In Favor of Flash Fiction...


Flash fiction is a complete story that is told in very few words.  Normally it's 1,000 words or less.  I had two flash fiction stories published at Pill Hill Press where the guidelines are 500 words or less.

I happen to think 500 words or less is a good and challenging goal for flash fiction.  It's a challenge that I encourage every writer to try.  It will make you a much better writer.  You will learn how to explain something clearly and concisely in as few words as possible.

You may be thinking, "But Steph, you have a 100,000 word goal for your novel and you admit to having issues reaching this goal.  Why would you want less words?"

Because with less words you can tell more story and spend less time describing the crap no one cares about.

Here's a couple paragraphs from the first page of my novel "Game of Hearts":

Setting her purse on her desk, she stopped to admire it.  It was her latest purchase.  A red leather Michael Kors shoulder bag.  They called it lacquered pink but it was so bright it looked more red.  Either way, it added just the right touch of color to her ensemble today.  White blouse, black skirt, and her favorite black Nine West pumps.
It cost more than seemed appropriate for a shoulder bag, but that was why Lyssa worked long hours as a Software Development Project Manager.  To fund her strange obsession with handbags.  And shoes.  And exotic foods.  And occasionally the latest in high-tech, battery-driven boyfriends.  

I happen to love those two paragraphs.  It summed up my heroine Lyssa Winfield perfectly.  She works a lot.  She's paid well at her job.  She loves purses and is well aware that she's paying out the nose for it but she's gonna buy it anyway because she works...a lot!  She dresses up for her job.  She's fashionable, but not too obsessive about it or she wouldn't have for a moment thought the bag looked more red than pink...because the tag said pink!  She has no boyfriend but it's not-so-subtly hinted that despite the lack of partner in her life she still has her needs met.  The fact that the idea would even cross her mind means she's probably easy-going and a lot of fun.  She's straight, since she does call it a "boyfriend."

Those paragraphs say a lot about her without being too incredibly dull about it.  It's better than reading, "Lyssa likes includes long walks on the beach and the color taupe."

Also, all women reading this will fundamentally understand from the description of her clothes that she's good-looking.  Ugly, fat girls don't wear pumps.  It's one of those unwritten laws.  If they are then they're either a hard-nosed judge or school board bureaucrat.

Did you also notice the fragmented sentence?

White blouse, black skirt, and her favorite black Nine West pumps.

I won't hesitate to break the rules of grammar.  I write like people speak and think.  It makes for easier reading.  I mean, which is easier and more fun to read?

"I am going to the grocery store to get a carton of eggs, a quart of milk, a bag of potato chips, frozen stir fry vegetables, and three apples.  Do you need me to purchase anything for you while I'm at the grocery store?"


"I'm going to the store.  You need anything?"

Unless one of the apples is poisoned, no one needs to know what your grocery list is.  They don't even need to know it's a grocery store.  It's kind of assumed.

Case in point:  Originally my second sentence said, "I'm going to the store to get some things.  You need anything?"  I got rid of "to get some things" because otherwise why would you go to the store?  Unless it's something other than to just generally shop (ie. drop off a prescription, stalk the cart boys, inject poison into produce), you don't have to say it.

You could also argue that the "You" is unnecessary.  The speaker is obviously talking to someone.  They could just say, "Need anything?"  I physically tried it out.  I found that I still said the "You."  Actually, I said, "Ya need anything?"  But speaking "Ya" isn't the same as reading "Ya."  Reading "Ya" insinuates the speaker is a hick, which I'm not.  Try it out yourself!  Write your dialogue, then speak it out loud.  Did you sound like an uptight librarian?  Then fix it.  Unless your character is an uptight librarian, then kudos to you mate.


And...no one...no one!...uses "I am" in everyday speaking unless you're Data or it's this situation...

"I AM SICK AND TIRED OF YOU RUNNING AROUND THE HOUSE!"

Ok, I might be running off track here (especially in an article about flash fiction), but the point is to try it out.  You'll learn quickly to avoid things like:

The silver, mid-ranged, economical, four-door sedan with grey interior that was currently sitting in my driveway had a full tank of fuel and was waiting for occupants so it could embark on a trip to the shopping plaza.  Unfortunately the family pet, a German Schnauzer well beyond it's years, had unceremoniously deposited his morning constitution on the Persian knock-off rug in the hallway.  If it weren't my wife's beloved pooch, I'd have had the aging canine put to sleep many months ago.

In favor of:

The Civic was gassed and ready to go!  I wish I could say the same thing about that damn dog.

Then again, maybe your characters aren't as obnoxious as mine.  :)  Either way, just call the car a Civic.