So you may have noticed that my blog looks different now! I’ve changed the blog skin to a simpler style — felt in the minimalist mood today — and I must say I like the notebook feel of it. It feels like writing a journal with pencil and paper. And speaking of writing, the Prologue 55-word competition just ended last Friday. What 55-word competition? Well, it basically asked participants to submit a story of precisely 55 words, no more and no less. I submitted mine a while back, and no doubt it’s been buried under a huge pile of Facebook submissions by now.
By the way, the number of submissions were pretty staggering. It was clocking up an average of 5 submissions per day, starting a month before the deadline. Such flash fiction is popular among the public of casual authors. 55 words is not time-consuming, doesn’t require much prior planning or extensive plot and character development, and is so sparse with words that any amateur can do it, right? Well, it’s precisely because anybody can do it that it becomes hard to stand out. Without long flowing descriptions or gripping characters to exhibit your individuality, how do you forge a connection with your readers with just a paragraph? How do you let readers resonate emotionally with what you’re writing, or admire the depth of your thought? And that is the true challenge of flash fiction. The challenge of expressing yourself in so few words. It’s just like being in a business presentation and given only 5 minutes to make your sales pitch. You must make everything count.
Saturating words is traditionally the job of poetry. Poems follow no grammatical structure and can in essence be said to capture the poet’s voice. Prose is much harder, because thoughts have to be coherent and rules have to be followed. Missing out an “and” or a “the” somewhere can feel strange and alter the mood of the story. And with all the grammar words pruned out, there’s a whole lot less to play around with.
Generally for me, when it comes to flash fiction, I like to imagine a context where such a short tale could exist. Is it a monologue, something that someone thinks about in a particular time? Is it a brief note to somebody else? A shopping list, perhaps? Thinking of settings where such brevity can naturally occur will enable you to think beyond a short story and enter into a world, a life of somebody. That this short story is just a peek into a particular time and space in the continuing timeline of a person, that there was a story before and will be a story after, but you’re not allowed to know anymore of it and can only guess. It’s like a momentary intrusion, and probably feels even more intrusive than a full-length novel about a person, because it’s so realistic and down-to-earth, and the person feels like anybody you would imagine existing in this world. Of course, the genre doesn’t necessarily need to be down-to-earth. A story about a vampire wandering in the night is just as valid as any other, but the thing about flash fiction is that it’s got to be accessible. You don’t have a lot of space to introduce wildly new concepts. And this boosts the familiarity of the whole event you are describing.
If you haven’t before, try writing your own 55-word prose! Or if you find that too short for you, something of 250 to 300 words is generally a good standard of what constitutes flash fiction. It’s a riveting new experience and you can probably finish it in one day!