We live in a hectic, fast-paced world where everything has to happen now and happen quickly. Many people argue that they no longer have the time to read novels and are attracted to these very short stories – the sort that can be read on the go, between meetings, during a commute to work or over a quick sandwich at lunchtime.
Short story writer Lori Ann Stephens describes short, short stories as ‘sudden fiction’:
“The jewel of the sudden story is the gap. A lot of words are missing, not because they are extraneous, but because their absence speaks the unspeakable. The writer of the sudden story has to weigh the efficacy of each word. Knowing what to include – often the details – and knowing what not to include – often everything but the details – that’s not a gift. It’s a practice that involves trusting the written word more than yourself. ”
We hear so much about flash fiction nowadays. It comes under many different names. Pamelyn Casto recounts its various titles in her article Flashes on the Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction:
“Other names for it include short-short stories, sudden, postcard, minute, furious, fast, quick, skinny, and micro fiction. In France, such works are called Nouvelles. In China this type of writing has several interesting names: little short story, pocket-size story, minute-long story, palm-sized story, and my personal favorite, the smoke-long story (just long enough to read while smoking a cigarette)”
Dribbles and Drabbles
For those of you that don’t know, drabbles are short stories of exactly 100 words. There seems to be some confusion as to where the term originated. It appears to have links to Birmingham University’s SF Society, the British author Phil Drabble and a Monty Python sketch.
Check out the Drabble Project, you will see that some well-known authors have dabbled with drabbles (sorry about that.)
Some might say that this is not story writing in its purest sense but I would disagree. For me writing is all about being able to tell a story – how long or short the ‘telling’ is irrelevant, what really counts is what your audience think. Do the people reading your story enjoy it, does it move them in some way, do they want you to ‘tell’ them more stories?
How To Write Flash Fiction
David Gaffney calls his ultra short stories ‘Sawn-off Tales’ and started writing them when he was commuting between Manchester and Liverpool, a 50 minute train journey. He says:
“It worked. By the time I got to Birchwood I had it down to 500 words, by Warrington to 300, at Widnes 200 and as the train drew in to Liverpool Lime Street there it was – 150 words, half a page of story; with a beginning, a middle and an end, with character development and descriptions.”
In an article for the Guardian he talks about how to write flash fiction –
1. Start in the middle – You don’t have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.
2. Don’t use too many characters – You won’t have time to describe your characters. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story.
3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end – In micro-fiction, there’s a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken.
4. Sweat your title – Make it work for a living.
5. Make your last line ring like a bell – The last line is not the ending but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant.
6. Write long, then go short – Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture.
As a writer I love the challenge afforded me of having a restricted word count.
So what’s stopping you?
I’m off to write a smoke-long story.