Before we get started, hop over to Book Roast sometime today. I'm the Roast Master turning up the heat on Jeff Somers and his novel The Digital Plague. There's fun, conversation, and a signed copy of his book up for grabs!
In this latest Clarity of Night contest, we saw many amazing approaches to bringing a simple photograph and title to life. As I've always stressed in my contest rules and announcements, my judging is based on writing technique first, then story second. Technical elements are weighted substantially higher. Why do I do this? Because my theory is that if you're a strong writer, any story you choose to write will shine. If you're a great a storyteller, but not strong in technique, any story you write, even a great one, will struggle to come alive on the page.
This roundtable discussion today is to share each other's thoughts on what works and doesn't work in flash fiction. I posed this question to each of yesterday's winners:
What is your personal approach to flash fiction--things you shoot for and things you avoid?
Sarah Hina says: "I usually focus on a driving emotion to propel the story, since the characters are somewhat short-changed in the flash format. I've come to realize how important pacing and readability are to accompany a reader's sense of discovery, so I am learning to make my writing more muscular (less ostentatious), and hopefully more powerful, too."
Sean Ferrell says: "My personal approach to flash fiction is to remember the phrase: In medias res. I think that flash fiction, in order to capture the reader, has to contain the pre-story elements and hint at the post-story elements. It must "read bigger" than it actually is. Unlike a snapshot I don't think it should be merely descriptive of a moment. I am loathe to simply describe a thing or person in a short-short. Actions should reveal what is necessary for the reader. Hair color, physical size, other details which longer pieces give space for are peeled away. I think it's not unlike witnessing something awe-inspiring or shocking (a birth, a death) where the actions of the event itself bring more of who the participants are to the fore; and even though the event may take seconds it leaves an enormous impact on viewer and participant."
Josh Vogt says: "Since one is so restricted by word count in flash fiction, I try to aim for sentences and dialogue that pull double duty as both action and description. Plus, I know readers have great imaginations themselves, and often fill in the scenery 'cracks' for themselves, freeing up a lot of embroidery words that one might be tempted to pad the story with."
Paul Liadis says: "My goal in flash fiction is my goal in all writing: to entertain and hopefully to get the reader to think a bit. I definitely try to avoid superfluous description in flash fiction because you don't have the space for it with a limited word count. I hate a lot of description as a reader anyhow, so I try to avoid it in all my writing. I've found that a good way to tell a story in a small amount of words is to use dialog to move the story along and let the readers fill in the blanks."
Jeff Brandimarte says: "What I aim for most in a flash fiction piece is a fully realized story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Though it is always a happy accident when a flash fiction piece spurs one on to write something longer, I don't go into these with the notion that I'm writing a sketch."
Charles Gramlich says: "I remind myself first that the canvas is small. There's probably not room for more than two characters, and usuallly only one twist. Of course, every word has to count, although I've found from experience that I can cut material pretty drastically so I don't mind if the first draft goes even a 100 to 200 words over the count I'm looking for. Then, focus on the visuals."
What do think? Can you see these approaches at work in the winning entries? What are your struggles or theories in flash fiction?
We've shared our creations, now let's share how we got there.