Saturday, January 2, 2010

Finding My Niche, Possibly in Flash Fiction

Last November a number of my writing friends took part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo):

A synopsis of NaNoWriMo from Wikipedia:

I on the otherhand, decided to pass, since I was much too busy with my other projects. At this point in time, my writing is more of a hobby rather than a profession. In fact, the stories I write, are about my wargaming hobby--a hobby within a hobby, so to speak.

While I've written several gaming articles these past few years and created YouTube movies within this past year, the question lingering in the back of my mind is: What nich does my work fall in to?

Wargame "battle reports" or "after action reviews (AARs)" can combine the elements of military history, historical fiction and narrative non-fiction, to name a few. Some wargames are even set within the realms of science-fiction and fantasy, like Star Trek, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, each with a literary "history" of it's own.

None of my work fits neatly into any of the genres mentioned above. So I was still looking for a niche.

Then a couple months ago, I came across a book review of Rose Metal Press' Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction in The Writer Magazine (Dec 09, pg 44, by Amy Wallen).

After reading this, I ordered a copy of the book, which was the subject of my last post, and examined my YouTube movies. Of the 18 shows I've produced so far, the longest runs just over 8 minutes with a narrative word count of less than 800 words.

The definition of flash fiction, or short-short story, varies, but is usually a piece of work containing anywhere from 250-1,000 words:

So can my YouTube movies be considered flash fiction?


One of the best ways to create a lasting impression in a short story or flash fiction is to hit the reader with surprise twist at the end, even if it's only in the last sentence.

The only surprise in my stories occur when a game's outcome differs than what occurred in history, or established lore, in the case of science fiction or fantasy. In some of my previous articles I included a fictional encounter as an introduction. The pattern is the same for each of these vignettes: A leader confronts an enemy host and must decide what to do next. Does he attack? Stand and defend? Or retreat? It is this critical decision point--before the battle is joined--that I find most fascinating, because once a choice has been made and the forces committed to action, there's no turning back.

Even after reading through the flash fiction field guide, I'm still not sure if my work can be pigeon-holed into this genre. But as long as my YouTube movies come in at less than 1K's worth of words, then it makes sense to use it as a template--until I start writing longer stories.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Book Review: Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction is a collection of 25 essays on the subject:

Okay, so what's "flash fiction?"

The definition varies, but it's often called a short-short story, with a word-count ranging from 250-1,000 words:

In fact, the introduction of this field guide, by Editor Tara L. Misah, is the longest chapter in the entire book, weighing-in at 26 pages. Despite its length, Ms. Misah provides the reader with an interesting history of flash fiction. Short stories gained popularity around the turn of the 20th Century with the publication of weekly magazines. These periodicals, however, began dying-off as television became a more popular form of entertainment. Despite the proliferation of the internet, flash fiction now provides a reader with a story in short amount of time, or "as long as it takes to smoke a cigarette."

In fact, SmokeLong Quarterly, is an on-line literary magazine devoted specifically to flash fiction:

As to the field guide itself, I found the essays useful and informative. Each essay ranged from 3-9 pages, which included a writing prompt and an example of flash fiction. As you could expect, the authors had some differences of opinion on what makes an effective short-short story. What they did agree on, was that each story should be thought-provoking and leave the reader with an indelible image.

I found most of the story examples, "thought provoking" alright. My usual responses were, "huh?" or even, "WTF was that all about?"

I guess I'm not the literary type. I'm not into deciphering an author's meaning and images in his or her story.

My favorite was Inside Job by Pamela Painter. In this flash, a university couple are attending a party. After noticing her husband hit on another one of his graduate students, Marla goes into the kitchen to grab a drink, but accidently douses her blouse with seltzer water. One of Marla's graduate students tries to help dab off the water and she guides his hand--underneath her blouse.


Talk about an "indelible image!"

I rate this book a solid four stars. This is more out of personal bias. With the exception of Inside Job, it's hard for me to get excited over a textbook. However, for anyone interested in writing flash fiction, or improving their craft in this niche-genre, this is an invaluable guide.

Happy New Year!