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Writing About Flash Fiction

I don't know whether this post will run longer than the flash fiction piece I just submitted to New Scientist for its Forgotten Futures contest. It's likely, since I tend toward wordiness, but I'm OK if it happens as I wanted to note that (a) I had finished and revised the piece and (b) I wanted to talk about the process of writing and revising a flash fiction piece for the first time.

The main hurdle back when I started writing was finishing. Think 1975 here. I was in the sixth grade and attending St. Vincent De Paul elementary. There was an English assignment, and I wrote about a dream where I saw a flying saucer during the middle of the night, and wasn't sure where the dream ended and reality began when I found circular marks pressed into the snow in our front yard the next morning. I even drew an illustration to go along with the story. My teacher liked it, and gave the assignment an A, and I've never looked back. Except writing on a deadline for a class is different from sitting down with a blank sheet and making stuff up where the story isn't yet fully formed. Especially when you're a teenager.

I'm still figuring out how to finish, which is why I talk about learning different tools here, such as outlining or writing flash fiction. But I'm also figuring out how to revise/rewrite, which requires a completely different set of tools. Re-writing is as important as writing. Stories improve in second drafts and third drafts, because you're able to add stuff you forgot, remove stuff you don't need, find the right word that draws a clearer picture.

I'm finding the appeal of flash fiction is that I'm able to finish that much sooner and every word counts. Every word. Especially when the piece comes with a tight limit of 350 words, as in the New Scientist contest. It's great when you're forced to weigh the merits of the word void versus the word deep or the nuance of using false or falsehearted. At least, I think it's great, but my mind is wired that way.

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February 2012


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