Flash Fiction (especially
100 words or less) is a fun yet exacting aspect of writing. For more information
and more flash fiction, pick up a copy of S. Joan Popek’s newest book,
JUMP START YOUR WRITING CAREER WITH ELECTRONIC PUBLISHERS from Atlantic
For Fun and Profit
S. Joan Popek
What is flash fiction?
It is a short-short-short story. The actual word count is debated. Some
editors say any story up to 1000 words is flash fiction. Others require
under 500 words and some flash fiction is counted at 55 words, but the
most popular length (and one of the most often used) is 100 words or less.
For our purposes in this article, we will discuss the length of 100 words
or less discounting the title and byline.
That means using 100
or less words to tell a complete story. A complete story includes all the
elements of any story: Setting, Character, Conflict and Resolution. Your
flash must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Flash fiction is
not poetry, an essay or a vignette. It is a full story.
How do you do that in
100 words or less? Cut-cut-cut. In flash fiction, there is no room for extra
adjectives or much description. We must rely upon the reader’s perception
of his or her world to fill in between the lines. Use active verbs to move
your story along. Passive, “to be” sentences just won’t convey the urgency
that flash fiction must have to be successful.
Here is an example:
* * * * * *
Long version: The freezing, icy wind which was blowing from the North made
John’s face feel cold. (15 words)
Icy wind bit into John’s face. (6 words)
See the impact that action
verbs make? Feel the energy? We don’t need to know that it was a North wind
because if it is icy, it is probably a North wind. Unless the direction
of the wind is important to your story, you don’t need it anyway. Words
like cold are not necessary because if it is “icy,” it is cold. You know
that so why shouldn’t your reader? Trust your audience to fill in the details
with their own perceptions. The verb “bit” in the sentence “…bit into John’s
face.” is much more descriptive and (pardon the pun) "biting" than “…made
John’s face feel cold.” Using strong, active verbs gets your point across
fast. And fast is what flash fiction is all about.
Your setting can often be set with your title, giving a sense of place and
time so your reader is prepared to enter your story already having an idea
of when and where.
A difference of opinion--tension to keep the reader reading. It can be verbal,
physical or mental. It doesn't always have to be villain versus hero.
Usually, there is not room for more than two characters, three at the most,
but those characters don’t always have to be human. They don’t even have
to be animate. For instance, they could be two park benches arguing about
which one has the best view of the lake. See what I mean?
Flash fiction usually, but not necessarily, has a twist ending-something
that the reader doesn’t really expect. I must caution you that a twist ending
doesn’t mean a totally unexpected ending that leaves the reader feeling
stupid because he didn’t see it coming. Don’t come out of left field with
an ending that takes the reader completely by surprise. Leave your reader
with feeling of “Ahhh!” not “Boy am I stupid.”
As in any story, your
reader should feel “into” the story, not alienated by it. He should be able
to see the beginning, experience the conflict and feel satisfaction with
Flash fiction is a great
way to tighten your writing, and there are many markets for it. Flash pieces
can be sold as flash, then enlarged, sold as short stories, then enlarged
again and even become a novel with the original flash being the core theme
of the work.
Read the flash below.
See if you can identify the elements of fiction. What is the setting, the
characterization, the conflict and the resolution?
When you have finished
reading, write one of your own. Don't count the words as you write. Just
write about one-half a page. Then edit to make sure it has all the elements
and a beginning, middle and end. Then count the words. Don’t be surprised
if it has more than 100 words. (Most first drafts do.) Then cut-cut-cut.
Take out all the unneeded adjectives and passive voice and replace them
with strong, action verbs. Voila! You have just written you first flash
The Neighbor’s Dog
By S. Joan Popek
Flash Fiction (100 words)
“Arrrooow!” That damned
hound is howling again. Every night!
“Shut up!” I yell out the window.
I get my gun. I’ll send that beast back to Hell where he belongs.
I sneak out to the back fence.
The dog snarls, lunges. His demon eyes blaze.
My gun flashes. Blood and brains splatter, smelling like copper. I poke
his body with the gun barrel-dead.
Quiet! I smile and go to bed.
The smell awakens me. Blood and brains! Eyes glowing, he snarls and lunges.
My throat rips as he drags me down into the blackness of Hell with him.
Now you try it.
Joan Popek is an award winning author and past editor for several
magazines. She lives and works in Roswell, New Mexico with her husband
Joe and a dog named Nubbins (who does not howl). Her Homepage is http://www.sjoanpopek.com
You can email her at email@example.com.
She loves to hear from her readers.
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