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How to write a story using flash fiction

A couple months ago, I decided to write 1000 words per day until I finished a novel. I did it, learned a few things, but realized that I am not ready to wrestle the 50,000 word beast. I have no intention of throwing the work away, of course. Instead, I have decided to work my way up. One way I am doing this is by implementing flash fiction into my writing routine.


Why flash fiction?
In case you didn’t know, flash fiction is just an extremely short story, as low as 300 words but no more than 1000 words. Flash fiction is great for new writers because you get to work on an entire story, from beginning to end, within a reasonably short amount of time. From creating a hero’s false belief, using smart descriptive transitions, satisfying endings, even a busy writer should be able to accomplish this within a week. Not quite instant gratification, but about as close as a writer can expect.


More completed work means more feedback
A key reason that writing flash fiction is beneficial to new writers is that you will be able to get more feedback on your craft more often. If you are able to write a 1000 word story per week, you will have something new to be reviewed every week. As more eyes see your writing, your weaknesses are identified more quickly, leaving you better prepared to tackle the novel. Not to mention, your writer friends will be much more willing to edit a tiny 1000 word story over a 50,000 word mammoth.

Don’t have writer friends? No worries! I recommend Elance.com. You can probably find someone who really knows their stuff who will review your work for $5 to $10.


Build your portfolio, build your confidence
If you are a writer and you have nothing published, you probably have a serious “writer’s identity crisis.” I know I do. That’s because it's hard to tell your parents, friends, or anybody that you are a writer when you have nothing to show for it. If you write flash fiction, you can quickly build a portfolio of work to show everyone who rolled their eyes before.


Keep you fresh while writing the novel
No matter how quickly you write that novel, it’s probably not quick enough. Writing a novel might take you a year; flash fiction could take you a day. Constantly writing new stories, new dilemmas, new characters will keep your creativity up. Not to mention, you may find ideas from your flash fiction that flow into the larger work.


Want to write a Flash Fiction in a snap? Here’s a fun exercise
Here’s an exercise I like to do with flash fiction. First create a word document with a two columns, one row table. Next, find a short story from one of these websites:

NOTE: If you are using MS Word, I also suggest changing the width of the page to 17” by clicking Page Layout tab, clicking the Size button, and scrolling down to select “More Paper Sizes." That way, you can write alongside the story without fighting size restraints. Now, copy and paste a story (that you like of course) into one of the table columns. Also, when pasting the story, use “past special” and select  “unformatted text” to avoid formatting issues.

On the other column, start outlining parts of the story with notes about what each section accomplished. Each story has a unique but similar structure. Here’s one that I commonly find:

  • Opening that disrupts a status quo (Bobby was walking to school, when suddenly he saw his friend Kevin up in a tree).
  • Dialogue that introduces a dilemma (After hearing Kevin’s plans of truancy, he must choose to skip school with Kevin, or abandon Kevin for class).
  • A choice is made between two negative outcomes (Bobby chooses to skip school).
  • The action (Bobby and Kevin go on a little adventure, playing doorbell ditch, going to the mall, etc.).
  • Escalates (Kevin asks Bobby to skip again tomorrow, since they are having so much fun).
  • Closing that satisfies theme and actions, changes the hero, or contemplates what happened (Bobby decides to choose school over Kevin, thinks about his friends, insights about social pressure).

Next, write your own flash fiction story using the same structure.  Pick a status quo (a day at the office, a visit to the zoo, etc.), disrupt it, and see where 1000 words take you! Obviously, you should always be experimenting with your writing, but if you are new writer (like moi), this can be a helpful exercise. And, if you write something really good, you can submit a story to one of the many online flash magazines for more exposure.

And hey, who knows! Maybe one of your shorter works will inspire a larger work.


Differences between flash fiction and longer stories
Of course, there are major differences between flash fiction and longer works. With only 1000 words, you aren’t responsible to provide a reader with too much character development, descriptive language, or backstory. In fact, you only have enough time to shoot your reader to the point of conflict. Flash fiction gets to be consistently intense as well without burning out the reader. Despite their differences, I am confident your flash fiction will help un-suck your future novel.
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