Jaye Wells

Craft Thursday: When in Doubt, Flash

Last week, I noticed a link posted by the very talent Rachel Vincent, she of many wonderful urban fantasy and young adult novels. Rachel belongs to the Deadline Dames blog, a group of savvy and kick ass writers. They had this great contest for their readers wherein they posted three pieces of flash fiction and readers had to guess which of the Dames wrote each story. Reading each great piece, I was reminded of my own past as a flash fiction writer.

But let’s back up a minute. Some of you might never have heard of flash fiction. Basically, they’re super short stories, ranging anywhere from 250-1000 words (definitions vary). Flash is a wonderful exercise in writing tight. When you have to tell a story in as little as 250 words, you learn very quickly to make very word count.

I was first introduced to this form of writing by Jason Evans, who runs the
Clarity of Night blog. Periodically, Jason runs flash fiction contests, where he posts a picture for inspiration and people submit 250-word stories related to the theme picture. A wonderful community of writers has grown around Jason’s contest and the competition is friendly but fierce. I participated in Jason’s first contest (called “Two Lights”), as well as six others. Later, once I was published, I guest hosted the “In Vino Veritas” contest, and I also contributed a Sabina Kane flash piece just for fun to the “Ascension” contest.

Besides the friendships I made by entering those contest and the excellent practice writing those stories gave me, I will be forever in Jason’s debt because one of my flash pieces, “I Can Dig It,” eventually became the first chapter of RED-HEADED STEPCHILD. Some of the details changed in the process, but the spirit of the piece–the elements that intrigued me to know more about this character–remained.

Up until I wrote that story, I had written two paranormal romance novels. While I enjoyed the process of writing them, I always felt like something was off for me. But then Jason posted that picture. I remember the day very clearly. I was driving down the road, pondering what I’d write when suddenly a voice popped into my head. She said, “Digging graves is hell on a manicure.”

And Sabina Kane was born. Sabina wasn’t a romance novel heroine. She was brash and ruthless and blood-thirsty. I fell in love with her instantly. Telling her story was my first foray into urban fantasy.

Five years later, the line that inspired that flash fiction piece has stretched into hundreds more. I just completed my fifth Sabina Kane novel, and during the course of writing them, I’ve managed to turn two additional flash fiction pieces into scenes for the series (“Faery Rings and Broken Dreams” and “Blood Will Tell”).

Obviously, I’m not saying that if you write flash fiction you’re guaranteed to become a multi-published author. But it certainly won’t hurt your chances.

Writing flash, in addition to forcing me to write tight, is an incredibly freeing exercise. Because of the short form, it’s easy to experiment with style and voice. The other thing that’s interesting is, if you enter a flash contest like Jason’s, it’s eye-opening to see how many different directions writers will take the exact same inspiration. This is a critical lesson in being a writer. No two of us will handle material the same way. Even if it’s been written about a thousand times before, it’s never been written by you.

I would submit to you that if you are stuck for ideas, writing a piece of flash fiction can uncork the genie’s bottle. Free from the expectations of longer form fiction, you can really play. And if you’ll recall, I believe play is essential for creativity.

So the next time you’re floundering or putting off working on your book, pick a random image or word and using it as a prompt for a piece of flash fiction. Or enter one of Jason’s contest and open yourself up to the generous and helpful feedback of the community there. You never know what will come of it. That one little 250-word scene might shake up your subconscious–or it might end up being the scene that inspires you to write a book that will begin your career as an author. You never know until you try it.

For those interested, the links below will take you to all the flash fiction I posted at Jason’s site.
“Going Back to Basics”
“I Can Dig It”
“It’s Not So Bad”
“Faery Rings and Broken Dreams”
“Phoenix Rising”
“Some of Us Are Looking at the Stars”
“Blood Will Tell”

Have you ever tried flash fiction?

3 Thoughts on “Craft Thursday: When in Doubt, Flash

  1. I adore flash fiction. Mostly because I naturally write it. That is apparently my most comfortable format and length. A friend of mine calls me the Queen of the ShortShort. Interestingly enough I haven’t participated in any of the flash fiction contests or sites. But I’m thinking I should give it a try.

  2. Jaye, I can’t agree more with everything you’ve said. Flash ficion gives a freedom like no other. Of course, you can’t get the immersion that novels create, so flash can never compete on that level. But as far poking around in strange, fantastic, and experimental territory, flash lets you go. No strings attached.

    You’ll always be a central person in the golden age of blogging for me, and I’m proud that Sabina was born during one of my contests. I know you have a ton of fans out there. They often check out your flash pieces at The Clarity of Night. I’m pretty much on a six-month schedule for contests these days, so if any of your writer fans want to try the same contest where Sabina emerged, they can drop me a line, and I’ll add them to my email list. The next should be around January.

  3. christina williamson on October 18, 2011 at 7:48 pm said:

    i lovvvvvvvvve urban fantasyit began when my boss fired me i left to go off to the book store and then found the amazing hollows series by kim harrison from then my love affair with u f begain and continues till this day christinajohnston24@yahoo.com

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