This post was written by Ronel Janse van Vuuren.
Most writers see themselves as novelists and look down on shorter forms – especially flash fiction. Yet knowing how to write shorter pieces (novella, short story and flash fiction) will make for a better novelist.
Oh, I can see you frowning right now and shaking your head. Read on.
In a novel one can go about in a circuitous route to show backstory. A short story is known for its intensity, brevity, concentration and sense of completion.
Writing short stories teaches you how little you need, about what isn’t on the page and what the reader gets to see – flash fiction takes this to the extreme.
What flash fiction is: a complete story between 50 and 1000 words of any genre. (Explanations vary and so do length, but this is the widely accepted definition.)
That description can be a little vague, though.
What flash fiction should be: a story of extreme brevity where the classic story elements are mostly implied. (Classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution.)
By Ronel Janse van Vuuren
‘I don’t want to be worshiped…’ the young woman at the head of the table whispered, staring at her reflection in the gleaming wood surface. ‘I want to terrify!’
Wind rushed through the room and blasted all the gifts away.
Everyone sat up straight; no-one dared look at her. Though they adored her for getting rid of the enemy navy with her power over air, she still scared them.
‘Too bad. Eat your eggs,’ her mother said as she placed a plate in front of her.
The flash fiction story is all about the twist.
Taking the story above: usually powerful teenage characters go through their adventures alone, but this one has her mother with her (who doesn’t fear her like everyone else does). BTW, the above story is also a competition winner.
But it wasn’t my first story. Learning how to write good flash fiction takes time. As a novelist, I had to learn the art of brevity. Writing flash fiction has taught me a lot about writing.
Here’s why I recommend writing flash fiction:
One: you learn how to say a lot with only a few words. You learn which words would say exactly what you mean. Compare “the canopy of dark blue night sky twinkling with the brightest stars stretched over the battle-scene” with “stars broke the cobalt sky and illuminated death”. Do you see the difference?
Two: you learn how to get to the heart of your story. While writing a longer piece, you might get bogged down with everything you need to say. You might even forget what your story is really about.
Three: you can try out different voices, genres and subgenres. (Though, that’s true about short stories as well.) I mostly stick to writing Fantasy influenced by folklore. But I’ve tried different voices, styles and subgenres (from High Fantasy with Dragons and other magical creatures to Dark Gothic Fantasy with Witches and Werewolves). I’ve learned what I like, what I can do and what I feel uncomfortable with.
Four: it’s fun. And it’s a good way to write when you’re not feeling like it.
There are free weekly competitions with a critique of your story as the prize (if you place in the top three) where you can practice writing to a deadline (Cracked Flash Fiction Competition runs from 12 am to 12 pm on a Saturday), keeping your story short (cutting all unnecessary words) and get used to having your work published and read by others.
Guidelines to write flash fiction:
Start at the flashpoint – in other words, start in the middle of the action.
Use powerful imagery – things that will fill in the detail without you having to use your precious word count to do so (e.g. a chandelier full of cobwebs – it tells you everything you need to know about the room).
End with a punch-in-the-gut – playing against expectations, devastating twists, poignant implications and anything else that offers an emotional impact. You want the reader to go back for more.
Checklist of reasons to write flash fiction:
- By taking part in online competitions and sending your work to ezines, you’ll get your name out there. (Building your author brand.)
- Because it’s short, people can read it fast and are thus more likely to read it. (Building your author brand.)
- You learn to write tight and other great writing skills.
- Great stories can be shared as free content for marketing. (Building your author brand.)
- You can take part in more competitions (you can write flash fiction fast).
- Some stories you write as a flash piece can serve as inspiration for longer pieces.
Go on, try your hand at this shorter form. If you need inspiration, check out #TwistedTaleTuesday on my blog Ronel the Mythmaker where I share my flash fiction pieces. Go compete in Cracked Flash Fiction Competition on Saturday to dip your toe in this strange format – you never know when you’ll find your next favorite writing form. Besides, did I mention that there are a ton of opportunities to get flash fiction published in ezines and anthologies (and get paid)?
I hope this has given you something to think about – and even try out! What about you: do you write or read flash fiction?
Author: Ronel Janse van Vuuren
Ronel Janse van Vuuren is the author of dark fantasy filled with mythology and folklore, some of which can be read on Wattpad and on her blog Ronel the Mythmaker. When not leading her Rottweiler pack or arguing with her characters, she’s writing award-winning fiction.