Flash writing (be it fiction or creative non-fiction) offers a lot of possibility. There are few hard and fast rules governing the form, which makes it exciting to explore. But, this lack of constraint also makes flash writing difficult to master.
Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short. - Henry David Thoreau
(If you are unfamiliar with the flash form, you may want to read my post Flash Writing: An Introduction to the Short, Short Form for a quick overview.)
Developing good habits
The work you do to create a strong piece of flash writing will certainly carry over to your longer stories. To write a precise piece of flash fiction or flash non-fiction, requires, what Joyce Carol Oates in the Telling Stories anthology terms, a “radical distillation.” This distillation renders what remains important, necessary. There is nowhere to hide your bad habits.
While it will take a while to distill to the final version (especially if you write long and then go short), the form is accessible to writers of all kinds—it does not require you to sustain a narrative over 250 pages, and, it also allows for all kinds of experimental writing and so, flash is a good place to spend some time developing your writing skills.
Read like a writer
To develop good habits, it’s a good idea to read widely and to read like a writer. You don’t want to just read to discover the story, but rather to study it. When reading like a writer we should be asking ourselves questions and marking the story up.
While this is not an exhaustive list, below are some the questions you may want to ask when reading like a writer:
- How was the story constructed?
- Have any literary devices been employed?
- Has whitespace been used? If so, how does it serve the story?
- What does the title do for the story?
- How is meaning made in the story?
- Does the meaning linger after the story ends?
- What does the final line do for the story?
- How did the writer characterize?
- How did the writer cue the reader to time and place?
Some flash reading suggestions
Of course, it’s also well worth studying classic flash pieces like Anton Chekov’s “The Student” and William Carlos William’s “The Use of Force.”
What are your favourite flash stories?
I’ll go over some flash-writing guidelines and share a piece of flash fiction in upcoming posts.