Notes on flash fiction

Hello! With my first full month of freelance writing now completed, I just wanted to get a few notes down about these 50-word stories that seem to have taken over my life.

I only started them on January 15, but they have become an incredibly important crutch for me in terms of ensuring I write something new every day. In general, they take about half an hour to get right, although one of my favourites – The Messenger – took exactly six minutes from sitting down with a blank page to saving it in WordPress. I guess writing is about bottling those rare moments when it flows; working, grinding for hours upon hours so that it comes, you’re in the right place to catch it.

The 50-word stories are only warm-ups for all the other writing I do during the day, but if I write one every day for a year, that’s 18,250 words – nearly 20,000 words that wouldn’t have been written otherwise, and 365 little ideas for stories. If I get 20% of them right, that’s 73 decent stories by the end of the year. My plan is to once a month pick one ripe for expanding and turn it into a 500-word story. Then, every few months, see if there’s one that has the legs for something longer. Perhaps combine two or three.

It won’t always be my favourite one; in fact I think it will rarely be my favourite one because often those are the stories that are just perfect for 50 words and to increase them would risk diluting their impact. I think Bee Movie is a perfect example of that.

I’ve learned pretty fast that the best thing to do is to write towards the twist, or reveal, not away from it. I realised I didn’t want to put the most surprising information at the start. With fifty words, you can start mundane, because it isn’t going to take long to get weird. Fifty words gives just enough space to introduce a character or two into a situation. I then try to find a resolution/payoff that comes out of left-field, that is totally unexpected. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but I am getting enormous joy out of the discipline of writing a new one each day.

My last one for January, Barbarians, has potential, but doesn’t quite work. I know what I was trying to say. I began by wanting to write a story about an idiot and a wall, for obvious reasons, but it morphed into something a little different and became a story about people not realising what they have become. It borrows a little from this Mitchell and Webb sketch.

I often think how interesting it is that everyone is always so apparently reasonable when they tell you about a disagreement they’ve had with someone; how it’s always the other person being inconsiderate, or impatient, or unrealistic with their demands. We all have blind spots about our personalities, traits we don’t realise irritate other people and if you scale that up to a communal or national level, you can see how such large-scale crises of identity occur.

Anyway, onwards.