Flash Fiction and how to write it!

Hey guys,

Welcome back to another instalment of this mini series! I have really enjoyed writing this series and since I started it (three weeks ago now!) I have written several pieces of flash fiction; some of them may even get shared on here over the next few months (editing takes a while guys!).

So I wanted to come to you today, to give you an insight into how I write flash fiction. I’m going to explain my five step process to writing each and every flash fiction piece.

1. Gather inspiration

I gather inspiration from four main areas; dreams, images, dialogue, prompt books.

I use dreams all the time, usually by the time I have woken up I can only remember a snippet of what actually happened. However, that small clip I remember turns into 100 – 300 words and suddenly the image in my head is on the screen and others can see it too.

Images are huge in the flash fiction community, there are whole competitions about using a set image to write a 100 word story (FFAW). My biggest area of searching for these- like many authors- is pinterest. I am constantly scrolling through and getting inspired by image after image, until I just cant help but write the story behind it. Even better is when I see the same image again and a totally different story emerges (look forward to seeing more of this soon!).

Dialogue; dialogue is everywhere. When I am sitting on the bus, walking around work, or even nipping to the pub for a quick drink; I can always hear snippets of peoples conversations. Whether they be good or bad! But, when I can, I try and write interesting ones down because I could build a whole scene from one line. Try it yourself, while you’re out and about, keep notes of interesting things you hear and see what stories you come up with.

And finally, when these fail me (rarely, but sometimes you look and you really don’t have the energy to scroll through hundreds of notes) I turn to prompt books. There are hundreds to choose from and they have hundreds of prompts in them, from one sentence prompts, situation, character, dialogue. I must admit that I like turning to these, I browse through them and one will take me away somewhere completely different.

2. Brainstorm

This, for me, is the most important phase because its when I start making decisions. I look at the prompt and think ‘ooo’ what if it was because of this. Then I see a character or two. Usually, I brainstorm enough for a full short story (1000 to 3000 words) or maybe it turns itself into a full novel idea. But that is the magic of this phase.

I like to do this on A3 paper, like art teachers used to give. I summarise the prompt in the middle and everything that comes to mind sprawls onto the page. I tend to make this into a mind map, however I have done lists, drawings, doodles, anything to get the images out of my head.

Once this is done I generally have majority of what I need, plus a lot of extras. So I start going through and deciding what I can actually work with in the space I have. It doesn’t mean everything else gets discarded, nope I have a habit of putting the prompt at the top of a word document (say the image, or the dialogue line) then typing out the ideas underneath, ticking off the ones I decide to use. I then save this for later, when I don’t have much time and I want to write from one of my many ideas and prompts- think of them as blue peter projects, ‘here’s one I started earlier’!

3. Draft

This sounds like the main step, but for me it isn’t. Usually by now I have majority of the points down and it is finding the right words to join them all together. Taking it from the bullet points to paragraphs.

I tend to do this over an evening (because that is my favourite writing time) and it usually ends up roughly twice the length I need it to be, sometimes even longer. At this point I am not worried about word choice or the flow, I am looking at getting the idea into an order and having words I can work with.

This is also when I choose anything that is missing, for instance I find that I cant flow from one point to another without more explanation. It is also when I find out what works or not, an idea that looks amazing on paper but when I start applying it to the other elements, just doesn’t click.

4. Edit

I usually leave the draft overnight before I begin the editing process, for me this involves reading it over and over. Asking myself what the story is saying overall and whether each line pushing it towards its goal.

Sometimes, well most of the time really, when it gets to the second of third round of edits, I start looking a word by word. Can those words be condensed, am I repeating words throughout. I look at my overall word count and think what can be cut, what must be kept.

Sometimes, I even open up a new word document and take over the key parts of sentences that really tell the story and see if I can just work with those. Usually, I can.

This can take a few rounds or it can take a week of going over again and again.

5. Show someone

In the end, I mean the very end when I smile at the screen and think, okay, that’s enough; I  want someone to see it. Usually, this means that I submit it to an online magazine that accepts flash fiction pieces, or even enter it into a competition. However, sometimes its just reading it to the kids or to my partner, or to my parents.

Another option, is to build a collection of them. By a collection I mean 10, 20, even 30 short pieces that work together under the theme. Then, in the end, self-publish them. But be sure when you decide to do this, be absolutely sure that this is the route that you want to take.

So those are the five stages I go through when I write my pieces, usually, from a prompt I can get a few different stories. Some weeks I can barely finish one piece, some weeks I can finish 6 pieces. It depends on the pieces and it depends on the week.

Don’t worry if you take weeks to finish up one piece (one took me over 2 months before I was content with it- not even happy). Flash fiction doesn’t represent the minute amount of time it took to write the piece, but how long it takes to absorb the piece.

Remember: the message and conflict should be clear and a change has to happen.

Thanks for stopping by guys,

Helen x


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