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Flash Fiction, in general by Martha Allard

I’ve been writing flash fiction over the last year or so, and I’m starting to collect it into a book.

I love all short stories. They give you the chance to narrow your world down enough to watch every word at the same time. Flash fiction especially so.

I find the form is the antidote to that bogged-down feeling I get in the middle of longer work. You know, the doldrums of the novel or the blind alley your characters just turned down without warning. I tend to treat flash fiction as my escape from all that. Got a problem with the steampunk novel you’re working on? Turn the computer off and write a new micro-world in your notebook. Give it just an hour.

Or take my characters with you. Not sure you’re on the right path? Explore it in a flash piece. Brian Eno said that music was the only place where you can crash your plane and walk away. Flash fiction is like that. Go ahead, experiment. Crash your plane, for a few pages and walk away.

Here are some of the ways I get started.

1: The first line. It may not be your first line at the end of the process, but sometimes don't you hear a line in your head and have no idea where it’s going until you write it down? A few years ago, there was a week of record heat in Michigan, where I live. One of those horrible, sleepless nights I heard, “She was beautiful in a way you didn’t see anymore.” I didn’t know where that came from, but it ended up being a story about a post-apocalyptic Lesbian djinn-hunter, told by the djinn trapped in back in the bottle. Don't have a stray first line handy? Absolutely use prompts.

2: Keep your characters to a minimum. There’s no room in a flash piece to describe them. Two characters are too much for me. I like stories about one character with a story to tell. Start your story in the middle. I know this runs counter to what the editors ask for but think about it. You don’t have room for set-up, you have to simply jam it in where you can.

3: This is a piece of advice I received from Kelly Link. It’s the best writing advice I’ve ever had. She said, make your description do double duty. A brilliant example of this is her award-winning short story “The Specialist’s Hat.” Any description in that story is so completely embedded in the atmosphere that you see it, but you don’t see it. It’s not wasted on “Her hair was black as a crow's feather." It’s under your skin, and it stays there. She doesn’t paint a picture, she evokes one. This is what flash fiction aspires to do, evoke a picture.

4. And finally, an extra. Don’t make word count your thing. Not on the first pass. Make small, a snapshot of a tear on the page, or a punch in the face. Let your words run wild then pick the ones you love the most and build from there. That’s where the story comes through.

And seriously, read Kelly Link. Her stories, short or long, are amazing. And if you need to crash a plane or two, try some flash


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