Friday, 11 November 2016

‘Flash fiction makes the daily discipline of writing a lot more fun. And it can spark real creativity’

Guest Post by Margot Kinberg, academician, writer, and blogger. She recently released her fourth novel, Past Tense, in her acclaimed Joel Williams series. Margot also writes short stories and flash fiction, and regularly blogs about crime fiction at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

© Margot Kinberg
Writing is a lot like any other skill: it needs to be honed. And that means writing on a daily basis. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is through flash fiction.

One thing I love about flash fiction is that it allows the writer to play with ideas without the commitment to a long story or a novel. And that allows for all sorts of experimentation and exploration. To put it another way, flash fiction makes the daily discipline of writing a lot more fun. And it can spark real creativity.

Flash fiction is also really versatile. For example, my host, Prashant, is quite skilled at 100-word stories called Drabbles. That structure encourages the writer to use powerful language that tells a story in just a few words. You can even try a shorter format – the 50-word story that author and fellow blogger Rob Kitchin has called the Dribble. Both formats help the author to reduce a story to its essentials, and convey quite a lot with a few well-chosen words. That’s got much to recommend it.

Those micro-stories aren’t for every writer. Some writers choose slightly longer flash fiction stories. Those allow for a little more atmosphere and character development, and they can be really helpful for the writer who’d like to work on those skills. Again, it’s an effective way to some vital daily practice.

Because flash fiction is flexible, that means the writer can try different voices, different genres, and so on. It also means that established authors with a continuing series can ‘test the waters’ with new characters and settings.

The benefits of flash fiction go beyond helping the writer hone skills. Flash fiction also helps to build (or keep) a reading audience. Publishing flash fiction on one’s blog or other website introduces the author to readers. Then, when there’s a forthcoming book, readers are more likely to be interested. The same may happen for editors or agents who are looking for new talent.

Flash fiction can also provide interesting opportunities for publication. Sometimes, magazines or other journals open up to submissions of flash fiction. There are also flash fiction competitions. All of those allow the author the chance for wider recognition.

Sometimes, an idea that comes from a flash fiction story can develop into something more substantive. Just one element of a shorter story can inspire something longer – even a novel. For example, in one of my flash fiction pieces, Planting Season, a body is found buried at a landscaping site. It got me to thinking about how remains might be discovered, and that’s just what I needed for a novel I was writing.

That novel turned out to be Past Tense, which has recently been released. In Past Tense, construction workers uncover a 40-year-old set of remains that turn out to be connected with a missing person case from 1974. My protagonist, former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, works in tandem with the police to find out the truth behind that death.

Admittedly, the main plot of Past Tense isn’t very similar to the plot of Planting Season. But the idea from that flash fiction piece helped me put together a plot element that I needed. And that ‘fed’ the novel. I got other little bits of ideas for the novel from other flash fiction I’ve done.

And that’s the thing about flash fiction. Not every piece will lead anywhere. Lots of mine don’t. But you never know when one or another piece might fill in a plothole, give you an idea for a character, or add a touch of atmosphere to something larger you’re writing. Some pieces might even evolve into a novel.

Thank you very much, Prashant!



Here’s more about Past Tense

A long-buried set of remains…a decades-old mystery

Past and present meet on the quiet campus of Tilton University when construction workers unearth a set of unidentified bones.


© Grey Cells Press
For former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, it’s a typical Final Exams week – until a set of bones is discovered on a construction site…

When the remains are linked to a missing person case from 1974, Williams and the Tilton, Pennsylvania police go back to the past. And they uncover some truths that have been kept hidden for a long time.

How much do people really need to know?

It’s 1974, and twenty-year-old Bryan Roades is swept up in the excitement of the decade. He’s a reporter for the Tilton University newspaper, The Real Story, and is determined to have a career as an investigative journalist, just like his idols, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He plans to start with an exposé article about life on the campus of Tilton University. But does everything need to be exposed? And what are the consequences for people whose lives could be turned upside down if their stories are printed? As it turns out, Bryan’s ambition carries a very high price. And someone is determined not to let the truth out.

35 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for hosting me, Prashant - It's a real privilege.

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    1. And likewise, Margot. This was a good lesson in writing flash fiction.

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  2. You are so right that flash fiction can help unblock your writing or allow you to experiment with ideas and voices. I've avoided writing shorter pieces when I work on a novel (I keep saying I'm not a sprinter, I run marathons), but really, there is no reason not to give it a go. Thank you both for reminding me of that!

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    1. Thanks, Marina Sofia. I agree that writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. But sometimes, I do think flash fiction can get those proverbial juices flowing.

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    2. You're welcome, Marina. Margot is the expert here. I'm only the student.

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  3. It takes skill to write good flash fiction. Margot offers good reasons for trying it. With today's short attention spans I expect we'll be seeing much more of it.

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    1. Thanks, John. And I suspect you're right about attention spans...

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    2. John, I suspect non-regular readers would prefer short fiction. It's easier to get out of the way.

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  4. A worthy reading, so thanks to Prashant & Margot!

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    1. Thank you, Andrè. The credit goes to Margot. Her writing never disappoints.

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  5. Great to find Margot visiting Prashant! And very interesting comments there about flash fiction. And btw, all, Margot's new book is really really good...

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    1. Thank you, Moira *Blush* - I'm glad you found the comments interesting. Isn't Prashant a great host?

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    2. Thank you, Moira. Margot raises some excellent and useful points about flash fiction. She has previously spoken about blogging here. You will find the link to the interview in the top right-hand column.

      Margot, I appreciate the kind words.

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  6. Very interesting piece about flash fiction, Margot. I like learning how it contributed to your latest novel.

    And thanks to Prashant for hosting you today.

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    1. Thanks, Tracy. I'm really glad you found it interesting. And I'm very grateful Prashant was kind enough to host me. His blog is fantastic.

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    2. Thank you, Tracy. I have been the richer for knowing you and Margot through your blogs and book reviews.

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  7. I too love flash fiction. both as a writer and a reader. It's as close as you can get in writing to sheer play.

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    1. Well put, Charles! That's exactly what it is.

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    2. Charles, I enjoy reading and writing flash fiction or short fiction because it doesn't give you much leeway to experiment, and that is a challenge I like.

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  8. Very enjoyable post - thanks to both of you.

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    1. Thanks, Col - glad you enjoyed it.

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    2. You're welcome, Col. Margot is the winner here.

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  9. How lovely to see Margot visiting you Prashant - and although I'd considered it being extended into a full blown story,I'd never thought that Flash Fiction could be the inspiration for a plot point - great post.

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    1. Thank you, Cleo. I'm really glad you enjoyed the post. That's one of the great things about flash fiction. It really can inspire so much.

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    2. Thank you, Cleo. It was a pleasure playing host to Margot and her writing.

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  10. Fantastic post, Margot. It's funny you mention how flash can morph into longer works. I fell in love with a killer from one of my flash pieces, so I had to use him in my WIP. Flash is also a great way to emerge from a "slump," IMO, because it allows you to "just write" rather than planning in advance.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Sue - glad you enjoyed the post. And I agree completely about the value of flash fiction. It's hard to be in a writing slump, especially if one's got a deadline. A flash fiction story can help get the wheels turning again, so to speak. And as you say, you never know when a flash fiction character will turn out to be important.

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    2. Sue, I enjoy writing flash fiction and I hope it will one day inspire me to write proper short stories and maybe even a novella or novel.

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  11. Excellent - I have the book on the bedside table, raring to go just as soon as I finish a John Dickson Carr ...

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    1. Sergio, I too am looking forward to reading PAST TENSE.

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  12. Plenty of reasons to write flash fiction. Thanks for the post. I think it will be helpful in the future.

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    1. I couldn't agree more, Oscar, about the value of flash fiction. And I'm glad you found the post helpful.

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    2. Thank you, Oscar. Margot offers valuable tips on flash fiction and how it can shape one's writing.

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