An Exercise in Flash Fiction: Writing Tip Wednesday

For those of you that are unaware, Flash Fiction is a genre of writing where the word count is v e r y limited. Often exactly 100 words. Sometimes six. Now, if you write (or are an avid reader) the thought of only 100 words (or less!) may make you scoff: “That isn’t fiction,” or “That isn’t a story.” No? I suggest you go read the Six Word Stories linked above and tell me again. This is coming from a reformed Flash Fiction Denounce-r. I’ve mentioned before (probably ad nauseum) that I tend to write longer pieces. It has taken me years to realize that in some ways this has become a crutch. My method is often “why use one really good word when you can use four pretty good words to describe a color, or a tree, or a sunset.” See Mark Twain: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

A friend who writes poetry suggested a literary magazine contest to me that was accepting Flash Fiction of 1,000 words or less. When I came to a stopping point for the piece I wanted to submit, I had about 2,000 written and the thought of paring that down to 1,000 was agony. However, it forced me to take a look at my writing with the air of someone performing a dissection. This was true Frankensteining. And it was difficult. Almost impossibly so. I was so attached to words and sentences and descriptions that I didn’t realize they were weighing down the piece. I’ve been taught over and over about “tight writing” and even shown what that looks like. I have even managed to write it (according to a professor) and that piece was one that got me into graduate school, so perhaps he was right. So why is it so difficult to recognize the eight extra pairs of socks and two superfluous pair of pants, and the three t-shirts I don’t need that I cram into the story suitcase? Can you tell I am a chronic over-packer?

Sometimes I think the downfall in being a writer is this weird amalgamation of pride and insecurity. It’s a two-headed monster or a double-edged sword, or whatever name you want to call it. Because oftentimes the inability to trim away the gristle is the refusal to admit that something could have traveled from your head to your fingertips that isn’t mahhhhvelous. That’s where the pride comes in. Then, there’s that part of you that knows you can write flowing, intricately wrought imagery but your dialogue is a pile of garbage, so you hide it behind the distraction of your pretty pictures. But that’s like putting brick or stucco on the outside of a port-o-potty. It still reeks. While this may seem like I’m beating the dead horse of the need to edit, it’s an element of writing that needs to be revisited and revisited and revisited. It’s part of the process. The mass amounts of words you put on paper…er…word document…is all part of the process, too. You may need to write about your character’s backstory from birth, but that doesn’t mean your audience needs to read it.

So, if you write or perhaps would just like to try your hand at writing, try some Flash Fiction. I think it may be my new personal way of breaking through the giant wall of writer’s block with which I have been struggling. Writing, like any other skill, takes practice, even if you just write 100 words. Or six. It’s almost like Tetris, in a way. You have to rearrange words and find new words and try to find ways of expressing yourself so that everything fits and makes sense. Another great thing about Flash Fiction is that it always packs a punch. I will be uploading my 100 word stories here. So check back from time to time!

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