The Art of Flashing


Flash fiction, that is. Get your mind out of the gutter.

I’ve been writing a lot of flash fiction lately, for some reason. I’ve written three stories, in the last few days. I think it all started with the Campaign for Real Fear, for which my entry (Extra-Curricular) was regrettably not selected. But there was something fun about it. Trying to get a complete story in 500 words is a fun challenge.

See, my writing evolution has gone a little in reverse. Instead of starting out small, and getting bigger, I began trying to write novels. Trying being the operative word. Until almost two years ago (Christ, it’s gone too quickly), I had never really been able to write short stories. There’s something difficult and challenging in staying inside a tighter word limitation, where you need to be free of the extraneous bumf that would be more permissable in a novel-length work.

The thing about flash fiction rather than a short story, however, is that it’s much harder to get a complete story within 500 words. With a short story, I can quite happily fit a three- or even five-act story. But a piece of flash is more like a glimpse into the fictional world of the setting and characters; a peak through a window. You have to get the atmosphere right, with minimal description. You have to make your characters full and likeable (if that’s the intention) through only a few pieces of dialogue and action. You can’t waste words on chunks of exposition.

Since becoming more “serious” about my writing two years ago, my writing style has changed drastically. I used to be cloyingly verbose, and after some loving criticism and advice from my beautiful Ashleigh, I ended up with a much more stripped down way of writing. I’m not sure it’s all a good thing, but I’m still learning and evolving, so I guess it doesn’t matter. But I do believe that you should only use as many words as absolutely necessary to get across what you’re trying to, so from that standpoint, really a good piece of flash fiction should be the pinnacle of good writing.

That’s not to knock short stories and novels. I love writing short stories, and one day I am going to both edit my Spanish Civil War vampire novel (No, they don’t sparkle), and write more novels. But there’s something about a well crafted piece of flash that makes me feel warm and happy. I guess it’s the whole short and elegant aspect. To the point. No prevarication.

And if you want to see examples of some of the finest flash fiction, then I’d recommend taking a look at the Escape Pod flash fiction contest. Aside from being a fantastic (free) weekly podcast of sci-fi stories, the lovely people at Escape Pod are currently in the voting stage of a flash fiction contest. You can find (and vote on) the entries at the Escape Artists Forums, but you have to register on the site (again, for free) to see the stories. They aren’t all fantastic, but there are some real gems in there. Yes, I have a couple of pieces in there. No, I won’t tell you which. See if you can figure it out.

As for my recent produce? Well, if anyone wants to suggest any markets that publish flash (sci-fi and horror, specifically), I’d be very grateful. If I can’t find anywhere to sell them to, I may simply post them up here, for you lovely people to read.

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3 comments

  1. Cast Macabre is looking for flash horror pieces. I’ve got a couple of pieces up at Escape pod as well, and I’m really enjoying the comments. Very insightful and helpful critiques.

    1. Thanks, I’ll have to have a look into it.

      The comments over at Escape Pod are indeed very good. The forumites there have been doing a great job at analysing and picking apart each of the stories. A real masterclass on flash fiction.

  2. I have also developed a sudden fascination for the genre, and have recently tried everything from a series of six-worders to several of 55, a 750, and 1000. It is addictive.

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