Wednesday 4 March 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 08: “A Flash In The Pan”

2015 WORD COUNT = 10072 words

Flash Fiction is the art of conveying a story within a very tight word budget.

Some of the best Flash Fiction authors I know are able to include a beginning, a middle, and an ending (as well as character development and plot resolution) in just 200 words.

It’s a hell of a skill to pull off a great piece of Flash Fiction. I’m not dissing authors that write in different forms but, whether you're writing interlinked short stories, bookshelf busting novels or a collection of poetry, each style has a set of rules to make it work.

There are two three things I love about the Flash Fiction contests I take part in. First is the consistency. I may fall behind on the bigger stuff but there is at least one piece of Flash Fiction produced every week, without fail.

Next are the prompts themselves. Whether it's photos, story elements or key words, these forced elements constantly push me outside my comfort zone. A year ago I would have laughed if you’d even suggested I might one day write a comedy set around the Declaration of Independence (AMERICA CAN WAIT) or a dark drama centring on spousal abuse (THE CLIMB). And yet I’ve done this and more. I’ve shed my need to write only supernatural sci-fi fantasy and tried other things, things my own mother might even consider ‘real writing’ (just kidding mum). Sure, I mostly stick to these genres because that’s what I love but now I can think a little more outside the box.

But the one thing that makes me happiest with these 200 or 300 word stories is that sense of completion. I struggled for years with not getting to the end of novels or short stories. With my almost non-existent attention span and constant supply of new ideas I have a lot of beginnings and not much else. But Flash Fiction had minute word counts and deadlines; one afternoon to imagine, plan, write and edit a story. And when you’ve posted it, that’s it. All done. Finished. Final.

Or is it?

You see, one of the greatest things a Flash Fiction writer can do is paint a bigger world between the gaps in their story, to hint at something larger, something their story is just a snap shot of.

But what if I’ve written a story and want to explore more. Well there are two ways forward; one is to write other stories set in the same world. The other is to rewrite the story without that word count constraint. Now there’s the argument that it might be that constraint that made the story work in the first place; no room to blabber on, every word counts and leaving stuff open to the readers imagination.

I’ve thought about this on several occasions but I’ve always walked away. If the story is a complete package at 200 then surely I should let it be, right? Will they lose their strengths if I stretch them out? Or can I use some of them as first drafts or outlines for something bigger?

Let’s be clear; I’m not planning on turning 100 flash fiction stories into 100,000 word novels. Believe me; some of my stories just won’t work in any format.

But some might just. Here’s an example.

My January 23rd Flash! Fiction entry, INTO THE WATER is set in a world where the elderly aren’t left to grow old and become a burden to the state. Instead, on a citizens 65th birthday, they line up on the beaches before wading out into our nations surrounding waters where they are gifted to some truly horrific creatures that lie in wait (think Lovecraft) almost like a ritual sacrifice.

It came in at 197 words and barely contained any of this in a clear way. Should I count this story as a failure and leave it behind or was it a novella born in a Flash Fiction body? Perhaps we have a girl who doesn’t agree with this, even though her country has carried out this ritual for hundreds of years. Maybe she tries to hide her grandmother from the authorities. Perhaps there’s something bigger going on behind the scenes and things aren’t what they seem. Or what about if she goes into the water after her grandmother and takes on these creatures of legend?

It could go several ways and I’d like to try. Of course I’m also someone who said George Lucas should leave the trilogy alone so I’d be a little bit of a hypocrite going back on previous ‘finished’ material.

What do you guys think? Should completed stories be left as they are or is there room to expand them? Have any of you had success which a short story made large?  

See you in seven.

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