People think flash fiction is hard. What? Hard? Bullshit. This is how you Flash Fiction, simple and easy.
Okay, so I think the biggest problem people encounter with flash is trying to put a whole fucking novel into a couple of paragraphs or pages. First of all, if you are just squeezing into the 1000 or 1500 word range, then your approach might be wrong. I’ve been published twice in one online mag that wants stories of 100 words or less. Yes 100 or LESS. Or maybe it was exactly 100, I can’t remember. The links are on my publication page.
So, Here’s the Problem:
Stop trying to figure ways to stuff a long story into 300 words. It’s not going to happen, and you are going to have to thin out everything. You can’t take shortcuts with flash anymore than you can with a novel. The good news is that even doing everything in order, flash still takes less time.
A story is a story is a story, and all of them, whether it’s the LOTR trilogy or a flash series, have the same basic structure. I hate when I hear “just write one scene.” I used to say that bullshit all the time, and it’s WRONG! I finally realized that flash fiction isn’t a scene, and that mindset will leave you with half-stories and lack of plot, not to mention thinning the word count artificially.
Flash fiction is a STORY, not a scene. I was wrong on this before, and I’m sorry for repeating that idea.
Protagonist, Conflict, Resolution!
These are the three essential elements that every story fits into. EVERY story must have these three elements, even if they go by different names. I chose the PCR reference because it’s pretty vague and can be applied to any story. Well, okay, we might need to stretch the definition of “protagonist” in a couple cases but it still works.
But flash fiction is brief, which means to write a great flash story you need to boil down to the meat of these three articles. For brevity (because we are talking flash fiction here) I’m going to try and explain these elements (sometimes mis-identified as beginning, middle, and end, even by me) in a way that’s conducive to a super short story.
Number one: The Protagonist:
This doesn’t have to be a character, per se, but it usually is. The protagonist is the force that drives the story. It’s the thing or person that the story is happening to, the central element that the story is about. If it’s a person, we need to know who that person is, and what they want. Toss in a hint at the conflict, and you have a story opening, no matter what the size. It can be chapters, or two words, as in “The beekeeper…” You see what I did there? Burly detectives work awesome for super short, fuck the lit critics on that one. If you are squeezing a story into a handful of words, then you’re already breaking the rules, so break all of them.
Number two: The Conflict:
This can be the bulk of a novel, or a single sentence, or a verb. Yes! It can be reduced in some cases to a single verb. Conflict doesn’t have to be complex, and complex conflicts don’t have to be wordy. We all understand that love triangles are complicated, but they can be hinted at in short passages without ever actually addressing them. Likewise, O’Brian can drone on for a whole book about how important the title of ‘Post Captain’ was to royal navy Captains for a whole book.
In any case, the conflict is the meat of your story. It’s what the story is about. It’s the hook. So make it compelling. As an experiment, let’s add it to my above protagonist: “The beekeeper tripped, and tumbled into white bee box, spilling honey and stinging furies.” That was a little long-winded, but I’m making this compelling. You have the conflict. I don’t think I need to explain the details, or spell out the conflict with knocking a box of bees over. This is only part of the conflict, in reality, but conflict bleeds through to the protagonist and resolution parts. I could have left it at “The beekeeper tripped,” and that would be enough to grab the attention of most, because the rest can be inferred, in-case you are going for super short. We have a protagonist and a conflict. Let’s close the loop.
Number three: The Resolution:
This part gets confused with wrap-up. You don’t have to answer every question (though people who don’t enjoy spec-fiction as much as me might disagree). You don’t need some silly nested story format with tying things up in the reverse order of how they were opened. All the resolution does is button up the MAIN CONFLICT. I get criticized in my stories sometimes for this, but I like giving the reader something to think about, and hopefully talk about with others. When it works, my stories create their own buzz (no pun intended in reference to this story). In flash fiction, it’s important to make this distinction, otherwise you will be pulling your hair out wondering why you can’t add more complexity to your story. So let’s wrap this up. Hmm. How about “The one day he decided not to wear a bee suit.” Tragic ending, done. here’s our story:
“The beekeeper tripped, and tumbled into the white bee box, spilling honey and stinging furies. The one day he decided not to wear a bee suit.” (26 words, short enough for a text message story)
“The beekeeper tripped, the one day he wasn’t wearing his suit.” (11 words)
Wrapping it Up
Now. Take that story and add all the details that you think will fill in the reader to satisfy them. In this matter, you are qualifying your story in a sentence or three, and working up to the desired word-count target, fitting each bit of story in, and carefully selecting every word, while evaluating if you need it or not, instead of working backwards from a longer piece of prose.
In short, doing it this way will create an incredibly vivid story of nearly any length you desire. Instead of adding dead words, you are adding sub-plots. Instead of distilling a short story from something longer, you are creating a new story. The more compelling the conflict, the more compelling the story. This was just an example off the top of my head.
As a note. I didn’t get this idea from a book, or a podcast, or some other author’s idea about how stories should be written. I’ve been studying the raw elements of story mechanics for a while now, trying to distill a formula for flash fiction, and I’m presenting it to you. Maybe it’s similar to another method I’m unaware of, but I’m pretty proud of this idea. It’s an unconventional approach to something that lit nerds struggle with. If a joke can be short and tell a story, then there must be a way to construct any kind of short story. It’s not perfect (yet), but theoretically, you can crank out 3-4 word stories using this method, and they will all have a “beginning, middle, and end.”
The fact that we over-think story arcs and mechanics comes from being fed 80,000 word tomes since kids. Let’s get back to the “dime-book” mentality, or better yet, a comic strip mentality. Either of those modes of thinking will drastically shorten and enrich your stories. Once you get practice writing in the short, imagine the power you will have over your next novel. If you want practice, join the Flash Fiction Phenomenon group on Facebook, and post your short pieces for sharing. You can probably do better than me.
Thanks for reading. What do you think?