Five Reasons to Write Flash Fiction

My Work In Progress is an Urban Fantasy novel that I’ve been writing for over a year, and I struggle to find enough time every week to work on it. And yet every week I spend two to three hours writing a 1000 word short story, a piece of flash fiction, to post on my site.

Isn’t that somewhat counter-productive?

Wouldn’t I be better off working on my novel for those hours?

Possibly. But here are five reasons I choose to write flash fiction each week.

1) Variety is the Spice of Life

My novel is awesome. If you know me in the meat-world and have ever made the mistake of asking, “So, what’s your novel about?” I’ve probably talked your ear off about how awesome it is. But here’s the thing: it’s a very specific kind of awesome. I love my world and my characters, but sometimes I want to write about someone different. Call me shallow, but I like to play the field. I want to write about vampires or wish fairies or zombies or something else that doesn’t feature in the world of my novel. So when a creepy, arrogant, domineering vampire wanders through my imagination, I don’t ignore him or tell him to go play with someone else. I get down and dirty with him in a thousands words or fewer and then return to my novel. 

2) Creativity Begets Creativity

The great thing about creativity is that it’s a bottomless resource. There’s no Great Creativity Shortage of the 21st Century to worry about. In fact, creativity in one thing often leads to creativity in another. If you’re struggling with your writing, go bake a cake. Or draw a picture. Or do some finger-painting. (Seriously, if you haven’t finger-painted since you were a kid, you have no idea what you’re missing out on.) It’s like jump-starting your creativity-mobile. Or setting a match to your creativity-powder. And other exciting metaphors. But you don’t have to wait until you feel your creativity starting to wane to take advantage of this. Writing  flash fiction that is unrelated to my novel helps keep my creative mind ticking over and means that when I get the time to work on my novel, I spend much less time staring at the screen wondering what I should write next.

3) Experiments are Fun

Ever wonder what it would be like to write a story from the point of view of the bad guy? Or how it would feel to live inside the head of a psychopath? Ever read a book and think, “I wish I could write like that!” or wonder just how many rhetorical questions you could put in a single paragraph? Flash fiction is a way to explore those things! For example, I have no desire to write a novel-length horror story but I quite enjoy experimenting with the edges of the horror genre in my flash fiction. It’s also a good way to practice storytelling techniques that you aren’t currently using in your longer work. Experiment with first person, close third person, distant third person, or omniscient Point Of View. Get a feel for the difference between past tense and present tense. Feeling adventurous and experimental? Try writing a whole story in future tense. Write a protagonist of the opposite gender than you usually write, or of a different age group, or tell the story as a computer program or a series of Tweets or Facebook updates. Build your craft and broaden your experience without committing yourself to something long-term.

4) Shopping in the Ideas Factory

Once upon a time, I thought I had a brain in my head. Then one day I realised I actually live in an Ideas Factory. Like most writers, the question “Where do you get your ideas?” is best answered with another question: “How do you get the ideas to stop?!” Every news story, overheard snippet of conversation, and everyday item spotted in an unusual place prompts a flurry of ideas and What Ifs to go careening through my head. What if the phone number displayed outside the vacant building is really the number visiting vampires have to call before they’re allowed to hunt in this suburb? What if the tree really did get up and walk in front of the moving car? What if the child is right and one day she turns into a shooting star watching over the Earth and protecting it from monsters? They never stop! If I was going to turn every one of my story ideas into a novel, I’d have to live to at least two hundred. Except, of course, I’d keep having more ideas. So I guess I’d need to live forever… Or I can go shopping in the Ideas Factory once a week and bring one of those ideas to life.

5) Basking in the Afterglow

Working on a novel is a long process. Even those people (who I’m secretly jealous of) who can whip out a first draft in ten days have to go back and revise and rewrite their work. And I’m not one of those people. Still, I get an amazing sense of satisfaction when I complete part of my novel. Writing one thousand words in a sitting makes me cheer and pat myself on the back. Finishing a chapter makes me want to dance around the room. There are milestones that can be celebrated. But…. It’s not like you’re really finished, is it? Especially when you’re still working on your first draft. But a couple of hours spent on a piece of flash fiction and POW. Finished. Smug sense of satisfaction enabled. It feels really, really good to hit that ‘Publish’ button. And every time, the warm feeling of writing afterglow reminds me how I’ll feel when I finally get my novel finished and back I go to the grindstone, motivated and feeling like a writer.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Five Reasons to Write Flash Fiction

  1. “Call me shallow, but I like to play the field. I want to write about vampires or wish fairies or zombies or something else…”

    Well, I wouldn’t call you shallow. 🙂 On the other hand, I’m quite the opposite, since I always write about the same world and the same ever-growing cast of characters. My most recent story was a bit different than usual — kind of a growing-up story, kind of a love story, with a few new characters, but it was still a Jan Sleet mystery, just from a different point of view.

    I just made a list of five different things I could be working on now — not counting my third novel — so I think that’s enough for me. But, of course, everybody’s different.

    • I find your commitment to the same world and cast of characters over such a long time period amazing. I’m more than a little jealous, actually. I’d love to have that focus and, more importantly, not get bored or feel stagnant working on the one project. (Which is what happens without my little sidesteps into oddness.)

      • One thing that occurred to me after my original comment was the “basking in the afterglow” question, which is important. I thought about that, and I realized that, by publishings serially, that good feeling is spread out, rather than all concentrated at the end. Which isn’t why I do it, but it does have that effect.

        Also, as you know, what I do has a certain level of oddness built into it, which is probably why I’m okay with not having more. 🙂

      • I’ve been thinking a bit about your comments, and realised a few things.

        1) You’re right — posting in a serialised format definitely gives you the opportunity to bask in some afterglow after each chapter.
        2) Although you write in the same world with the same central characters, you write in a variety of story-lengths. You’ve got novels, novellas, short stories, and possible even a few pieces that could qualify as flash fiction. So you’re able to play around with different formats and lengths even while you stick to the same world.
        3) You don’t always write from the same POV. To my knowledge, you’ve written from the POV of Marshall, Ron, and the Golden. I imagine you’ve written other POVs as well. So you also get to experiment with different styles of language, character types, genders, and … levels of oddness. (I’m thinking of the Golden who are definitely as odd as they are awesome!)

        So even though you don’t write Flash Fiction, you still do just about everything on this list in your own writing — you just stick to the one world (which has a LOT of scope) and include a few of the same characters in each piece.

    • Different POVs, definitely. I thought it would be weird to write anout Marshall from somebody else’s POV in Stevie One (plug: http://utownwriting.com/stevie1/), but then it turned out he was barely in the story at all.

      With the next big story I’m thinking about, I have the first scene in mind pretty clearly, but I’m not sure yet if I’ll want it to be in first person or third. I have to get a bit further into it to figure that out.

  2. Jak Henson

    I read your title of this post a few days ago and thouht, ‘yeah, I’ve got a good idea what it’s about’, so didn’t read it. Since then, I have spent a few nights working on my solo exhibiiton concept (my novel equivalant) and have scrapped a bunch of quite formulated concepts to end up with, ‘why I am even trying to make something when I don’t know enough about the entire history of every political, philosophical and artistic exploration. Any concept I come up with has inevitably been done because I am a 29 year old who does not read as much as I should…’ Then I have continued working on my artwork for Swell and feel a little better.

    Then I rememebred this blog title and thought I better have a read. And thankyou, it has been helpful. It is very similar to what I expected, but it’s reassuring to hear someone elses perspective.

    When i have a constant influx of cool ideas, (similar to your character that appears), I do tend to push it away because it’s not linked closely enough to my main visual arts focus. So, I have decided I am going to start a visual arts-flash fiction-like project. I haven’t nutted out the rules yet. And yes, they are rules, but considering such things as, exploring a different material in each creation – which might not work for me, but means I am creating artwork, generating other ideas and learnig about the qualities of materials offering more possibilities. Or maybe finally making the few sculptures that I have wanted to own for years but are really cliched. So thankyou.

  3. Jak Henson

    Please note, the auto face icon does not correctly represent the sentiment of any of my posts.

  4. I agree with you a hundred per cent on this post. I just wrote a piece of flash fiction yesterday actually. It was nice to be able to write something quick and simple without having to devote myself to anything big. Indeed, “variety is the spice of life.” I enjoyed taking a break from the play I had been working on for a while; I have a tendency to get bored when I am writing large projects. Plus, I liked “basking in the afterglow”, the feeling of having written something creative, even if it was something small. And finallly, while I was writing my flash fiction, I thought of another idea I could write about later on after I finish my current project.

    • Congrats on writing your flash fiction yesterday, and on coming up with another Big Idea. 🙂

      It’s really great to hear that there are other people out there who feel the same way about the benefits of flash fiction. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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