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by Pamela Heffernan
Have you ever had a fleeting moment of
inspiration? A brief story that calls for you to tell it,
but you feel no desire to enhance it to a longer piece of
fiction? Don't blow it off as an unusable idea just
because you can't see it being a longer story. Write it,
feel it, grow with it. This is flash fiction.
You're taking a snapshot of a longer story, using a
moment in time. Often, it's the story that would have
never been told, or included, in a longer piece of work.
But that certainly doesn't make it any less enjoyable to
read or important to write. Writing flash fiction gives
you the chance to refine your attention to the finer
mechanisms of a story - The parts that we, as writers,
tend to forget about. It allows you to extract one moment
and make it come to life. This can be a great building
practice for your longer works. Working on flash really
shows you how much you miss the little "unimportant"
things when writing longer stories. Those little things
still exist, we just tend to exclude them.
Due to its brevity, writing flash offers you many
opportunities to develop different aspects of your
writing style. This helps you practice the elements of
surprise and suspense within your story. You don't have
the worry of carrying the suspense on for pages and pages
on end. You're providing the reader a quick read with all
of the enjoyable story elements, plus you get to start
working on another exciting piece of flash.
One thing you just have to love about flash is that it's
the perfect style to explore your creativity and tell
stories from an extremely different, even absurd, point
of view. Where absurdity isn't always easy to accomplish
in longer works, through fear of overdoing the comical
aspects, flash allows you the chance work with humor
without dragging it out. Here's an example:
What about the feelings of a fire hydrant? Dogs find fire
hydrants extremely compelling, therefore that poor fire
hydrant sees more urine samples than the Doctor's clinic
down the street. It's always out in bad weather. And
worse of all, no one ever stops by just to offer some
companionship. That poor fire hydrant must feel terribly
alone and neglected.
Absurd? Yes. But fun. If we can't have fun writing, then
what are we doing writing at all? We may as well be
counting Mexican jumping beans. Ok that could be fun too,
The main thing to remember is to keep your reader
guessing for as long as you can, hopefully right up to
the end. In the case of the fire hydrant, give it voice,
give it character, and let it show us its sad story. But
ensure that your reader is shocked to find out at the end
that they've pitied a fire hydrant for reasons only known
to them. They will never look at a fire hydrant in the
same light again.
Don't get me wrong, not all flash has to be absurd and
end with a surprise tactic. As you write, you'll come up
with your own techniques. But again, going back to
enhancing your writing, it's much easier to practice the
ever important element of surprise in a flash fiction
story than a novel. You can work your way up to that and
you'll find it much easier if you've practiced on a
smaller scale first. You're giving your reader conflict,
suspense, humor and resolution all in the blink of an eye.
How can you not love that?
Let your creativity loose and you'll be amazed at the
things that come from your mind. The most important thing
of all when writing flash fiction - Have fun with it!
Exercise: Your character
remembers the day he said, "I'm sorry. I didn't
mean for it to happen."
Write the story in 500 words or less.
Quarterly is a literary magazine dedicated to flash
"SmokeLong publishes flash fiction up to 1000 words.
We have a special place in our hearts for the 400-700
word range but will give equal consideration to all
pieces within the guidelines."
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