Discussion in 'Genre Discussions' started by DefinitelyMaybe, Oct 14, 2015.
So, characterisation, plot, and conflict. How do you fit that all within 100 words?
No real idea. I'm not a fan of flash fiction! I think it's symptomatic of our time, where people think they don't have time for anything much. Just a soundbite here or there—ta da, I've read a story. I'm curious as to why you would want to limit yourself to 100 words. I'm not negative about it, I just don't understand the impulse. But I write novels, so I suppose that makes sense!
I've just written one with some conflict and resolution, but am wondering whether to post it here or submit it somewhere. This story has little in the way of in-depth characters or character development, but it's difficult to fit everything into 100 words.
I do like fiction of all lengths, but I think that writing very short fiction is good for me right now. I've been reading published micro-stories, and there are some very good ones. Many of them appear to be vignettes, however, with no real progressing plot.
While I'm aware that there are different skills involved in writing very short fiction and longer fiction, I think that writing very short fiction is a good exercise for addressing my excessive verbosity. I also can finish one including a number of editing runs quite quickly. If I was writing a novel, I might have to spend a year working on it. When I recently wrote a story to submit for an anthology that had a 1500 word limit, I found that I had plenty of words to get my story told.
Okay, you've convinced me. As a tool for getting rid of excess words, I guess that's a great exercise! Maybe I should try it?
I'm heartened that you recognise the difference between a vignette and a story. So many people don't. I've read many a 'short story' anthology produced by amateur writing groups, that can't seem to tell the difference.
A vignette may be interesting to read, but it's usually just a description of a scene, event or character, followed by some conclusion offered by the writer as to what it means. ("And I realised, after seeing the wounded dog licking the hand of the fellow who ran over its tail with the bicycle, that love is the most important thing in the universe..." etc). Many of these kinds of writers seem to think that if it's fiction, short, and not poetry then—by gum—it's a short story! No wonder such writers have trouble with plot progression and character development.
I think the key to writing interesting 'very' short fiction is to limit the scope. A lot. If you try to cover too much territory it will read like a synopsis and won't be engaging to the reader. Just a limited event or encounter where things change.
Myself? I find it difficult to imagine that you can tell much of a story in 100 words. To me, it feels more like a story idea than an actual story. But it's because I don't like to read short stuff. I'm a believer in immersion!
Just out of interest, my post above contains 254 words. Less than half of that to make an engaging story? Ummmm....
I've written quote a lot of these. Some definitely did come out more as vignettes, but proper stories are possible in that limit.
It's far easier to show with an example, so here's one of mine:
Crossing The Line
Henri the tightrope walker gets philosophical when he's performing.
Just body, rope and stick. Perfect equilibrium, the way Henri likes it.
One foot after another. Goal-oriented, single-minded.
Even the crowd vanishes. Even Amelie, turning cartwheels below.
Of course, Amelie's trying to vanish anyway. Bruno the strongman wants to take her to Paris.
Bruno isn't performing tonight. No-one can find him. It's because he's been eaten by Sasha the tiger, but only Henri knows that.
He shouldn't have tried to upset Henri's equilibrium.
Henri gives a slight smile. You need equilibrium to walk the rope. You don't need to be balanced.
I'd argue that's a proper story. Beginning, middle and end. Characterisation, conflict, plot. Not as much of any as you'd get in a longer work, but they're all there. (Feel free to disagree if you want, but that's just an example, not there for critique, since there's Rules about that kind of thing.)
Most of that's all about Henri and slowly revealing him as murderous, but you can also see he's interested in Amelie (the 'Even' in her first sentence and the fact she's picked out specifically does that: you don't need to show the blushes and Henri stammering as he tries to talk to her after the show. You'll likely find you'll do a lot more of what people call 'telling' rather than 'showing'. That's OK.)
Then the conflict is introduced with the love triangle, and since this is more a character piece than a plot piece it's resolved on the next line.
On summer evenings, I like to sit in the garden and watch the fairies play over my prize azaleas.
I say ‘play’… what I mean is they’ve got a bitter territorial dispute going back generations, and every night they come out to drench the flowerbed in pixie blood.
Last summer, they tried to broker a peace. Asked me to mediate. I was flattered, but it wasn’t right for me to get involved in their affairs.
Talks broke down, and I felt a bit guilty digging in the wreckage the next morning.
Not too guilty, though. Those azaleas don’t fertilise themselves.
Again, there's a plot, there's conflict - there's a whole war - and I quite like the characterisation of the narrator, as the story shows you what's more important to them: the lives of hundreds of fairies, or winning the latest gardening prize.
You can also get a long way relying on assumed knowledge of your reader - this doesn't help the plot, conflict and characterisation thing directly so much as giving you more words to devote to them. For instance, one first line I've used is:
"For her final wish, Emily removed irony, thereby kicking the social crutches from four million hipsters."
Pretty much everyone is familiar with the 'three wishes' trope, so the first four words set up how the whole scenario is possible. Most people will just assume she found a magic lamp or something, so you don't have to explain that part. It just is.
Thanks @NigeTheHat . Your examples are very good ones, that I can learn from. (As well as enjoying the stories).
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