By Megan Burkhart, a professional writing student at Taylor University
Writing short stories and flash is not for every writer. I’ve always enjoyed reading these kind of stories, but never writing them. Personally, I can’t contain a story arc to such a small amount of space. By nature, I want to world build and develop rich character backstories.
That’s not going to fly in short stories or flash.
Writing short takes an entirely new perspective and frame of mind. It takes a lot of discipline, which is part of the challenge and fun of it. So, what is the formula for these kinds of stories?
Well, there isn’t one. Not exactly. But here are a few things I’ve learned from my creative writing class about short stories and flash fiction.
1. The length should be as long as the story needs.
What does that mean? I’m a stickler for rules, and not having a specific word count to aim for makes me a little crazy. What if it’s too long? Too short? Shouldn’t I be dictating the length, not my story?
A good writer never forces the story but lets it take the lead. You can plan all you want, but the story always has a mind of its own. Learn to let go of your control and allow the story to flow. Word count doesn’t matter as much as telling the story that needs to be told, nothing more and nothing less.
However, if you’re writing for a publication, there will be a word count limit. But it’s best to go long and cut back later during revision.
2. Think ideas, not plot.
Have you ever read a short story or piece of flash fiction and thought, “There was no plot to that”? Precisely. These stories do not have a beginning, middle, and end by normal standards.
Instead, these kind of stories explore an idea. It could be love, loss, abuse, etc. Your goal is to make the readers think. Give them an idea to wrestle with and end with a direction for the character(s) to be moving toward. The readers will decide how the story ends as long as you give them enough of a trajectory to follow.
3. Use vivid and specific details.
Every word counts in a short story. You can’t go on and on because the reader wants to get to the point. Now, I mentioned that you should think in terms of ideas, but don’t get too abstract. Give the reader details to set the scene or explain character. Show, don’t tell (as the adage goes). Analogies, metaphors, and physical descriptions will make the story more vivid in the readers’ imaginations.
These tips are by no means comprehensive, but they provide some basic groundwork as you approach this genre. You won’t get it right on the first try, and that’s okay. If you want your reader to wrestle with the story, you’re going to have to wrestle with it for awhile too.
Sometimes, your story doesn’t start until you have written the last line. Because that’s when you figure out what the story is truly about, and revision can then help you mine out your theme.
Take a chance on yourself. Embrace the challenge of short stories and flash. You’ll often find you have more to say than you originally thought.
Megan Burkhart (writing under the pen name Megan Lynne) is an award winning writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her recent awards include the 1st place Tar Heel Award for her speculative fiction novel and an honorable mention in the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition in the inspirational category. Megan is also a junior agent with Cyle Young Literary Elite and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing. Find out more about her at meganlynneauthor.weebly.com