I’ve been trying my hand at flash fiction recently, specifically 100-150-word stories. It’s not something I’m particularly good at – I seem to take God’s own time getting to the point, and I lack the poet’s enviable ability to convey a multitude with a few choice phrases. But it’s a good exercise for many reasons:
- firstly, it’s a lesson in being concise and distilling down to the essence of a story. That kind of precision can be very satisfying. Ernest Hemingway is said to have come up with the ultimate flash fiction story, ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’. Not another word needed;
- it’s also a great way of finding stories – if something grabs you, chances are there’s something there to develop further at a later date;
- it’s fun. You don’t feel the same pressure as with a short story or novel. You’re creating a snapshot – not an epic adventure. That’s quite liberating;
- last but not least, it’s fast. You’ll feel you’ve accomplished something creative and still have oodles of time left for important binge-watching of Jessica Jones on Netflix.
So if you manage to write a masterpiece succinct enough to fit on an average-sized napkin, the question then is what to do with it? There are a surprising number of flash fiction competitions out there, some of which have the added advantage of being free.
One of the most interesting ones I’ve come across is AdHoc Fiction. Part of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, AdHoc offers weekly opportunities to win your way onto the Bath competition. As well as sparing you the princely £7.50 entry fee, it has all the aforementioned benefits. Plus your work is up on the website where it’s read by actual human beings for a week.
How it works is that you write a story of max 150 words, using a weekly set prompt word, which has to appear somewhere in the story. The words tend to be generic so the results are hugely diverse. I entered the last round, which had ‘Catch’ as the prompt word. This week’s is ‘Branch’.
Once the deadline has passed, the stories are published on the site and put to a public vote (writers’ names are not used unless they win). All very democratic, and the winning writer’s reward is the chance to write a 300-word story for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. At the end of the journey are cash prizes, plus the envy of less efficient storytellers.
The only – small – drawback to the site is that the number of entries on the weekly longlist seems to be the best part of 100, with the stories appearing in the order they were uploaded (I’m guessing this because mine is almost at the end and I uploaded it about an hour before the deadline. I won’t say what it’s called in case I’d be breaking some kind of Ad Hoccer code while voting is still ongoing). But do many people actually read all the way to the end before casting a vote? I’m not so sure. So if you are going to try your hand, my guess is you should try to get your piece in sooner rather than later.
Another free-to-enter flash fiction comp I’ve tried (admittedly with zero success) is the Reader’s Digest 100-Word-Story Competition, which has categories for children and teenagers as well as adults.
On a final note, in terms of honing your skills, this interesting article by writer and blogger Randall Brown discusses how to achieve the right balance by making your flash story lean, mean and full of content, but at the same time not losing the heart of it. It’s well worth a read.