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Six Things to Consider Before Publishing Flash Fiction

Let's say you've just written a piece of flash fiction. Are you ready to submit? Not before you edit your work.

The questions fall into two categories: structural and technical. As you read back over your writing, consider these points:


Structural Questions

Is it a story or a vignette? The difference lies in the arc. A vignette is a brief scene, episode or slice of life. Flash fiction can be too, but it also contains an element of change. Not only is the scene described, but something happens in it—something with consequences.


Image by Esther Merbt from Pixabay

Does the story have a character arc?

Your character needs to go through something and be altered by their experiences.


Do they grow up? Change perspectives? Struggle until they change something or learn to live in a difficult situation? Show through your details and action that they change.

What is the plot?

Observe what is happening in your story. What is the character doing? What is the driving force that propels them? If you can't find a driving force, create one. Give your story some stakes—some reason your character has to do something, or time will stop or their ship will sink or their parents will be angry or they will never find what they're looking for.

If there's not much happening, your work may be more of a vignette. Throw in some action and shake well.


Technical Questions

Look at your adjectives. Do you have multiple adjectives describing one thing? Are there ways you can strengthen your descriptions stronger?


Does your story contain adverbs? Adverbs tell how someone feels or how something is done. If you use details to show this instead, your images will become stronger.


Examples:

"I'd like to know," she said curiously. vs. "I'd like to know," she said, wide eyes scanning the landscape for clues.


"I don't think we can make it," he said dispiritedly. vs. "I don't think we can make it." He sank to the ground and covered his face with his hands.


"I refuse!" she said angrily. vs. "I refuse!" She crumpled the letter in her fist and hurled it into the fireplace.


Have you used passive or active voice?

In passive voice, something has been done to the subject. It is formed by using "is", "was" or "has been" and is used in news reports when the agent of the action is unknown.


In active voice, the subject of the sentence is acting for themselves. It has a greater immediacy, which is vital for flash fiction. Passive voice makes a text lengthier and more ambiguous.

Unless passive voice is a deliberate stylistic choice, keep your verbs active, light and nimble!


Example:

Passive voice: "In the morning the loaf had been consumed to the last crumb."

Active voice: "Ravenous squirrels consumed the loaf to the last crumbs."


The second example is more immediate, but what if you want to intrigue the reader by leaving out who performed the action?

A classic example comes from Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move."

As to who created the Universe, that is left to be revealed.


Here are a few more examples in which passive voice is used effectively:


"Someone must have slandered Josef K, for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested." -'The Trial' By Franz Kafka

If Kafka began by stating who slandered Joseph K, the opening would lose its intrigue.


"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." -'Jane Eyre' By Charlotte Brontë

Who wanted to go walking and what events occurred to prevent them?


"It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of the night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not."

-'City Of Glass' By Douglas Coupland.

This line hooks the reader by raising questions as to the identity of the voice, the events that were started, and who the character was as well as who he (or she) was not.


For contrast, these opening lines are effective in their use of active voice:

"A story has no beginning or ending; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead."

-'The End Of The Affair' By Graham Greene


"A screaming comes across the sky" -'Gravity's Rainbow' By Thomas Pynchon

Short, swift and immediate—he gets straight into the action.


"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." -'I Capture The Castle' By Dodie Smith. This entire book is a fabulous example of active voice as a young girl attempts to convey the experience of living in the ruins of a castle.


Did you find something to improve or adjust in your story? Which of these opening lines do you like best? Share your experiences in the comments!


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