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This week: Writing Effective Flash Fiction--ShowingEdited by: Northernwrites
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Greetings from Northernwrites , your guest editor for today's Short Stories newsletter.
Today's newsletter will discuss how to write effective flash fiction by showing information, as part two to "Writing Effective Flash Fiction" from last month. Watch for part three next week.
Writing Effective Flash Fiction--Showing
As I mentioned in "Writing Effective Flash Fiction" --
Flash fiction is short.
Flash fiction is a story -- it has a plot and character development related to the character's efforts to solve a problem: something changes.
. . . It is not a vignette or a slice of life.
Today we'll discuss this part of what makes a story flash fiction:
Flash fiction is vivid and shows what happens using precise details.
. . . It is not a story summary that tells.
When people try to write flash fiction, another common mistake is that the piece tells instead of showing.
Telling seems like a necessary choice when the word count is low, but it's not effective at creating a vivid story.
So how do you show when you don't have much space to work with?
[Show What Happens]
Eliminate what doesn't belong in the story.
Once the first draft is written, you need to go back and evaluate it piece by piece in terms of the story structure that was described in "Writing Effective Flash Fiction" . You need to decide: Does this piece of information belong in the story? Chances are that a lot of it won't.
When word count is limited, readers assume that if something is mentioned, it will be significant in some way to the plot. This is one way you decide what to put in and what to leave out.
Anything that doesn't matter to the workings of the plot you can leave to the reader's imagination. For instance, if the story would be the same whether the main character has blond, red, brown, or black hair, then that detail does not belong on the page.
Pack the story to travel light.
When you introduce a character, give the most important piece of information about them. That is often the name. It might be what the relationship is to the viewpoint character. It might be something else that is plot-related. That piece of information is usually not just a pronoun.
Each detail you use to develop a character needs to show more than one aspect of their character or situation. The character development is related to the plot. The character's values, priorities, decisions, and actions that relate to the plot are the most important things to include.
Active description is showing. Instead of static descriptions that stop the action to tell, show things in use or in motion as they interact with the viewpoint character. How the appearance, behavior, or function of the person or thing affects the viewpoint character can speak to why things happen, which is usually the more interesting part of a story.
Start with the pieces that give the most information first; then use the other pieces as needed, and as space allows, to narrow the focus more precisely. The Pareto principle is that 20% of the causes produce 80% of the effects. If you run out of space, cutting back from the least important first will minimize the effect on the story.
Be clear and complete so you don't lose the reader.
It's possible to have everything necessary to convey the content on the page, and still lose the reader. Readers come with a variety of reading skills and what's on the page could be not sufficient for every reader. In order to communicate with a wider audience, give the readers a little more opportunity to catch on by using a few more words than absolutely necessary.
If the characters make references to what happened before the story begins, make sure the references are clear enough to inform the reader. Vague hints are not interesting or helpful. Be specific about anything important that happened in the backstory. Some pieces of backstory information are more important than others.
In a story, nothing happens without a reason -- everything must have a cause. The cause-effect relationships between the individual events need to be on the page or clearly implied.
Sometimes the cause is in the backstory, and the character caused his own problem. In that case, the story should probably include the reason something was important enough to the character at the time to do whatever he did that caused the current problem. The story also needs to include some sort of development of the character's change of heart or attitude or mind before the problem gets resolved, or the reader won't find the change plausible.
In regular fiction, it can take at least three indirect references for the reader to be convinced that an implied fact is intended and not just a happenstance interpretation on his own part. This is why it's possible to make better use of the word count by choosing details and actions that show several different kinds of information directly.
Use organization and timing to help the reader keep track of what's going on.
Tell the story in cause-effect or timeline order. Flashbacks weaken story structure, and short pieces are seldom the better for using them.
Use transitions to skip over time periods where nothing is happening, and to shift the setting.
The reader gets to know what the viewpoint character knows when the character knows it.
Put any necessary-to-the-plot personal description near the beginning of the story so the reader doesn't have to go back and revise his mental picture of the character(s).
The opening line should provide a good hook.
A hook doesn't just withhold information. Most attempts at a missing-information hook keep the reader's mental image from being specific. They withhold the wrong kind of information. At the beginning, withholding information is more likely to turn readers away than pull them in -- they have nothing invested in the story yet. To pull readers into the story, you need to give them something specific to consider.
A good hook gives detailed information that shows the main character has a significant problem, and creates an interesting question: What's he going to do about it? This impending action is the right kind of information to withhold. The initial problem doesn't have to be the biggest one that occurs in the story, although it may need to be for the shorter word counts.
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These comments were submitted in response to my previous editorial in "Writing Effective Flash Fiction" . I appreciate all those who took the time to write in:
Max Griffin 🏳️🌈
Comment: This is an awesome newsletter! I've never even attempted flash fiction, but this inspired me to give it a try...not a particularly good try, but a try at least.
Fitting even a few of the story elements into 200 words proved to be an enormous challenge, but having your list at least made it more manageable.
Additional comments were made to "Note: View this Note"
Share the essence of your latest short story: Use vivid, active verbs to compress it into 3 sentences of 3 words each.
Most commenters had trouble following the direction to use vivid, active verbs. Some used noun fragments instead of sentences.
Do you know enough of the basic vocabulary of grammar to be able to tell which commenter followed the directions?
Until our paths cross again, keep writing!
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