Why Write Flash Fiction?

jot_eblast2In a couple of weeks, I’ll be speaking at Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference on the topic of flash fiction. If you haven’t heard the term before, flash fiction is simply very short stories. Think anywhere between two (2) and five hundred (500) words.

Flash fiction isn’t new, and short stories have always had a following. In fact, many well-known authors of acclaimed novels got their start in writing short stories for magazines. My favorite example for this transition is Kurt Vonnegut, author of classics like Slaughterhouse-Five and Timequake. But as time has replaced the short stories in magazines by ads and articles on how to improve your sex life, readership of short stories has become almost niche.

Now take the population that reads this niche and shrink it considerably. The folks that are left are the ones writing flash fiction. Now shrink that number considerably and you’ll be left with the ones actually getting their flash fiction published.

So if flash fiction is a niche within a niche and there are so few people publishing it, why write it?

Here’s why:

  • You will learn the value of the right word. If your goal is to make a book as thick as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you can afford to be wasteful with words, adding in superfluous languages, ten names for the same character, and description as wordy as a dictionary. But when you are limiting your number of words, you can’t afford such extravagances; you need the right word, not a bunch of the wrong ones that mean the same thing.
  • You will learn to kill your darlings. By limiting your word count, you will have to make the tough decisions about what is necessary to the plot and what needs to go.
  • You will get to know your story more intimately. If you are writing a novel-length story, consider writing one of your scenes as a story within itself. What are the important elements of the scene? What descriptions can you use to bring your characters into the right light? These things will become evident when you force yourself to abide by a truncated word count.
  • Media consumers are becoming accustomed to briefness. Tweets that are 140 characters long. YouTube clips under 3 minutes long. Attention spans are shortening by the second. If we stay on this course, novel lengths will eventually shorten to flash fiction lengths anyway. Why not stay ahead of the curve?

By distilling your characters, plots, and settings, you are making each element richer. Flash fiction will help you become a better writer whether you use it as a writing exercise or as your main artistic form.

Please join me at Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference as we will look at some tips for writing flash fiction.

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I am the “Paper Bag Strangler”.

During our first year of marriage, my beautiful wife and I used brown paper bags to bring our lunches to work. And because she loves me, DeAnne would write notes on my bag. And because I love her, I would write notes on her bag.

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It started out just on the front of the bag. But in time, the front grew too small for the amount of message that we each wanted to leave, and words spilled over to the bottom of the bag. We were being stereotypical newlyweds, and it was wonderful.

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DeAnne was working at the now-defunct Linens-N-Things. It was a great place to work for a newlywed, because everything that we didn’t get at our wedding, we were able to buy at a steep discount through her employee status. DeAnne worked hard as a full-time lead and was soon promoted to become part of the management staff. All the while, she would go on her lunch bag and read the note that I had written for her.

I was working where I still work, Baker Book House, but was acting as the store’s music buyer then. I made sure that Baker had music to sell, handled returns and promotions for my department, and had a working knowledge of all branches of the Christian music scene. And everyday, I looked forward to my lunch break, when I would be able to read the note that my wife had written me.

Things continued along these lines until my wife was transferred to a store closer to my bookstore. We were excited to be working less than a mile from each other, but our brown paper lunch notes met an obstacle. Shortly after the transfer, while DeAnne was still meeting all of the staff, she started to hear comments about her lunch bags.

“Did you see what DeAnne’s husband wrote?”

“No. What?”

“I don’t remember exactly, but I get the impression that if she ever tried leaving him, he’d kill her.”

Now, for the record, one of the sayings that my wife and I have and live by is “Death before Divorce”, but it is something that we both agree with, and I don’t think I ever wrote that on one of DeAnne’s lunch bags. My notes were mostly about things like how pretty she is and how much I love her. Occasionally, I would draw a dinosaur or something. But I don’t think I ever knowingly threatened her.

After that, I stuck to writing on the bottom of the lunch bags.

Since then, we’ve gone green and use re-useable lunch bags, and though we no longer write each other notes for all to see, we have found other ways to help each other feel loved.

Here’s hoping that you have love in your life and that you are actively seeking to help others feel it. Thanks for reading!

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Here’s my newest post about Jot! If you are in the West Michigan area and are willing to help us out, we’d really appreciate it! Exclamation points!

Jot Writers Conference

There is a reason Jot is free. Most writers aren’t rolling in piles of cash. We understand that. In fact, we represent that.

So here are a few ways that you can help us out for little or no cost:

  • Re-blog our posts. If you don’t have a blog of your own, start one and use it to re-blog our posts.
  • Tweet or Link to Jot on Facebook. Use this link, it’s short! http://bit.ly/ZZFvAw
  • E-blast your contact list info about Jot. If they tell you that the email wound up in their spam folder, maybe you should just remove them from your contact list. Those aren’t the type of people for you.
  • Print out and hang a poster at your favorite library, coffee shop, or public writer hangout. (Click here for the jot_mini_poster)
  • Talk about it to your friends. If you don’t have friends, talk about it to strangers…

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Innermost Secrets 49 – 53

DSC00863The series really is coming to a close, just not today. I’ve decided to stretch it out to another week. So there will be one more post next week and that is it.

Want to start at the beginning? Try these: Innermost Secrets 1-8, 9-15, 16-21, 22, 23-27, 28-32, 33-3738-42, and 43-48.

49th Innermost Secret

  • I’ve gone over Niagara Falls in a hot air balloon, and lived…

I’m a daredevil. What can I say?

One of my favorite Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy (an old bit from Saturday Night Live) was along these lines: Love isn’t something that you put in chains and send over Niagara Falls in a barrel. That’s called Houdini. Love is when you like someone a lot.

50th Innermost Secret

  • My heart stopped beating in 1994.

I was twelve in 1994. Or eleven. It depends on if we’re talking about before or after my birthday.

51st Innermost Secret

  • It never restarted.

True fact.

52nd Innermost Secret

  • Vengeance is spelled J-O-S-H.

I was a big fan of the movie, The Count of Monte Cristo” when it came out. So much so, that I was led to read the original by Dumas. Oh man, did the movie version simplify things! Also, oh man, did the movie version change major plot elements! That said, I enjoyed both the movie and the book, though I probably wouldn’t have like the movie much had it been a more true representation of the book (the book was basically a soap opera). But I bring this up because the major theme of both stories was vengeance.

I’m also a big fan of Monte Cristo sandwiches, for which my body will one day get its revenge on me by giving my a heart attack or something. Oh well. Some things are worth it, and the unholy offspring of a ham sandwich and a jelly doughnut is worth it in my book.

53rd Innermost Secret

  • I was second runner up in the World’s Strongest Woman Competition last year.

There was a time when I enjoyed saying really awkward things (that time is still now). One of my good friends in high school, a girl, was quite strong and said one time that she had strong pectoral muscles. But my other friend who was dating her at the time did NOT appreciate when I would say things like “Nice pecs Julie.” I’m glad that I’m so much more mature now.

And since I’ve decided to drag things out another week, you’ll just have to wait until next week for the final secret.

Book Review | The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

What’s better than a fantasy novel featuring a magical orphan? A fantasy novel that focuses on three magical near-orphans.

I picked up John Stephens’ book, The Emerald Atlas, at the insistence of my pal, Bob Evenhouse. I never heard of Stephens or his book before, but according to the book cover, it was a New York Times Bestseller and carried an endorsement from Brandon Mull, author of the Fablehaven series, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Why not give it a chance?

Meet the children with the surname P. Kate is the oldest, the responsible one, the one charged by her soon-to-disappear parents to watch over her younger siblings. Michael is the middle child, the brain and the nerd with an obsession for dwarves. Emma is the youngest, the one who answers questions with her fists and defends her older brother.

Moved from orphanage to orphanage, each worse than the last, the children P have landed at the strangest orphanage yet. With no other children, a cranky cook, a handyman ex-photographer with secrets, and a mysterious director, the orphanage at Cambridge Falls is like nothing the children have seen. But when they discover the green book behind a hidden door, their adventures really begin.

Time travel, magic, and the mysterious forces beneath Cambridge Falls mix to create a fantastically fast-paced story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The characters are well-written, the plot compelling, and Stephens’ handling of time-travel masterful. The only complaint that I have is that I don’t yet own the next book in the series.

100 Word Challenge | The notes from the piano…

When eccentric recluse Otto Silversmith died, rumors ran rampant about the riches he had squirreled away. But as the workers cleared his estate, it wasn’t the money they found. It was the notes.

From the piano, a note to his nephew: “Avoid loose women.”

From beneath the kitchen sink, a note to his doctor: “Warm hands under water before exams.”

After ten, the workers laughed. After fifty, they smiled. After hundreds, they groaned. Notes in books, behind pictures, stuffed into shoes.

Thousands of notes went into the dumpster, but for the one that remained hidden.

“Word two from note in clown portrait. Word ten from…”

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I am Proud to be a Weakling

I am a Weakling.Great things have been happening in my writers group, The Weaklings.

One of our members, Andrew Rogers, has been named as a finalist in a Michigan writing contest. Andrew and I met quite a while ago (see the full story here), and have been encouraging each other to write ever since. His story, Archived, is available to be read via this link. Be sure to vote for him (you can vote once a week per computer).

In other Weaklings news, we are moving forward in planning Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference. It’s a one-night writers conference that is free to attend. It’s being held at Baker Book House at 2768 East Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546 on Friday, February 8th. As one of the presenters, I’ll be speaking on the topic of flash fiction. Be sure to follow our Jot blog for all the latest posts and news. I recently wrote a post over there about what people can expect from Jot. I hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to vote for Andrew!