Episode 019: Find the Right Length for Your Story, Pt. 1
So that we’re all on the same page, let’s start with a quick overview of the commonly-accepted ranges for different types of fiction.LengthSix-Word Story6 wordsAmerican SentenceOne sentence with exactly twelve syllablesTwitterature280-characters or lessHint Fiction25 words or less50-Word Stories/Ultra-Shorts/Minisaga/Dribble50 to 55 words or less (Sometimes exactly 50 words with up to a 15 character title or exactly 55 words with up to a 7 word title)Micro Fiction/Drabble100 words or lessMicrostory250-300 words or lessSudden Fiction750 words or lessFlash Fiction100 to 1,500 words (Usually 1,000 words or less)Short Story1,000 to 7,500 wordsNovelette7,500 to 17,500 wordsNovella17,500 to 40,000 wordsNovel40,000 to 125,000 wordsEpic or Super Novel125,000+ wordsSeries2 or more connected novels Unlimited words
Are You a Flasher?
Many of us start out writing with the idea of being a novelist and jump straight into that form. And some will have produced some number of novel drafts or partial drafts. (Can I get a shout out from my NaNoWriMo crowd?!) There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting with the novel (or even a series) in mind. If that’s working for you, keep at it! If, however, you’re struggling a little (or maybe even if you’re not), consider Ray Bradbury’s advice on this subject and give shorter fiction a go:
The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden a story will come that’s just wonderful. Ray Bradbury – “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001
In next week’s episode, we’ll be chatting about short stories, novelettes, and most likely novellas. For today, we’re focusing on the shorter end of the spectrum: Flash* AKA Flash Fiction AKA Short-Short Stories AKA Short-Shorts.
These stories develop plot and character with a brevity that is sometimes extreme, using as few as six words. The shorter the work, the more it relies on suggestion and evocative language to make the reader an active partner in developing the plot and/or character. (A great example of this is a 6-word story often attributed to Hemingway: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”) However, even the author of a 1,500-word flash fiction piece will need to be mindful of how they choose their words. Those six pages will fly by, I promise!
*One fun little thing that sometimes leads to confusion: “Flash Fiction” is also a term for a subcategory of Flash. See table above.
That being said, use the words you need to tell your story. Here’s a great example from Laura McMillan and John M. Cusick, Editors of Armchair/Shotgun:
“Take advantage of shades of meaning to paint the picture you want with maximum economy. If “blue” doesn’t cut it, you could try “a vibrant shade of blue-green that reminded him of that time he flew over the Caribbean,” sure. But if you’re limited to 300 words, it’s a lot faster to say ‘cerulean.’ -http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/flash-fiction-whats-it-all-about
A Few Ways to Incorporate Flash in Your Writing Life
Try committing to a weekly (or even daily) challenge as a way to warm up before you get to work on your main project.
Use the links in the resources list below and submit some of your stories. You can build confidence and credibility with small (or in this case shorter) building blocks, too. 😉
Think about publishing a collection or anthology. Check out A Story Each Day and see what Nicholas Sailer did with his challenge. There are loads of flash anthologies in a variety of genres and around a variety of themes, both online and in your favorite bookstores. Happy hunting! I was thrilled to discover Severance, a themed collection of 62 short-shorts by Robert Olen Butler in which every story is told from the perspective of someone who has been decapitated and has about 90 seconds of conscious awareness remaining. I’ve already ordered a copy. I can’t wait to see what he does with that topic!
Some questions to ask yourself when looking for opportunities for Flash Fiction in your longer fiction projects:
Is it possible that at least some of your story ideas could be best served in shorter form? Some ideas simply aren’t novel-length story ideas. It can be good to take them out for a test drive in the shorter form vs. finding out 50 or 100 pages in that there isn’t enough there for a novel.)
Are you working on a character profile that could just as easily be written as a vignette and submitted somewhere as a flash piece?
Can you use a flash story to hash out the essence/theme/arc of a story vs. doing a traditional outline or synopsis?
Do you need something to revive you creatively? Use flash to refresh yourself when the temptation to abandon your project for a new one. Scratch that itch by letting yourself play in the Flash Sandbox and then go back to your main project.
Remember, as a writer, you’re free to write in whatever form you like. You’re not boxed into any one category. Keep an open mind as to how the different forms might serve your writing goals and help you develop a writing career you want and enjoy!
Happy writing, people!
P.S. If you’re interested in trying out these, really do check out the resources section for some great articles offering tips and advice, including info on three typical plot types for shorter fiction (traditional, curiosity, and punchline), questions around genre flash, and more. If you’re interested in doing an anthology, be sure and check out Jack Smith’s article in The Writer magazine (“Expert Tips for Writing the Best Flash Fiction“). He offers valuable advice on how to make the impact of the collection more than that of the sum of its parts.
Crafting Micro Stories by Chris Winkle
Everything You Need to Know About Flash Fiction by Joanna Smith
Expert Tips for Writing the Best Flash Fiction by Jack Smith (Writer Magazine)
Flash Fiction: What’s It All About by Becky Tuch
Going Long, Going Short by Grant Faulkner
Ray Bradbury’s Greatest Writing Advice by Emily Temple
StoryADay with Julie Duffy
What Can You Do in 25 Words? by Ian Crouch
What I Learned Writing a Short Story Everyday by Matthew Donnallon
Places to Submit and/or Read Flash Fiction
An Extremely Helpful, Incredibly Comprehensive Guide to Flash Fiction Submissions by Zebulon Huset **Contains links to dozens and dozens of individual magazines, contests, and other outlets**
Flash Fiction Online (Stories by genre)
Microfiction Monday (Stories)
Talehunt (App featuring stories written in 250 characters or less)
Top 24 Websites for Flash Fiction (From 2017, but still a helpful framework for when you’re trying to prioritize about where to submit)
#hintfiction #SixWordStory #Twitterature #Flash #100WordStory #6WordStory #americansentence #Dribble #ShortShortStories #RayBradbury #Minisaga #50WordStory #ShortShorts #converstory #Microstory #ShortShort #UltraShort #microfiction #vss