When I tell people I teach a virtual flash fiction course, I often get strange responses bordering on laughter. Isn’t flash fiction just really short fiction? What’s the point of taking a specific Flash class?
No, flash is its own genre deserving of its own class and in my opinion, it’s still underrated as a way to break into publication. But the increasing number of publication opportunities is only one benefit of Flash. It also offers a break to a lot of writers who might be burnt out with a novel or short story. In the main, you get a break from following those longer-length piece rules and who doesn’t need a break from ‘the rules’ once in a while to recharge?
Here are five rules most of us hear over and over again that you get to completely ignore in Flash:
- Tell don’t show. If you’re like me, you’re not the ideal rules person. In Flash you can finally free yourself of ‘show don’t tell’ and just tell. That’s right. Just tell the story. There’s no space for showing. “She was pretty” is perfectly acceptable in Flash. Isn’t that a relief? You do not need to hear that old stand-by: pretty means different things to different people, so just show us what she looks like and let the reader decide. You actually get to just tell us something straight out for a change.
- There’s no time to ‘write what you know’. Writing what you know is big picture thinking. There’s no time to write what you know in flash. Flash is all about focus and that’s a nice break for many writers. Ever start a novel and around a third of the way through you think of a better idea or realize you don’t know what everyone’s motivations are, maybe not even your main character’s? Uh Oh. You can take a break from this in Flash. You only need to write one fraction, one sliver of what you know about any given situation. Everyone knows a sliver of something. Flash premise example: A widow’s new understanding that she is now truly alone after her only daughter gets married to a boy in another town. That’s it! Zero in on that one profound moment of loss and you’ve got the recipe for great Flash. We don’t need to know anything about the fiancé, or even the daughter, how the mother came to be widowed and so on. All we need to do is establish the mother’s character, her pain and what she intends to do with it (make the best of it? Give up?).
- No Backstory Issues. Flash is a genre that eliminates the backstory issue altogether. No bending over backwards with prologues or hitting your head against the wall over those information dumps. Most Flash is one moment in time and no more is needed. It makes no difference what happened before or what’s coming after. Isn’t that a relief?
- The Classic Three-Act Structure Demolished. There’s no need to establish that first scene where all is well and quiet and then dum dum dum dum. In Flash nine times out of ten, it’s best to jump into the tension, skip that harmonious beginning. It’s a two-act structure at most, made up of tension and transformation. Not into opening with harmony? No problem. Skip it.
- Suspend Suspense: You do not need to build suspense in Flash. Phew! In Flash just let us know what is going on and we’re with you. There’s no intrinsic need for suspense. This does not mean you don’t have to work at keeping us reading to the end. Flash needs conflict and/or tension, but building suspense? You can take a break. It slows you down and Flash is fast.