A guest post by Claire Fuller
So, you don’t think flash fiction is for you? You’re working on a novel, a (long) short story, or a memoir. For you, writing is about expansion, exploration, length. You might like to think again.
There are so many ways that flash fiction can be useful even if your word count is usually in the thousands. Here are a few:
Flash fiction to limber up
Would you go in for a marathon without having run some shorter distances first? Would you do a dance class without having done some stretching? Flash fiction is a brilliant warm up exercise. If you ever find when you sit down to work on a longer piece, the first 500 words you write are poor, then writing some flash before you start work can help get rid of those clunky first paragraphs and make you ready to jump in afresh.
Flash fiction for inspiration
Perhaps you’ve been staring at the blank page for a long time. You want to start something but you’re not sure about any of the ideas you have floating around, and putting any one of them down feels like you’re committing yourself. Or maybe your well is dry – there are no ideas. Write some flash fiction for inspiration which can easily turn into something longer, wider, bigger.
Flash fiction for writer’s block
You’re in the middle of your novel – that saggy bit where you don’t know what happens next. But you know your characters, you know what they want. Open a new document, lift a couple of characters out from your work-in-progress and stick them in a new place or give them a new difficulty. They’re on a plane with turbulence – how do they react? They find a wedding ring on the road outside their house – what do they do with it? Writing a piece of flash fiction can help you move forward – even if you don’t put the scene in your novel.
Related: 12 Tips on Writing Flash Fiction
Related: In the Gap Between Writer and Reader the Novel Comes to Life
Related: Hilary Mantel’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction
Flash fiction for knowing your characters
Following on from the idea above – what if you know the location and roughly what happens in your novel, but you don’t know your character well enough. Open a new document lift her or him out and write a piece of flash about the day they started their first job, the first funeral they went to, their first kiss – whether these are in the past or the future. Get to know her or him a little better.
Flash fiction for freedom
A novel can sometimes feel very limiting. For years you’re tied into this forward progression (especially if your work is not experimental and is relatively linear and traditional in structure). Writing a piece of flash fiction can help you break out of that straight-jacket for an hour or two. You are allowed to be crazy, experimental, weird. Write your flash backwards, without any e’s, in dialect, in a stream of consciousness. No one will know.
Flash fiction for achievement I
Writing a novel can take years. It takes stamina and tenacity. It might be a long time before you get the satisfaction of writing ‘the end’. Writing pieces of flash fiction in between will help you feel that you have completed a whole project, and perhaps give you enough of a cold, quick shower, to soak in the bath for another three years.
Flash fiction for achievement II
Writing a novel can take years. Years before you can get any proper feedback on your work. Write and finish and polish a few pieces of flash fiction until they shine and send them off to some competitions. You might win; you might not, but the hope, the some-of-my-writing-is-out-there feeling is great. And if you do get listed or win, it’s a great motivator to keep going.
Flash fiction for editing
For me this is probably the most important reason to write flash fiction. Unlike in a novel, in flash every word carries some weight. Every single one must be selected for being the right one in the right order. The musicality and rhythm of the sentences will help you be sure you have the right words, and this comes from editing. Reading and revising, and switching and swapping, and editing and reading aloud and rereading until you are sure that every word is the right word. This is editing. This is a skill you can learn and then apply to your novel.
Claire Fuller is a British writer. Her debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days won the Desmond Elliott Prize, and her second is Swimming Lessons (2017). Her latest novel is Bitter Orange (2018). Follow Claire on Twitter and Instagram.