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How YOU can Write FLASH FICTION

I had the privilege of meeting SPLICKETY Magazine Editor, Ben Ehrlichman, at the Write-to-Publish earlier this month. I asked him if he’d share his presentation with all of you, and he agreed. Yay! This is Part Two. If you missed Part One find it here.

Below is a little about the magazine he manages:

Splickety Magazine exists to showcase high-quality short fiction from new writers, established authors, and everyone in between.

Splickety Magazine is the premiere destination for high-quality flash fiction. We feature contributors from all walks of life, everyone from best-selling authors all the way to new writers just beginning their publishing adventures. Our goal is to provide concise, poignant stories that our readers can enjoy despite the busyness of their everyday lives.

Our readers include devoted working professionals, frazzled stay-at-home parents, youths with short attention spans, and anyone else who loves short fiction. If you wish you had more time to read, try Splickety Magazine––you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to take in your fiction in smaller bites. And if you write, but struggle with crafting book-length works, send us something shorter. If it’s sharp, clean, and quick, you may just earn yourself a spot in one of our issues.

While at the conference, Ben taught a class on HOW TO WRITE FLASH FICTION. Below is part of his presentation–his step-by-step illustration of how YOU can write a short story.

1. Create a compelling character to star in your short story. Is he the protagonist? Is he the villain? Write a detailed description of him/her, then choose only the most important, interesting features to highlight in your story.

2. Pick a setting. Describe it like you did with your main character, then choose select details to showcase in your story. Remember: your readers are creative, imaginative people (whether they think so or not). They will fill in the blanks as they read.

3. What’s the problem? No, seriously. What’s the problem your character is facing? Remember, shoot for internal and external. How can you show that in as few words as possible without sacrificing your writing quality? Go ahead, give it a shot now. You can always tweak it later.

 4. Don’t forget your plot: beginning, middle, end. Figure these out as specifically as you can, then fill in the missing parts. Remember that these are moments of action in your story–that is, something has to happen.

5. Inject conflict into your story. Make people angry with each other. Make them have opposing goals (i.e. a villain and a hero often have contrary goals). Tension makes your story more interesting and more publishable.

6. Give it to a test reader, a critique partner, or to a critique group. Use the feedback you like, and ignore what you don’t. Then submit it for publication; be sure to follow the guidelines with precision.

More on HOW TO WRITE GOOD flash fiction.

  • It helps me to think of a short story as a tiny novel.
  • They have protagonists, antagonists, scenes, settings, themes, conflict.
  • Their characters have development, goals to achieve, obstacles to overcome, and a resolution to reach (either they succeed, or they fail).
  • The short story has exactly what a novel has, just in much smaller quantities.

Characters and Setting

Issues

  • You’ll be tempted to include too much detail in your short story.
  • You’ll want to describe your character’s fingernails, the hitch in his step because of an old gunshot wound to his leg, and his penchant for drinking only bottled water, never, ever from the tap.
  • You may want to show us the story world from the emblazoned sky high above down to the gritty, ash-covered earth below, complete with poisonous black plants and giant scorpions that roam around hunting the last remnant of the human race.
  • Unfortunately, you may not be able to give the reader all of those details, because in a short story, every word is precious.
  • Most publishers set limits on word counts, and if you want to have any chance of getting published, you’d better follow their guidelines without exception.
  • Fewer words = fewer characters, fewer settings, fewer scenes, and fewer details.
  • Adding too many things will overwhelm your reader.

Solutions

Instead of showing your reader a movie, show them a photograph, or a scene.

  • Keep your number of characters low. Too many characters in a short story can confuse readers.
  • Consider using usually go with 1 character per 300-500 words (so a 2,000-word story would have 4-7 characters). You can certainly do more or less, just as long as you do it well.
  • As far as POV goes, follow all of the normal rules (i.e. no head-hopping, etc.) but keep your number of POV characters as limited as possible.
  • Every time you start a new character’s POV, your readers have to adjust and familiarize themselves with the new character, and it can take them out of the story.
  • Be judicious with your words: give details that make us want to know more about your characters, that make us ask questions about them, but keep us wondering.
  • As for setting, give only those details which make your setting truly unique.
  • I personally skim past most setting writing anyway because I gravitate toward dialogue and action in a story.


PLOT AND STRUCTURE

  • A short story is short, but you can’t sacrifice your plot quality because of the length.
  • You still need a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  •  Those lines can be blurry (in an artistic way), meaning you can end leaving us guessing what might happen next or begin in the middle of something without giving us much backstory, but those three elements still need to be there.
  • Start with a hook on the opening line, and make sure your end line(s) has at least as much impact as you started with.
  • Above all else, this is important: something has to happen.

Conflict/Tension

Here’s a concept I’ve learned since I started writing: pack your short story (and all of your writing) with tension and conflict. If you can do that, you will sell your writing.

  • A good way to look at this aspect is that the combination of all the other story elements is a recipe that is incomplete without tension as the final ingredient.
  • Someone (or something) needs to oppose your character.
  • Build an internal conflict into your character—something he or she struggles with on the inside while facing everything life throws at them on the outside.

EXAMPLES: struggling with an illness, guilt, shame, doubt, self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy, anger, a dark secret.

- The best flash fiction I’ve read has both internal and external conflict. If you want to get your short fiction published, include both.

NOTE: Conflict doesn’t always have to be resolved in the traditional sense. Your character with a terminal illness may still have that terminal illness. Or, your conflict may get resolved, but not in the way that your character was hoping (maybe the villain/opposition wins). This is where your creativity comes into play.

EDITING AND SUBMITTING TO PUBLICATION

After you’ve written your story, edit it with a keen eye.

1.  Every word cut is to your benefit–you may need to add to the story later on.

2.  Utilize others: test readers, critique groups/partners, or you could pay a professional editor to help you.

Follow each magazines submission guidelines with pinpoint accuracy.  A lot of publishers won’t even read your submission if it isn’t formatted the way they want (I’m one of them).

It also helps to read some good short stories so you get a feel for how yours should flow (like those in Splickety Magazine, for example). Read some in your genre especially, but don’t pass on ones in other genres. You never know where you might find inspiration.

THIS IS BEN and a little about him:

I’m an aspiring writer of action/adventure fiction. My first full-length novel was a finalist in the 2010 ACFW Genesis contest in the speculative fiction category. I graduated from North Central University in Minneapolis with a bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Studies. I’m currently working for my dad’s company, Business Fitness, Inc.

I want to use my talents to further God’s Kingdom here on Earth. I’m pursuing a writing career that I hope will inspire opportunities for pastoring and evangelism. In my spare time I enjoy sword-fighting, volleyball, softball, video games, writing, sleeping, spending time with my family, and learning about God’s Word. I live with my lovely wife Ashley in Glendale, Wisconsin.

Please click here to download a FREE COPY of Splickety’s most recent issue.

Stop back tomorrow for PART THREE of FLASH FICTION FUN when Ben shares exercises on how to improve your SHORTS.

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