Fast, Hard and Satisfying: 3 Reasons Every Writer Needs a Fling With Flash Fiction


Back in March, Agnes ‘the Mighty’ Meszaros organised a flash fiction writing contest over on That Thorn Guy. The rules were simple: to enter, you just needed to compose a 300-word piece that contained the words ‘life’ and ‘death’. The overall winner would receive a signed ARC of ‘The Wheel of Osheim’ by Mark Lawrence, and all shortlisted contestants would be provided with feedback from the judges.

Wheel of OsheimSeeing as I’m ridiculously excited about the upcoming WoO, and seeing as the judges were all frickin’ AWESOME (Mark Lawrence, Sarah Chorn, John Gwynne, Peter Newman, T.O. Munro, David Jackson) my heart was suddenly all a-flutter with the need to create something awesome enough to impress them.

So that’s what I did. My humble story (which I’ll post further down) actually managed to make the shortlist. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, look at the comments it received:

Feedback

I won’t lie: I clapped my hands together like a little girl (well, alright, more like a performing sealion) when I read this feedback. How. Freaking. Amazing. Right?

Right! And not only did I write a Good Thing™, but I also discovered three New Things™ in the process:

1) 300 words is not a lot. Yeah, it sounds obvious. But seriously, I never even considered how easy it is to hit 300 words, and I’d gone way over before I even realised. Since I don’t write professionally, the last time I ever had to worry about word count limits was at university five years ago. Back then it was a chore. Now it’s a challenge, and a fun one at that. Even better, it challenged me to *show* something using as few words as possible, and forced me to rethink (and re-rethink, and re-re-rethink) every. Single. Word.

2) 300 words is more than enough. As far as I can tell, flash fiction isn’t meant to tell a story from beginning to end. It’s not a novel, or a novella, or even a short story. A good flash fic is (to me) a snapshot into a bigger world; a moment in time, something that is self-contained yet also part of a whole. It’s a camera flash in a dark room that leaves us blinking, illuminating certain details while leaving others in shadow and showing the reader just enough to let them fill in the gaps.

3) 300 words is *unbelievably* refreshing. Knowing this had to be such a short piece was strangely freeing. Despite the length restriction – or perhaps because of it – I felt confident enough to experiment with a less familiar style (first person narrative), setting (contemporary) and tone (humorous) because I knew that this wasn’t some long, involved project I’d have to commit myself to. I knew I had nothing to lose by trying; and I even found that writing something short and different left me full of renewed enthusiasm for my main WIP. Result!

I can say for sure that I’ll be turning to flash fic in the future: to remind myself of the importance of each and every word I write; to explore some of the existing characters and settings from my WIP; or simply as a palate cleansing exercise whenever that bastard writer’s block comes knocking.


Finally, I’ll leave you with my WoO contest entry:

‘Life’s shit, and then you die.’

‘LIFE’S SHIT, AND THEN YOU DIE’. That’s what’s carved on granny’s gravestone. Dear, sweet old granny. I miss her.

She’s not actually dead yet, just . . . organised; but she will be soon. Dead, I mean.

Properly dead.

Not like me.

I stare morosely at the headstone: ‘Life’s shit, and then you die’. Not entirely true, in my experience. My life rocked: my girlfriend was hot, my school grades weren’t too dreadful, and my weekend job was . . . eh. On second thoughts, the less said about that the better.

Whatever. Life was good. Life was fun. Life was MINE.

Death, on the other hand, is a fucking drag.

I kick the loose dirt beside the grave, feeling myself scowling.

(Then again, I’m always scowling these days. That’s DIY embalming for you.)

So I scowl, and I kick, and I grumble. Or at least I would grumble if I still possessed a functioning set of vocal chords. As it is, a pathetically hoarse sort of moan is the best I can manage. It harmonises nicely with the cold wind that shivers the crispy orange leaves like a sigh.

(I’m assuming the wind is cold. I can’t actually feel it, you understand.)

Above me one, then two, then thousands of tiny, irritating birds strike up a chorus. My shoulders slump. Bedtime. I moan one last time before sitting down and rolling sullenly into the empty grave.

Don’t worry, granny. I’ll keep it warm for you.

I lie on the familiar bed of damp earth, absently reaching up to brush a rogue maggot away from the twin holes that puncture my crusty jugular. Then, hands tucked behind my head, I stare at the lightening sky far, far above.

Life’s great. Death’s shit.

And undeath’s even shitter.


(I’d love to go back and change that last line to ‘And undeath’s shittest of all’…)

Here are the comments made by Mark Lawrence and T.O. Munro:

FeedbackWhat d’you mean, I already posted them above? What’s your point? Well, there’s no need to be like *that*. This is one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me, so quit naysaying and let me have my moment, damn you.

2 thoughts on “Fast, Hard and Satisfying: 3 Reasons Every Writer Needs a Fling With Flash Fiction

  1. I thought your entry was fantastic. Back in the day AOL had weekly flash fiction contests. Challenging stuff. A terrific learning experience. I look forward to reading more from you.

    • Thank you so much! Yours was actually one of my favourites right from the start, as was Wes’s. Congratulations on winning!

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