Despite it being much shorter than most other types of writing, flash fiction can be a valuable launch-pad for writers, offering them an opportunity to practice their art and do it quickly. Whereas a novel can sometimes take years to write, a piece of flash fiction can often be written in a few minutes, although the general principles of writing it are the same. You still need to use good grammar – although there are exceptions to this and every other rule you may encounter – and you still need to write clearly and with a good idea of what you’re hoping to achieve. But, unlike most other types of fiction, flash fiction can be read quickly and can appeal to almost anyone. And because of this, it’s much easier to get someone to read your work if you write short pieces, and this makes it easier to get the valuable feedback you need, especially if you’re a developing writer needing advice on your writing style and abilities.
Flash fiction is how I first developed my skills as a writer. It gave me an opportunity to experiment each week, posting a short piece on a writer’s blog each Friday, together with a few other like-minded individuals, each of us hoping to win the credit for best story. The writer who hosted the competition would post a prompt – usually a photo, although it could sometimes be a phrase – and then we’d all begin, with everyone posting their entry before the same time the next day. There’d be a delay after that while the host read the entries and then considered them all, announcing the one which she considered was both the best written and which fitted the prompt better than the others. There would also be honourable mentions for the other commendable entries, this being the ‘prize’ I hoped for then, the host also giving comments on what she thought set them apart, discussing them briefly so we could all learn from each other’s experience. It was a friendly, fun way to develop skills as a writer and it led to friendships with other enthusiastic word-wrights, many of whom are now quite dear to me.
However, aside from the social aspect of writing flash fiction, it can also be a good way to develop sound writing habits. A limited word count makes it necessary to use every word well, stronger words being more effective in their roles as the messengers of the writer’s intent. Sometimes a single word, if chosen well, can suggest an emotion or an image or a complete memory, the skill being in the writer’s ability to tune into the reader’s thoughts and perceptions, the key words becoming a short-cut to an experience which can be shared by both. It helps us develop an ability to write lean, muscular prose, it being much easier to write tight, engaging novel-length stories if you’ve already mastered the skills on a smaller scale. A piece of flash fiction, if written well, has much in common with a longer piece of writing: still having the need for a beginning, a middle, an end, good characterisation and an engaging story. It’s the writer’s equivalent of a quart in a pint-pot, only in this case it’s more likely to be the coffee-cup you’ll empty while you read it in its entirety.
And now, even though I’ve developed a little skill as a writer, I still love writing flash fiction. It’s a good way to remain aware of how tight my writing is, and still gives me opportunities to get regular feedback on my style and how effective my prose is. It’s also an opportunity to try out new ideas, or I can use it as a warm-up exercise before I commit myself to working on my current work-in-progress. And it can also be a way to help refresh my muse when what I want to write isn’t going as well as I’d hoped it would.
Or it can be fun. I always have fun when I write flash fiction.
Here are a few blogs that I can personally recommend for practicing flash fiction:
Siobhan Muir hosts a weekly 250-word limit flash fiction competition each Thursday on her blog, called the Thursday Threads Challenge.
The Write Services host a similar competition every Sunday, called the ATA Flash Fiction Challenge, again usually with a 250-word limit.
Indies Unlimited also host a weekly photo prompt every Saturday, again with a 250 word limit.
And Dan Mader has a weekly free-write – called ‘2 Minutes. Go!’ – with no word limit which he hosts on his Unemployed Imagination blog on Thursday and Friday each week. There are no winners there, but there are lots of other keen writers who’ll offer constructive and kind comments on all posts made there.
There are many more to be found, of course. If you type ‘weekly flash fiction competition’ into Google you’ll probably find more than enough to keep you amused.
13 thoughts on “Flash Fiction – A Literary Addiction”
Nice roundup of the benefits of flash fiction writing, Mark. And it’s obvious that practice has paid off in your writing. Good job!
Thank you so much for your kind words. I think it’s important that the social aspect has to be mentioned. You can only absorb so much from craft books and they can never give you specific advice based on what you write. The community aspect is at least as important, especially if you’re a beginning or an improving writer, and the advice you receive and the friendships you develop can be a huge help. And it also makes it much more fun. Writing can be a very lonely occupation if you don’t reach out to others who understand the craft.
I agree. I have honed a few skills from writing Flash Fiction. The need to stick within a minimal word count taught me to be succinct without losing necessary information and detail.
It’s so easy to waffle on and to write flabby narratives if you’re a freely-writing writer. Although we’d all usually edit what we write before posting or submitting our work, it’s better to develop good habits early on. It makes the editing process less painful and it helps us present a professional image to whoever reads our work, even it’s ‘only’ an editor or someone who’s reading our work with a view to giving us advice on how well it reads and how well structured it is. Keeping an flash-fiction ‘eye’ on whatever we write is always helpful.
Absolutely agree, Mark! In addition to offering writing practice, flash fiction can also generate ideas for longer works. The Bernie and Melody stories I posted to the IU contest last year have led to a novel (now in progress) featuring those characters.
I quite agree, Dale. Writing to someone else’s prompt can lead you into genres and styles of writing you don’t usually follow. I love the freshness of writing flash and it can be a great way to develop new ideas and to see new aspects applicable to our current works-in-progress too.
Congratulations, Dale. I hope it’s going well. And yes, you’re quite right. I’ve heaps of potential story ideas to work with that found life through my writing flash fiction. I hope I can find the time to flesh some more of those – there are so many that deserve a chance to be written out more fully.
Flash fiction is only one step away from poetry in the amount of work needed to choose exactly the right word. A real muscle-builder!
Exactly! It’s so very close to writing free-verse poetry and it can help us develop many of the same techniques, so we can use them in our own long-form writing. Obviously, it’d be done more subtly there but it can still be used to great effect.
Thank you very much for mentioning #ThursThreads, Mark! Great post. 🙂
Thank you, Siobhan! It’s generally better to have a healthily-sized group of people taking part in any competition, I think. It makes it more fun and it helps keep the level of enthusiasm up. And it also means that it’s less likely to be dominated by one or two people too. It can be discouraging if the same person wins every week.
Nice article on the benefits of flash-fiction and the links to other flash-fiction pages, they will come in handy. I enjoy reading and writing flash-fiction. It is an excellent stepping stone to helping and encouraging writers to reach their first novel someday.
Thanks, Allen. It’s a great way to begin as a writer. It needn’t require a great deal of time or much commitment to a single story-idea, so it lets people experiment and makes it a lot of fun. And, as we’ve already said, it also helps us develop fresh ideas and the valuable skills we need to become a great writer.
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