meaning it has an arc, a protagonist, a conflict and an ending. The story compels the reader to feel something and engage in the story. Take Hemingway’s example and notice the weight six small words can have: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
A flash fiction piece can stand on its own, but I personally use the medium for other helpful purposes.
An exercise for concise prose: Many writers, novel writers in particular, expend a lot of energy conveying their ideas and sometimes go overboard with descriptions. Flash fiction forces the writer to find poetic cadence without bogging the reader down with extraneous space-eating words. Genevieve the Great Beer-Wench fluttered her long, tapered fingers in harrowing grief as the tumbler of ale meant for her long-lost love, Sir Kralich the Goblin Slayer, crashed to the stone floor littered with cigarette butts and wasted wishes might sound poetic, but isn’t nearly as effective as The tumbler of ale Genevieve the Great Beer-Wench carried fell. Sir Kralich the Goblin Slayer was gone.
Unblocking Creativity: Some days writing doesn’t flow naturally. You can stare at a blank Word document with Chapter Ten written at the top for hours, but nothing happens. On those days, writing isn’t fun. It’s fucking work. Setting smaller goals can help break the ice encasing the creative gland in your brain, and flash fiction is a wonderful tool for doing just that. Step outside the current WIP and write a 250 word story about the Life and Death of the Frog King of Venice, or How to Macramé a Pumpkin Centerpiece, or wherever that one little flicker of hope takes you.
Add Dimension to Your WIP: This is my favorite use for flash fiction. I care a lot about character development in my work and in the beginning, I occasionally got stuck because I didn’t understand who I was writing about. I could write the scene forward and backward, but if I didn’t understand my character’s motives or personality quirks, the writing fell flat. I needed to get to know the character better, so I chose a moment in their past, one that wasn’t part of the current project, and focused on what they were thinking, feeling, doing. When the Dr. Pepper exploded in Edgar the clock-maker’s face, did he calmly clean up the sticky mess? Or did he erupt in a violent rage and destroy the grandfather clock he’d spent months meticulously building from scratch? One quick conflict, and Edgar’s reaction tells me a lot about how he reacts under pressure. I can use that insider knowledge on his character when writing his scenes for the larger work.
My contribution to Chuck’s challenge this week has nothing to do with my current WIP, but it sure was fun. Here it is, in all its 100-word glory. Enjoy.
He fisted the red silk scarf. It was all he had left, save for her powdered remains covering his clothes.
If there’d been a way to save her… but her addiction was too great, and the more blood she’d consumed, the more haunted she’d become by the memories stolen from her victims.
So he did it, and he refused to think of it as anything other than a mercy. The stake he’d used fell to the floor and settled into a crack.
The sun ascended and he welcomed the burn as his flesh, too, turned to powder.