I’ve always been one to write long stories. My childhood writing attempts (never completed) were intended as novels, with my longest taking up more than two hundred pages of college-ruled spiral notebooks before I grew bored and abandoned it.
In college I tried my hand at short stories, but “short” was always a relative term and what I produced was something more akin to novellas. This must have dismayed my creative writing professors, but they were kind about it. It was only much later, after writing four full-length novels, that I began to understand the value of writing short. I tended to ramble in my drafts, leading to months and even years of tightening and cleanup. I needed to find a way to make every word count from the outset.
At first I thought poetry was the answer, but that posed a problem. I don’t enjoy reading other people’s poetry and have even less desire to write or read any of my own.
Then someone on the Absolute Write forum suggested a flash fiction carnival. I was eager to participate, but 1,000 words? Even my shopping lists are longer than that! How could I possibly put a whole story into such a small box?
I mulled over the matter and decided to give it a try. To my surprise, the resulting story wasn’t half bad. It had a clear beginning, middle and end, with a distinct resolution. Comments were favorable and I decided to try again. Soon I was writing a story every week or so, often within the context of my previous dystopian fiction, but branching out from time to time into other genres. It was fun, it was gratifying, and I was learning to say a lot with fewer and fewer words.
Now as I take this skill back into my longer fiction, I find I have a different eye for things. Sentences and entire paragraphs I thought were necessary are expendable. One well-chosen word can take the place of several careless ones.
I’m still learning, still growing into the flash format, but I’m finding that it suits me in ways I had never expected. I started out wanting to improve as a novelist, but I’ve gained a lot more than that. I’ve found a new creative outlet.