Three Minute Reflection

On Tuesday, I uploaded my entry for Round 11 of NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest. I spent less time than usual editing my 590 word story. I followed advice that another flash fiction writer recently shared with me, that there’s a fine line between finding just the right word and overworking the prose. Flash fiction is like biscuit dough that way; too much handling results in a less appetizing outcome.
The best flash stories, especially those that come in under a thousand words, are as much poetry as narrative. Often, their brevity conceals the complexity of the writer’s intent. And while I agree with other writers’ advice about attending to all of the words and making them do double and sometimes triple duty, I also see the wisdom in limiting your revisions and edits. Flash stories are often more about the picture than the plot. With many fewer words allotted some of what moves the story can be what’s left out.
I believe that writing in the flash form can be freeing, despite the feeling of constraint that word limits impose. A writer can experiment in the flash form with mood and subtlety and can focus on dramatic elements more keenly. Preambles can be tossed. Fewer characters offer the possibility of a sharper focus on the motives of one or two. The story can purposely leave more to the readers’ imaginations.
The best piece of advice I found about writing flash fiction was to ignore the word count. That’s right – stop looking at the little number in the lower left of your screen.
Write the story that nags you to be written. Avoid sacrificing your ending to meet the word count. Make sure you can deliver the reader a wonderful twist that makes them want to go back and reread. If you can’t meet the word count and still tell your story, chances are it’s not meant to be a flash story. It’s OK to let the story be the length that best suits its message. If it communicates the message you intended, there’ll be a market for the story – just not, perhaps, the contest or the market you first envisioned.

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