Art of the Flash Fiction

Sheenah Archive, Writing Advice 0 Comments

I briefly mentioned flash fiction back in April during the A-Z Challenge. (Which is funny because flash fictions are so short! Haha? No? Okay then…) Though I stated that it can be done, I never went into any specifics and sort of let you try to figure it out yourself. What can I say? I believe in tough love.

In one of the groups I’m a part of/participate in on Facebook, someone posted a picture and challenged everyone to write a 100 word drabble based on the picture. Drabbles are fine and dandy, but what about a flash fiction? You might think that I’m crazy for even bringing up the idea of a 100 word flash fiction, but I’ve done it before. And I’m going to show you how it can be done.

In case you’re wondering, this is the picture the flash fiction will be based upon:

The first step to writing a flash fiction is to write out the first draft. Don’t think about word count or brevity at this point. Just write whatever you want. Depending on my mood, I’ll start typing out the draft in a document or on a piece of a paper. Today, I wrote on a piece of scrap paper. Here’s my first draft:

The water lapped gently under the bridge as Norman crossed it. It was a warm afternoon with enough of a breeze to keep one comfortable.

Norman was a below-average sort of man living in a below-average sort of town. The bridge and the grounds surrounding it were the highlight that gave passersby enough reason to check out the town before fleeing away, wondering what had possessed them to stop. The townsfolk kept their distance from the area, many claiming the place was haunted.

Perhaps it was Norman’s below-averageness that made him believe nothing remarkable would happen to him. Norman stopped, having glimpsed something in the river. An above-average woman spied him from below. She giggled and blew him a kiss before disappearing back into the water. A glimpse of a tail flicked the surface.

Stunned, Norman flushed and touched his cheek. If he concentrated, he could imagine her lips touching his face. He pivoted and walked back to town. Today was certainly an above-average day.

It’s okay and definitely short. Total word count: 166. In order to trim down the size of this to 100 words, we need to look at the story and ask ourselves: What can be cut? Taking a quick scan through this, I notice I can delete quite a bit of what I wrote to not only make it shorter, but I can even give it just a bit more of a punch. Like so:

The water lapped gently under the bridge as Norman crossed it. It was a warm afternoon with enough of a breeze to keep one comfortable.

Norman was a below-average sort of man living in a below-average sort of town. The bridge and the grounds surrounding it were the highlight that gave passersby enough reason to check out the town before fleeing away, wondering what had possessed them to stop. The gems of the area; the townsfolk kept their distance from the area, many claiming the place was haunted.

Perhaps it was Norman’s below-averageness that made him believe nothing remarkable would happen to him. Norman stopped, having glimpsed something in the river. An above-average woman spied him from below. She giggled and blew him a kiss before disappearing back into the water. A glimpse of a tail flicked the surface.

Stunned, Norman flushed and touched his cheek . . . If he concentrated, he could imagine her lips touching his face. He pivoted and walked back to town. Today was certainly an above-average day.

I decided to take the sentences in the second paragraph and combine them. One of my tricks to flash fiction is punctuation. You’d be surprised at how many conjunctions you can remove if you replace it with a comma. Knowing how to use ellipsis or the em dash can even help build drama to your story, thus eliminating more words. As you can see, I eliminated a sentence in the last paragraph and replaced it with ellipsis. I trust my readers to understand that the ellipsis signifies Norman is dazed from this encounter, and I’m allowing them to imagine what he could be thinking. Why should I have to tell them every little thing? It makes the reading clunky if I did that and I think flash fictions and short stories can help a writer stop explaining everything and start trusting their readers.

Total word count for the second draft: 137. That’s right. I deleted 29 words in the second draft alone. And that means I need to delete 37 more words to meet the 100 word count. So let’s take a closer look.

The water lapped gently under the bridge as Norman crossed it. It was a warm an average spring afternoon. with enough of a breeze to keep one comfortable.

Norman was a below-average sort of man living in a below-average sort of town. The bridge and the grounds surrounding it were gems of the area; the townsfolk kept their distance from the area, many claiming it to be haunted.

Perhaps it was Norman’s below-averageness that made him believe nothing remarkable would happen to him. He stopped, having glimpsed something in the river. An above-average woman spied him from below. She giggled and blew him a kiss before disappearing back plunging into the water. A glimpse of a tail flicked the surface.

Stunned, Norman flushed and touched his cheek . . . He pivoted and walked back returned to town. Today was certainly an above-average day.

Total word count: 120. Not as many words lost this time around, but the work is definitely getting tighter.

I tried to concentrate on adverbs and adjectives. “Gently”, although it sounds nice, was cut because it was an adverb. It’s unneeded because the first three words “The water lapped” sounds, well, gentle. For the most part, one usually doesn’t describe lapping water as violent. The second sentence in the first paragraph was modified because it was easier to simply state that it was “an average spring afternoon.” Some of the changes I made in the third and fourth paragraphs were also cut because I could replace words with a single or shorter statement. And one of the reasons why I deleted “stunned” in the last paragraph was because his reactions made “stunned” redundant.

Normally, I would call this finished. But because the challenge was to write a 100 word drabble (or in my case, flash fiction), cutting these last 20 words will be tough. But I’m going to assure that it can be done.

The water lapped under the bridge as Norman crossed it. It was an average spring afternoon.

Norman He was a below-average sort of man living in a below-average sort of town. The bridge and the grounds surrounding it were gems of the area; the townsfolk kept their distance from the area, because many claiming claimed it to be haunted.

Norman’s below-averageness made him believe nothing remarkable would happen to him. He stopped, having glimpsed glimpsing something in the river. An above-average woman spied him from below. She giggled and Giggling, she blew him a kiss before plunging into the water. A glimpse of a below. Her tail flicked the surface.

Norman flushed and touched his cheek . . . He pivoted and returned to town. Today was certainly an above-average day.

Word count: 107. This is the point where you really start to get nit-picky. I decided to get more active. Why should the water lap as Norman crosses the bridge? For all we know, it could’ve been lapping before he got there. Thus, the words “as” and “it” were cut. In the second paragraph the words “from the area” were cut because they were redundant. The sentence already had the phrase in it so why did I need to use that phrase twice? Likewise, in the third paragraph, words could be cut because I could restructure the sentences to make them more active or to reduce any redundancies that I might have missed the first time. As to the reason why “certainly” was cut — because it’s an unnecessary adverb.

Seven more words to cut! We can do this!

The water lapped under the bridge Norman crossed. It was an average spring afternoon.

He was a below-average sort of man living in a below-average sort of town. The bridge and grounds surrounding it were gems of the area; the townsfolk kept their distance because many claimed it to be was haunted.

Norman’s below-averageness made him believe nothing remarkable would happen to him. Being a below-average sort of man in a below-average sort of town made him believe nothing remarkable would happen. He stopped, glimpsing something in the river. An above-average woman spied him from below. Giggling, she blew him a kiss before plunging below down. Her tail flicked the surface.

Norman flushed and touched his cheek . . . He pivoted and returned to town. Today was an above-average day.

Word count: 100!! It took me five drafts to realize that “to be” could be replaced with “was.” Go figure. As you can see, I restructured two big sentences that told a lot and combined them into one sentence. By doing that, I lost a big chunk of the last seven words that I needed to cut. And in case you were wondering: I changed the second “below” to “down” because it bothered me to read “below” that close together.

So here’s the final story:

The water lapped under the bridge Norman crossed. It was an average spring afternoon. The bridge and grounds surrounding it were gems of the area; the townsfolk kept their distance because many claimed it was haunted.

Being a below-average sort of man in a below-average sort of town made him believe nothing remarkable would happen. He stopped, glimpsing something in the river. An above-average woman spied him from below. Giggling, she blew him a kiss before plunging down. Her tail flicked the surface.

Norman flushed and touched his cheek . . . He pivoted and returned to town. Today was an above-average day.

As you can see, it’s not a simple process. Mine took five drafts to be perfected, but the final product is brief, active, and most of all: it tells a story. If you decide to take on the challenge, you might end up with more drafts or less drafts. You’ll also see why I highly recommend people write flash fictions to learn how to self-edit their work.

If you’re a beginner to the world of flash fiction and want to try this challenge, this is what I’d recommend: Write your first draft and take a look at the word count. If your word count is 801+ words, try to whittle away words until you reach 800 words exactly. If your word count is below 800 words, try to whittle away words until you reach the closest 100. So, for example, you wrote 585 words. You’d have to whittle away 85 words.

My recommendation for a flash fiction is anything that’s between 100-750 words. I think less than that is ridiculous and I’ve seen the “six word story challenges” out there. I’m sorry, but six words isn’t a story. That’s a sentence. I tend to stick with 750-800 as a maximum number because that’s about how many words that will fit snugly on an index card when you write tiny. And yes, I’ve actually written a couple of my flash fictions on an index card after my creative writing teacher told me that they could fit on one. It’s quite possible. (And challenging.)

Hopefully you learned a little something about how to write a flash fiction. If you decide to take the challenge, leave it below in the comments or leave a link where we can read it. Happy writing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *