"Once upon a time, a girl saw a shoe."
A story can begin as easily and as simply as that. Where it goes from there is up to the author, the author’s imagination and the author’s inclinations.
As such, that fairytale-sounding starter could turn into a horror story in the very next paragraph, with the shoe lying haphazardly next to someone’s gnawed-off lower leg.
It could just as easily be a literary fiction piece, where the writer wants to wax poetic about Cinderella mythology weighed up against the real world.
Or, of course, it might be nothing more (or less) than another modern interpretation of a fairytale, where the girl gets the boy, the boy gets the girl, and they both live happily ever after.
Swoon. Sigh. Smile.
But wait! Is there more?
There could be. Fairytale or not, that “Once upon a time” could lead to a Part II, Part III, Part IV and beyond – continuations of the original story that simply couldn’t fit into the first book.
With that said, it’s equally likely, if not more so, that the writer could be done after just one manuscript of 100,000 words (an acceptable fantasy novel length), 70,000 words (an acceptable YA novel length) or perhaps just 5,000 words (an acceptable short story length).
There’s plenty more “acceptable” word counts out there for creative minds to explore should they so choose. This includes flash fiction, which is practically measured in paragraphs, not pages.
The beauty of creative writing is that it’s creative. There are rules, yes, but those rules are constantly being revised and expanded. That’s the whole reason why flash fiction exists.
Some writer or writers out there went, “What if!” one day. And the rest is very recent history that’s spawned a continuing writing craze.
The longer you give creative writer types the chance to challenge themselves, the more they’re going to come up with some truly crazy tasks to try out. Like flash fiction.
Flash fiction, a literary piece that tells a story in 1,500 words, 1,000 words or 500 words (depending on your definition) isn’t the craziest artistic activity ever devised, but it is still an intense test of brevity. You, the writer, need to make every single word count when it comes to this expressive endeavor. There’s no room for wasted adjectives and adverbs... or anything else.
As mentioned in the writing Definition above, flash fiction isn’t the most intense test of how brief you can be. There’s also microfiction, minisagas, “twitterature” and the six-word story, which Wikipedia classifies, respectively, as stories being told in 100 words, 50 words, 280 characters and, of course, six words.
These limitations might not be for everyone, but they do have a way of making a writer think.
For now though, just recognize that flash fiction is doable, no matter if it sounds otherwise.
According to last month’s Innovative Editing guest blogger Laura L. Zimmerman, flash fiction can even be fun. As she puts it:
Don’t be shy, and don’t be scared off by that word count! Take the challenge and see what stories you can create in just a few words. And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a new way of writing that will take your career down paths you hadn’t expected!
For her part, Laura’s now a contract-sporting author with her first traditionally published novel debuting this year. So when she sings the praises of flash fiction, she means it.
If it worked for her, where might it lead you?