What is flash fiction? How do you write it? What can you do with it? Who will publish your work? Indulge in flash fiction and follow in the footsteps of Neil Gaiman…
What the heck is Flash Fiction?
When I started writing a little book of 100-word stories, I thought I’d found a new way to procrastinate. My novel-in-progress is still hiding in a computer folder gathering virtual dust, but apparently these tiny stories have a fancy name and I now have something else in common with Neil Gaiman – other than weird dreams!
The term flash fiction is thought to have originated in an anthology of that title, published in 2002. The editors’ definition: “a story to fit across two pages of a typical literary magazine – about 750 words”.
There is still no universally accepted definition or set word count but flash fiction stories are generally between 50 and 1000(ish) words long, containing a plot and at least one character.
Who has written flash fiction?
Aesop’s Fables (moral tales credited to Aesop, a Greek slave and storyteller living around 620-560 BC) are some of the earliest examples of flash fiction around. Much later, the brothers Grimm began publishing their super-short stories (disturbing small children since the 1700s)!
More recent writers include Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, H P Lovecraft, Lydia Davis and Neil Gaiman.
So if you’re all set to become a flash fiction writer, you’re in good company.
I thought flash fiction sounded like a fun idea after reading Gaiman’s “Nicholas Was” one night. He had planned to write a 100-word story for the front of a Christmas card to send to his family and friends – much in the same way that many artist friends used their own work. In usual Gaiman style, he produced a twisted version of the Santa Claus legend. It was first published in Drabble II: Double Century, an anthology of 100-word stories (also called ‘Drabbles’) and appears in his fiction and poetry anthology Smoke and Mirrors.
Flash fiction publishers
Writing competitions – First Writer
A useful website for finding writing competitions in general is First Writer. Many online and offline publishers, great and small, hold writing competitions and many of those comps focus on flash fiction. A great way to cut your teeth. Writing competitions are often themed which will help you find inspiration and focus.
Flashes in the dark
If your writing has a gothic / horror streak, Flashes in the dark could be the very thing. They aim to publish online gothic horror flash fiction daily. If you check their submission guidelines you’ll see that they want dark, tasteful stuff and that any story that involves the brutal torture of women or children will be immediately tossed on the discard pile and / or burned at the stake. Good!
Everyday Fiction make it fairly easy to submit a flash fiction story. They aim to create a service that emails flash fiction to subscribers every day.
SmokeLong don’t pay you for your work, but they are a journal that’s totally dedicated to flash fiction. Their name stems from the notion that a person should be able to read your story in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. How F. Scott Fitzgerald! What’s great is that they encourage submissions from writers who haven’t been published before.
How to write flash fiction
Get inspired! Have a read of some published Flash Fiction to see what works and why. Take a notebook to your usual “thinking place”, or somewhere totally different if that’s what you fancy, and write down any random thoughts, ideas or memories that come into your head. Try to turn them into stories!
Suggestions: a conversation, your last journey, an adventure you had, a weird dream, an animal, an unusual place, something you love/hate/laugh at. Or you can pick an abstract theme to work from: Reflections, Endings and Beginnings, Falling…
Don’t worry about the word count (if you’ve set one) just yet. Just try to keep the story relatively short. When you’ve finished what you want to say, then do a word-count. You’ll start to get an idea of how long 100 (or so) words actually is and first drafts will become easier the more stories you write.
Start editing your flash fiction – crunch it from dusty carbon to a polished diamond. Make each word count. Descriptions sometimes have to be shorter than you would like, so decide which words or sentences you could get rid of, or if there is a more concise way of putting something. Long or unusual words are often good as they can turn a simple story into something more complex. The Thesaurus rocks!
When you are happy with the story itself, make it interesting to look at. A few squished sentences aren’t too eyecatching but isolating lines, using bold, italics, or a different font puts emphasis on important parts of the story and spreads it out a little.
If you haven’t already done so, give it a title and be proud!
You’ve written some flash fiction. What can you do with it?
Send your flash fiction to magazines, either print magazines or online.
Send your flash fiction to writing competitions that allow flash fiction entries. Many competitions pay the winning entrants! Have a look at the links above for places to send your stories. If in doubt, google ‘flash fiction competitions’ and see the wealth of options that come up in the search results.
Keep a notebook to fill with your attempts (successful and non-successful). This notebook can be a source of inspiration or a cheer-you-up on sad days. The advantage of specialising in flash fiction is that your notebook doesn’t have to be a bulky tome.
Give stories as presents! Either do a Neil Gaiman and use them in Christmas/Birthday/Solstice cards or get the craft kit out, make a weeny book and give it to someone as a gift. It can be a lifesaver for those weeks when everyone has their birthday at once.
Whether you choose to send your work out into the world, keep it in a book or just use the exercise as a warm-up for a bigger project. Writing flash fiction is fun – and for me, it’s become a bit of an addiction! I take inspiration from songs I happen to be listening to at the time, from ridiculous things my friends have come out with, and from random words in the Thesaurus. Procrastination – now there’s a word… 🙂
Flash fiction example
Opportunity Knocks (100 words)
Allie watched the door from her window. It was painted on the rather ugly grey wall outside.
“Graffiti”, said the council, “paint over it.” But no-one ever did, for sometimes the door opened and people entered. They returned later – some tanned, some tattooed.
Some holding photographs, certificates.
Some holding hands.
Allie tried the door every day. It stayed mysterious, colourful… and shut. Frustrated, she kicked it, apologising straight away.
On Saturday, she went shopping. Leaving designer bags on their pegs, she returned with paint and spare change. That night, Allie painted her own door on the wall.
This one opened.
© Roswell Ivory