Shelley Widhalm

Archive for January, 2015|Monthly archive page

Writing Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories

In Writing Flash Fiction, Writing Processes, Writing short Stories on January 31, 2015 at 9:00 pm

What is the difference between flash fiction and short stories beside length?

First, flash fiction is a shorter version of a short story, though the length varies depending on the magazine or journal. It can be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words or even 1,500 words, while short stories are defined as 1,000 to 10,000 words.

Think of flash fiction as punchy and to the point, a story of extreme brevity with the plot pared down to the core of the story. Every detail, every character gesture, every description counts; each word has its place. Take one word away and the meaning is lost.

Short stories are more flexible, and unlike flash fiction, may take a couple of sittings to read. There is more space to develop ideas, plot, character and theme; there is at most, one plot and a small subplot or a plot and a half. Flash fiction shouldn’t be more than one plot and one theme.

Like flash fiction, short stories begin with a crisis or conflict right away and avoid describing the origin of the conflict or setting up long character histories. Short stories have one or a few characters and one or a few settings (limited in place and time, such as a day or a couple of weeks) and express a single theme, or message.

Flash fiction works off one idea for plot and character and, like a short story, tells a complete story with a beginning, middle and end with the elements of storytelling in place.

Writing both types of story requires writing that is clear, tight and concise.

To get that tightness, cut unnecessary descriptions, get rid of adjectives and adverbs, remove the word “that” and other empty words, and eliminate details that don’t matter. What may start as a short story can become flash fiction, or a short short, through the slashing of the unnecessary.

With both short stories and short shorts, show, don’t tell with the action. You want the reader to get in and get out and the emotional impact of what you’ve written to resonate beyond the words. Quick and short, they can have that lasting power.

(Note: My flash fiction piece, “A Wanted Man,” has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming “Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology,” a Kickstarter project. Check out the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Baby-Shoes-Flash-Fiction-Anthology/914714125235669).

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Writing Flash Fiction

In Flash Fiction, Short Fiction, Short Stories on January 25, 2015 at 4:00 am

I love the term flash fiction, because it makes me think of storytelling that is quick and flashy.

It’s writing that is short, descriptive and to the point but deceptively complex in its tightness.

Flash fiction is a micro or mini version of a short story, though the length varies depending on the publication. It can be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words or even 1,500 words, while short stories are defined as 1,000 to 10,000 words.

An ultra short story, flash fiction is a style of fiction of extreme brevity with a definable plot pared down to the core of the story. It’s called micro-fiction, micro-story, skinny fiction, fast fiction, furious fiction, postcard fiction, short short, short short story and sudden fiction. It’s part poetry and part narrative.

To successfully write flash fiction, avoid fragmented storytelling. Tell a complete story with the traditional format of beginning, middle and end, making every word essential, without the extras. Retain the elements of storytelling, because otherwise it will become a snippet of a moment of a larger story or an episode without a theme or story.

I find that it’s best to write flash fiction in one sitting with one idea for a character or plot and work from there. Ask if there’s a point to the story, but don’t get too focused on theme. And write when you are in your own emotional moment, getting words out without worrying about word count.

Begin at the moment of conflict when most of the action is nearly complete, avoiding any kind of introduction or back story. Make sure every conversation, action and gesture is important to the telling of the story. Focus on powerful images. And end with an emotional impact.

Once the piece is finished, here are some tricks to tighten and polish the work:

  • Get rid of adjectives and adverbs.
  • Get rid of unnecessary sentences and descriptions.
  • Make sure every conversation, action and gesture is important to the story.

And remember, what’s left out is just as important. Be concise. Keep the essential details. Cut the rest.

(Note: My flash fiction piece, “A Wanted Man,” has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming “Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology,” a Kickstarter project. Check out the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Baby-Shoes-Flash-Fiction-Anthology/914714125235669).

See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s blog, Zoey’s Paw, at http://zoeyspaw.wordpress.com/

Submitting to literary agents

In Editing, Improving Your Work, Revising, Writing, Writing Processes on January 18, 2015 at 4:00 am

I use journals as a way to get into the writing and editing process.

I use journals as a way to get into the writing and editing process.

I find submitting my work to literary agents to be a scary process.

Earlier this week, I submitted my young adult novel, “The Money Finder,” to a literary agent I met last year at a writers’ conference (in March, so I kind of procrastinated), but she said to not submit your work until it’s ready.

For me, that meant editing for grammar, revising for plot, character, setting and story structure and running more than half of it through my writers’ group.

My writers’ group, the Mountain View Authors in northern Colorado, found several things to fix in “The Money Finder,” about a 15-year-old girl named Grace who faces a drunk mother, potential eviction and taking care of a younger sister, Star, as she tries to fix the family problems through money finding.

The group said I needed to watch out for my use of tenses, smooth out some of my descriptions and avoid overusing adverbs, repeating phrases and summarizing when scene is needed. They said I had good descriptions and imagery, good solid dialogue and a great voice for Grace.

Here are some of the other things the group said I needed to address:

  • Give information regarding the sisters’ ages and capabilities at the beginning of the story, so their maturity levels are understood from the get-go.
  • Get a better understanding of who Grace is; if she’s mostly a good girl, ask why she is cutting down her peers with snide inner thoughts. Ask why she shies away from conflict in school but not at home.
  • Give Grace a confidant, so she has someone to tell her problems to and to guide her through her facing homelessness.
  • Make Grace less whiney about her situation and more proactive, so that she’s acting instead of simply reacting to everything that happens to her. Ask how you want her to present herself to those around her.
  • Make the mother more of a real person by adding depth to her character, so she isn’t just a caricature of an alcoholic. Soften her a bit and show her vulnerability.
  • Think or ways to amp up the tension. Ask what’s at stake for Grace and Star.

I worked on editing the novel for a year, doing six or seven revisions. In the last revision, I found several logistical errors, such as the timing of Grace’s classes and the sequence of days Monday to Sunday, so that they actually occurred in order.

Combining the outside input from the input I received from the writers’ group, I was able to tighten my manuscript that much closer to publication ready.

Baby Shoes flash fiction

In Baby Shoes Anthology, Shelley Widhalm on January 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

This week, I’m going to share a bit of good news.

My flash fiction piece, “A Wanted Man,” has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming “Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology.”

The anthology will contain 100 stories of up to 1,000 words by 100 different writers, including distinguished writers Danika Dinsmore, Joe Lansdale, Linda Needham and Walter J. Williams. The stories include fantasy, sci-fi, horror, literary, erotica and humorous and range from supermarket encounters to tales of coming back from war.

The anthology launched earlier this month as a Kickstarter project. It will be funded once there are enough readers for 200 to 250 copies for the e-book edition, while for the print edition, 500 to 600 orders will need to be made.

All of the writers are teasing their Facebook and social media friends about the project, explaining what’s involved and giving an excerpt from their story.

Here is the excerpt from the beginning of my 500-word story, which is about a woman trying to find love through personal ads. Here’s how it starts:

I crafted my personal ad as if some fairy godmother could wave her magic wand and usher in a tall, handsome man with blue eyes. This, I wrote trying not to think about Derek. He managed the front of the Sushi restaurant and I, the back. Sans ring, he rode the rollercoaster of those going through a divorce. His smile blew heat to my toes, causing my eggrolls to crisp.

To learn more about the anthology, check out the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Baby-Shoes-Flash-Fiction-Anthology/914714125235669

Making the most of New Year’s Resolutions (and Writing)

In New Year's Resolutions, Writing Goals on January 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

I am reading from some of my writing in a public venue.

I am reading from some of my writing in a public venue.

I love getting a new planner (I still use paper) for the New Year, facing all of the blank pages to fill in my plans for the upcoming year.

Making New Year’s resolutions inevitably are part of those plans. I have three writing resolutions for 2015: participate in National Novel Writing Month, write a novel and keep blogging (but in a way that feels new to me). I’ve been blogging for five years now, mainly about writing and what’s involved in crafting, editing and revising stories. I’m working out how I will refresh my blog, Shell’s Ink, in 2015.

My personal resolutions are related to jobs and health. I plan to make the most of my writing and editing career by finding additional freelance work and taking professional and creative writing classes through the local library and writer’s groups. As for my health, I’ll continue to eat those fruits and vegetables and go to the gym every other day. I’m up to two miles running (after two years of running a slow mile) and an hour of lifting.

These are things I’m already doing. I like to have goals for the future and acknowledge what I’ve accomplished (i.e. finding that one mile isn’t enough anymore to feel fit).

But keeping to a resolution for the entire year can be difficult—according to the latest statistics, only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through. Research shows that the top resolutions are to lose weight, get organized and spend less money.

I would wager that the top resolutions for writers is to write a novel, join a writers’ group and stick with it, and participate in NaNoWriMo, a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Here are a few ways to stick to those resolutions:

  • Pick a resolution that you want to do, instead of something that is good for you or is something everyone else is doing (like writing novels when writing short stories is your preference).
  • Pick one, two or three resolutions instead of a long list that will be difficult to manage or even remember. That way you can focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Write down your goals and visualize what you want to accomplish and how you’ll do it. Put your goals in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge.
  • Make a plan to carry out your goals with smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month. If writing is one of your goals, start out with 500 words or a half hour and build from there. (I started my novel a week ago and said whatever I write is fine, because I don’t know my plan yet, so my 500 words was just fine).
  • Be specific, such as planning to write two days a week for one hour each time, or to write 2,000 words three times a week. Set aside a certain time for writing or for your other goals.
  • Check in every so often to make sure you’re meeting your goals and ask if any adjustments need to be made.

As you work on your resolutions, find motivation in seeing your efforts lead toward tangible results. And remember change takes time and adjustment, that continual motivation and discipline.