I found the image below striking. It catches a moment of tragedy.
My response was the Science Fiction Story “Crash Scene” submitted to Flash Fiction Online.
What is your response?
Anything can be a prompt for Flash Fiction. I tend to like images because pictures have a way of evoking emotion and memory. This old song works perfectly as a prompt. What does this romantic ballad say to you?
My answer to this prompt became the Flash Fiction story, “It Ain’t Bogey and Bacall,” in submission to Every Day Fiction
A posting on the Wordward Press Blog I found an excellent resource on editing.
I read a book a while back that has stayed with me for many months and has affected the way I write and read, and it’s opened my eyes to a weakness in much fiction writing, even in published books. Douglas Glover’s Attack of the Copula Spiders (Biblioasis, 2012) criticizes many aspects of fiction, but saves its most withering scorn for the rampant and indiscriminate use of copulas.
I hear you asking, “What’s a copula?” I admit I had to look it up. Webster’s definition says: “the connecting link between subject and predicate of a proposition.” In most cases, this refers to a form of the word “be.” But what does that mean to us everyday writers? It means banal, didactic, often passive sentences, almost completely lacking in action or depth.
As Glover says: “A copula spider occurs when a student uses the verb ‘to be’ so many times on a page that I can circle all the instances, connect them with lines, and draw a spider diagram. Now there is nothing grammatically wrong with the verb ‘to be,’ but if you use it over and over again your prose is likely to be flaccid and uninteresting.”
An excellent resource for editing.
1. Study the Form
Flash Fiction is brief, disciplined. A maximum of 1,000 words, they leave no room for complex character development, convoluted plots, or long character arcs. Though the form can be used with any genre, its limitations are best understood after careful study. Flash Fiction pieces can be read in five minutes or less. Spend an hour or two reading stories in your target genre. Make copies of stories that appeal to you to serve as examples.
2. Writing Prompts are Your Friends
A writing prompt, be it an image, a sentence outline of a story, or a character is a rich source of story ideas. You can use your own ideas, but you should not ignore the wealth of prompts that exist. There are many sites on the internet. Spend some time seeking out a source of prompts that can be used for your own stories. Take a few minutes or ten (it’s all good) and choose one that stimulates your story buds.
3. Begin writing “In Media Res,” in the middle of things.
Really, what did you think happens next? You knew you had to start sooner or later. Get a nice cup of something to drink.—It doesn’t have to be coffee, though why the hell not? Assume the position in your favorite writing spot. Set a timer for an hour. (That part is important.) Now, write! Don’t stop! It’s only a 300 to 1000 word first draft. You’re not writing an epic here. Don’t worry about it being good. Get the story down. Make it complete.
Oh, and remember to write in media res because you don’t have time to go looking for the beginning.
4. Limit the Number of Characters.
One is good. Two is optimum. You don’t have time to describe or characterize more than that. In 300 to 800 words, your characters are, at best sketches. Hold the ruffles and flourishes for your regular shorts stories, novels, and epics.
5. Follow Classic Story Structure (AKA Freytag’s Pyramid) (Unless you like experimental, that’s Okay, too)
Give it exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. Don’t freak out, man. This is classic storytelling, and you’ve been doing this since you told your first story, even if you wouldn’t know Freytag from a Maytag. All these aspects of the story will be there. I bring this up because dénouement, (resolution, revelation, or catastrophe, the untying of the knots of the plot) has a special place. If you end your story abruptly, whether it be through the natural flow of the story or a radical twist that leaves people gasping, you can’t just drop your readers off the page. A little falling action gives readers a chance to think about what they read and gives the change in your character’s solidity.
You know the drill, spellcheck, grammar (it matters), go over the story for errors. If you have a friend or belong to a critique group get them to read it. (I belong to an incredible group on Facebook where people line up to criticize me.)
Second drafts are better drafts, and it’s only 300 to 1000 words.
6. Editing – Make Your Title a Hook.
In a Flash Fiction Story, every word must work for you. This is doubly true of the title. The title will be the first words consumed, and you want them to taste delicious. Put your best effort to edit your title so that it contributes to the story and draws a reader in.
7. Editing – The End: Make Your last line memorable
The last line is that rare chance for another first impression. When the readers finish your story after about an average 3.5 minutes, you want to leave them a reason to remember your name.
Not to me. As a writer, you are your own person. No, there are hundreds of places to publish your Flash Fiction. Check out Writer’s Digest. (You can find them in books stores.) Look for markets. You can also Google “Flash Fiction Markets” and check out one that sounds good. (Or just close your eyes and throw a dart.)
Many of the markets use the “Submittable” application. There is no more painless method to submit your stories.
9. What Next? (Jeez, Do I Have to Tell You Everything?)
Wash, Rinse, Repeat!
Set a goal per week, from one to however many you think you can do. Writing a novel or larger project? Flash Fiction takes an hour or two a week per story. They will teach you to start and finish stories.
Well, don’t just SIT there. WRITE SOMETHING!
Today, I wrote a first draft of “D’Artagnan Never Slept Here,” a science fiction flash story. Posting in Writer’s World elicited excellent responses that will go to the rewrite. I think it has the germ of a good Flash, but it does need some work. Keeping it under 1000 words will be no easy task.
Rewrote Dystopia Happens. I think of it as Science Fiction, and, its background strongly implies the breakdown of society with youth and an elderly man eking out an existence. I intend to submit it to flashfictiononline.com. That means, tomorrow I have to rewrite “D’Artagnan Never Slept Here.” I want to submit a full slate of stories because I have a better chance of selling one of them.>
Suggested changes to Chapter 2 of Shift were returned. I need to break them open tomorrow. I suspect I will accept them. I trust my editor.
Flash Fiction Resources
There is a huge market for Flash Fiction, much of it unpaid, but a published story is a published story.
Today, I wrote another Flash Fiction piece, “The Box.” (300 words) As a writing prompt, I used an image of an old fashioned, black analog dial telephone. Memories of my grandmothers party line and the old Phone Exchange numbers, individual rings brother out a story about loss an dealing with death, particularly of my mother.
It could be considered Magical Realism. I have no problem with that.
Over the next three days, I will write more, and then submit them to Copper Nickel or elsewhere.
When writing dialogue, there are certain considerations that a writer must make. Jack Smith, in the book Crafting Dynamic Dialogue, distils these considerations down to three questions that an author should answer.
If dialogue does not deliver character, conflict, and interest, it has failed and would be best cut and placed in the file of forgotten prose. Those three considerations are primary, but there is no reason to stop there. Eventually, all stories must be edited, and good dialogue must be honed to a fine edge. Laura van den Berg uses certain revision strategies to hone here dialogue. Before changing a word, she asks, “Where is the tension?” Tension is the fulcrum of conflict, and that tension makes good dialogue stand out. Where is the arc? We discuss plot character arc, here. Good dialog m must push the arc forward. If the story does not move, it falls flat on its backside. Finally, van den Berg asks, what is the subtext? No one ever says everything. What happens under the surface of a conversation is as important as the words themselves.
Am I giving away too much? A writer must know what the conversations is supposed to reveal. Don’t give away the novel in a few spoken words.
Does this conversation go somewhere? As with every other element in a story, the Conversation must be necessary. It must reveal something important, and, when possible, fill more than one purpose.
Is there too much repetition in speech? Conversations need to be condensed so that the minimum number of words are used.
Writersmarket.com – I have been a member forever, though I go through extended periods of time when I ignore its existence. Completing a piece of flash fiction, led me to the decision to submit. You know, when you submit you must have a market. Searching for “Flash Fiction Markets” in Google was not satisfactory. Then, I thought I lost my password, but I found it. Now, I am back. Long story edited for length, I will submit “Annotated Shopping List” to “Copper Nickel.”
Annotated Shopping List – Story is ready to submit, but you can submit up to three Flash Fiction Pieces, so I am considering writing two more. Decisions, Decisions!
The Traffic Stop, a second Flash Fiction, is adapted from the opening scene of a novel sitting on my hard drive. I cut it and stripped out plot items for the longer story. It works as flash fiction, if a bit longer than my previous story. Once edited, it will be the second story in a submission package of three to Copper Nickel.
I can’t help but wonder, where is number three.
Snitch was the last of the three, and they have been submitted. I suspect this is the first of many submissions for these stories, but it is necessary to start, somewhere.
Some years back I wrote a poem that did not work. Today, I rewrote as a Flash Fiction Piece titled “Annotated Grocery List.” It is written in pure dialog, as an experiment in creating characters and developing relationships with what people say. I intend to submit it somewhere. Tomorrow, or later today, since it is after midnight, I will pick up a new copy of Writer’s market.
I have not self-published but am moving in that direction. This article about Allphageek, aka Joshua Smith, byis a great source for using Twitter to advertise.
I intend to buy it.