Today you’re not just going to write one story. You’re going to write three!
Click on this photo.
Flick through the gallery and pick the first three pictures that catch your attention. Now, write a short, 50-100 word story for each. No more than 100 words each.
Your stories can link together or not.
You may discover a theme that ties them together as you write the stories. You may discover it afterwards. You may never discover a common thread among the three pictures you write about. (Your readers might.)
Try doing something different for each story. Make one a monologue, one a fragment of conversation, another a more traditional narrative telling the reader something about the incident/person in the story.
Do this as quickly as you can. Don’t spend any time wondering why you picked the pictures or whether what you’re writing is strictly a ‘story’. Just work fast and move on.
You don’t have to write about three. If you find yourself writing a longer story inspired by one of the pictures, feel free to continue.
You don’t have to tell the story of the person in the picture. The key is to write something ‘inspired by’ the picture. It could be someone telling the story of his grandmother (pictured) or it could a story that evokes the emotions you felt when you looked at the picture.
You can write more than three if you feel inspired. Just keep them short. I’m interested in seeing what ideas pour out of your heads, after three full weeks of writing a story a day.
Try to let us know which pictures you used for which story, if you’re sharing your stories online.
I mean, when someone can write a story with fewer than 500 words that makes you actually say “oof” out loud at the end? You’re going to want to go on a kick, reading their work.
“Sticks” is a grown man’s reminiscence about his father. It begins,
Every year Thanksgiving night we flocked out behind Dad as he dragged the Santa suit to the road and draped it over a kind of crucifix he’d built out of a metal pole in the yard.
That use of the word ‘crucifix’ is key. Doesn’t that make you want to keep reading? You know there’s more to this than just a funny story about fatherly quirks.
The story is extremely well crafted. You get the sense that there must have many revisions, re-revisions, reversions and more revisions to make it this tight.
That’s only depressing if we think our job as writers is to get as many words out into the world as quickly as possible. If we believe that our job is to craft stories, and that rewriting is a crucial (and enjoyable) part of writing, then George Saunders is our new mentor.
Write the crappy first draft. Then spend as much time as you need to, reworking it until it is art.
Remember when your teachers told you every story had a beginning, a middle and an end? Well, they missed a bit.
Write a Flash Fiction Story With Emphasis On The Climax
I love disaster movies — even the really cheesy ones — so my story today will be a mini disaster movie.
I don’t have time, in flash fiction, to build up all the characters a disaster movie would visit at the beginning (the screw-up anti-hero, his ex-wife, the wise elder who’s doomed to die, the young person who hates the anti-hero but will eventually become reconciled with him, the comic relief, the unrequited love interest, the bull-headed person in authority who hampers the anti-hero’s efforts to save the world and, of course, the villain who causes it all through action or arrogant inaction…see? I REALLY love my disaster movies!).
nstead, I’m going to have to concentrate on quickly establishing my flawed character, what he thinks he wants, what he actually needs, his wise-cracking character and his long-suffering assistant/love interest. Then I’m going to wreck his life — quickly — which is fine, cos his life was a wreck anyway. Then I’m going to threaten the last people he cares about, just like we practiced earlier this week.
Finally, I’m going to really concentrate on the climax. I only have up to 1000 words, so I’m not going to be able to go the full Bruce-Willis/Sharknado here, but I’m going to put everything on the line and do my best to pull at the reader’s heartstrings.
FInally, I’m going to spend 100 words or fewer wrapping up.
Before you even start writing, imagine a killer climax
This mean you’re going to have to know your character and his/her problem before you start writing.
You’re also going to have to think of a few complications you might throw at your character.
How can you show the reader why this matters? (Disaster movies usually do this by having the main character’s best friend tell point it out in a conversation, wherein the anti-hero shrugs and makes a witty, self-deprecating joke.)
Don’t be afraid of the cheese factor. This is an exercise, not your last shot at literary immortality (and even if it was, someone got paid to write Sharknado, after all!)
Concentrate on your climax. Everything is at stake, but you don’t have to be writing a disaster movie to make this dramatic. How will your hero change to get out of this problem? If he’s a ranging drunk, can he put down the bottle? If she never talks back to anyone, does she finally stand up for herself? If she’s living under an oppressive regime, can she put three fingers to her lips in a gesture of defiance and have that gesture returned by the crowd (no, wait, that’s been done. But see how totally silent, non-violent act, can be electrifyingly dramatic?)
There are, of course, as many definitions of Flash Fiction as there are writers.
Length: The closest point of consensus I could find is that Flash Fiction ought to be not more than 1000 words.
(One journal points out that, in China, this fiction is described as a story you can read in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. Since there’s no smoking in public places where I live, we’ll have to come up with an alternate definition. A story you can read while waiting for the barista to finish making your non-fat, no-foam, chai vanilla iced latte? Tea-break tales? Soda stories?)
Content: Flash fiction must contain a complete story — a beginning, a middle and an end. It can be in any genre. It may — or may not — have a twist in the end.
What Flash Fiction Is Not
Flash Fiction, though short, is not:
Simplistic – Getting a whole short story into so few words requires all the tricks up a writer’s sleeve. After writing a few of these, you’ll start to look fondly at that half-finished novel you just archived.
A Fragment – a description of a scene or a character is not a Flash Fiction story. It’s a fragment.
Easy – A Flash Fiction story requires just as much thought and planning as a longer story (perhaps more).
Quick – Spare, pointed writing often takes much longer to create than longer works. The good news is that much of the ‘writing’ can be done in your head before you even sit down to type.
How To Write Flash Fiction
Good Subjects for Flash Fiction
“Look for the smaller ideas in larger ones. To discuss the complex interrelationship of parents and children you’d need a novel. Go for a smaller piece of that complex issue. How kids feel when they aren’t included in a conversation. What kids do when they are bored in the car.”
This is excellent advice. It’s easy to let a story run away with you, but the beauty of short stories is exactly this ability to focus on the moments that shape the big ideas.
Another way to find subjects for flash fiction is to take advantage of what the reader already knows: base a story on familiar tales (fairy tales, urban myths, traditional myths). These provide many short cuts for the writer: if you talk about a fairy godmother, we know what we should expect (and you’re free to quickly subvert that!). If you write about someone waking up in a bath full of ice, the reader immediately thinks they know something. Run with it (or away from it!).
And don’t forget about mystery and humor. What is a good joke, after all, but a tiny mystery tied up with a punchline?
In the same article, G. W. Thomas advises focusing on one powerful image. E. B. White uses this technique in his short story The Door, where the single image of the lab rat’s trigger (a circle) runs throughout the story, tying it all together. It’s a very efficient and effective technique.
Short-short stories often feature a mystery or a twist in the tale, subverted expectations. you only have so many words, and this is a great way to pack a punch. Be careful, though, not to make your ending feel too much like a traditional punchline, or risk alienating your reader.
Some writers advocate writing long stories and then paring them to the bone. Me? I’m lazy and that seems like a lot of extra work. I’m working on focusing on the essentials as I write (but that comes with the risk of inviting in the dreaded Inner Editor, so beware).
Writing spare, low-word-count fiction doesn’t mean you have to state the bald facts and lose all your style. You get to choose every word: leave out dialogue attributions and lush descriptions if your style tends towards satirical commentary and unexpected metaphors. Or cut the metaphors and go dialogue-heavy. There is plenty of room for style in a Flash Fiction story as long as you focus on one central idea, and pare away everything that isn’t ‘you’.
Where To Read Good Flash Fiction
There really is no excuse for not reading flash fiction: it doesn’t take long! You can study the form a lot more quickly than if your preference were the Russian masters.
Finding Flash Fiction is not hard to do. The Internet is the perfect vehicle, especially now that we’re all walking around peering at our mobile devices.
Flash Fiction Online – a paying market, so you know it is curated and someone has decided it’s worth a look.
10Flash Quarterly – self-described fans of “science fiction, fantasy, horror, suspense, crime capers and slipstream”.
Vestal Review – describes itself as ‘the longest-running flash fiction magazine in the world”.
Microcosms – Twitter-length fiction with a speculative tinge.
Nanoism – Another long-running Twitter fiction site.
FlashFiction Chronicles – which is part of Every Day Fiction. It has a fabulous resource page that led me to many of the sites listed here. It also has an annual Flash Fiction contest with a cash prize. Check them out.
Seedpod Publishing is a “micro-publishing cooperative” — which sounds to me like a collection of authors and publishing people banding together to distribute literary fiction, digitally.
They publish books and help with promotion and distribution – all digital and Digital Rights Management free, so your readers can read your book wherever they want, not linked to any particular device.
They also curate a Twitter stream of 140-character tiny tales at @seedpodpublishing . You can submit your Twitter stories here. (I particularly like their Publishing Rights section, written in Real English!)
We believe that writers can and should be supported financially by the community. Because of this, the free versions of our books are made possible by donations as well as by advertising from organizations that are doing socially just work. Our aim is to nurture the work of writers and keep literature accessible for all.
It’s intriguing alternative to both traditional publishing and go-it-alone self-publishing. I’ll be watching with interest.
A lot of people aim to write Flash Fiction because they think it’s going to be quicker than writing a longer story. Don’t they know their Blaise Pascal? (“”I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.”)
It is possible to write a good story in 55 words (the title isn’t part of the word-count, but must not exceed seven words), but it’s not necessarily a quick thing.
Still, Saturdays tend to have more ‘running around’ time than ‘sitting at a desk time’ for many of us, and that might equal ‘thinking time’ if we’re lucky.
So grab your idea right now. Then, while you’re folding laundry, or taking the kids to soccer, think about how you can deliver a punch in 55 words. Think about which elements of your story you can strip away to cut it down to 55 words. What is essential in your story?