Guest blogger: Meagan Briggs
From Janet: Come on in, we’re about to have some fiction fun! Books & Such is teaming up with Splickety Prime, a quarterly magazine that specializes in flash fiction. Joining us as a guest blogger is the mag’s editor, Meagan.
Here’s the plan: Today Meagan is going to introduce us to flash fiction. Tomorrow she’ll announce a flash fiction contest that you all get to enter along with other flash fiction fans. Cool prizes will be handed out.
When the top ten finalists are chosen by Splickety’s staff, we’ll announce them to you on our blog. How cool would it be if one of our commenters won!?
Now, what’s this thing called Flash Fiction, Meagan?
If you’ve heard about Splickety or been within ten feet of one of our staff, it’s beyond likely that you’ve heard the term flash fiction. (It’s okay to admit if you’ve even tried saying it three times fast.) If you’ve wondered what we’re talking about, I’m here to tell you what flash fiction is and how you can put it into practice.
Along with alliterative terminology, we also have a penchant for lightning symbols. It’s no coincidence. Flash fiction, like lightning, should be as powerful as it is fast.
Essentially, flash fiction is a complete story in 1,000 words or less. Break it down even more and you have micro fiction, which is a story under 300 words, and nano fiction, which caps out at a mere 100.
Flash fiction’s fundamentals, outside of word count, boil down to the same ingredients as a novel: well-structured plot and three-dimensional characters. These are essential to good storytelling, no matter the word count. But develop these elements in 1,000 words or fewer, and you’re wielding lightning.
Let’s take a closer look at these three flash fiction fundamentals.
- Plot—Something Has to Happen
Like a novel, flash fiction absolutely needs structure. A beginning that hooks readers’ attention, a middle that shows the characters in turmoil, and a resolution that satisfies.
Essentially, something has to happen. A story can start with a man watching paint dry. But it had better take a fast turn. For example, the wall explodes, the man gets arrested, or the drying paint reveals a code. End the scenario without any change or progress, and all you have is an insomnia remedy.
Because there’s often no room to expound on backstory and exposition—especially in nano fiction—it’s hard to know where to start a story. A helpful rule of thumb is to think of flash fiction as a snapshot. A snapshot put into motion.
Imagine a novel boiled down to one essential scene. Very likely, it will be the climax of the greater story. That’s your snapshot to bring to life. Flash fiction illuminates for readers only what is important about how the characters got to where they are, while driving the story forward through conflict so that the characters can overcome.
- Characterization—Make Readers Relate
Even with a stellar plot, flash fiction will be lacking if it doesn’t have 3D characters. Just as a plot is pointless without conflict and tension, a character is only a cutout put into motion until readers can see the internal struggles. (Tweet this.) For example, a character struggling to keep the bank from foreclosing on his house might also be facing the fear of failure or the need to prove wrong every person who said he’d never amount to anything. The external conflict relates with the inner struggle.
The character should also always have a goal, or at least a want. Without that driving force, things are simply happening. A character who moves forward, compelled by a necessity/goal/want/desire, and complicated with inner conflict, is active, multifaceted, but most importantly, relatable.
- Word Count—Every Word Matters
“But how do I do all that with so few words?” you’re probably thinking. The secret? Make sure every word pulls double- or triple-duty. If you need to describe a person’s age and appearance, find a word or phrase that can do both. Drop unnecessary words like very, much, almost. Same goes for most adverbs. Pick strong nouns and verbs. Focus on the essentials. Kill two birds with one stone by incorporating description into the action. Oh, and cut out clichés like the one I just wasted six words on in the previous sentence.
Editing is another great tool. Sometimes, it’s helpful to write a story without considering word count, and then hack it down like a butcher. Even after the fifth or sixth edit, you can still find things to cut. Flash fiction doesn’t have to be bare bones, but it does have to be lean.
Ultimately, it’s not a matter of how many words you fit in. Often, it’s a matter of how few the story needs, especially in nano fiction. Take Hemingway’s ultimate short story for example. In only six words, he constructed three-point structure, demonstrated backstory, implied characters, and evoked reader sympathy. The story? “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Less really is more.
Flash fiction is the most fun you can have on one to two pages of paper. I can guarantee when you’ve constructed a tight plot and dynamic characters in fewer words than a blog post, back cover of a book, or even a tweet, you’ll feel like a wielder of lightning.
Meagan Briggs is the editor or Splickety Prime, a quarterly magazine which specializes in flash fiction. Her optometrist has never diagnosed it, but she sees the world differently from how it really is. The only cure Meagan has found is to write down every what-if and give it a story. She’s not considering any other remedies.