Short But Sweet: Creativity Through Constraints In Flash Fiction

In her introduction to the anthology Fast Food Fiction Delivery, Singapore-based writer and editor Noelle Q. De Jesus writes, “[e]veryone is writing shorter and faster, condensing the plot and crystallizing the climax…” Such is the essence of flash fiction, fiction pieces that are around 500 to 1000 words in length, packing the full weight of lengthier pieces of fiction in a quick package that can be read in a few minutes. It’s not exactly Twitter fiction (though several 140 characters-a-pop posts can be made into a flash fiction piece), but it’s not your regular short story, either. It’s smaller, faster, but with as much flavor as its larger, wordier cousins.

That does not mean that flash fiction is easy to write, however. Don’t let the shorter word count fool you – a faster piece can look easier to write, but the flash fiction writer must be able to skillfully weave in all aspects of a good story – from the introduction to the climax to the resolution – under the pressure of a smaller word count. So what’s the tendency going to be, for the flash fiction writer? Cut, cut, and cut some more. David Gaffney, in an article on The Guardian, writes about his experience writer shorter fiction (which he refers to as “sawn-off tales”):

It felt destructive, wielding the axe to my carefully sculpted texts; like demolishing a building from the inside, without it falling down on top of you. Yet the results surprised me. The story could live much more cheaply than I’d realised, with little deterioration in lifestyle. Sure, it had been severely downsized, but it was all the better for it. There was more room to think, more space for the original idea to resonate, fewer unnecessary words to wade through. The story had become a nimble, nippy little thing that could turn on a sixpence and accelerate quickly away.

Flash fiction compels you to remove the weight and decoration normally afforded to you by writing without any considerable restraint in terms of word count. This is a great test for how you are as a writer. Fond of long, painterly, but meandering descriptions? Need to take a while to introduce your character? Can’t help but use some lengthy dialogue between two characters to show just their relationship dynamic? All these will be challenged when you write flash fiction, and for better or for worse, you’ll be compelled to come up with new ways of going around your own writing, trying to come up with the same effect you’ve produced through longer prose.

But take that all as a challenge! There’s a lot of merit in trying your hand in writing shorter – but equally impactful – stuff. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get to fine-tune your writing, too!

I want to know more about flash fiction! But where do I go?

Here are a couple of resources to get you started:

Already written flash fiction? Share it with us!

Read More

The Brutal Writing Process (and Quotes and Tips to Help You Through It)

If you’re a writer, or if you’ve ever tried your hand in writing in any form, you’ll know that the process of writing is a brutal process. Probably not the blood-sweat-and-tears kind of brutal (although there may be cases when one or all three are physically involved), but certainly straining enough: late hours spent staring at your word processor, trying to find the next good line, or maybe empty packs of chips and instant noodles and cups of coffee littering your desk, too busy as you are to cook or go out to get real food. The writing process may sound romantic, but in reality, it is not, any many writers – published or unpublished – are struggling to pin their ideas down neatly on paper, in a piece that people would want to read. There are no definitive lists telling you what the writing process exactly is, or how you’re going to experience it, as it is a personal endeavor. Only you will be able to find out how your own writing process – and in turn, your own habits, strengths, and weaknesses as a writer and as an individual – is.

That said, however, it is always helpful to take a few tips and inspiring quotes from authors who have already published their written work. Here are some tips and quotes from popular authors, on writing:

  • “My writing process often begins with a question. I write down ideas and let them stew for about a year. Then, when I sit down to write, I make a list of characters and try to see how they fit.” – Cynthia Voigt
  • “Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.” – Jeanette Winterson*
  • “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett
  • “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia Butler
  • “Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.” – Walter Benjamin
  • “Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.” – Geoff Dyer*
  • “Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.” – Michael Moorcock*
  • “For most of the process, nothing but faith, fueled by your own stubbornness, will be pulling you along. The work that you’ve done on the book so far won’t be much comfort, because so much of it will be insufferable crap, until the very last moment, when you figure out how to fix it and everything comes together.” – Kristin Cashore
  • “There are three secrets to writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham
  • “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Those are just some of the tips and quotes from writers who, like you, have struggled (and certainly) continue to struggle with the writing process. There’s a lot to be said about writing and how to write, but ultimately, how it goes – and how you deal with the bumps and frustrations along the road – is your own personal experience, something that only you can deal with (although something that can be lightened by going out every now and then, and distancing yourself away from your work). The important thing is always to write, to continue writing regardless of how bad you think your first draft is. 

Keep on writing!

*Note: Quotes with an asterisk are from The Guardian’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” Check it out for more tips on writing!

Read More