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Flash Fiction: A path to becoming a better writer by Peter Andrews

Ray Bradbury said, “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.

He might have added that, if you learn what you can from these stories, you’ll be a better writer by the end of that year. If you choose to make some of those weekly stories flash fiction (1,000 words), you may get have more success than if you restrict yourself to traditional short stories (3,000 to 5,000 words). Why?

To begin with, flash fiction forces you to meet many of the requirements of traditional short stories:

  • You need a decent concept.
  • Your character must want/need something.
  • There must be a story question.
  • You need a hook to pull readers in.
  • You need a satisfying ending.
  • Every scene must have conflict.
  • Your prose must be professional.
  • Your distinct voice must come through.

But you don’t need to find a concept big enough to carry about a dozen scenes. Three should be fine. A character needs to come through, preferably one readers can identify with, but he, she, or it does not need to be as well developed. Backstory may be completely absent. And, of course, there should be a lot less time needed to revise just a few pages.

The limited number of pages gives you an advantage beyond less time at the keyboard. It’s a lot easier to get friends and relatives to read and respond to three or four pages than to fifteen or thirty. In addition, in my experience, editors respond more quickly to flash fiction stories and are more likely to provide quick comments.

 

Feedback (the best coming in cash) is helpful as you develop your craft, either as a beginner or as a veteran exploring new territories in storytelling.

It helps ensure that your experience is 52 weeks of development as a writer, not one week’s experience 52 times. Just four questions to readers — Did the story grab you? Did it hold your attention? Were you satisfied by the ending? Was any part confusing? — give you the information you need to keep growing as a writer.

If you make flash fiction part of your routine (and it need not come with the requirement of 52 stories a year), you’ll develop good writing habits, get used to all the aspects of writing (conceptualizing, researching, drafting, revising), and experience the joy that comes from writing “The End.” Flash fiction can become your gym for building your writing muscles.

It can also be your laboratory for experiments because the risks are minimal. If the concept is weak or the genre isn’t one that fits your style, it feels a lot better to scrap a 1,000-word story than a 5,000-word one (or, worse, a 90,000-word novel).

 

Flash fiction won’t make you rich or famous.

Most markets won’t pay you enough to cover your day’s coffee bill. But you have lots of publications looking for these stories. Some even pay for reprints. And every sale is a credit to build your confidence or add to your bio.

One more thing. Chances are if you write enough stories, some will connect with you in a special way. You’ll see an idea that can be taken further or a character will start to talk to you. Then, the investment in a story of just a few pages is likely to pay off by catalyzing a longer story. Or a novel. Or a screenplay.


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Interested in learning how to write Flash Fiction? Peter is teaching a class on just that topic! How to Write Flash Fiction with Peter Andrews ~ December 3 – December 16

Peter Andrews is a full-time, independent writer who has written speeches, articles, radio shows, plays, books, and short stories. He teaches for the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, Westchester Community College, and the Westchester Center for the Arts. His weekly posts to http://howtowritefast.blogspot.com/ attract 8,000 views each month.