Monday, April 23, 2012

Using flash fiction to best advantage

I much prefer to read a whole story than be dropped someplace into a novel not knowing why I should care. For instance, when I was working on a book set in the south, I used my flash fiction story, “The Doozy,” to promote not the story, but the atmosphere of my rural southern setting. It was entertaining as well as an example of the writing in my novel. The two stories are related only by area and attitude.

So…how do you write flash fiction? Very sparingly.

There must be fewer characters and fewer scenes. The story should concentrate on one scene. The backstory is implied by body language, dialogue and succinct description.

All flash fiction has a beginning, middle and an end. The ending might be hinted at or left to the imagination of the reader. So it is with my latest F-F story, “Ways Open, Ways Closed.” If you read this story, you’ll find there are a few unanswered questions. These are not earth shattering; they are about the human condition. (Ie), Will Melissa, who has lost her son to AIDS, accept the kindness offered for a bicoastal friendship, and if so, how serious might that relationship become? All the elements are there for the readers to dream up their own ending. The story grows upon reflection. Readers might think about a flash fiction story more often than a novel where all the details have been resolved.

One of the problems new F-F writers are faced with is the temptation to turn a synopsis into flash fiction. Beware, flash fiction is the whole story. It’s shorter than a synopsis and longer than a blurb, which does not include the ending. Readers are right inside the characters hearts. Their speculation is the enjoyment of adding their own “what ifs” of contemplation.

Why write flash fiction? Isn't it really a short-short story?

It is not a short-short story. That would be a condensed version of a more traditional story, which is somewhere between 1500 and 2000 words, or a literary story that starts at 2000 words and ends where a Novella begins. Flash fiction seldom exceeds 750 words.

Long before flash fiction was a genre, a short-short story “The Wig,” by Brady Udall, appeared in Story Magazine and won many awards. It was reprinted again and again in Story. Every element was there, but it was up to the reader to pay attention and understand what the author was showing. I read it 15 years ago, and I still remember it. Now that’s a genre you can drop your heart into.

What are the uses for flash fiction when you are a novelist?

The best use as far as I’m concerned is to get rid of those pesky excerpts. There are no introductions to those scenes that are short enough or long enough to place the perusing public into the scenes. Even the funny ones leave readers on the outside scratching their heads instead of laughing. The shaggy dog story works better. You could think of flash fiction as a form of shaggy dog story. The difference there is it doesn’t build on itself or repeat itself and escalate. Flash fiction winds down quickly to a resolution—or speculation, a choice of logical endings.

Julie Eberhart Painter is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, Tangled Web, and Kill Fee, recently tied for first place in the Champagne Books Best Book Awards.

For more flash fiction visit Julie’s latest story at
Julie’s Web site:


January Bain said...

Hi Julie, flash fiction, who knew! Just learned something I was not aware of before. Will go looking for The Wig!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

That's a very good outline of flash fiction, Julie - thanks!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Thank you for stopping by. It's really fun, and not as easy as it looks.I'm struggling with one based on an advertisement. It's a problem if the readers haven't seen the ad. Like overtelling a joke.