Short and Sweet (or, How Flash Fiction Can Help You Write Your Novel) by Emma Read

What is Flash Fiction?

Might as well ask how long that proverbial piece of string is. Definitions of what makes flash fiction vary, taking in word count, number of characters, or page length, but for the purpose of this blog it’s sufficient to say it’s a short piece of writing – shorter than a short story (maybe). What I’m more interested in here, is what it can do for your Work In Progress.

As well as publishing a full length novel I’ve also written chapter books, short stories, flash fiction, and twit-fic (and yes – in the old days of 140 characters!) so I know a thing or two about writing succinctly and this is what I’d like to focus on.

A Bit Flashy

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I wrote a previous blog on hooks and the first page (In an age of tl;dr, how to hook your reader), where I talked about how important it is to make a big impact from the start – to make every single word work hard to convey your story quickly and effectively. One of the ways I practice this is by writing flash fiction.

When I began writing for children I had pretty much no idea what I was doing, so I read everything I could on writing craft and to spur me on, I started entering competitions – anything and everything. They inspired me to write, gave me deadlines, and made me create complete works – which is easier when your target WC is 150 words … or 140 characters, like this winning piece I wrote for a Twitter horror competition (visual prompt: A lighthouse):

The sweeping beam lit their advance, arms outstretched, relentlessly hungry. He cowered, foetal. From here, there was nowhere left to run.

I was fortunate that my flash was longlisted and published, and as an added bonus that gave me my first credits to add to query letters and bios. But its true benefit is what it teaches you about craft.

Flashes of Brilliance

Short isn’t easy. I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone into thinking it is. ON the contrary – it’s HARD. Just like writing a kick-ass first page. You must be economical, you must seek out the perfect word, the most concise sentence you can to convey your message.

Each word is like popping candy – it explodes in the mouth, or in the mind.

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Practising flash fiction can help you hone your word choice, kill unnecessary prose, balance your structure and give your characters more impact, more quickly.

As a great reader* once said:

“Be more interesting, more quickly”

* Junior Judge, Bath Children’s Novel Award

Homework in a Flash

Take a scene from your WIP and treat it as if it were a piece of stand-alone flash fiction. Does it work structurally? With a beginning, middle and end. Does the POV character have a goal, conflict and resolution (leading to a consequence for the ongoing narrative)? Does your character drive the scene with agency, and are your word choices clear and precise?

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“A flash is a blink in time, an important one. But the reader needs to feel that there is life beyond the story. Yes, we can see the flash’s edges, but the reader should understand that there was a before and there will be an after.” ~ Nuala O’Connor, novelist and poet.

Further Reading as published in :

Also, follow fellow WriteMentor flash enthusiasts: @Sally_writes and @boybandmumager

Emma Read is the author of Middle Grade debut, Milton the Mighty – shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award, published by Chicken House in 2019. The sequel will be out in spring 2020. She is a mentor with WriteMentor Sparks and runs creative writing workshops for children in KS2.

You can also come along to Emma’s Writing Weekend in Bath on 30th and 31st May.

BATH – #WriteMentor Writing Weekend Workshop



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