How Flash Fiction Has Improved My Writing
I started writing Flash Fiction for fun, and because it was a challenge.
I read and write mostly Victorian novels, so I tend to get verbose at times!
I’m trying to write more concise prose, and I find that the linguistic and mental exercise of having to cut out all the unnecessary words has been enlightening.
How did this awareness of the need for concise prose happen? Basically following the strict word limits imposed by the challenges, reading other writers’ flash fiction, and realizing that there are many superfluous words, so less can be more.
How do I go about my ‘flash’ writing process?
The same as my normal writing process. I think about the situation, idea, or prompt I’m going to write about, until I ‘see’ something in my mind’s eye, and I write.
I let the ideas flow uncurbed and I don’t count the words. When I’ve finished the first draft, I stop to reread and count.
I used to be disastrous at this, writing 250, instead of 150, for example. It used to upset me because cutting back was so traumatic. I love all my words. I believe I put them there for a purpose. They’re all essential, I thought, until I started consciously cutting them down and realized that there were far too many.
When you write Flash Fiction, you have to think about every single word. These are some of the questions I ask myself which help me decide which words stay, and which are crossed out.
- Does the word move the story on?
- Does the word tell the reader something essential?
- If I read the text without the word does the sentence still convey my intended meaning?
- Can I include the idea behind the word in another shorter way, for example with another expression or a different verb?
- Finally I have to prioritize. I may need all the words, but I must decide which words, or groups of words, even whole lines, are more essential than others to convey my meaning?
Awareness gradually grew, and after about six months of writing flash fiction, I’m usually able to congratulate my subconscious counter (censor?) because much like our biological timer, I am not usually too far over the mark.
Unfortunately, as a result of writing Flash Fiction, I’ve come to dislike certain words, so that whenever I see them, I cringe.
I never thought I could dislike a word, a harmless, nice little word. I love words. But the more I read and edit my own work, the more I have come to hate not only one, but various words, because they’re often useless, and become a bad habit.
I am convinced I’ve become a far more conscious, critical and demanding reader of my own work, and the work of others, as a result of reading and writing flash fiction, and there’s no going back.
I feel annoyed when a novel has a good plot and compelling characters, yet the writing is careless. I sometimes finish and actually enjoy parts of such novels, although it’s like eating a delicious meal on a dirty tablecloth. The meal itself is satisfying, and although I feel like praising the cook, the crumbs and stains around my plate are distracting and off-putting. I’d certainly give the book less stars for this reason.
There’s no excuse for careless writing. Every writer must have an editor and/or proof reader. I had two for my first novel, and I’m convinced it’s the best thing I did, after writing the novel!
Unfortunately, it often seems that some writers either don’t bother to hire an editor, or perhaps there are some unprofessional editors out there.
However, before your manuscript reaches your beta readers, and later your editor, writers should ensure they do so in the best possible conditions.
Everyone who has published a novel knows that a first draft will undergo many changes before the final version is produced.
However, this first draft needs to be polished, and left to rest, and edited again, perhaps even more than once depending on how much you edit as you write, or how attune to detail you happen to be.
I carefully read over every single word when I’m out to ‘unclutter’ my writing, however, the following are the most irritating words for me. I always run a word check on my own work to see if I have too many of them, because they’re a nasty habit.
Very, Really, A bit, Really, Rather, There is and there are, start to, begin, thing, this type of, so, well. Prepositions where they’re not needed like ‘near to’.
As we’re on the subject of cleaning our prose, there are a couple of other things which irritate me.
I have a big issue with ‘gotten’ and ‘get to’’, and sometimes even with ‘get’ itself when it becomes repetitive.
Why say, ‘I didn’t get to go,’ instead of ‘I didn’t go’?
Why say, ‘it’s gotten late,’ or ‘It got late’, instead of ‘it’s late’? I realize there’s a slight difference in meaning, but is the ‘process of getting late’ going to move the story on or tell the reader something he/she doesn’t already know?
Does every adjective and adverb have to be there? Do two adjectives together add essential and diverse meaning?
Try to avoid well-known expressions and clichés, and if you do use them, don’t repeat them throughout the novel. When a character’s heart is continuously ‘racing’ or ‘thumping’, the reader will start to worry that he/she needs a heart valve!
What’s your experience of writing flash fiction? Has it helped you improve your writing, too?