As a standard, flash fiction is any type of creative writing 1,000 words or less. In our The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1, Norah Colvin writes:
“Flash fiction is a form of short writing. In its various forms, it may be known as, for example, micro fiction, sudden fiction, or six-word stories; the length may vary from as few as six to as many as 1,000 words. Brevity is a constraint, and writers attempt to pack as much story as they can into few words. Each word must count. There is no room for ‘darlings’, let alone a need for them to be killed.”
As a writing prompt, flash fiction gives the brain a problem to be solved: Write a story in 99 words, no more, no less. When writers repeat the challenge regularly, flash fiction trains brains to resolve the 99-word problem. It’s like magic; but really it’s science (from the book Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less and Achieve More Than Your Imagined by Scott Sonenshein). Creativity opens when the writing prompt becomes a habit.
As a short-story form, flash fiction requires skill. The more writers practice through weekly challenges, the more opportunity they have to refine and learn skills like characterizations, plot twists, and imagery to name a few. Within a welcoming and open literary community, writers feel safe to take risks and apply new skills to their responses. After a while, they may feel prepared to submit their flash fiction to literary journals or contests.
As a writing tool, flash fiction is versatile. Once the brain adapts to problem-solving mode, writers can address issues with character, scene or plot developments. Authors can explore early works without committing long bouts of writing. Flash fiction allows for accessible exploration. When revising, problems with story-line or gaps between scenes can be worked out in flash fiction. As a tool, it can provide breakthroughs.
FF RECIPES: HOW TO WRITE FLASH FICTION
You don’t have to be a writer to write flash fiction. You could be a business leader who wants to spark team creativity. You could be part of a book club and use the 99-word prompt to challenge readers to express what they gleaned from the book under discussion. You could be a teacher or workshop leader interested in a group activity.
Carrot Ranch and The Congress of Rough Writers can host a free community adult education program called Wrangling Words©. Typically this program is held at local libraries or adult education venues. It uses flash fiction to introduce more people to literary art and to create a common ground for those who write (or aspire to write) creatively. Check our events page to find where this course is currently hosted.
For the busy writer, the best recipe is served quickly. Write the flash fiction in five minutes.
For the writer who wants a polished flash, the best recipe involves several steps. Do a quick free-write. Revise words to 99. Let it sit at least overnight. Read it out loud the next day. Revise for the flow of language. Let it sit. Look for any words or ways to improve the original. Proof. Submit or post.
For the pantser, write a story until it feels complete. Likely the results will be hundreds of words. Distill the main idea into 99 words. Or use a section and make sure it stands on its own as a 99-word story.
For the plotter, map out three acts. Whip up a beginning, middle, and end. Serve.
For the distracted author, use the prompt to further your WIP. Take a scene or character, and apply the prompt and constraint. It can be a new dish; a fun and satisfying break. Or it can be a new meal to apply to your work.
For the lonely blogger, bring a dish and join the potluck. Write 99 words and visit the flash fiction posts of others, striking up a delicious conversation.
THE ULTIMATE FLASH FICTION (TUFF)
If the weekly 99-word challenge is not tough enough for you, try TUFF. It’s the result of one writing buckaroo’s experience with flash fiction and novel writing. TUFF mimics the writing process of a novel. Charli Mills offers the TUFF Novelists Workshop© to teach aspiring novelists the writing process, the editing process, and how (and when) to apply the editing steps to the writing ones. The tool she developed for teaching this integration is TUFF. You are welcome to give it a go:
It’s a five-step process:
- Free write for five minutes;
- Write a 99-word flash fiction;
- Reduce it to a 59-word flash fiction;
- Reduce it to 9-words;
- Build it back up to 599 words in three-acts.
What if I told you this is how you write a novel?
- Draft an idea (plot, free-write, NaNoWriMo);
- Write scenes and structure chapters;
- Cut scenes and rearrange chapters;
- Reduce the entire novel to 9 words;
- Build it back up, fill gaps, connect emotional arc to action, and complete three acts.
Use this structure to work through your own WIPs. You can also use it to develop scenes, create synopsis blurbs, and write marketing materials. When you master word constraints, you master the art and science of compelling communication.