Friday, January 28, 2011

Flash Fiction And The Necessary Ingredients For Great Story Telling!

Writing is writing in my opinion. I happen to like writing flash fiction. I've actually had ideas for a novel and for short stories too from very abreviated flash pieces.  Yes, I think it can work and work well. After all, flash has all of the story requirements: plot, characters--a beginning, middle and an end.

I think we can try out ideas and see how they fly with a flash piece. And actually if you think about it, flash fiction 'cuts to the chase.' It permits no wandering, no day dreaming or padding or beating about the proverbial bush. It works or it doesn't.

Here's a test I thought of! Take a good, well-written dramatic scene from a novel and see if it would make good flash fiction. The novel that immediately comes to mind for me is Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett.

You have a crippled, embittered RAF pilot and his love-starved wife living on a remote Scotish island. It is self-imposed exile for the husband, but it's more. It's a grim abyss he has sunk into. To all intents and purposes it's his brand of hell that his wife and child inhabit with him.

Also included in the story is the very best, most efficient killing machine in the shape of 'Der Nadel' who must get back to Germany with information that will wreck the Allied Invasion of Europe. Just one problem: before this master spy can deliver the goods to Hitler, he gets shipwrecked. I just set the scene okay? Now for the flash piece!

If this was flash fiction it would begin here. The reader would see this nazi spy collapsed outside this remote home. They would know from some good concise writing who he is and what the circumstances are. Just good sparse writing would be enough for the reader (without any 'telling' whatsoever) to understand the entire situation. Just from dialogue and good descriptions the reader would know what is going on and would naturally understand what is at stake.

I think that's a pretty good example of flash fiction working very well to tell a gripping story in a brief but powerful way. I've bared it down deliberately to make my point. So yes, this kind of fiction works very well, in my opinion for the writer.


  1. Hey Carole!

    You said - "It permits no wandering, no day dreaming or padding or beating about the proverbial bush." -- You are right, and I think that might be part of my problem in trying to write and read it...

    I think flash fiction is a great exercise (for tightening, word control and to learn to use strong verbs)and I wish I could do better with it. However, as it is when I sit down to write short stories for anthologies and such, I fail to keep the story in a box - the ideas (what if, what if, what if) - morphs out of control and I find myself flying in my zone - or subspace if you will. The next time I look down at my page - it's the outline of a novella and the flash fiction is far from my mind.

    Or, when I sit down to write flash fiction, I find that I am so anal retentive about keeping it simple, to the point, and void of padding, that it takes me 8 hours to configure 1500 words (where as in that same 8 hours, I could at least have 5-7 pages in a regular story, with minimal edits required.)

    When it comes to reading flash fiction, I find it rather dry, and full of questions. I don't think this is a reflection on the author - but of my own reading habits and preferences. I loathe reading a story that leaves me with more questions than answers, and for me, most flash fiction (and alas, even some short stories)leave me flat; wanting more, and not feeling satisfied.

    However, with that being said, I DO KNOW there are some great flash fiction writers out there. I love to stumble across those stories - they are very entertaining and I have to admit a bit of professional jealousy, as I would love to be able to at least 'occasionally' do some flash fiction that's drool worthy...

    On another note - those who write flash fiction well are in demand. There is a heavy thirst for short fiction pieces to be read on phones - and I see all over the Internet e-publishers looking for fictional pieces 500 - 2000 words.

    Everyone have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Carole,
    Nice points and I agree with the inspiration "kernel". I guess it's the fuel to the story, the flash.

    I'd go even so far as to say the Turning Points we learn about in the GMC and Alex's Screenwriting for Novelists, and the Hero's Journey, are actually pieces of flash fiction, or should be, if they are effective. It's that tender morsel that sums up the conflict and arc of the story so far, and where it might be headed in the future.

    Well thought out points, and something I'll think about today as I'm writing. Thank you.

  3. Firstly George, I understand your points. But truthfully I think for sheer story telling there is nothing more effective than short, sharp fiction.

    I agree just by its very nature it cannot ever be a fully evolved story. But it can be a brief moment of drama. It can be the last seconds of a man standing on the ledge of a high rise. Perhaps we can even see his life flash by as he’s watching it flash by.

    We’re not going to know a great deal about him, but to me in a really good, well-written flash piece, we might know enough. We might be able to understand his motivation and after all, perhaps that is all that is needed.

    I do take your point. But I also think it’s a great challenge for us as writers to try to write something bared down to the bone and to see what we come up with.

    I especially think it benefits our writing skills as a kind of practice thing.

  4. Hi Sharon, thanks for that.
    I agree. The funny thing is, I hadn't ever heard of flash fiction until about a year ago!

    It is a huge challenge and very beneficial to the writer. There are flash pieces of fifty words that can really amaze you! It's amazing what a person can come up with.

    "I know you're cheating with Alex."
    "No, no! Please don’t!"
    The gun just went off. He didn’t hear anything not even the sirens. He only heard the voice of the policeman: "Mr. Smith, you're coming with us."

    Just having fun here, but with very few words (37) a murder (caused by anger/outrage) is committed and we get the drift!

    Thanks again, Sharon!

  5. Hi Carol, nice meeting you and excellent post.You've got me wondering if FF can be applied to elevator pitches and vice versa (when writing a FF based on one's novel). I'll have to experiment with that.

  6. Elevator pitches, J.D.?

    Carole, loved the blog. Great points, except now I'm thinking Ken Follett could have edited his novel down to about 1500 words. On a serious note, I can see how flash fiction could be used to set up chapters in each book. You could get the gist of it and then add on some more adjectives and such to flesh it out.

    I'll have to give that a go sometime. Especially with my next novel. Seems all my characters sound the same, so I've been tasked with going outside my comfort zone. FF might be the way to get rid of the jitters.

  7. wow what comments! thanks!
    J.D. thanks for the welcome! Yes elevator pitches, you're extracting the heart of the story in a few sentences! that's perfect. Try it out, i think it'll work because it's the basis of the whole thing, right?
    go for it!
    and Gregory, hi!
    Yes, I think FF can be used for all sorts of things!
    let's start pubbing FF novels! cool!
    seriously, i think you can get the core of your chapter that way.
    I'm a seat of the pantser and truthfully, when i was writing my novel, i would think say about the next chapter and actually write out:
    'what has to happen.' and i more or less got the chapter: the maid had to fall down the stairs, the vampire had to go without his din din, whatever it was i kind of found my answer.
    so I think you ought to definitely try it for chapters and fiction writing in general. it's the core thing--it's the heart of the story.