- an intense study of story structure
- my written evaluation of stories, both published and unpublished
- writing flash fiction
Did #3 surprise you? It may seem counter-intuitive. By definition, a novel is long (60,000 to 120,000+ words) and flash fiction is short (usually 100 to 1,000 words). What could the long-winded novelist have to learn from writing flash?
The answer: everything.
You will learn to get to the point. Flash fiction must have a beginning, middle, and end, with a character arc involving a turning point, often using only four times as many words as I crammed into this sentence.
You will choose words wisely. Flash fiction is, in essence, a prose writer’s exercise in poetry. The yellow flowers scattered across the lawn will become buttercups or daffodils or dandelions—whichever contributes best. Instead of cranking out word count, you’ll spend your time deepening meaning with just the right words.
You’ll become more architect than bricklayer. The blathering novelist can unwittingly build a wall of words that discourages the reader from entering her story. Flash fiction tolerates no word dumps. A severely limited word count encourages you to prop up designed spaces in your story. You’ll learn to write between the lines, and invite the reader to fill in the rest. You’ll choose wide-shouldered words capable of carrying denotation and connotation and resonance, and carve away excess.
You'll gain an unrivaled education in story structure. Do you have an inciting incident that creates a character goal? Do you complicate that goal? Does the story have a climax that indicates indelible character change? You won’t lose track of these elements within hundreds of pages of drifting verbiage. There they’ll be, before you, all on one page. And when you return to the long form to apply your new skills, and all the right words come together so that each 100-word chunk contributes to the integrity of your story, you’ll have a fine novel.
Flash fiction can earn you publication credits. Check out Duotrope (in the search engine, under length, select “flash fiction”) for hundreds of markets that publish flash fiction!
As my favorite flash teacher, Randall Brown (founder and managing editor of Matter Press), says: “Flash is for the fearless.” Of course he also says, “Hear that POP! That’s the sizzle of your prose, your veins like wires.”
Are you man or woman enough to try? A 100-word story would fit neatly into a comment box. I’ll get us started. This story weighs in at 99 words. An expanded, almost leisurely 750-word version was previously published in Flash Me magazine.
by Kathryn Craft
They’ve been together twenty years now. Raised two great kids, but never married. I’m old-fashioned and think it’s high time.
George’s family lived next door. I’ve bandaged his knees, written job referrals, fielded despair over affairs of the heart. He wipes sweaty palms against his suit.
“Silly at my age.”
“Love’ll do that to you.”
A molasses smile spills across his face. “Oh, yes.”
Steven enters my chambers and trips on the rug. We all laugh.
Taking Thomas’s hand, he nods, eyes wet.
I'd better begin the ceremony. A teen and his pregnant girlfriend wait outside.
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, was published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.