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Archive for the ‘FFO Staff’ Category

Thirteen Tips for Writing Flash Fiction

So you want to learn to write flash fiction?

By Denise Ganley

With these writing exercises and tips:

Craft better short stories

Get out of the slushpile 

Be accepted for publication

We’ve shared our pet peeves and highlighted the things you should not do in your flash fiction submissions. 

But today, I want to focus on some fundamental tips for writing flash fiction.

Cause it ain’t easy! For Flash Fiction Online, stories must be between 500 and 1000 words. Whew! Those are some tight restrictions, and that’s not a lot of space for your story. But as Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” (Hamlet).

You can sum-up flash fiction in that word, brevity. It’s critical to understand that flash is a unique medium, and it requires a different skillset than other storytelling formats.

Here are thirteen specific tricks (and a writing exercise) about how to write flash fiction (including insanely short stories).*

1. Take out all unnecessary words.

Practice on Twitter. I kid you not, and I speak from experience. Nothing shows you how to whittle down a sentence to the key elements better than Twitter. Pretend you only get one single solitary tweet to get the idea across. Can you do it?

Try this writing exercise and redo this sentence:

Pretend you only get one single solitary tweet to get the idea across convey your idea.

Pretend you only get one tweet to convey your idea.

Look, I just saved 3 words by editing that sentence. That’s GOLD in flash. It adds up, people!

2. You don’t need all those adjectives and adverbs.

Just use stronger nouns and verbs to do all the heavy lifting. For example, don’t say ‘walk leisurely’ when you can say ‘saunter’. Don’t say ‘small dog’ when you can say ‘Chihuahua’. Your specificity will build a better story with a smaller word count. The exception is for dialogue tags. You’re better off just using “said”, as other verbs related to speech tend to be distracting.

3. Pick a key emotion to color the story.

Readers love it when they feel something.

Caution: do not manipulate the reader with melodrama.

[melodrama: noun. a dramatic form that does not observe the laws of cause and effect and that exaggerates emotion and emphasizes plot or action at the expense of characterization.]

You’ve gotta earn those feels! And try ending in a different emotional place than where you start.

4. Pick a strong image.

Give us a meaningful and memorable visual. You want a movie example? Indiana Jones shoots the fancy swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Or in the movie Se7en…the box opening scene!

Need a more recent example?

Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball. Memorable.

Now do that with words.

5. Limit your number of scenes.

Honestly, one scene might be best. Otherwise, the world building and setting can take up too much word count. The key is choosing a small but powerful moment in a character’s life and placing your story there.

It’s the anti-epic story.

6. Speaking of characters, you don’t need more than one or two.

More than that and it gets dicey. Too much dialogue, too many interactions.

Twelve dancing princesses= suitable for a short story or novel.

One dancing princess= suitable for flash fiction.

Just say no to Character Clutter.

7. You’re better off using a 1st person or 3rd person limited points of view which stick tightly to the protagonist.

Pick just one point of view for a short story and utilize that throughout. Head hopping is particularly jarring in flash fiction. And avoid third omniscient, which also brings in too many points of view and character baggage for such a small space.

One character, one carry-on, no suitcases. Airplane metaphor, FTW!

8. Use a small idea.

Big ideas belong in BIG stories.

What’s the difference between a small idea and a big idea? The main difference is how you explore your concept. With a small idea, you keep it simple, and only probe one aspect with a very narrow, laser-type focus. Consider it tunnel vision. For a big idea, you get to dive into multiple aspects and complex bits in detail. Big ideas are more like a 360 degree panorama, there’s a lot happening. You know you have a big idea on your hands when it feels ripe with possibility, you’ll be reluctant to only spend that one moment in the world, and you’ll be imagining more themes, plots lines, and characters than I recommend here.

Big idea= “A civil war breaks out among several noble houses for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms.” That’s A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Can you imagine this as a satisfying flash fiction piece? Not me. The indicators that this is big: “civil war” “several noble families” “seven kingdoms.” George R.R. Martin couldn’t even keep his idea(s) to one large book, because he had so much he wanted to explore!
Small idea= “A sentient bee microbot faces its demise and that of its companion bots.” That’s “Death Comes for the Microbot” by Aimee Picchi. Check out her interview with FFO to see how she developed her story idea. What makes this one small? It jumps in right before the demise of the bots and ends right after. Do we need their origin story or the rest of the world after the bots are powered down for the last time? I don’t.

9. The same goes for a short story theme: you only have room for one.

Make it count, but don’t hit us over the head with it either.

A subtle theme is better than a hardcore one. Humans don’t respond well to stories that are more about a lesson than entertainment.

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10. Focus on one main conflict.

Skip the subplots.

JK Rowling is a master of subplots. So if this were a Harry Potter flash, it would be stripped of everything else but the main conflict of Harry vs. Voldemort. Harry wouldn’t be involved with Cho, Hermione wouldn’t campaign to free the House Elves, Ron wouldn’t play Quidditch, Fred and George wouldn’t quit school to open a joke shop, and a million other things just wouldn’t fit.

11. Start in the middle of the story, at the beginning of the conflict.

Avoid backstory or prologue. And it’s best if you do not use flashbacks or flash forwards either. They don’t work as well in such a small space.

12. Make sure you have a character arc.

There’s nothing more disappointing than a character who doesn’t grow/change/learn. Sure, it happens, but does it make a fulfilling experience? Not particularly.

13. Choose an effective title.

First impressions help (or count, or whatever)! Let your title do some of the work, but don’t give away the story resolution with it either.

Titles that are spoilers are straight up from the Dark Side.

I challenge you to write twenty different titles for your next story. It’s a great writing exercise and future story idea generator. Chances are, the first ten will be tired and boring, but you’ll be forced to work past those and explore your story’s theme in new ways. Hopefully, by #20, you have a keeper.

 

There you have it–my lucky thirteen flash fiction tips.

Of course, these aren’t hard and fast rules, and there are plenty of great exceptions out there. But I’m confident that if you follow these aspects and the idea of brevity, you’ll have an easier time crafting a great flash fiction or short story.

If you use this guide, come back and tell us how it went.

Are there any rules you disagree with or am I missing anything mission critical?

Don’t forget, writing in a new medium takes practice!

*Ok, for super insane flash stories, try reading some of the six word stories on Twitter. @sixwordstories

 


How to Write Flash Ficton: 5 Easy Tips to Not Burn Your Bridges

When it comes to writing, behaving badly is a giant no-no.

If you know me, you know that burning things is one of my fortes, mostly effigies of my mortal enemies who just so happen to be Pro-Wrestlers.

All of them.

Burning bridges, though, is a big no-no. Metaphorically speaking. You weirdo.

So what does that mean? It’s quite simple.

Professional Writing Tip #1: Don’t be a jerk.

Writing this article isn’t easy, because I feel that I am preaching to the choir here. I also believe that a vast majority of people are decent. Every once in a while though you get a jerk and if you’ve spent approximately five minutes on the internet you’ve no doubt had the urge to pour acid on your eyeballs and rinse them with salt. If not, hoo boy, you must be a saint or something.

However, in the age of email, Twitter, Facebook and Youporn (mostly Youporn), it’s easy to mess up and post something dismissive or downright hurtful about an editor or a publisher. If that happens, you can own up to it and apologize.

There are instances of this though where people go bananas.

Flash Fiction Online doesn’t have a huge problem with such behavior, but it’s noticeable. Here’s why you don’t behave like a jerk when submitting fiction.

Writing Tip #2: People will remember you

Let’s say you submit a story. It gets rejected. That’s no biggie. You can always submit again. If you format your manuscript properly and follow the submission guidelines each new submission is effectively a clean slate. Attack an editor or slush reader and you can bet that the staff will hear about it. Not only will the staff hear about it, but other editors will too.

The e-zine community is tight knit. Especially so in the SFF field. People contribute to each other’s venues, meet at conventions or workshops, talk over social media – the whole nine yards. Set a precedent by being a jerk and everyone is going to be leery of you.

Recently a submitter called a female team member of FFO (I won’t mention who), and I quote, “menopausal”. That person’s name is now burned into my brain. I wish that person good luck elsewhere with his fiction (no, I really don’t), but I am fairly certain (one hundred percent) that he is not welcome anymore at FFO.

Writing Tip #3: Redemption can be hard to gain

Let’s say I barge into your house and mess up your DVD collection (because I don’t play by the rules, man). You have every right in the world to show me to the door. Next morning, when the mushrooms and alcohol lose their effect, I come over and apologize.

You will be rightfully skeptical because the burden of proof will be on me.

It’s the same situation here. Building trust and displaying your professionalism takes a long time, but getting rid of a crappy reputation? That’s tough because it’s not up to you. It’s up to the people you have hurt. When your poor behavior hurts someone, forgiveness will be doled out at the hurt party’s discretion.

Writing Tip #4: It’s easier to be nice

This might sound like a Sesame Street lesson, but hey, Sesame Street has salient points to make. Bile and anger aren’t good for your health; mental or physical. If you play your cards right you might even make new friends or connections.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t feel disappointed at getting rejected – if your story truly matters to you, of course, rejection is going to sting. The healthy thing to do is getting over it and getting it back into circulation – failing that onto the chopping block.

Writing Tip #5: Remember, always treat others like you want to be treated.

In the meanwhile, I’ve got effigies to burn.


Subscribe to the Flash Fiction Online YouTube channel for more How to Write Flash Fiction Tips and Ideas. 

Diversity in Fiction aka Vanilla Slush

I’ve been reading a lot of slush this past month.  Mountains of it, really.  So much slush that I have imprints of the little yes/no/maybe buttons burned indelibly into the inside of my eyelids so I can see them staring back at me even in my sleep.

That’s a whole lot of slush.

But the biggest problem for a slush reader is that so very much of it is the same.  Well not really.  The setting changes a bit.  This one is set in a car.  That one is on a far away planet.  There’s a cute setup about a mystical creature under a bed.  But more times than not they all come back to the same thing.

Vanilla slush.

A white, middle class, educated protagonist.  Heterosexual.  Generally male.  Sometimes we get an educated, middle class, heterosexual white female.  Usually she’s fairly angst-ridden and she’s looking for love.  Or she’s bitter about love.  Or she has a cat.

We get an awful lot of cat stories.  You submitters sure do love your cats.   And I’m glad you love your cats…. *sigh*  But that’s beside the point.

So I’m challenging you to throw some other flavors into the slush.  Send us some rocky road.  Some pistachio chip with sprinkles.  Avocado with bacon chips and a dash of honey drizzle on top.

The world’s too big and diverse and wonderful.  Not that vanilla isn’t wonderful.  I’m about as vanilla as they come.  But vanilla is so much tastier with a zesty side of Latin   transgender astronaut.   Or a QUILTBAG family battling to stay together after the alien apocalypse.

Send us every age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, and creed you’ve got.  Send characters with disabilities and physical limitations that make us reexamine our stereotypical expectations.  To the LGBTQ community, Flash Fiction Online is your ally in a search for equality.  This is an open invitation.  We don’t publish erotica or gore.  But we do love characters and story plots that push the boundaries and make us think.

Now, a caution.  You can send the best flavor ever conceived, but if it’s not well written as a story, it’s still not getting through slush.  If it’s dripping all over the sides of the cone and puddling on my good shoes, that literary Harlem deliciousness isn’t getting a yes.  Craftsmanship is everything.  Hone your skills.  Make your characters sing.  Because slush needs them.

Flash Fiction Online needs them.

Now go write!

Much love,

Anna Yeatts, Publisher, FFO
annayeatts.com

Changing of the Guard

By Jake Freivald

Jake here.

I founded Flash Fiction Online in December of 2007. Flash fiction itself was just gaining steam, and it looked like there was an opportunity for a professional market dedicated to flash. I’m happy that we — me, yes, but alongside a team of volunteers who rallied around the concept — created that market and kept it going for five-plus years.

About two years ago — has it been two years yet? It’s pretty much impossible for me to tell — I passed editorial leadership to Suzanne Vincent, a talented author and judge of stories. She will continue in the Editor-in-Chief role. I’m now also handing off the publisher / CFO role to Anna Yeats. If I already owe you money (believe me, I know it’s possible), contact me; for anything else, contact Suzanne or Anna. :) From this point forward, anything I do with FFO will have the title “emeritus” attached to it. And for all that I love flash fiction, that’s a relief.

I’d like to thank the volunteers on the Flash Fiction Online staff, past and present, who have done so much to keep the magazine moving forward. I literally can’t thank them enough. They do the work for the love of literature, and to make wonderful things happen. I trust that they, Anna, and Suzanne will continue to bring you flashes of beauty and insight.

 

Publications by FFO Staff

The Flash Fiction Online editorial staff members are generally writers, too. Occasionally FFO lets them beat their own drums, and so they will–without a hint of embarrassment. As this information rolls in for the 2012 publishing season from the editors and slush pile readers, I’ll update this post. Here is the present information, including publications and conferences:

William Highsmith

  • “Tempest Kings” is a Pushcart Prize-nominated short story in the Third Flatiron Publishing’s Spring 2012 anthology, entitled Over the Brink: Tales of Environmental Disaster, found  at Smashwords and AmazonTrouble follows anthropologists at a dig in Honduras in the near future and the Mayans living there in the distant past. Third Flatiron has other anthologies published and underway.

Lydia Ondrusek

  • Staffer Lydia Ondrusek co-conspired with John Jasper Owens in the writing of “The Best Laid Plans,” Omnium Gatherum Media‘s FORTUNE: LOST AND FOUND, an anthology about capital, cash, gold and lucre. This anthology may be found at Amazon.

Nancy DiMuaro

  • Nancy has been busy this year.
  • Novel: Paths Less Traveled, published by Musa Publishing. Sometimes finding justice means finding yourself. This can be found at Amazon, Amazon UK, BN, and Musa.
  • Novel: Shots at Redemption, published by Musa Publishing. Even mythical beings need a chance to correct their mistakes and reclaim lost love. This can be found at Amazon, Amazon UK, BN, and Musa.
  • Short story in the anthology: Jack Gorman Got Cut By a Girl, published by Musa Publishing. This can be found at Amazon, Amazon UK, BN, and Musa.
  •  Novel: Apollo Rising. Shot by a golden arrow, Apollo has only truly loved Daphne….This can be found at Amazon and Amazon UK.
  • Workshops/Conferences: World Fantasy (Oct/Nov 2012), Dave Farland’s Novel Rewriting Workshop (August 2012), and Superstar’s Writing Seminar (April 2012).
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