There’s nothing I like more than getting to the point. That’s what flash fiction does, and it’s also how I started writing. For the longest time, I wrote fractured pieces, snippets of stories that weren’t destined for me to finish. Characters came and went, challenges were entered, and pieces of stories lay frayed at the edges and abandoned to dusty corners.
But the skills I picked up writing flash fiction were invaluable.
If it weren’t for the heroics of bloggers and community builders like Charli Mills, I might never have been brave enough to pick up the proverbial pen and grit my way through 70,000 words.
February sees the launch of the first flash fiction anthology from Charli’s writing community: The Rough Writers over at The Carrot Ranch. I am both humbled and deeply honored to have been part of that anthology.
Check out the anthology here:
Here are 5 reasons why you probably ought to be writing Flash Fiction:
REASON ONE & TWO – COMMUNITY & FEEDBACK
Writers have a reputation for being lone wolves. We stay hidden with our laptop-BFF’s in the inky depths of midnight, caffeined up to our eyeballs and no clue whether the feverish word dump we just spewed was pure genius or pure bollocks.
No writer is a lone wolf. We might like the wolfy-island metaphor, but let’s be honest. We’re all as insecure and in need of friendly faces and like-minded pals as each other.
The blog world is filled with heroes like Charli who devote inordinate amounts of time to creating a safe space for writers to join in with writing prompts and be a part of something bigger than their own blogish or bookish world. I’ve made a number of friends through Charli’s 99-word challenge, some of whom, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at the Annual Bloggers Bash in London.
The other benefit of joining a community is the feedback you get. There is nothing that develops your writing faster than feedback on the bits you’ve done well and the bits that need sharpening. Whether it be a sentence that evoked an emotion, or a piece of flash that’s got legs to build a longer story. When we lock ourselves away, half the battle is getting enough objectivity to know what we’ve done well and what needs development.
Flash fiction communities can be your go-to source for growing and building on your writing skills.
Besides, wolves live in packs.
REASON THREE – BREVITY
Sometimes the most powerful stories are those told in just a sentence. A tagline that punches you in the gut and makes you buy a book. The love story that ends with a full stop. The snippet you catch of an anecdote that makes you know you’ve felt that pain.
Brevity doesn’t mean poor quality. In fact, it means just the opposite.
Einstein once said that ‘if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, then you don’t really understand it yourself.’ It’s the same with writing. You don’t need long, flowery prose to tug on your reader’s heartstrings, just a few little words will do the job nicely. Check out some of the six words stories highlighted on the HuffPost.
‘Aliens dissect humans. Discover no heart.’ By Sarah Brentyn
‘In my dreams, I am alive.’ by Ali Isaac
Brevity, which is the point of flash fiction, forces you to be creative with words, to think outside the box and to push your little grey scratchers outside their comfort zones, and that’s where the fun really begins.
REASON FOUR – BETTER SENTENCES
If you only have 99 words or so to play with, then being creative with words isn’t the only benefit you’ll see. You’re forced to remove any toe-fluff and self-indulgent ramblings, and that gives you cleaner, bolder sentences.
Many of the lessons I learned from my writing coach article Getting Jiggy with the Nitty Gritty – Improving Your Sentences, come from the tricks I’ve picked up forcing myself into smaller and smaller word count boxes.
Instead of writing things like:
But then, as I reached out for the glass of wine, my head pounded as if warning of the hangover the morning might bring.
You’re forced to condense and write clean like this:
I reached for the glass of wine, my head pounding – a warning of the hangover to come.
It says the same thing, but better. That’s what flash fiction does, and when you go back to writing full-length novels, the effect is cumulative. All your sentences are that much cleaner, bolder, packed with tit-punching power words.
REASON FIVE – SHOW DON’T TELL
Show don’t tell is like the old granny Ethel of writing rules: stubborn, rigid and brutally correct. With flash, that skill is even harder to achieve because showing can involve more words, more senses, and more description of actions. But that’s exactly why ‘showing’ in flash is even more important to practice. And practice makes perfect my pretties.
When you only have 99 words, there’s no space to ‘filter’ as a writer. Which means you have to remove pesky words like ‘I thought’, ‘ I felt’, ‘I saw’.
They’re unnecessary, they tell instead of showing, and they’re a waste of words.
Flash taught me to change my sentences from this:
Somewhere in the darkness behind me, I thought I heard twigs crunch underfoot.
Somewhere in the darkness behind me, twigs crunched underfoot.
What lessons have you learned from flash fiction? Let me know in the comments below.
Oh, and don’t forget, you can grab your copy of the brand new anthology here:
Thirty writers began with 99 words and forged literary feats. Vol. 1 explores the literary art of flash fiction, beginning with the earliest compilations at Carrot Ranch and later pieces based on a new flash fiction prompt. This is not your typical anthology. It continues with longer stories extended from the original 99-word format and essays on how flash fiction supports memoir writing. Based on the experiences at Carrot Ranch, the concluding section of Vol. 1 offers tips to other groups interested in using the flash fiction format to build a literary community.
Witness great feats of literary art from daring writers around the world: stories crafted in 99 words.
Flash fiction is a literary prompt, form, and tool that unites writers in word play. This creative craft hones a writer’s skills to write tight stories and explore longer works. It’s literary art in thoughtful bites, and the collective stories in this anthology provide an entertaining read for busy modern readers.
Writers approach the prompts for their 99-word flash with creative diversity. Each of the twelve chapters in Part One features quick, thought-provoking flash fiction. Later sections include responses to a new flash fiction prompt, extended stories from the original 99-word format, and essays from memoir writers working in flash fiction. A final section includes tips on how to use flash fiction in classrooms, book clubs, and writers groups.
CarrotRanch.com is an online literary community where writers can practice craft the way musicians jam. Vol. 1 includes the earliest writings by these global literary artists at Carrot Ranch. Just as Buffalo Bill Cody once showcased the world’s most daring riding, this anthology highlights the best literary feats from The Congress of Rough Writers.
Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, is the award-winning goat-tying champion of a forgotten 1970s rodeo. Now she wrangles words with the Rough Writers & Friends at CarrotRanch.com.
Married to a former US Army Ranger, Charli Mills is “true grit” but no John Wayne. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and gives voice to women and others marginalized in history, especially on frontiers. Her novel, Miracle of Ducks, explores the courage of military spouses and their interdependency upon community when their soldiers deploy. It publishes in 2018.
In 2014 Charli founded an imaginary place called Carrot Ranch where real literary artists could gather. As lead buckaroo, she’s crafted and compiled enough flash fiction to understand its value. She developed the Congress of the Rough Writers to collaborate with flash fiction writers from around the world.
Charli hosts a literary community at Carrot Ranch with weekly Flash Fiction Challenges open to all writers. 99 words, no more, no less. The community hosts an annual Flash Fiction Rodeo in October and awards eight cash prizes in different categories. Her mission as a literary artist is to make literary art more accessible, one flash fiction at a time.
The Congress of the Rough Writers (contributors):
Anthony Amore, Rhode Island, USA; Georgia Bell, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Sacha Black, England, UK; Sarah Brentyn, USA; Norah Colvin, Brisbane, Qld, AU; Pete Fanning, Virginia, USA; C. Jai Ferry, Midwest, USA; Rebecca Glaessner, Melbourne, Vic, AU; Anne Goodwin, England, UK; Luccia Gray, Spain; Urszula Humienik, Poland; Ruchira Khanna, California, USA; Larry LaForge, Clemson, South Carolina, USA; Geoff Le Pard, Dulwich South London, UK; Jeanne Belisle Lombardo, Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Sherri Matthews, Somerset, UK; Allison Mills, Houghton, Michigan, USA; Charli Mills, Hancock, Michigan, USA; Paula Moyer, Lauderdale, Minnesota, USA; JulesPaige, Pennsylvania, USA; Amber Prince, North Texas, USA; Lisa Reiter, UK; Ann Edall-Robson, Airdrie, Alberta, Canada; Christina Rose, Oregon, USA; Roger Shipp, Virginia, USA; Kate Spencer, British Columbia, Canada; Sarah Unsicker, St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Irene Waters, Noosaville, Qld, AU; Sarrah J. Woods, Charleston, West Virginia, USA; Susan Zutautas, Orillia, Ontario, Canada.