Flash Fiction: Keeping It Short and Pertinent

pagesI’m in the middle of reading 40 flash fiction contest entries.  The word limit is 750 which really doesn’t feel painfully short to me but that’s probably because I write for children.  Sure, most of my ABDO books start out at 15,000 word but much of what I’ve published in significantly shorter than 750 words.  That said, I’m not a fiction writing pro, just a fiction reading pro.

Here are a few tips for writing very short fiction:

The reader still needs to know the character’s background.  It is 100% essential to understanding the character’s present and caring about his or her future.  The details you give can be vague but make us care.

Limit dialogue.  This is one of the quickest ways to chew through your word count especially if it is written the way people really speak.  Cut the clutter (um, uh, maybe, starting, you know). Don’t eliminate it completely but make it matter.  Use it to push the plot forward or illuminate the character.

As with all fiction, concrete details bring the story to life but again, make them count.  We don’t have time to dwell on thread count, hair color or favorite flower unless it matters to the story. And concrete doesn’t mean sensational or gory.  Not the same thing at all.

Want to salvage your word count?  Cut purple prose.  Read it out loud and if it sounds like you should be narrating from a fainting couch, cut it.  NOW.

If the word limit is 750, don’t write a 300 word story and then pat yourself on the back.  Make sure that you’ve developed the story enough to draw the reader in.  You aren’t going to win extra points for writing shorter than necessary.

Flash fiction has to do everything that book length fiction has to do.  The tricky part is that it has much less space to do it.  Still, if a picture book author can do the job in 500 words, certainly a flash fiction story can be told in 750 words, as long as I’m not the one writing it.