Writing flash fiction

TitaniumTi

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#1
My 2018 resolutions include entering most 75-word, 100 word and 300 word competitions on the Chronns AND only entering if I’m satisfied that the quality of my story is up to par.

To that end, I googled “writing flash fiction”.

Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction

Flash Fiction: What's It All About? | The Review Review

Flash What? A Quick Look at Flash Fiction

Unfortunately, there is a world of difference between theory and practice, so I’m still as stumped for ideas as before. (Writer’s block, anyone?) But here are some of the things I’ve learned (maybe):

Write long and edit short. I’ve always been delighted and amazed that my first drafts are usually within a word or two of the target length, but perhaps I’m losing something by skipping the trimming process.

Start the story in the middle. I know this; I just forget it sometimes.

The denouement is not the end of the story. Follow up with something to keep the reader thinking about the story. I’m not sure about this. What do you think?

Use allusions. This never seems to work for me; readers rarely seem to pick up on my allusions, whether they’re to Shakespeare or to Monty Python.

I’m not sure that this has helped; the opinions of readers and voters are what really matters. I know that some Chronners have a talent for writing stories with a wow factor that I can’t resist, or hope to emulate, and I’m often amazed when their stories don’t get more votes.

So what do you look for when voting? What are your guidelines for writing a story for the competitions?
 

Ihe

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#2
Ha, allusions require very careful reading most of the time. It usually won't get noticed if you have to read through 25-30 stories--needs to be in-your-face-obvious to be interpreted consistently in the challenges. I've tried a few, but to no avail. I keep it simple now.

And Happy New Year!
 

TheDustyZebra

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#3
Writing long and editing short is not such a great idea for stories as short as we do here, particularly the 75 and 100. What happens is that you lose some of what makes it make sense, but you don't realize it because there's still all that story in your head. You're far better off doing it the way you do already, writing to the length and coming that close, because that way you stand a better chance of getting what's in your head into the written story.

The best stories both start and end in the middle, but imply both beginning and end. Starting in the middle implies what came before, and ending in the middle and leaving something to think about implies what comes after. It makes the story longer. The trick is to do that without having it become just a snippet.

Allusions... ah, well. I nearly always have them, in title if nowhere else, and hardly anyone ever gets them (thanks, TJ). :p Don't stop. It's worth it anyway.
 

The Judge

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#4
I've not yet read the articles you've linked to, so I may be misinterpreting things, but to take the points you've raised:

Write long/edit short: I definitely agree with TDZ. If you're writing more or less to the word count already, that suggests you're getting in the important bits of the plot without padding -- and there is no room for padding in the Challenges, certainly not in the 75 worders. Don't try writing longer just for the sake of it, as undoubtedly you will start padding, and then run the risk of taking out the wrong bits when you cut down.

Start in the middle: I'm not so sure about this one, or perhaps it's just a matter of semantics -- I'd suggest that you start in the best place for the story. In a novel you can start at an exciting point and then give backstory as you go along; in 75 words a flashback can be harder to pull off.

The denouement is not the end: um... well, for me it is. I like dramatic endings, and to my mind there's no room in a 75 worder to have an ending with something extra tagged on afterwards -- though again in longer pieces it might be different. I want the readers to think about the story, but to me that comes from having a good story with a great ending.

Use allusions: I've also found that allusions can get missed by readers -- inevitable when not everyone will have read the same books/listened to the same music/watched the same films as you do. But it's fun to put them in, and it's a thrill when someone spots them. And it's always possible an allusion can elevate a story -- if the reader finds it enjoyable or clever enough it can produce a shortlisting which might not otherwise have happened. I think the important thing, though, it to have a story which doesn't depend on the allusion -- write something that is comprehensible and enjoyable even if no one gets the joke.

I can't help with giving you ideas for stories as I'm particularly deficient in the sphere of inspiration. However, I do have some suggestions of my own for writing for the Challenges which might be of interest:
  • Ensure the story fits theme and genre -- I know I'm pernickity but every month there are several stories which I discount because they fail that simple test. Think about theme and genre as separate entities and treat them seriously.
  • Enter every time. Enter even if you don't think the quality of your story is any good -- I've frequently got votes with stories I thought weren't up to snuff. (Conversely some stories I thought were excellent have bombed -- sometimes we just can't judge our own work.)
  • Don't post as soon as the story is written (unless, of course, you're writing at the last minute and trying to beat the deadline!). Give yourself some time to allow your subconscious to work on the story. All writing can be improved, and sometimes a second thought about a word or a plot point or the title can be the difference between no mentions and a shortlisting, or even a vote.
  • Get someone else to read the story before you post; ideally, another writer, but anyone will do. The Judicial Helpmeet always reads my pieces, and I've lost count of the number of times he's not understood the point or punchline. It's not the best recipe for marital harmony but it does mean I'm forced to reassess the story and see if I can make it more intelligible so that someone with only half a brain cell** can understand it. If you don't have anyone to hand who can read for you, see if an online writing buddy or someone here on Chrons can help out on an occasional basis.
  • Read through the Improving threads and see the critiques other members have received. Analyse their stories for yourself and see if you agree with what others have said. Put up your own stories there and get feedback on what you've done. Think about the feedback and if it's a general point, act on it.
  • Don't despair. When there are at least 41 other stories in the 75s, it can be very difficult to garner mentions, let alone votes. Just keep plugging away.
As this is about the Challenges in particular, rather than flash fiction in general, I'll move the thread over to the Challenges sub-forum and I'll sticky it -- if we gather a lot of advice it might help other members, particularly those coming new to the Challenges.


** such a person is wholly fictitious and bears no resemblance to any person, living or dead or otherwise occupying space in my household... ;)
 

TitaniumTi

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#5
Thank you TDZ and TJ. That’s both helpful and encouraging. I’ll stick with my usual practise of imagining the story with the word-limit in mind.

I’ve also been amazed when a story I almost didn’t submit garnered votes, and disappointed when a “best-yet” story didn’t. Sometimes that makes me wonder if my improving edits are improvements.

TJ, I’m do try to comply with theme and genre, although my definitions of these elements may not always be specific enough. Do you also expect the stories to have a story-like structure? For example, would you disregard an entry because it was more like a cameo than a story?
 

The Judge

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#6
I do like stories to be stories, with a beginning, middle and end, so something in the way of a vignette is likely to leave me cold, but on the other hand sometimes great lyrical writing can make up for an absence of actual story. I don't know if that's the same for other readers, though.

I would never think "That's only a cameo, I'm not shortlisting that" but I might well feel a bit dissatisfied with something and pass quickly on to the next story. Actually, I rarely have any specific critical thoughts about structure on my first reads -- I notice spelling and punctuation errors immediately, not the bigger issues -- and my shortlistings are largely based on a less cerebral and more instinctual approach of which stories grab me. Often it's only when something has been put up in the Improving threads that I work out and put into words what I thought wasn't quite right about an entry.
 

Phyrebrat

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#7
Hi TitaniumTi, great thread!

My thoughts on qualfiying stories submitted fits the same criteria as TJ:

Ensure the story fits theme and genre -- I know I'm pernickity but every month there are several stories which I discount because they fail that simple test. Think about theme and genre as separate entities and treat them seriously.
This can't be overstated! So often I put my e-pen down and think, 'nailed it!' then realise what I've nailed is either genre or theme, but not both. I think that's because we can get so wrapped up in making our story make sense, we're focusing on content at the extent of writing prompt. This is reflected in my shortlist; it's called a challenge for a reason, and if someone has not done their due diligence I immediately discount it. However, that's not to say all Chronners are so mean. ;)

Enter every time. Enter even if you don't think the quality of your story is any good -- I've frequently got votes with stories I thought weren't up to snuff. (Conversely some stories I thought were excellent have bombed -- sometimes we just can't judge our own work.)
You can always learn something from an entry you put up, whether that is technical or a sense of people's voting sensibilties. And to repeat what TJ said, I've also received votes for real stinkers and been a bit crestfallen when something I've been proud of hasn't even garnered a mention. Thing is, this is contextual; you might be right - your story may be great - but compared to some other swines who've posted, it might not be so stellar. :eek:

Don't post as soon as the story is written (unless, of course, you're writing at the last minute and trying to beat the deadline!). Give yourself some time to allow your subconscious to work on the story. All writing can be improved, and sometimes a second thought about a word or a plot point or the title can be the difference between no mentions and a shortlisting, or even a vote.
This is probably my biggest recommendation, too. To each their own, but I usually spend the first week or two passively thinking (!) about the theme and genre, allowing it to percolate, and my subconscious usually chucks something up. Then I'll write it and put it aside, read it a week later, put it aside after making any edits, and then leave it alone until the deadline window is near. With distance comes objectivity and I often find I've made assumptions in my narrative that render my story imprecise, and these are only highlighted after I've 'forgotten about' the story, somewhat.

Which brings me to:

I notice spelling and punctuation errors immediately
I'll never vote for anything with a typo. These are challenges and if a story has any kind of errors - after all it's only 75 words - ranging from missing full stops to spelling errors, homophone use etc, it goes straight into the discount pile, no matter how amazing the story is.

It may seem a tad harsh, but I contextualise it in terms of submitting to an agent or publisher; you always want to sub your best, and if you can't be bothered to spell check, why should I include it? And, to be clear, I'd expect the same treatment if I'd posted something with errors. Anyone who's received a PM or email from me can testify that my missives are littered with typos, and I'm always correcting errors on my chrons blog even when I've posted them and think they're clean. So if I can, so can you :p

A word about allusions; I thought allusions referred to narrative allusions (i.e what has happened or what might happen), not things like cultural or pop-references.

pH
 

TitaniumTi

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#8
Thank you, @Phyrebrat. Your response has given me a lot to think about.

I know, I know... I should let my stories age... like a good wine. But I worry that they might turn sour with age. (Actually, they often emerge from my subconscious fully formed, and I’m afraid to tinker with them.)

I really must pay more attention to theme and genre. I have started to do so when I vote, and in recent months several fascinating stories have dropped from my listings because I couldn’t identify a sci fi / fantasy element.

September was an interesting month because the theme of the 75-word challenge was so specific - not a re-retelling of the story, but the story behind the story. This was a fine distinction that I didn’t pick up on until other voters commented. Would I have voted differently, or framed my own story differently if I had thought about the theme more closely? I don’t think so. But it does demonstrate that I need to think, not only about the theme, but also about how other Chronners may interpret the theme.

September was also a month where literary allusion was integral to the theme, which produced some great stories. I guess allusion works best when the reader knows to look for it.

Your thoughts on the meaning of allusion sent me running to my friend Google (always the expert;)); I wondered if I could find information about literary allusions to dance. I didn’t find much, but I think some of the British novels I read as a teenager may have used references to different types of dances as a short-hand for the social status, attitudes and even state of inebriation of their protagonists. I probably missed most of the inferences, and they probably indicated as much about the authors and their attitudes as about the stories and protagonists, but I think it’s an interesting idea to explore (although a digression from the topic of this thread).
 

Luiglin

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#9
My 2018 resolutions include entering most 75-word, 100 word and 300 word competitions on the Chronns AND only entering if I’m satisfied that the quality of my story is up to par.

Write long and edit short. I’ve always been delighted and amazed that my first drafts are usually within a word or two of the target length, but perhaps I’m losing something by skipping the trimming process.

Start the story in the middle. I know this; I just forget it sometimes.

The denouement is not the end of the story. Follow up with something to keep the reader thinking about the story. I’m not sure about this. What do you think?

Use allusions. This never seems to work for me; readers rarely seem to pick up on my allusions, whether they’re to Shakespeare or to Monty Python
Many of my entries in the past are along these same lines. I enjoy writing shorts that are snippets of a possible greater whole. Hence, I often start part way in and end some way short. It's not that I don't have a start and end, just that at that moment the entry, in my belief, is complete. I see them as scenes, hopefully self contained enough to provide the reader some satisfaction, but still scenes.

I also tend to enjoy other tales that go along these few lines. I don't always want a nice completion. I want what I read to set my imagination running beyond the piece or before (I'm a rarity that enjoyed the film Prometheus because it provided more questions than it did answers).

My lack of getting anywhere near a winning month is proof that this sort of writing is not to the majority taste (either that or people don't enjoy my sense of humour and/or I'm not a good enough writer). I do sometimes think that there's not enough leeway and I do sometimes get confused in how choices are made (I'm not talking about my own entries here).

I'm always satisfied with my submissions, apart form some where I've made poor grammar error(s) and failed to correct in the hour grace (most of my entries are done via smartphone - not the easiest way to submit). However, I'm sure that I read somewhere that you should always write primarily first for yourself and I've loved every one of my submissions.

My 2018 resolution is probably to do the opposite of yours. Writing is about confidence to me and while I agree these challenges are just for fun, sometimes - more times recently - at the end of the month, it's the opposite.

I'm not writing this for sympathy or to gain ego boost replies. @TitaniumTi stick at what you enjoy doing and only change that if you find something that takes that enjoyment to the next level. All the best.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#10
I often have allusions in my titles, but nobody ever comments, so I wonder if anyone ever gets them. In other people's stories, I sometimes notice if something is classical or historical, but never if it is something that has to do with recent history or popular culture, because I am hopeless there.

Maybe we all need to get better when we recognize an allusion, and remember to mention it to the writer of the story, so they will know that it was noticed and appreciated.

Some of my stories start out well over the limit and have to be trimmed down; some are short and I'm able to expand them and add nuances and descriptions. I never know until I write the first draft. When I do and the story is several words short of the limit I'm happy, because then I can flesh it out.

But our stories here are so much shorter than most flash fiction, probably what works when writing a sprawling epic of 800 or 1000 words is not very helpful when applied to a 75 word story.
 

Phyrebrat

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#11
I also tend to enjoy other tales that go along these few lines. I don't always want a nice completion. I want what I read to set my imagination running beyond the piece or before
Me too! And I think this is why I love short stories so much; they offer a tone and taste which is often unresolved; I love that. Stephen King is an absolute triumph in modern shorts... He wrote a non-horror short story called All That You Love Will Be Carried Away which is an outstanding and bittersweet example of this. From Wikipedia:

Alfie Zimmer, a traveling salesman peddling gourmet frozen foods, pulls into a Motel 6 in Nebraska for the night. He settles in and pulls out a revolver, ready to commit suicide because he can't "go on living the way he had been living." Alfie has a hobby of recording strange bathroom graffiti which he has discovered on his many long, lonely travels. He starts noting down scrawls on the walls that attracted his attention, gradually becoming fascinated with them. During his solitary travels, he has come to regard these "voices on the walls" as his friends; something to think about during the long drive, something precious and important, something that "spoke" to him.

Alfie decides that "a shot in the mouth is easier than any living change", but every time he puts the gun in his mouth, he worries that leaving the notebook filled with bizarre ramblings behind will make him seem insane to whoever finds his body. Alfie wants to write a book about the graffiti, even coming up with a great title, but knows "the telling would hurt." While standing in the freezing cold of the winter night, sobbing to himself, Alfie decides on a plan: if the lights of a farmhouse behind the motel reappear through the snow before he counts to 60, he will write the book. If not, he will toss the notebook into the snow, then go inside and shoot himself.

The story closes with Alfie standing near the field outside the motel, starting to count, thus leaving the ending ambiguous.
Also, don't let your challenge entries age if you don't want to; that's just my practice. However, seeing as no one can vote until the 28th, there's no harm in letting it sit for a day or two to declutter your eyes and see if anything jumps out.

When I used to record Rnb/pop music, I could spend a day in my studio in the spare room and produce what I thought was a good mix. However, the next day it would be a horrible mush of frequencies because my ears had become so subjective to, say, the hi hats or rhodes or whatever. I think writing production is identical to this only that it's not a three-and-a-half minute song but a short story.

pH
 

TitaniumTi

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#12
@TitaniumTi stick at what you enjoy doing and only change that if you find something that takes that enjoyment to the next level. All the best.[/QUOTE]
Thank you @Luiglin, and thank you @Teresa Edgerton and @Phyrebrat for your responses. I’m sorry I’ve been slow to reply. I was on the road yesterday, and feeling less than 100%.

But our stories here are so much shorter than most flash fiction, probably what works when writing a sprawling epic of 800 or 1000 words is not very helpful when applied to a 75 word story.
True. Writing a 75 word story is very different from writing a 300 word story, so a thousand word story would be a beast of an entirely different colour. There are probably still generalities that apply to all short fiction, if not to all fiction. “Don’t start your story too early” is one.

I don't always want a nice completion.
Me too! And I think this is why I love short stories so much; they offer a tone and taste which is often unresolved; I love that.
I do like stories to be stories, with a beginning, middle and end, so something in the way of a vignette is likely to leave me cold, but on the other hand sometimes great lyrical writing can make up for an absence of actual story.
The right place to end is more uncertain.
 
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TitaniumTi

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#13
When I’m voting, I look for many of the criteria that have already been mentioned. Grammar, punctuation and spelling are important to me, for example. I do allow leeway for the author’s dialect, however, in the hope that voters will also forgive my unconscious Aussie-isms.

I also look for family-friendly entries, and I think excessive or explicit violence and gore is as family-UNfriendly as explicit sexuality.

When it comes down to the wire, stories that grab my emotions or sense of wonder get preference over even the cleverest stories, if the latter leave me unmoved.

I think originality is important, on a subconscious level as well as on a conscious one. I’m less likely to have an emotional response to a story if I’ve seen something similar before, and I’m in awe of Chronners’ imaginations.
 
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#14
I must agree with Ti, the ability to evoke emotion is paramount in my voting. I have exercised this philosophy in precisely ONE instance on CC so far, my vote on the 75-word challenge for January 2018. But this is my yardstick for my appreciation of, not just writing, but visual art, music, and pretty much any artistic endeavor I enjoy.
 

Calliopenjo

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#15
On writing flash fiction. This is more personal and what works for me than anything else. With that in mind...

Three things to focus on when writing flash fiction as often the word count maximum is low, even when they give you a word maximum of 1500.
Single Focus:
Clear Plot Line:
Action:

As for your points:
Write Long and Edit Short: I've never done this on purpose. I always try to keep the word max in mind when I write. It's easier to edit in the end. Sometimes words need to manipulated and changed around when the word count is low, to begin with. With a longer piece, it more difficult to edit because certain words fit the story better at that time and might not work.
Start From the Middle: I've actually heard of this with the theory that since the story started at the height of the action the rest should be easier to fill in. However, to me, I find out what the height of the story is as the story is being written.
The Denouement is Not The End: This may not always be the case as I find my stories do not always have an ending. The story is done but the end may not be a rock-solid conclusion.
Use Allusions: These might work best in longer pieces, such as a novella or novelette. Even a novel. With flash fiction pieces it becomes more difficult to imply something. I'm not saying it can't be done but those implications would have to be well thought out with such a small amount of words.

This is only my opinion. What you do is up to you. Writing flash fiction isn't easy and is often more challenging than writing a full-length novel, in my opinion. These are practice sessions for me and I do it for fun.


Try to read the how to improve my 75-word piece thread that The Judge mentioned above. It might help.
 

Cory Swanson

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#16
As usual, I have some opinions. Most of them ill-informed.

When I'm reading through the entries, I find that most leave me bewildered. If I can easily understand what's going on in the first read, you already earned points with me.

So if that's the symptom, what's the disease? My best guess is that a lot of folks write long and edit short. I feel they're trying to write 75 word novels. Not that I'm good at it, but it seems to me you have time to get in, make one good point, and get out.

I personally find it stifling what people consider to be a story. The whole brevity thing begs me to tinker with the format, and I think that if anyone can squeeze a bit more out of their entry by doing something unexpected it should be rewarded, not punished. I submitted a supernatural recipe once, and folks told me that it wasn't a story. I quit the challenges for six months in a grumpy huff. I'm just now dusting off my bruised ego and contemplating getting back into it.

But maybe I'm a writer because I see stories in everything.

Mostly, I just want to see something I haven't seen before. An idea or thought or even a format that hasn't been tried.
 

paranoid marvin

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#17
The three most important things

1.Make sure your entry adheres to the correct genre and theme; it may be the greatest 75 words ever written, but it won't win anything if it isn't.

2.Make sure it doesn't exceed the word count ; watch out for darn-dashed words that are actually count as two.

3.Have fun writing it; otherwise what's the point?
 

Rafellin

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#18
Coming at this from a purely flash fiction side rather than 'aiming to enter the challenges' viewpoint -

Inspiration comes from anywhere. Sometimes it's as simple as thinking what would happen if the accepted outcome of an event didn't occur. Why didn't it occur? And away we go. e.g. You put your cup and saucer down on the table, misjudge the edge, and down the tea goes. But, this time, it just sits there, unsupported, a metre off the floor. Super-superglue on the edge? Invisible alien? Gravitational anomaly?

Make your title work for you. You haven't got a lot of room, so the title should do some of the work. Sometimes, you can be cheeky with it - in example, one of my own favourite titles is "Hanging from a Ledge on Mantriss V". That's setting, opening act, and hook.

Never let it out immediately. Wait at least a day, preferably two - at least. (This one's straight from the 'personal f*ckups' file.) I write 4-8 pieces of flash a month. I try to get my definite submissions for the following month done by the middle of the previous month, because I know that it will take at least four review passes to correct and refine them. Which brings me to -

Just Write! The words are the medium for the story, but the story is the creative drive. Get that clever idea/plot/scenario written down. You can refine the words over and over, but that moment of inspiration will never come back in the same form, if at all.

Nobody reads your story the same way. All you can do is do the best you can with the tale you're relating. You can't say if your stories are good. That's for your readers to decide. All you can create is stories you are happy with, stories you are pleased with, and - very occasionally - stories you love. Expect to be surprised: stuff you love gets no response yet stuff you thought reasonable gets raved over.

Use a thesaurus. When every word counts, variety and using the gamut of available words is essential. Could be as simple as giving a character a unique voice by consistently using lesser-used variants of a word or two.

Action is not the all. Flash fiction is often touted as a medium with a 'show not tell' bias. I find it fits for the quiet moments, too. Like before or after the action, something the movie would skip because it's the character's personal thoughts or interactions, reminiscence or what ifs. That being said -

Always do something. A good story should have a dynamism about it. You'll not always achieve it, but do try. A lone character doing dry exposition is tedious. A lone character remembering a moment of action and it's aftermath? Still exposition, but interesting. Following on from that -

Information afterwards. If you got for setting up front, your reader is likely to 'click away'. Get something going on, the old in media res trick (simplest example: the opening of Star Wars IV), then fill in the details. But only for this bit of the tale. A full world build in a flash is impossible and irrelevant. If you find yourself going on and on to set the scene, chances are you're telling the wrong bit of that particular story.

Keep it focussed. Think about your environment when walking down the street. There's a wealth of information and description involved to detail the scene for those not able to be there, but to walk along, all you need is clear pavement. Your characters will be the same: there's no need to tell what isn't absolutely essential for their 'walking along' in your story.

Have fun. Above all, and always, have fun.

Hope this helps.
 

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