What is Flash Fiction?

And why do I love it?

Imagine a short story, made shorter, condensed, focused into its most sparing yet most interesting part, and you have flash fiction.

Flash fiction has variously been described as a very short short story, a long drabble, a written piece of approximately 1000 words, and many variations on the same theme. What it really is, is a short complete story of, typically, no more than 1000 words. It should not be extended drabble, which would be more of a vignette, but like a fully fledged short story, should have a beginning, a middle and an end.

There should be one or two characters, but a place can have a character of its own here. Having more than two or three characters can mean the story becomes thinly spread and confusing.

When there are only 1000 words to play with, every word must be examined from every side before being carefully inserted into position. A writer may contemplate a single word for some time in any composition but perhaps it is more important in Flash Fiction (and indeed for Microfiction, which is an even tighter art form … more on that in a later post) where there are so few words to start with.

To provide a full story, the opening line has to be the complete story beginning. It is necessary to drop the reader into the story “bam!” right from the get go. Similarly the closing line has to wrap the story up to the readers satisfaction, something I have learned painfully this year when a poor ending knocked me out of a competition round.

I have been writing Flash Fiction for over ten years, and started entering competitions about six years. As with any writing form, feedback is essential for growth and development, and for me, writing in competitions has been a fantastic place to learn. In particular, I have enjoyed the the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction competitions, where the format lends itself to a steep learning curve and a sense of camaraderie among competitors.

In this particular competition, you are provided with a genre, an item and a place. The story must match the genre, feature the place prominently, and at least mention the item in passing. Oh, and you have 48 hours to write the story. In less than 1000 words.

In the time honoured and traditional way of writers, the first hour is spent procrastination by sharpening pencils or organizing email, followed by a quick brain dump of 24 different story ideas and “a whoops I forgot I’m supposed to be writing Scifi”… Next 3 hours are spent on the forum comparing genres and further procrastinating. Then you need a good nights sleep so go to bed at 7pm then get up again with a great idea at 9 pm. Spend 10 hours writing that idea, only to realize its terrible at 7 am and rip it up. Starting again and finding you have just 24 hours left, but you will need to sleep first, you plan your story, although the only idea you have left is lame.

You write the story, edit it, run it by your long suffering parent/child/partner/dog realise that its as good as it gets, submit it, realise its full of editorial mistakes, correct it, rewrite the last paragraph and produce your best piece ever, finally submitting it with 5 minutes to spare.

Then comes the long wait (3 days typically) for permission to post your story in the forum. The forum is the magic of this competition. You read your competition, your competition reads you. You compliment, you critique, you learn something new, you see something you could have done differently and hope the judges overlook that mistake you just noticed.

You are less worried about the judges critique but still you learn something from that too, and fingers crossed, you make it through to the next round.

I have steadily improved my stories, but then so has the competition. This year I took my writing more seriously and finally came up with something I was confident in. I gave it a good start. I really worked on having an ending that didn’t leave you hanging. I cut out two of my characters. I submitted it to Flash Fiction Magazine. It got accepted. This will be my first published piece and I’m proud of it. But I will do better next time too!

One thought on “What is Flash Fiction?”

  1. I tried NYCMidnight too and it was such a great experience. Learned a ton too.

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