Stanley the Streaker: I’m here with Eilidh from Thain in Vain and we’re talking flash fiction, tips to get started and the upcoming 13 Week Streak – Summer Flash Fiction Challenge hosted by Eilidh and Charlotte from Drafty Devil. Welcome, Eilidh. Great to see you, and I mean all of you!
Eilidh: Thanks Stanley! It’s great to be here. I would love to know whose birthday suit you are wearing?
Stanley the Streaker: Ha, ha! I would love to say Alexander McQueen, but alas, it’s all me, baby! So, tell me little about flash fiction and why you love it.
Eilidh: A few years ago, I wanted to develop a regular creative writing practice, but could never quite find the motivation. In 2014, I decided to host a 52 week flash fiction challenge – basically, I wanted (read: force myself) to write a story a week and decided that flash fiction would be support that goal. I used the blog as a way to be accountable to me and to those doing the challenge. Over the course of that year, I developed a writing habit and found voices, characters and stories within myself I never knew existed. It was liberating and exciting! I made a connection with a writing community and many cool and creative folks. It was a really powerful experience for me.
Stanley the Streaker: Amazing. You mentioned that you chose flash fiction to help write a story a week. Can you tell me about why?
Eilidh: I just love the challenge of telling a story within a limited word count. Flash fiction aims to tell an entire story within a short work count – usually under 500 words. There is no set rule about the number of words. Some say under 400; others say up to a 1,000 words. It’s really up to you. I personally dig 500 words for no reason in particular.
Stanley the Streaker: Sounds like fun! What advice do you have for readers about how to write flash fiction?
Eilidh: After writing a story a week for a year, I learned a lot about writing super short stories. Here are five key tips you can use when putting fingers to keyboard and bring your flash fiction to life.
- Start your story in the middle of the action. In other words – cut to the chase. This can be a scene with tension or important dialogue between characters. You don’t have enough words to go all Dickens-esque with complex character development and long, meandering exposition on scenery. For example, the first line from my story Nature Made Me Do It puts readers in the middle of a courtroom trial, just as the verdict is about to be read:
“Judge J.E. Owl called the court to order and waited patiently as the incessant mumbling died down. “I believe we have a verdict,” he asked the jury foreman.”
- Show don’t tell. Obvious advice, but true in all fiction. The general rule is that in most flash fiction you only have room to focus on a single main character, with maybe a couple of supporting characters. Don’t waste your valuable 500 words blabbing about your character’s qualities – instead put them in a scene, and let their qualities show through dialogue, action and thought. Here’s the first paragraph of my story The Words that shows a whole lot about the main character:
A loud thud woke Morley Craik with a start. The glass of scotch resting on his crotch tumbled to the floor. He watched as the golden fluid absorbed into the sun-faded rug. He shook the nap from his head and reached for his laptop. The words on the screen were chilling. He didn’t recall writing them, but after a couple of belts of scotch a man can forget things. He grabbed the glass from the floor and scotch bottle from the table.
- Focus the story on a single moment in your character’s life. For flash fiction, choose a moment in a character’s life that tells a lot about them in a short amount of time. Try to focus on a single moment or an even a single scene. Here is an example of an opening line from my flash fiction story Create or Die that puts the reader in a single moment in the character’s life:
“I looked down at the strange invitation I’d received a week earlier. It read: ‘You are cordially invited to attend the “Create or Die” exhibition.’ I had no idea who the invite was from, but I figured it must be from one of those pretentious assholes I went to art school with.”
- Focus on the last line. Craft a final line that sticks in your reader’s mind. It should take the story in an unexpected direction, or take the reader to a new place that encourages them to think about the story. In my story Night Shift, a convenience store clerk received a strange phone call that changed his life. This final line was an unexpected outcome of the story – go read it and see what I mean:
“Welcome to your new life of the undead. You feel great, don’t you, Wayne. Being a vampire will do that. Your new name is Holla. Go forth and build our numbers.”
- Join flash fiction challenges – like the 13 Week Streak – Summer Flash Fiction Challenge! Yes, this is a cheeky promo, but it’s no secret that the best way to improve your writing is to write. If you’re like me, I love a challenge to get me focused and motivated.
Let’s get writing!!