For Love of the Flash
Today I welcome my writing friend Josh Vogt onto my blog. Josh is a Renaissance man, writing all kinds of speculative fiction at all kinds of length. And he has not one, but two novels out in May. Now that's what I call flashy.
For Love of the Flash
Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the superhero or related TV show (though I have enjoyed watching it from time-to-time).
I’m talking about flash fiction. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, flash fiction is defined as any story that’s 1,000 words or less. Sometimes this is also referred to as “micro-fiction,” or even subdivided further with “drabbles,” being exactly 100 word-long stories.
I got into flash fiction via a blog contest that ran for a few years, where writers got an image/photograph as inspiration and had to write a story in no more than 250 words. Readers then voted on their favorites, and winners got various prizes. Unfortunately that contest no longer runs, but it gave me an undying love of flash fiction, which I continue to indulge today.
For me, flash fiction is a great creative challenge. How well can you tell a cohesive, engaging story with such a limited word count? Is it even possible? Well, yes, to answer the last question first. As for the first question...
Recognize that the reader’s brain is a powerful thing. If you give readers enough of a story structure, they can fill in many of the gaps that might be left between the words you provide. So even though you may have to leave out most-if-not-all of the backstory in a flash fiction piece, readers can still pick up on the essential details through the dialogue and action of the characters within the scene. They can do a lot of the imaginative “heavy lifting” for you, freeing you from having to pad out the prose with extra description or exposition.
Flash fiction teaches you how to pare down to the essentials. It teaches you how to write punchier dialogue. It teaches subtext. It teaches you how to get into a scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible. And it can teach you how to quickly reach the core of tension and conflict in a story. You simply don’t have the space to waste!
Overall, I highly recommend every writer try their hand at flash fiction at some point or another. Try writing at least ten flash fiction pieces, whether inspired by a prompt or straight from your mind. Even if you don’t continue in that format afterwards, I think you’ll come away having learned a few new writing techniques and have a greater appreciation for how you can make a big impact with as few words as possible.
Do you write or have you written flash fiction? What’ve you learned from the endeavor?
Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.