Wednesday, September 16, 2009

from Tara Laskowski

My random thoughts about flash fiction:

Writing flash is no easier or harder than writing a regular short story. You can just write more of them, so your chances of getting a good one among the pile are higher.

Don’t try to be too profound. I suppose this is a personal preference, but my favorite stories are the quiet ones. I would prefer to read a 200-word story about a couple who, while washing dishes, realize their differences might doom them, rather than a 200-word story that tries to incorporate a car chase, zombies and a moralistic ending about human nature. (Actually, if someone could do that, it would probably be pretty cool.) Not to say you should be boring or mundane, though. However, bringing out the extraordinary in what otherwise might be boring or mundane is what really gets me.

You’ve got the opportunity to drop into people’s lives at just the right moment. No set-up, no history, no getting-to-know-you first dates—jump right to it. You can sneak up on your characters at that very moment the change is happening, the verdict is in, the sex is bad, the relationship is doomed, the gun is fired, the vampire is bitten, etc. And then leap out again, leaving the reader with just enough information to get all that’s come before and all that’s to come in the future and why all of it matters deeply.

Flash takes up less space in print journals, so editors are happier to see your work than the 29-page short story you slaved over for months that would take up 1/3 of their real estate.

There are tons of amazing web-based journals out there that publish flash, and they have quicker turn-around times. So you get rejected (or sometimes accepted) quicker!

There are tons of amazing web-based journals out there that publish flash. So if you do get published, you can send the link of your story to aunts, cousins, friends, enemies, pets, and they can actually read it. And like it. (Except for your pets, who, unless they are really really interesting, will probably just sniff the computer screen and walk away to pee.)

Flash is like poetry. The words matter. Every one. And don’t be afraid to cut them.

Know your strengths. I think every writer is different. Some have a better grasp on the moment, some drift towards more complex, longer stories that would do better in novel form. While I think everyone has the capacity to write all different lengths, it’s important to know what attracts you and what you think you do best. And go with it.

The most important thing, and sometimes the hardest thing, is to have fun. The stories that I think are my best are the ones that I had fun writing.

Bio: Tara Laskowski is the 2009 Kathy Fish Fellow and writer-in-residence at SmokeLong Quarterly. She earned an MFA from George Mason University and continues to fight traffic living just outside of Washington, D.C.

Read “Ode to the Double-Crossed Lackey in ‘Thunderball’” in Barrelhouse

Read “Only a Number” in decomP

Read “The Hamster” in Smokelong Quarterly


  1. "The most important thing, and sometimes the hardest thing, is to have fun. The stories that I think are my best are the ones that I had fun writing."

    This is so true, Tara. Incidentally, it also reminded me of the scene in "Ordinary People" where the creepy swim coach asked Jaret (Timothy Hutton) if he's having fun swimming. The coach says something like, "there's no point if you're not having fun." I find the same is true of my stories. If I'm not having fun and/or invigorated writing's likely going to produce something wholly derivative, if anything at all.

  2. Simple and spot on.

    I'm fairly new to flash, but not to writing as a whole, so I'm scouring the web looking for just such advice. Thanks for providing it.

    The dishes example really resonates with me, as do the verdict/bad sex/fired gun metaphors.

    Good nutshell to put it in.

    (BTW -- found you through one of Robert Smartwood's tweets.)

  3. Tracy, thanks for stopping by--your wandering brain site is terrific, btw.

  4. Thanks, Tracy and David! Glad my random thoughts were of some use to someone. ;-)

  5. I read your post again, Tara, and again appreciate your mention of the "quiet" stories, the ones that resonate, vibrate, layered and textured with subtext. So much bigger than they appear on the surface. Those are the gems.