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Five Steps to Writing a Solid Flash Fiction Story
How I Became a Flash Fiction Writer
So you want to write a flash fiction story, but you can't imagine fitting a whole story into one thousand words. I've written around eighty flash fiction stories over the last three years, been mentored by a flash fiction writer from the Uk and am participating in my second NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge during the next few months.
In the NYC competition, after we submit our stories to the judges, we spend the following 6 weeks reading and reviewing each other's stories in the NYC forum. Then we go into the second round, after which we go back to reading and reviewing. Consequently, I have read and reviewed dozens of flash fiction stories ranging from horrible (some of my own) to outstanding (still hoping to write one of those).
As a result of these endeavors, I am beginning to understand the process of writing such short stories, and it is quite different from writing longer forms of fiction. Here are five steps that will help you write a tight and solid flash fiction story of your own. I hope you do write one, and I look forward to reading it here on Hub Pages.
You suddenly think, 'hey, that would make an awesome story.' My experience is that you had better write it down immediately, because it will dissipate into the atmosphere as quickly as it precipitated in your head.
Is Flash Fiction a form of literature you enjoy reading?
Step One: Coming Up With an Idea for a Flash Fiction Story
The first step in writing a flash fiction story, or anything else for that matter, is to come up with an idea for a story. One way this happens is through a flash of inspiration that occurs without warning. You suddenly think, hey, that would make an awesome story. My experience is that you had better write it down immediately, because it will dissipate into the atmosphere as quickly as it precipitated in your head.
Prompts are another way to come up with ideas for stories. I did a search here on Hub Pages for the words writing challenge, and was rewarded with ten pages of results. Many of these are challenges presented by one hubber to the rest of us and are inevitably accompanied by some kind of prompt in the form of a photo, a self interview, a painting, a phrase, a poem or a partial short story. Off the top of my head, I recall challenges presented by Bill Holland, Ann Carr, John Hansen, Jennifer Arnett and Frank Atanacio. There have been others, but these are a few relatively recent challenges.
My son and I were camping a couple of years ago and decided to sit by the fire and do a five minute free write. The single guideline was that it was to be dialogue only. That's right, not even a dialogue tag was permitted. To this day, that has been my favorite prompt and yielded one of my most treasured flash fiction stories called, Dying to Get Out.
Step Two: Begin Writing Your Flash Fiction Story
Using your prompt, or free writing technique, or flash of inspiration, begin writing whatever comes into your head. The story you want to tell will eventually emerge. But keep in mind, the first thing you write will not be the story you tell, but the story you end up telling will be in there someplace. You just have to find it.
During this initial process, forget word count, forget rules and spelling and what time it is and what's on television. Just write. Write until whatever you call what you are putting down on the paper, ends itself. You'll know when you are finished with this step. And in that mess is the story you are going to show and tell.
You'll begin to see the story emerging out of the chaos like a flower growing out of dirt and compost. It hasn't bloomed yet, but it will.
Another Flash Poll
Would you ever consider purchasing a collection of flash fiction stories in traditional book form or as an e-book?
Step Three: Finding and Editing Your Story
That's right, now you have to find the story you will tell. This is the first step in editing. Reread your initial piece of writing, looking for the thread of a story. Some parts you will keep, some you will throw out. Now, rewrite what you chose as the beginning elements for your story, and add to it as you go. You'll begin to see the story emerging out of the chaos like a flower growing out of dirt and compost. It hasn't bloomed yet, but it will.
The next step in editing is to find where your story really begins. You aren't finished throwing material away yet, but don't throw it too far because you'll be putting some of it back in later. If you chose a genre before you began, this step will be easier. Where does the genre begin in what you've written? If it's a suspense story, where does the suspense begin? If it's a mystery, where does the mystery begin? This is the true beginning of your story. In flash fiction, there is very little room for an introduction that doesn't jump right into the heart of the story.
Here is an example. Let's say your story is about someone who has been kidnapped and your Point of View is from the perspective of the victim. You could begin the story with that person having dinner around the table with their family, right? Then they go for a walk and are abducted, taken to a cellar someplace where they are bound and gagged. Well, why not begin your story in the middle of the drama? Start the story with the poor victim in the cellar all tied up. The part about having dinner with the fam and going for a stroll can be that person's reflection as they sit in the dark. See? Your story has suddenly taken off with jet engines rather than creeping along like a baby stroller.
If you haven't chosen a genre to write in, it might be helpful at this point to assign one. You'll have a good idea by this time which genre fits what you are writing. Then follow the above step to find the beginning of your story. What I've discovered, at least this is how it works for me, is that everything I've written that comes before the onset of the genre of my story, is backstory. And backstory, when placed at the beginning of flash fiction, kills the story. That's right. It's dead before it's ever actually born. Hold the backstory on the side and fit it in wherever it fits well as memories and reflections. Just don't put it at the beginning.
In flash fiction, there is very little room for an introduction that doesn't jump right into the heart of the story.
Additional Steps in Editing a Flash Fiction Story
- Find essential characters and eliminate others.
- Find side stories and eliminate them if they don’t substantially impact the story. Most side stories are dead ends which might be fine in a longer form of fiction, but are not appropriate for flash fiction.
- Fit backstory elements into appropriate places as flashbacks or memories of characters. These can be a few words or a paragraph depending on your word count.
- Smooth out sentences that are awkward.
- Eliminate unnecessary adverbs.
- Eliminate all unnecessary words until you are under 1,000 words, even if it hurts.
- Reread and rewrite until the story flows the way you want it to.
- Be aggressive and brutal in your editing. If the words don’t fit, you must omit.
And backstory, when placed at the beginning of flash fiction, kills the story. That's right. It's dead before it's ever actually born.
Steps Four and Five: Beta Readers and Rewrites
Step Four: If you plan on publishing the story, you might seek the help of a beta reader(s). Here is a definition of a beta reader from Wikipedia:
Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context. Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterization or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.
Utilize the input of your beta reader(s), keeping in mind the story is yours to tell. Use only what you feel enhances your story.
Step Five: Continue rewriting until the story flows in a way that satisfies you. Use beta readers again,followed by another rewrite if publishing.
Summary of the Five Steps to Writing a Flash Fiction Story
Everything you need to write a well crafted story is in these five steps. I've noticed in my own writing and in that of others as well the tendency to do a less than adequate job on editing and rewriting. This is where exciting new ideas can arise including a clever twist at the end. The twist doesn't always happen, and that's okay. When it does happen, it can really spice up your story. I wish you the best of luck and lots of enjoyment as you write in this exciting, fast paced format.
© 2015 Chris Mills