Flash Fizzle or Sizzle

Flash Fiction can be one of the most enjoyable forms of fiction to read as while it doesn’t require a great time commitment to read it initially, themes and messages remain with you for longer.

As a writer of flash, however, the very elements which make it accessible to our fast paced world, make it challenging to write. Instead of the luxury of thousands of words to convey a setting, the deeper motivations of a character or the intricacies of an emotion, an entire story with well-rounded developed characters must be captured in under 1000 words. Flash fiction with clichéd and two dimensional characters will fizzle and be discarded.

The elements of good writing do not change, regardless of word count; however there is a harder line to toe when it comes to flash fiction.

Make every word count.

With absolutely no room for padding, flash fictions must be the trimmed down, toned sister of a short story. Text must be to the point, vivid and explode from the page. A good rule of editing a flash fiction to ‘cut the fat’, would be to delete all adverbs, discard “then” and bin anything that doesn’t immediately add to the precise event the story is trying to convey.

Start in the middle

When you begin to write, it’s a good tip to begin in the middle of the event or incident and write around it. As you edit, you may decide to start the story somewhere along the timeline you are creating so that it has more impact. By beginning to write in the middle, you take away the distraction of having to set the scene and go ‘straight for the jugular’. 

Limit your characters

With a limited word count, so too must your host of character be selective. You don’t have time to build character or set scenes, so even their names must signify baits or foreshadow events.

The story arc still applies.

Be it novel, novella or flash fiction, your tale must still follow a story arc involving an event with a major obstacle to overcome ending with a resolution.

A twist in the tale is what flash is all about.

Although the isn’t a rule, most readers expect to be surprised and have something to think about after they have finished reading. The best flash fiction stories are ones that the reader immediately reads again, to pick up on the clues which lead to the twist at the end. Elements of shock or added humour will hold a reader’s attention for longer.

Do you write flash fiction? What are your tips for success with this form?


Five Across, Four Down

crosswordThat which we encounter everyday should be that which we celebrate. That which we celebrate can be that which teaches us how better to do what we love. And that which we love can inspire us to write, even when we think our inspiration took off with the last monarch butterfly migration.

Crossword puzzles occupy a lot of my time, especially true in the last four years. I don’t have a manic love of crosswords, but my mom always did. A pop-in visit to see my folks was as likely to be met with the urgently asked, “What’s a seven letter word for something important?” (gravity) as a heartfelt, “Glad you came by.” Right there, the beginning of a story for NaNoWriMo. Whose mom wants the right puzzle word more than a visit from her progeny? Yours, of course. (Well, mine, but you know what I mean.) You thought you were empty headed, completely bereft of words to fill a book, and yet right in front of you, there they are: words a-plenty. You just have to pluck them from her puzzle and plop them into your 50,000 word story.

After my father’s death, crossword puzzles became a link between mom and me, one of the essential strategies for keeping her ill brain as highly functioning as possible. We work them together, and I’m still amazed that she often knows answers I don’t. (Clue: Precedes while. “Erst,” she said. Oh yeah, erstwhile. Now I get it.) These clever word games have taught me a lot in four years, skills I didn’t know I needed but now seek to augment as much as possible. The more I sit beside my mom, helping her focus on crossword clues and answers, the more I learn about writing. There’s another NaNoWriMo story waiting for a keyboard, should I want to use it: cross word puzzling through mom’s illness. Sort of a mental travelogue.

Patience, not cheating, trivia knowledge, humor in rare places, vocabulary building, archaic words, unusual context, flash fiction, courage, personal relationships – all these are benefits of doing crosswords. All are applicable skills for writing.

I’ve developed the patience to work at solving a puzzle even when I know the answer is in the back of the book. There’s a certain satisfaction when mom and I complete an entire puzzle and we haven’t cheated once. She contributes about one tenth of the answers, an amazing fact given her condition. The rest is up to me and I’m often stumped. I lean over the book, staring at clues and wondering what could have possibly been on the puzzle creator’s mind to have written such an obscure clue. Kiln: oast. She knew the answer; I didn’t. (By the way, beer lovers, did you know that the hops were dried in an oast? What interesting trivia we gather in puzzles.) By the time we’ve finally completely the challenge, I’m thoroughly pleased for having stuck it out. Mom beams. I write a personal note across the top of each puzzle, Harry, can’t you find any modern words, or, You’ve got a sense of humor, Martha, a wicked one, but humor all the same. Mom loves reading the notes later in the week so I make sure to write one every time. My silly comments make her smile.  My writing has an appreciative audience. I value whatever readers I have.

Puzzle solving teaches about unexpected humor. Most crosswords incorporate several clues related to the title. “Rare Gems” clues included 20 across: Unpolished. No spaces between words, no hint about how many words needed, and the answer: diamondintherough. The clue for 30 across: Had an appetite for Lillian Russell: DiamondJimBrady. The last clue in the gem category, 40 across: Faceted field: baseballdiamond. I groaned that it wasn’t a fair clue, but mom reminded me, “It’s just crosswords.” I grinned. She was right, and it was funny to think about diamonds in so many ways. Rare gems indeed.

A writer needs a broad vocabulary, an internal thesaurus stuffed with words to suit every occasion. Especially useful for me was the reminder that rectos are “right hand pages” (the answer to 14 down,) and then I remembered that left hand pages are verso, which brought me to recall that a leaf is paper with two sides. Yes, all paper has front and back, but a leaf has been written on both sides. Now I’m on to leaf with all its meanings and applications. Every tot learns to gather leaves as soon as she can toddle outside, but leafing through a book has more to do with recto and verso than biology. Leaf sounds poetic to my ear while bract is emphatic, frond drifts in the breeze, pad sunbathes, and petiole and stipule put me back in seventh grade science class. The puzzle proved a useful meandering through related words as a leaf is a major player in one of my books. At my next revision, I’ll check for variety and intent of its synonymous words.  At the moment, mom wants to know what clue I’m reading, and we move on.

The puzzle entitled “Cut Me a Deal” provided a mini course in flash fiction. The answers included (I’m making it easy on you and separating the words, though the puzzle didn’t) shuffle the deck, shuffle off to Buffalo, stacking the deck, and deal me in. That’s a pretty generous prompt for writing flash fiction. The story is nearly there; all you need is a main character. So, Ronald Rucinski, you thought you were just a puzzle crafter, cribbed in your corner with naught but the computer light fending the darkness of the room. Now you’re also a high stakes player in a grimy casino off the main drag in Las Vegas, trying to bolster your flagging bank account with a poker faced attempt at betting the bank, working the room, and raking it in. “Deal me in,” Ronald Rucinski said, sliding his toothpick between the amber ivories in his mouth and narrowing his eyes as the dealer shuffled the deck. As a story, it needs work, but all work needs more work. Still, it’s a start, and all stories must start someplace. “Cut Me a Deal” is even a decent working title.

Mom and I exhibit courage when doing puzzles. We write in pen. Pencils dull too fast and I have the courage of my convictions, though evidence suggests I’m often wrong. A writer must be courageous as she faces that blank page each day, grasping at flitting words and forcing them to her tome. Commit to the pen and you’re halfway there. OK, maybe a hundredth of the way there, a thousandth, but still, have pen, will write, and there you are, off on your book’s journey, wherever it may take you, down the occasional false path, but writing all the time. Writing quickly, as NaNoWriMo demands, because 50,000 words can be wrought from crossword books, but you still have to arrange them in a story order of some kind.

The more I’ve worked crosswords with my mom, the more I’ve learned about life. The more I learn about life, the better I write. It’s been an odd place to glean an education and a peculiar way of building a relationship with an ill person. Thank you, Mom, for all you’ve given me. May God protect you and keep you as long as possible from the worst ravages of your disease. And asking Him for a little help with my story is not a bad idea either.

Be well, friends.

Going to Camp

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting into the Flash Fiction arena for some time (though my wordiness tends to work against me in that plan).  I’ve also been toying with the idea of participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, though I can guarantee that I do not have time to write 50,000 words in April.  For the past few weeks I’ve been thinking of ways I could do both – participate in Camp and also start writing Flash.  Yesterday, Grant Faulkner, Executive Director over at the Office of Letters and Light, posted his plan to write 30 Shorts in 30 Days over on the OLL blog.

Flash Fiction Camp?  I love the idea!

Looking at reality, I wonder if how I can actually do this.  I mean a story a day starting April 1 when I’ve written barely a dozen stories in over a year?  How crazy am I?  Add in the fact that baseball games for the team I manage start on April 1, the garden needs to start going in on or about April 1 and I have crazy work deadlines in April and really this is probably a bad idea. Nonetheless, the more I think about it, the more excited I am getting about going to Camp and starting this project.  I have the ideas to accomplish it, so now it’s time to start writing.  And, as the subtitle of this site says: just keep writing.

I am going to spend the next few days putting together prompts, much like Grant suggested in his post.  I’ll likely use a lot of the Today’s Author Write Now prompts, but I have others as well. I am not committing to posting each and every story on my blog right away, but my goal is to put them out there in some form during the month and/or after April is done.

So who else is participating in Camp this April?  What projects are you starting, whether for Camp or not?  I’m still not positive that I haven’t lost my mind in considering this, as there’s no way I can be writing a flash fiction and flashing signs from the third base coach’s box on the baseball field, but I’m going to give it a go.  Are you in?  Let us know what projects you are looking forward to starting. After all, putting it out there for all to see makes it more likely we’ll get started, right?

Oh, and if you have any tips for being successful with writing flash fiction, share them, too!


If you are doing Camp, find me on the site – my username is Lousy Writer 13. Looking forward to writing with everyone!