By T.K. Young of http://www.flashfictionblog.com
Flash fiction is all about brevity. So if you want to write good flash fiction, focus is the critical skill for getting your message across in a format that forces you to use as few words as possible. But there are three big pitfalls that can lead to unfocused writing:
Lack of understanding of your story’s true plot: Here’s where your goal enters the picture. Take a look at these two sentences:
- This story is about a man and his son who go to the woods.
- During an arduous hunting trip after his wife’s death, a father tries and fails to reconnect with his son due to the father’s inability to come to terms with his own emotions.
Sentence 1 is detailed and nuanced. Sentence 2 is very general–because It can take you in any direction, your writing will probably meander as you try and figure out what exactly is the story you’re trying to tell. If you clarify your plot up front, the more focused your writing will become on necessary detail.
Misunderstanding what a reader needs to see: Once you’ve clarified your plot, every single word in your story needs to support that narrative. Many writers get bogged down in extraneous details such as describing every stitch of clothing a character is wearing. In writing flash fiction, you have to be ruthless in your editing; if the reader doesn’t need to know or see something for your plot to advance, edit it out.
Let’s go back to sentence 1 from above. Does your reader need to know where the father and son are hunting? How far they drove? What day it is? What they’re wearing? The answer to each of these questions would be only if the detail advances the plot. If not, leave the extraneous on your cutting-room floor.
Writing for yourself and not the story: What I mean by writing for yourself is a variation on the “kill your darlings” advice writers so often receive. Personally, I love atmospheric detail. I could write paragraphs of the stuff. But readers, especially those of flash fiction, only have so much patience for atmospheric detail. Give your story a hard look: Is you narrative slowing down? Are you growing bored with your own story? Have sentences passed but nothing’s happened? If so then it’s time to get focused!
T.K. Young is the author of the flash fiction collection When We’re Afraid and is currently finalizing the upcoming “pre-dystopian” science fiction novel Chawlgirl Rising for publication. He posts original work, writing tips, news and contests at www.flashfictionblog.com