Last weekend I took part in a flash fiction workshop at Varuna in Katoomba, run in collaboration with the Sydney Writers’ Festival. On a drizzly grey Saturday, when the mountain mist smothered the town like a blanket, a group of writers gathered in front of a crackling fireplace in Varuna’s cosy lounge room to learn from two masters of the form.
Melissa Goode and Barry Lee Thompson facilitated the workshop. Both are accomplished short-story writers with many publications between them, and they were knowledgable and generous with feedback. I now have a better idea of what makes an excellent piece of short short fiction.
Flash fiction can be defined as anything under 1000 words in length. Obviously this definition encompasses a wide variety of work, from the micro-fiction on the billboard above to something approaching a standard short story. Most flash fiction falls between 250 and 1000 words.
In no particular order, here are ten tips I picked up from the workshop for creating a successful work of flash fiction:
- It should be more than just a scene. It needs to contain action, movement and content.
- It must be highly-charged and deliver an intense emotional impact. Aim for a single emotional effect. The language, imagery and story all need to contribute to eliciting that one emotion.
- Evoke the emotion by showing rather than telling where possible. Sometimes this can be challenging with a tight word count.
- It needs to go beyond the surface and expand in the reading. Don’t think for the reader; let them do some work.
- Your character must yearn for something, and something needs to change by the end of the story.
- Make it satisfying and worth the reader’s time.
- Write a strong opening, so the reader knows they’re in good hands.
- The last line must sing.
- The title is important. If using a single word, make it a strong one.
- Don’t be afraid to break the writing rules, to play with structure and punctuation.