Flash fiction is the art of telling a story using less than 1000 words. Many literary journals, from Canada and the US to New Zealand and Australia, make the writing of flash fiction their focus, holding international flash fiction contests and awards. Even more challenging in terms of word count is the micro-fiction piece, comprising less than 100 words. Adhering to a limited word count is a great exercise for writers who wish to practice the art of refining their prose. Writing short fiction forces the writer to cut unnecessary words, and tell their story using only the most succinct terms.
If you decide to challenge yourself to write a flash fiction or micro-fiction piece, you will likely have to cut the following literary tools from your repertoire:
- lengthy character descriptions
- unnecessary adverbs
- long lead-ups into the action
- most of the characters’ backstories
- lengthy descriptions of setting
- verbose and lengthy dialogue
- fully developed scenes
Flash fiction is about presenting little snapshots of story. Mainly, these pieces contain the typical elements of story: character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme, but these elements may be refined and broken down to their simplest forms.
Flash fiction writing is clean writing, and that’s why it’s great training for honing your novel writing skills. When you force yourself to write within word count parameters on a regular basis, your writing starts to take on a different shape. You find you can readily pinpoint the most accurate words to describe elements in your story, rather than relying on wordy descriptions to paint scenes and characters.
With practice, your writing will become concise. You’ll be eliminating words that dilute the impact of your message. Regular practice of flash fiction will improve the tension in your writing as you learn to move the story forward rather than get bogged down in lengthy dialogue or overly descriptive setting. It will teach you to analyze what are important details in a story in terms of character, setting, dialogue, and backstory, and what you can safely leave out.
In addition to using flash fiction to improve your writing in general, you can also use it in much the same way an artist uses a sketchpad in the field to plan larger paintings. Let flash fiction serve as a sketchpad where you break down the essence of your story, to later flesh out the details. A flash fiction piece can capture a basic idea, a short synopsis, a character sketch, a snapshot in time, or a singular scene that can serve as a placeholder or jumping off point for a much larger piece.
There are so many benefits to writing flash fiction or micro-fiction that every writer should work it into their regular writing schedule. It’s possible to pen a short fiction piece inside of an hour so it’s an easy thing to fit into a day. The benefits are well worth it.