Monday, August 14, 2017

Lessons In Writing Short Story and Flash Fiction

We live in a world where attention span is like an endangered species. Bombarded by a 24/7 chaotic news cycle, many of us, assuming we find a moment to read, are ill-equipped to concentrate for any length of time and so we give up. When we do read, it’s often on laptops and tablets.

It’s easy to conclude why shorter works are popular … better suited as they are to reading off a screen. My own memoirs―by design―never exceeded 34,000 words.

As we learned in our Women’s Writing Circle Flash Fiction/Short Story workshop this past weekend, the lack of time and attention to longer works, plus more reading on laptops and tablets, provide insight into the growing popularity of genres where brevity is the operative word.

Led by author and storyteller Jim Breslin, our workshop focused on finding "sparks" that jumpstart a story; how to craft a basic story structure or narrative arc (set up, inciting incident, rising action, main event and conclusion) and developing a piece that packs a punch in 800 words or less. Flash fiction is so concise, it might even be considered prose poetry, Jim said.

So how to get started, put pen to paper and meet the blank page with that “spark” of story? It might happen through a conversation overheard in the coffee shop or waiting in the grocery store line; mediating; a walk in the woods … our dreams.


Flash fiction is a snapshot, a glimpse of a life that stays with you. “The idea is to dig deep,” Jim said. Whatever inspires or jumpstarts your story, when finished, it should leave the reader in “an elevated place.”

Favorite short stories mentioned at the workshop: O’Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”,  Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain" … or my own favorite, short story writer, Alice Munro. and this story “Free Radicals" which can be read here.

Writing prompts, I’ve discovered, also lead to vignettes, whether fiction or creative nonfiction. In my memoir, Morning at Wellington Square, several chapters hovered around 1,000 words … including one titled “Friday Nights”  ... two women going to a bar and commiserating about men and the single life

When writing a short story or flash fiction piece, consider a first draft a starting place … let the pen lead you, get something down on paper. Then, take a break, a walk in the woods, or as Jim offered, “hop on the mountain bike, clear your head … empty the dishwasher.”

For me, some of the best writing breaks involve walking Lily.

Writing contests abound, as do literary journals looking for submissions. Anthologies are also an excellent way to see your short story published. The Women's Writing Circle has collaborated on two anthologies comprised of both creative nonfiction and fiction short stories: Slants of Light: Stories and Poems from the Women's Writing Circle and The Life Unexpected: An Anthology of Stories and Poems.

As Jim noted, a fertile marketplace exists for writers to publish flash fiction and short story (an Internet search can lead to websites where work can be submitted). He tends to agree with the philosophy that you shouldn’t have to pay to submit; also, ask yourself: do you care if you’re paid or not? And don’t let rejections pile up and sit in your inbox for more than 24 hours. Keep the work out there.

As always, our Women’s Writing Circle workshops are like the genres we study … elevating, inspiring and a lot of fun. Many thanks to Jim and to our talented writers for a terrific August workshop of sharing and learning.

How about you? Have you written or read flash fiction or flash creative nonfiction? How about a short story? What do you enjoy about the genre?

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