"Three Reasons Why Flash is the Genre for You"

My spotlight article was published today at Women on Writing. Enjoy!

“Three Reasons Why Flash is the Genre for You”

By: Melanie Faith

 

Don’t let the small size of flash fiction and nonfiction fool you—there’s a ton to recommend this little-genre-that-could.

 

·        Got sci-fi? Got a personal essay? Got romance? Got magical realism? Great! Flash is diverse in subject matter. Just like its longer contemporaries, flash is a hot genre sought by many markets. I’ve seen seeking-submission ads just this week for flash fiction in anthologies, magazines, and for conferences. One market sought speculative fiction, which includes science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and slipstream subgenres. Another market asked for flash memoirs, romance, horror, adventure, and cowboy tales. Still another market seeks environmental and travel narratives in flash. I’ve seen (and submitted my own flashes to) markets for humorous flash as well.

 

Both fiction and nonfiction flashes are prized by editors, so whether you like to write about yourself or to create characters, there’s room in flash for either. Or why not try writing flash in both genres? In my craft book, In a Flash! Writing & Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose , I offer oodles of practical tips and prompts for exploring and marketing flash in fiction and nonfiction.

 

Clearly, just about any topic you could spend a novel, novella, (auto)biography, or short story writing about can translate well as a subject for flash, too.

 

·        Another advantage of flash is that most markets want multiple flashes at once. This is great news, because if they want three or five stories at a time, then you have three or five chances to wow them. Include what you think is your strongest flash first in the submission packet. Not sure which is your strongest piece? Ask a friend which piece stands out to them.

 

·        Worried about not having enough plot development within such a small space? No worries. Many of us writers are already used to writing texts and Tweets. Trying our hands at flash in its many styles should be a snap.

Flash is economical but also has wiggle room to fit any plot. While the top word-count for flash is often set at either under 1,000 words or 750 words, that’s not the only length markets seek for flashes they publish.

 

Ever head of the “drabble?” That’s a flash of exactly 100 words. There’s an excellent book by Michael A. Kechula, called Micro Fiction: Writing 100 Word Stories (Drabbles) for Magazines and Contests , that details more about how to write and submit these 100-word gems.

 

There are also fifty-word stories, two-sentence stories, and even six-word stories (you read that right). I’ve seen contests and literary magazines, like Narrative Magazine , that seek six-word stories and often pay for them.

 

Whatever subject, style, or word-count works for you, there’s sure to be a market eagerly awaiting your flash submission!

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Want to learn more?

  • Check out my upcoming online workshop that begins on Friday, March 15th. Here’s the scoop and the skinny:

In a Flash class

  • Signed copies of my book for writers that is chockfull of great tips and examples for nonfiction and fiction flash writers, In a Flash: Writing & Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose, available at WritePathProductions.

  • A sale book bundle, of both my flash- and poetry-writing books, is also available for book lovers at Etsy.

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"How Sweet it is: Writing Resonant Flash Prose"

My craft article was published as a spotlight today at Women on Writing. If you’re interested in writing more flash, check out my online class that starts on November 2nd. :) In a Flash

“How Sweet it Is: Writing Resonant Flash Prose”

By: Melanie Faith

 

            When I was a kid, my dad used to stop on the way home from work each night to get the newspaper for my mom and a candy treat for me and my sister. One of our favorite treats was wrapped in a long, thin piece of see-through cellophane. Inside, was a string of thick white floss that had elasticity, and strung along this floss were shiny, bright candies. These circular gems, in popping pastel shades of yellow, pink, orange, and blue, were vaguely-sweetened like fruit and floral flavors (the yellow was slightly tart yet banana-ish and the blue, I recall, tasted like a cross between raspberry and the way a rose smelled).

Each candy bead had the kind of brittle crunch that a child relishes—chomp-chomp!—but which would make my adult teeth weep. The hues of the candies melted with each chomp until the string was bare and vaguely pinkish-whitish-yellowish-blue-orange by the time the last candy was presto-change-oed. After just a few moments, the candy dye bled onto fingertips, tongue, and face, revealing opaque-white candies’ underbellies.  

            A vivid sense memory I repeat is the internal debate—holding the cellophane-wrapped treat, after a hug from my dad: should I rip into the cellophane immediately and wear the candy-pretty necklace (sometimes I doubled it around my wrist like a fancy lady’s bracelet)? Yet, there was the candy, so tantalizing, that who could resist just a tiny bite? On the other hand, once bitten into, the string was sticky and not really conducive to wearing—destroyed, in a sense, for displaying.

It was a catch-22, albeit one of the best kinds, and the tension between knowing when to hold onto something and when to begin was the kind of life lesson that doesn’t have a perfect answer and yet which gets repeated, unbeknownst to the child’s mind, again and again in life. Timing— whether strung on a string or not, whether involving choosing a major or a love interest or a house or a car or another job or having a child— is an infinite loop of weighing pros and cons and, eventually, just diving in. A lesson, as a Type A elder daughter, I struggled with endless times, weighing the sour against the sweet, second-guessing myself:  Was it too soon? But could there be a too late? Even after the satisfying crunch, the soggy, lone string.

           

            In the above flash nonfiction, I began with a simple note I’d jotted this morning in my writer’s notebook while still half-asleep and making my to-do list for the day. Idea: candy necklaces we ate as kids.  Hours of student correspondence, errands, lunch, and dishes passed before I sat down again, opened my notebook on my desk and commenced to write the above passages.

            Clocking in at just under 400 words, my creative process and this piece highlight some of the best facets of the flash genre. Let’s examine them:

·         Flash begins with—well, a flash! Ever used a writing prompt? Sure, most of us have encountered them in writing classes, writing groups, and in books. The genius of a prompt is that it revolves around one idea. Good flash starts with a kernel of a topic which the reader then writes into in discovery. In the case of my candy-necklace flash, my random memory (which popped into my head after seeing a necklace online of white beads) became the prompt I explored.

·         Flashes are focused. Notice above how I say “one idea?” In flash, there’s not room for asides or diversions. Any details about the rest of my childhood—the scented dolls I adored, the children’s jokes I loved to tell and invariably flubbed the punch lines of, have no place in this piece—they need to be moved to their own flashes. One is plenty in developing flash.

·         Flashes are about what they are about, and they are also about something bigger than their subject, too. In other words: readers learn about you and your characters but they also learn something resonant about humanity. Sure, this is a flash centered on a personal memory, but it also has a theme that readers can connect with their own experiences: timing. How do we know when it is the right, or the wrong, time to do anything? The reader should walk away asking and connect to circumstances in their own past or present.  Consider universal themes.

·         It’s all about the imagery, baby! Without hitting readers over the head by spelling out theme, how can we explore themes and other literary language? One of the easiest ways is to develop imagery. Just like in poetry, another condensed form, flash nonfiction and flash fiction often employ plenty of sensory images to get the job done (as does this flash with taste, smell, auditory/sound, and visual imagery).

·         Flashes include tension. Without the final paragraph of my flash, there wouldn’t be a lot of resonance or conflict in my piece. Most of the other paragraphs are a nice memory involving candy—perhaps interesting for my nieces to read or some other Gen Xer or Baby Boomer who remembers this type of candy, but not the stuff of literature per say. The final two paragraphs introduce the pressure of both leaning on one’s own internal judgment and the suggestion (without spelling it out) of external conflict/judgment over choosing something too soon or being too late to spoil the fun.

 

Try this exercise: Set a timer and write for fifteen minutes without stopping about a food associated with your own childhood. Incorporate at least three of the five elements of successful flash either as you write or when you return to edit your piece after writing.

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Craft Article: "Three Qualities of Good Short Stories.."

My fiction craft article appeared at Women on Writing today. Ta-da! Hope it inspires, and enjoy the prompt at the end. 

 

"Three Qualities of Good Short Stories (and Why You Need Them in Your Own Stories)"

By Melanie Faith

 

 

"The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat's mat is a story."

--John le Carré

 

 

We've probably all had that experience where we read the latest edition of our favorite literary magazine and thought, Meh. What was so great about that piece? Editorial tastes aside, there are some key elements to making good fiction that transcend the names on the masthead. Let's take a look at a few elements that make a good short story.

 

There's enough conflict. Readers get invested in stories that have something at stake, both for the protagonist and for the reader. As in the John le Carré quote, merely having a character in a scene doing something isn't enough to generate and sustain interest. Just as our actions or refusals to act create ripples of effects in real life (Wonder about that? Don't pay your taxes, show up at your child's recital, or buy groceries: the reactions are sure to pile up speedily), your characters live in a setting populated with other people, places, and things and whatever they do or don't do has consequences aplenty. Consequences create the potential for conflict and increase tension in a story. Conflicts and consequences are good. Characters who do something (anything) in a vacuum: boring city!

 

We know who to root for and who not to. Ever read a story where there were so many characters that you weren't sure who you should focus on or what was the point of all of these characters being in the scene? Good stories might have a few characters, but it's clear who the protagonist is and isn't. Same goes for the antagonist, which may be a person but doesn't have to be (in man vs. nature stories, for instance, a storm might be the antagonist). Every action/reaction, snippet of dialogue, and description must support the reader knowing who the main character is and who works against the main character. All other details (or characters) can either be edited out of the story or need to be pared back to supporting status for the protagonist's journey.

 

They have a clear setting--which just may prove significant to the character's quest. Just like us, your characters exist in time and space. A character typing in a coffee shop in Smalltown, USA probably has a different life and set of goals than a character in a coffee shop in LA, Tokyo, Milan, or the moon (hey, this could be science fiction, right?). Remember that storm example a few sentences ago? Some settings, such as a character outrunning a tornado in Missouri, might be significantly impact by where the action of the story happens. Other times, the action of the story might have little to do with the conflict but it's important to create a scene in which your character breathes and moves through a landscape just as we all do. Keep in mind: characters don't have to like where they live (be that their city/town or their living conditions, such as apartment/condo/house/basement/friend's couch), but good stories need a place for all of the action of the story to take place. Otherwise, characters can become mere talking heads, doing a lot of thinking that could easily alienate readers who want to be grounded in place and time.

 

Try this prompt!

Take a draft of a story and let's flip the script: write a new story, making your antagonist your protagonist. What is the main conflict your new protagonist must confront? Who creates obstacles for this new protagonist? What do they want? Where does your protagonist spend most of their time? Make that the setting. How does the setting either support your new protagonist or work against them? 

 

Care to write more short stories?

Check out my May short-story class .

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