When I tell people I teach a virtual flash fiction course, I sometimes get strange responses, even laughter. Isn't flash fiction just really short fiction? What's the point of taking a specific flash class?
No, flash is its own genre deserving of its own class, and it's still underrated as a way to break into publication.
I say "still" because I taught this in my classes from the time I began teaching flash fiction in 2009. Yes, a decade ago I encouraged writers to stop poring over articles about writer's block and use the time when their novel or short story collections weren't moving forward to write publishable flash fiction.
There are many reasons for this, but I'll name a few.
The first is the most important and that's encouragement. When you're struggling with a novel or your short story has received it's tenth rejection, publishing a flash piece, no matter how small, can give you the literary oxygen you need to get going again. You see your name on a site with a bio, you send it around to your friends or post it on your social media, and it does wonders for shrugging off those rejection letters or finally moving on to chapter fifteen of your novel. Trust me: there's nothing like publication as a springboard for inspiration.
In addition, publishing flash fiction offers a glimpse, no matter how small, of what it's like to work with an editor. You go through the back and forth on the edits and proofreads, and this can be a valuable window to what's waiting for you later with an entire novel to comb through. When you are revising your novel with an editor one day, you won't be completely green, and you'll feel and act more professionally.
The exploding number of flash publication opportunities as a way to break into novel publishing also offers a break for writers who might be burnt out with a novel or short story. Specifically, you get a break from following those longer manuscript rules, and we all need a break from "the rules" once in a while to recharge.
Here are five rules most of us hear continuously that you get to completely ignore in flash:
- Tell don't show. If you're like me, you're not the ideal rules person. In flash you can finally free yourself of "show, don't tell" and just tell. That's right. Just tell the story. There's no space for showing. "She was pretty" is perfectly acceptable in flash. Isn't that a relief? You can actually just tell us something straight out for a change.
- There's no time to "write what you know." Writing what you know is big-picture thinking. There's no time to write what you know in flash. Flash is all about focus, and that's a heavenly holiday for many writers. You only need to write one fraction, one sliver, of what you know about any given situation. Everyone knows a sliver of something. Flash premise example: A widow's new understanding that she is now truly alone after her only daughter gets married to a boy in another town. That's it! Zero in on that one profound moment of loss, and you've got the recipe for great flash piece. We don't need to know anything about the fiancé, or even the daughter, how the mother came to be widowed, and so on. All we need to do is establish the mother's character, her pain, and what she intends to do with it.
- No Backstory Issues. Flash is a genre that eliminates the backstory issue altogether. No bending over backward with prologues or hitting your head against the wall over those information dumps. Most flash is one moment in time and no more is needed. It makes no difference what happened before or what's coming after. Isn't that a relief? I feel lighter just writing this.
- The Classic Three-Act Structure Demolished. In flash nine times out of ten, it's best to jump into the tension, skip that harmonious beginning. It's a two-act structure at most, made up of tension and transformation. Not into opening with harmony? No problem. Out the window it goes.
- Suspend Suspense. You do not need to build suspense in Flash. Phew! In flash just let us know what is happening, and we're with you. There's no intrinsic need for suspense.
This doesn't mean you don't have to work at keeping us reading to the end. Flash needs conflict and/or tension, but building suspense? You can take a break. It slows you down, and flash is a fast read.
Keep in mind that publishing anything encourages others to publish you. A potential publishing house will be more interested in a writer who has a history of flash publications than no publication history. So go on, break the rules with polished, vibrant flash, and break into novel publishing that much faster.