Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Flash Fiction by Voni Harris

Flash fiction is not an entire storm, but rather a moment of time in the storm lit up by a single lightning flash. You don’t have room in 1,500 words or less to be John Steinbeck or Jane Austen. Yet it is still your job as a fiction writer to fill the reader’s imagination with the image of that lightning strike. Flash fiction must flash bright and strong to show that moment in time.

Capturing the flash.

Let your mind’s eye rove over the picture captured in that flash of lighting.

Why the flash? It’s just a moment in time, but it still has plot stuff that came before, and plot stuff that comes after. That flash moment must mean something. It’s a moment of change. The husband raises his hand to hit her. The father reads something in his daughter’s journal. The sound of police sirens draws near the diner. Think of that lightning flash, and dig deep until you know what is changing in that moment. Why the sirens, the journal, the raised hand?

Before the flash. Now, what brought your character to that moment? No room for back story, but something brought this character to that lightning flash. Hint at that. The wife screams, “I’m sick and tired of you hitting me.” The father’s hand hovers over the journal—but he needs to know where his daughter has been going. The criminal fingers the bag of jewelry as he thinks of his sick son. See the barest hints of what came before?

After the flash. You don’t have room to tell what happens next, but something does. Give the reader enough that their imagination can take over. The husband lowers his hand. The father rushes out of the room and gets in the car. The criminal sinks into a seat at the diner table. Leave the reader with an image that shows life has changed for your character.

Writing the flash.

I’ve been writing short stories since I was five years old (not that those stories are very legible, ha!). It took me awhile after I began novel writing to learn to layer in things like description and back story. Flash fiction is a different story when it comes to choice of details and words.

The Details. Write the story elements that embody the scene and mean something to the character or the plot — the elbows that stick to the diner’s tabletop, which makes the cranky mom lash out at her toddler, which shows her in a flash that she hates the kind of mom she’s become. That sticky tabletop does triple duty: setting, character, and plot. Flash fiction offers limited space. The details better multitask! Take your time to find the perfect, multitasking details illuminated in the lightning strike.

The Words. Writers are all about words, but in flash fiction, take a double — a triple — look at your words. Get out the thesaurus, even. Seek out those words that really bring the image alive. Instead of “restaurant,” use “diner.” Take a quadruple look at your verbs.

Take your time. Be choosey.

Flash fiction may be quickly read, but it is not quickly written. This is the challenge: To write that lightning moment with such power and clarity it stays with the reader.


Have you ever tried flash fiction to sharpen your writing, try out a new craft skill you’re learning, take a break from your other writing, build a blog following, or see what it feels like to write in a different genre?


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Voni writes from her family’s home on the beautiful Alaskan island of Kodiak, with a husband, a  golden retriever and a wheaten terrier to keep her from sitting at the computer too long at a time. She holds a radio-TV degree from Drake University, and her short story “The Wedding” was published in Heart-Stirring Stories of Romance (edited by Linda Evans Shephard). She has won First Impressions and Daphne DuMaurier unpublished awards. She enjoys capturing the flash when she writes flash fiction for her Leaning into Life blog at http://vonildawrites.wordpress.com.

8 comments:

  1. I always wondered what flash fiction was! Thanks for the explanation and the how-to, Voni!

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    1. Funny how things can be understood when you think about why they are called what they are called! :)

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  2. Thanks for the excellent article, Voni. It was clear and informative.

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    1. So glad! Just thinking about flash fiction's demands inspires me when I'm novel writing. :)

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  3. Great article, Voni! Your explanations and examples helped me understand flash fiction much better!

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  4. What a great explanation of flash fiction! I find FF to be fun and challenging. Especially after working on a novel, it's great to take a break and buckle down for the very tight writing FF demands.

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    1. It really is a great break, isn't it? Different muscles, yet you end up overall a stronger writer.
      Funny, Jebraun--I read FF as French Fries a couple times, Duh!

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