…about flash fiction.

After I wrote the rough draft of my first novel, I joined several online forums for writers. I’d read that writers needed feedback to help polish their work, and the forums’ critique groups would perform that function.

One forum, now defunct, had a weekly word prompt writing challenge. The requirement? The story had to be flash fiction, i.e., 500 words or fewer. And sometimes, certain odd words had to be included. I paid little attention to it at first, but decided one day to participate. It would be easy to write a tiny story of no more than 500 words since I’d just completed a novel of 67,000 words, right?


I discovered that writing a novel, with word count boundaries stretching to the horizon, was quite different than telling a story within the confined limits of flash fiction.

I struggled. I cut. I rearranged. Then I added, because the story had lost its arc and its cohesiveness. Then I had to cut again. And finally, I had me a piece of flash fiction to submit. Whew!

I continued participating each week, and as I did, I noticed something peculiar. The sprawling, wordy sentences in my novel didn’t look so lovely anymore. Matter of fact, they seemed positively bloated. And so I went to work on them, cutting out the deadwood and polishing what was left. And in the process, the story deepened, the imagery became more concise, more expressive of what I’d seen in my head as I’d written it.

I became a flash fiction aficionado.

Writing flash fiction trains you to “write tight.” You learn to leave out extraneous words. You learn to judge the efficacy of what you’ve written. Does it say what you meant?

And you learn to make sure you have a story arc. It’s easy to see whether you have an arc in a story of 500 words. But in a novel? Sometimes, not so much. I’ve read long pieces, novels, in fact, that were not stories but merely a long string of episodes from a character’s life. Writing flash fiction makes you more aware of story structure.

As I observed improvement in my own writing, I also saw it in that of others participating in word prompt challenges. So nowadays, I encourage writers to take time out from their schedules to craft a flash piece from time to time.

Oh, and as I learned to tighten and tweak that first novel, eliminating all the extra verbiage, you’d think it would have shrunk considerably, right? Wrong. It started out at 67,000 words, but by the time I finished cutting, honing and polishing, it was over 90,000. But they were words that had a purpose and carried my meaning.

What about you? Have you written flash pieces? I’d like to hear about your experiences.

10 thoughts on “…about flash fiction.

  1. I prefer writing Flash Fiction and short stories, because they are so much easier for me. It’s novels that I find difficult. But I was encouraged by having now completed 3 novels, and heard this quote today: “You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.”
    Larry Niven, author of Ringworld
    winner of Hugo, Locus, Nebula awards (among others)

    • That’s a great quote, thanks for sharing. I love your short stories, and your ability carries over into your novels, too. So I hope you continue writing both!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve never tried flash fiction, but I know that I tend to be overly wordy in my writing, so it sounds like this could be a great way to learn to tighten my writing. Thanks!

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