One of the big reasons why it is good to be a part of a don’t-pull-any-punches writers group is that they can tell you when you are off the mark. I find it very hard to assess my writing in terms of what is good and bad. In the past, the members of my writers group have had no trouble making that distinction.
Sure, they may sometimes get it wrong, ideas of good and bad are very subjective after all, but they can save you a lot of time identifying what’s not working, and can usually give you some hints about how to fix it. I think I need that help at the moment.
I have a piece of flash fiction that keeps coming back to me in record time. It’s short, punchy and complete – so is the sort of thing that normally gets accepted the first or second time I send it out. This one just came back to me in two days. So clearly there is something very wrong with it.
I’m not part of a group at the moment, and I feel that loss most months. I think it might be time to try and track a new group down. Wish me luck!
This week I realised that I’ve been setting my expectations a little too high. I was berating myself over it being a ‘non-writing’ week again and feeling a bit down. The thing is though, I did write. An idea for a flash fiction story came to me earlier in the week, and after thinking about it endlessly on the bus, I finally wrote it on Saturday.
And this I considered a non-writing week.
I think part of my problem is that I have so many things that I need to do each week as part of my job that I feel like I need to make similar inroads into my writing goals. The truth is, if I wasn’t getting paid to be there, I wouldn’t be as diligent in getting to work on time and dedicating my whole day to it. I’d probably end up playing too many games of FreeCell at work as well.
So, until my writing is paying the bills, I need to go a little softer on my expectations. I know some people would argue that I’m not going to get my writing to pay the bills if I don’t spend more time on it, but I worry that my mental health will suffer if I try to do two full time jobs. Not to mention my relationships, family, and cleanliness!
I just got a new idea for a story, and I love the idea. I got the idea while reading someone else’s novel, one that I’m not enjoying. The funny thing is that my new idea bears no resemblance to the story I’m reading. I mis-read a sentence, which sparked the totally off-topic idea. This makes me wonder if the idea was always there?
I truly believe story ideas are out in the ether, and occasionally a write makes a connection to one of those ideas. I hope that if the writer ignores it, then the idea goes back and waits for another author, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the idea doesn’t get recycled. Humans are a bit wasteful, so why not with ideas as well?
For the past three months I’ve only had minimal creative output. I confess I did write a flash fiction story earlier this week, but the idea felt forced and concocted. You can do that with flash (though not always well). This new idea feels fresh, and alive and like it will take me to amazing places I haven’t even begun to think about if I follow it. It’s a story out of the ether.
Maybe the flash fiction was a sign that the muse was coming back. Today I know it is. I want to explore this idea. I want to see what happens. I want to stop watching TV and working in the garden and all the other diversions I have been choosing lately and I want to sit down and write.
It feels good to be back.
I have to warn you, this story contains the F-word. Yes, there are farts in it. I was brought up properly, where a lady does not fart (unless asleep, but even then we deny it)… but that got me thinking about when else a lady might fart. And so A Reluctant Zombie was born.
I’ve been warned against publishing this story as it has a bit of a pull my finger quality that is perhaps not becoming of my writing career. I actually sat on it for nearly two years before finally deciding to send it out. There is no deeper meaning and no call to arms to make a difference in the world. It is just a silly story, written by a silly girl in a silly mood. Sometimes I can do that.
The other difference with this story to my usual offerings is that it is unashamedly biographical. The girl starts out watching my TV on my lounge, she lives with my cat, goes to my old office, and shocks my old boss. You could say it was me except for the lack of vegetables, and of course the farting. My mum brought me up right, remember.
So please, if you are going to read it, say no to the plastic bag at the supermarket, take your keep-cup to the coffee shop, and please turn off your standby power equipment at the wall. My story won’t tell you to do that, so it will make me feel better if you do.
I hope you enjoy A Reluctant Zombie, but please, put on your silly hat first. And no, I will not pull your finger.
This is a flash fiction story which I wrote immediately after completing my novella earlier this year. It felt weird not sitting down to write after work each evening, but I knew I wasn’t ready to jump into a novel yet. Sea Canaries was my answer to winding down the writing spring of creativity that was still coiled too tightly.
As soon as I read the call for submissions this story appeared in my head. I wrote the first draft in one sitting (as one would expect of an under 500 word piece) but I edited it over a period of two weeks before I was happy with it. My main issue was that the version of the story I first wrote was about 615 words long, and I had to get it under 500. I was very attached to the excess 115 words.
Without giving too much away, the submission called for horrors of the deep. I wanted to write a story where the horror was coming from the deep, but the monsters were much closer to home. Later this year I’ll publish the full 615 word version on my website so you can read it as I first experienced it. I’m proud of this story and really enjoyed walking around in these skins for a fortnight, as much as I never want to live it for real.
Sea Canaries appears in the Anemone Enemy and is available in both print and ebook formats. I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Yes, it has been a long time since the last one, but the fantastic Antipodean SF have published my story Carbon Leap. And I’m more than a bit chuffed that the header page picture links to my story! Exciting eh?!?
This story got rejected a few times, and the feedback I kept getting was that it felt like it should be longer. But when I wrote it, it came out at around 500 words and it felt like I had said everything I wanted to say. So I’m glad it got to stay flash and it got out into the world.
So I hope you like Carbon Leap, and I hope it makes you stop and ponder the next time you get offered a quick fix.
Last week my flash fiction story Ice Mine was published by Antipodean SF. It is but one of the many flash fiction stories that has tumbled out of me this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a few more homes for the other stories before the year is through.
Antipodean SF was the first place to publish one of my stories many years ago, so I will be forever grateful to Antipodean for giving me my first taste of success. Ion Newcombe is the tireless editor of this magazine and he is not afraid to work with new authors. He wants to see you published!
The magazine looks pretty schmick too, so if you haven’t seen it, please do check it out and lend your support to this fantastic little zine. And if you don’t feel like reading, there is a radio version of the show you can listen to as well.
Thanks Ion, and I hope you all enjoy Ice Mine 🙂
Any review of Duotrope of Ralan will show you that there are hundreds of markets for flash fiction. Due to how short the stories are it is also not uncommon for markets to publish these weekly or even daily in some cases, meaning they take on a lot of new manuscripts. A lot of the more prestigious print markets are also offering flash fiction on their websites, so the market for flash fiction just continues to grow.
I think it is safe to say that you probably won’t be able to retire off what you make on selling flash fiction stories, and in truth even using the word ‘selling’ is a bit ambitious. Even in the upmarket magazines it is not uncommon for them to offer publication without payment.
I know this lack of financial reward might turn some writers off, but I think in such a competitive world as we see in writing, particularly speculative fiction writing, anything that you can do to get your toe in the door with a publisher is a good thing. If a magazine has published one of your flash fiction stories you can be sure they will run an eye over your longer fiction if you send it in, it may even skip over the slush pile altogether.
As you probably can tell, I’m a big fan of flash fiction. It is so quick and easy to read that you don’t need to make a big time commitment to check it out. Flash fiction also serves as an opportunity to hand out samples of your writing to get yourself on the radar of publishers and introduce yourself to readers who may go on to seek out your longer works.
I’d recommend everyone give flash a go, if nothing else the editing skills you learn from cutting down your opus to under 1,000 words are invaluable. I have no doubt that what I have learned from writing flash has helped improve both my short stories and my novels.
Give it a try, it will only take a flash!
Given how few words you have, when you are writing flash, you tend to go with the familiar. Whether that is a contemporary setting, or a science fiction or fantasy world so full of tropes the reader is clear on where they are as soon as the story opens.
If you are writing fantasy there will be some swords, possibly dragons and magic in the first couple of paragraphs. Equally, science fiction flash will refer to the space ship, planet or alternate reality upon which your characters find themselves; ‘Gee it’s cold here on planet X’ sort of thing.
The other thing you might do is use familiar tags on your characters; the geek has glasses, the action heroine looks like Lara Croft, the bad guy has dark hair and a patch on his eye. I don’t advocate that sort of thing, but it can save you a lot of words when you are trying to build your story but keep it under 1,000 words.
Flash also lets you use big aspects of the story scene, such as the speculative element, to actually be the punch-line. Because it is so short the reader can hold all of the story in their short term memory, so you could do your big reveal at the end and have the reader reflect back on the story with an a-ha, recognising all your carefully hidden foreshadowing when you finally reveal they are in space/ underwater/ on an island made out of marshmallows/ the story is being told from the perspective of a dog.
I don’t tend to do that kind of reveal in my stories, but my story Random Impulses is probably the closest that I do get to doing this. This was actually my first ever flash fiction story, and it was my first published-by-someone-I-don’t-know story back in 2001.
I always think it is funny when you read interviews with authors and they say that one of the most common questions they get asked is ‘where do you get all your ideas’ – as if they are a rare commodity. Ideas rain down on writers every day and one of the sad tasks for any writer is deciding which stories to run with, and which to let slip through your fingers.
Flash fiction, for me, has been a fantastic vehicle to write out some of these ideas, which I know if pushed could turn into a novel, but when you have five novels, three kid’s books and countless short stories already waiting to be completed, you tend to avoid taking on something new.
Flash fiction allows you to get the idea on paper in one sitting. This has the added benefit of meaning you have something you can send out in a very short time, which is particularly good if it is a topical story. Also many of the publishers of flash fiction are online, so from first draft to publication can easily happen in under a month. It may also still take three years (I’ve experienced both), so don’t look at it as a key to a quick publication.
My flash fiction story Nose Plugs (link removed due to site issues), is something I wrote after watching a documentary on a multinational company which is slowly but surely taking over the world’s food production, with potentially devastating consequences. I won’t mention their name, because they are a particularly litigious company, but it was a story I was passionate to get out and flash fiction gave me the ability to do it quickly and get my point across without too much fluff.
I’m sure eventually I will explore a lot of the topics that I’ve covered in flash fiction in much longer shorts or even novellas. But when that idea is burning inside of you, and you just want to get it out, flash fiction is a great way to test the waters.