Writing Tips for Short Fiction Writers

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Why Write Flash Fiction?
by Pamela Heffernan

Have you ever had a fleeting moment of inspiration? A brief story that calls for you to tell it, but you feel no desire to enhance it to a longer piece of fiction? Don't blow it off as an unusable idea just because you can't see it being a longer story. Write it, feel it, grow with it. This is flash fiction.

You're taking a snapshot of a longer story, using a moment in time. Often, it's the story that would have never been told, or included, in a longer piece of work. But that certainly doesn't make it any less enjoyable to read or important to write. Writing flash fiction gives you the chance to refine your attention to the finer mechanisms of a story - The parts that we, as writers, tend to forget about. It allows you to extract one moment and make it come to life. This can be a great building practice for your longer works. Working on flash really shows you how much you miss the little "unimportant" things when writing longer stories. Those little things still exist, we just tend to exclude them.

Due to its brevity, writing flash offers you many opportunities to develop different aspects of your writing style. This helps you practice the elements of surprise and suspense within your story. You don't have the worry of carrying the suspense on for pages and pages on end. You're providing the reader a quick read with all of the enjoyable story elements, plus you get to start working on another exciting piece of flash.

One thing you just have to love about flash is that it's the perfect style to explore your creativity and tell stories from an extremely different, even absurd, point of view. Where absurdity isn't always easy to accomplish in longer works, through fear of overdoing the comical aspects, flash allows you the chance work with humor without dragging it out. Here's an example:

What about the feelings of a fire hydrant? Dogs find fire hydrants extremely compelling, therefore that poor fire hydrant sees more urine samples than the Doctor's clinic down the street. It's always out in bad weather. And worse of all, no one ever stops by just to offer some companionship. That poor fire hydrant must feel terribly alone and neglected.

Absurd? Yes. But fun. If we can't have fun writing, then what are we doing writing at all? We may as well be counting Mexican jumping beans. Ok that could be fun too, but…

The main thing to remember is to keep your reader guessing for as long as you can, hopefully right up to the end. In the case of the fire hydrant, give it voice, give it character, and let it show us its sad story. But ensure that your reader is shocked to find out at the end that they've pitied a fire hydrant for reasons only known to them. They will never look at a fire hydrant in the same light again.

Don't get me wrong, not all flash has to be absurd and end with a surprise tactic. As you write, you'll come up with your own techniques. But again, going back to enhancing your writing, it's much easier to practice the ever important element of surprise in a flash fiction story than a novel. You can work your way up to that and you'll find it much easier if you've practiced on a smaller scale first. You're giving your reader conflict, suspense, humor and resolution all in the blink of an eye. How can you not love that?

Let your creativity loose and you'll be amazed at the things that come from your mind. The most important thing of all when writing flash fiction - Have fun with it!

Exercise: Your character remembers the day he said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to happen."
Write the story in 500 words or less.

Market: SmokeLong Quarterly is a literary magazine dedicated to flash fiction.
"SmokeLong publishes flash fiction up to 1000 words. We have a special place in our hearts for the 400-700 word range but will give equal consideration to all pieces within the guidelines."


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