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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 Bridge Publishing

Flashing 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)

Flash version:
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 the conclusion.

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 fiction.

Example Story:

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. Good luck.

* * * * * *

S. 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 jo@sjoanpopek.com. She loves to hear from her readers.


Read Dowse's Ebook Spotlight on S. Joan Popek's SOUND THE RAM'S HORN

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