How to write flash fiction

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How to write Flash Fiction Start at the beginning

Today has been a day of Flash Fiction writing for me. On the back of yesterday's post about coping with writing failure - and my distress at being so inadequate - I am determined to put into action some of the things I said I'd learned from the experience.

There is another competition coming up that I'm thinking of entering. This one has no theme, is limited to 250 words, and costs ?3 to enter. Closing date is 30th June, so I don't have too long left - though luckily I can submit online and pay with PayPal, so that's all good.

So, my main problem/question (and possibly yours) is: is my entry good enough?

Honestly, I have no idea. Not only that, I don't know how to know if it is good enough. I don't have enough peers available to review my work, and I've certainly learned that there's no good way of assessing your own writing.

You see, the thing with Flash Fiction is: it's easy to write. It can be fairly tricky to keep it within the word count, but writing 250 words is a doddle. You might think you've done an awesome job, but then so will hundreds of other competition entrants, and in the end your entry is always going to be judged very subjectively, to criteria that you can't possibly know. So how do you know if it's any good? Really - HOW?

One of the lessons I have 'learned' from my previous writing failures, and something that might help, is to avoid having only one chance of success. By stacking the odds in that way you're giving yourself no room for manoeuvre. And so, I've spent today writing two extra entries to add to the one I produced last week, and I'll be crossing my fingers that one of them is good enough.

All I have to do now is work out how to get enough feedback to help me choose which one is best... and hope that that one ends up being good enough to at least get shortlisted.

Competition rules forbid the publication of the flash fiction in any form (a simultaneously stupid but understandable rule) but the titles of my three entries are:

  • The elephant's star.
  • Tie your shoes, you clown.
  • From bad to worse.

How do you write flash fiction?

Personally I find that 250 words is so undemanding that I just sit down and start typing. Some nugget of an idea will occur at some point, and then I develop it from there. I usually allow myself a good 50% leeway on the original word target, too, so I'm happy to go up to around 375 words (for example) on the 250 word limit.

If you find you don't come up with anything when you sit down and let yourself go wild, then don't worry - just keep trying! The great thing about the low word limit is that you're not going to be spending a lot of time on any one idea!

If I do struggle to start writing flash fiction, then my next job is to come up with either alternative titles (if the competition owners have provided a theme or title) or instead make one up for myself. 

Tips and rules for writing Flash Fiction:

  1. Start with a title, even if you have to make one up
  2. Give yourself an allowance over the word limit - it's better to have to cut down a good story, than to only have half of one.
  3. Edit, edit, edit. You have to make it the best it can be. 
  4. Even though it takes only a few hours (if that) to knock out a flash fiction story, it takes days to make a really good one.
  5. Read it out loud. Your writing in your head is not the same as it is when spoken. Speak it and you'll hear what isn't right.
  6. Test your work - send it out to friends, family, neighbours, facebook friends, twitterers - the lot. Get some feedback!
  7. If you have opportunity, write more than one entry.
  8. Don't take a knock back as a sign you're not worthy. Judges are judgemental, and that's surely the point.
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