By Kim Bussey.
Flash fiction is considered by some to be up to 1000 words and by other as up to 500 words. I love micro fictions of two hundred words or less. To me, it’s a challenge to cut a story to the bone and still capture the attention of a reader. It keeps my mind sharp and my writing muscles fit.
Because of my obsession with flash, I’ve scoured the net looking for contests to enter or magazines that take submissions. Once I find a site, I read past winners or previously published stories to learn what each site is looking for. What I’ve found has depressed me. There’s lots of flash fiction out there that doesn’t meet the criteria
for a story.
Flash Fiction Examples
Below are two flash pieces under fifty words. One is a story; the other is not.
Mary smiled. Eyes sparkling, she uttered a breathless, “I do”.
The lovers kissed, filled with the joy of new beginnings. Having pledged to a lifetime together, they embraced the start of their story. Only Mary foresaw the next chapter. She placed a hand on her stomach.
Unfamiliar scenery passed by the car windows.
Family life changed. The house stood empty, it’s contents packed or sold. Food became scarce and anger plentiful, so she tried to give love and comfort.
The car stopped. Cruel hands pushed her out into the darkness. As taillights faded, she managed a pitiful, pleading meow.
The Criteria for Flash Fiction
There’s no trick involved. Flash fiction must meet the same requirements as any other story. There has to be a beginning, middle and end. But you must also supply conflict, resolution and environment. These form the frame that your story will be built on. In the above examples, “United” is a vignette, a scene – but not a complete story. It starts in the middle of the action and then moves to the end. There is no conflict, no resolution
The second example has all the elements of a story. We begin with a car ride through a strange area to set the environment. The middle lets the reader know something profound has happened and sets up the conflict. The family can’t afford food or their home. What can they do to resolve this problem? To cut costs, they abandon both the house and the family pet. In the end, the confused feline watches the car continue on without her.
Cutting Out Extraneous Words
Now that we know the correct structure, how do we tell a story with so few words? First, write your story and don’t worry about word count. Now, take a pencil in hand and start striking out unnecessary words. First on the list to go are: was, had, that and were. You may not be able to get rid of them all, but you’ll find most aren’t needed.
Example: Family life had changed.
This was my first version of the sentence. Delete ‘had’ and it retains its meaning.
Adjectives and adverbs are next on the chopping block. Write with nouns and strong verbs instead. These can be the hardest things for a writer to cut and, I believe, are the cause for turning out vignettes instead of stories. Kill the flowery prose and you have more words for conflict and resolution. Once you’re done and find you’re below the required word count, you can replace descriptive words if you feel the need. A few can’t hurt, but flash is generally better without them.
Another word that can be deleted is ‘and’.
Example: The car stopped and cruel hands pushed her out.
I deleted the ‘and’ in the final version, making two small sentences. Short sentences give the reader a sense of tension, so dropping the ‘and’ provided a double story bonus.
Get rid of sentence starters such as well, however, suddenly. These words are introductory to a sentence, and flash doesn’t have time for intros.
Suddenly, the car stopped.
Unfortunately, the house stood empty.
Edit and Edit Again
After running your pencil through the entire story, take a break and then do it again. Study each line independently. Look for ways of saying the same thing in fewer words. Soon, you’ll become proficient at spotting what is necessary, and all your writing will improve.
5 Publications That Buy Flash Fiction
When submitting a story, always read and follow the submission guidelines for that particular publication.
Flash Fiction Online accepts any genre and wants stories that are 500-1000 words. Payment for first electronic rights is $50.00.
Everyday Fiction takes any genre of 1000 words or less. They pay a token $3.00 per story, but since they publish daily, first-timers may find them a perfect place to break into the business of selling stories.
New Myths is a quarterly ezine looking for stories with a fantasy or science fiction element. Flash fiction up to 999 words and poetry are paid $20.00. Short stories up to 10,000 words are paid $50.00
Daily Science Fiction puts out a new story every day. They want speculative fiction, meaning science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, etc., from 100 to 1,500 words in length. They’re also eager to see flash series–three or more flash tales built around a common theme. For first word rights, they pay .08 USD per word.
Freeze Frame Fiction is a quarterly flash ezine that accepts any genre. They pay $10.00 per accepted story and publish a yearly anthology.
KIM BUSSEY is an editor and avid writer of flash and micro fiction. Her stories have been published in numerous magazines and ezines and taken first place in four flash fiction contests.