The Art of Writing Flash Fiction
by Sarina Dorie
If a short story falls under a thousand words (1500 words in some markets), it is considered “flash fiction” or “micro fiction.” With a number of new markets out there publishing flash fiction: Penumbra, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online being a few among many, it is a plentiful market to send to. Because writing short, succinct stories is a skill I wanted to develop, there is a high demand for flash fiction, and it takes less time to write flash fiction than a long story (in theory), I decided I wanted to take a stab at it. When Daily Science Fiction opened about three years ago, Wordos, my speculative fiction writing critique group in Eugene, Oregon, decided we wanted to dissect flash fiction in order to hone our skills and see what makes a short-short story work. It isn’t surprising that because of our critiques and dissections, quite a few writers from our critique group went on to sell flash to Daily Science Fiction.
What we noticed about these stories is that they were tightly written, limited details, often had an interesting idea, a twist or punch line at the end, and were emotionally powerful or shocking or funny. The format these stories had been written ranged from someone was telling a story to a friend, in the form of a letter or letters in an epistolary fashion, were written like a fable, joke or essay, or used some other unusual writing device to tell a story. Many of these stories weren’t even traditional stories in the sense that there was a character arc, plot or conflict. Still, there was something that happened in each “story” that made it a catchy, edgy or worthwhile. These are just my observations, as well as some that I remember from members of Wordos. My advice to someone genuinely interested in breaking into the flash fiction market is to read and analyze lots of flash fiction and decide what it is about each piece that made the editor choose it.
As a result of studying the market and trying to think in the “short” mindset, I wrote about twenty flash fiction stories in a few months. Some of them I submitted to my critique group and got feedback on, some of them I later turned into slightly longer short stories, and some of them I left unfinished because there wasn’t enough there to create a story—but I didn’t feel guilty about not finishing because they were so short and I considered them experiments. Though I had been submitting stories to magazines for several years, it was my flash fiction stories that first sold. The four pieces I first sold in 2011 were “Zombie Psychology” to Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, “A Ghost’s Guide to Haunting Humans” (which won the Whidbey student choice award), “Losing One’s Appetite” to Daily Science Fiction and “Worse than a Devil” to Crossed Genres. From there, I went on to sell slightly longer short stories as well as more flash. After building up my resume with short stories, I sold my novel, Silent Moon, and then my novella, Dawn of the Morning Star.
Whether it was the short format that enabled me to practice my writing skills more often, or the feedback I got that helped me improve before going on to longer pieces, this process worked well for me. Is your process working for you? Would writing something shorter help you become more succinct in your skills?
Sarina Dorie brings to her writing background experience working as an English teacher in South Korea and Japan, working as a copyeditor and copywriter, and reading countless badly written stories. Sarina’s published novel, Silent Moon, won second place in the Duel on the Delta Contest, second place in the Golden Rose, third place in the Winter Rose Contest and third in the Ignite the Flame Contest. Her unpublished novel Wrath of the Tooth Fairy won first place in the Golden Claddagh and in the Golden Rose contests. She has sold short stories to over thirty magazines and anthologies including Daily Science Fiction, Cosmos, Penumbra, Sword and Laser, Perihelion, Bards and Sages, Neo-Opsis, Flagship, Allasso, New Myths, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, and Crossed Genres, to name a few.
Her science fiction novella Dawn of the Morningstar is due to be published with Wolfsinger Press next year. Silent Moon is currently available through Soul Mate Publishing and Amazon.
For more story problem remedies, editing tips and short story writing advice, go to Sarina Dorie’s website at: www.sarinadorie.com/writing