Many thanks to the amazing Karen Stefano, author of The Secret Games of Words and a forthcoming memoir, Vigilance, for inviting Nancy and me to take part in her wonderful podcast series. Here, we talked about all things flash fiction, about our flash fiction retreats, and did a “mini workshop” of our own flash stories. Have a listen!
Sometimes our stories fall flat, without that “pop” of tension. One great way to create urgency in a flash fiction story is by using another constraint: Time.
For almost a decade now, all my college classes have begun with a 10-minute timed writing. Timed writing is nothing new. We know that it helps us transition us into the writing space, like stretching before a workout. We know that it forces us to stay present and dig deeper—writing past where we might have naturally given up. And we know that keeping the pen moving quickly, without crossing things out or rereading, is a great way to evade the internal critic and uncover fresh ideas.
But I discovered something else through years of this practice: 10 minutes of writing without stopping is also the perfect amount of time to draft a flash fiction story idea from start to finish.
It makes sense: Flash fiction is defined by a (word) constraint, so why not create under a time constraint? Having that clock ticking while you furiously try to reach the end of an idea gives the piece a natural sense of urgency. And writing from the beginning to the end in one sitting also creates a sense of continuity—we see the end coming as we embark on the journey.
I do most of my timed writings longhand, scribbling. But it works with typing as well. And you can use a timed writing in many ways. For instance, you can:
- Set the timer while writing to a prompt.
- Set the timer when you’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to write about.
- Set the timer and rewrite a “flat” story from scratch while the clock chases you to the finish line (my favorite)
And as a daily practice it’s even better.
Besides, you can do anything for 10 mins, right?
Regardless of how you use it, a 10-minute burst of writing can break you through resistance and lethargy. And creating something to push against allows inspiration to bulge and balloon in interesting and unexpected ways.
(How did it work for you? Share in the comments below!)
Often if we’re stuck on a piece of writing it’s because we’re tamping down some essential voice that is screaming (or whispering urgently) to get out. It’s useful to just allow that character to talk. So today I’d like you to write a MONOLOGUE. You may quickly set the scene for this monologue, but I want the bulk of your flash to be one person talking to an audience of one or more. Approach this any way you like. Your character may be a space alien or an animal or a child or a potato chip. Just give them the floor, the microphone, the podium, the flashlight around the campfire.
Examples of monologues:
Your character wants to make a case for something.
Your character wants to rally the troops against an enemy.
Your character wants to profess her love (or her hate).
Your character wants to defend herself.
Your character has a bone to pick.
Your character goes on a rant.
Your character wants a job.
Your character is simply telling a fascinating story.
Does this monologue qualify as a story? Remember my three essentials to flash fiction: Emotion, Movement, and Resonance. How you get there doesn’t much matter as long as you demonstrate these three. Write quickly without judgment and you will soon have a fresh draft that may surprise you!
Aim for 500 words or fewer! Go!
For inspiration here’s a great one, Charlie Chaplin from The Great Dictator: