Back when I was in University I didn’t have this thing called ‘Facebook’. No, I put off joining that for years (I still remember getting and ignoring a ton of ‘your friend is on Fb & you should join them’ emails).
Back in those days I had something better. I had… Livejournal!
I mostly wrote about what was going on in my life and kept up with friends who were in different cities. Also, you could have .gifs as your profile picture. It was the best.
Another thing I used it for was writing drabbles, which are an early type of flash fiction. There was one group I joined called X-Men 100, where you could write drabbles about X-Men characters. Each week they’d post a word or phrase for inspiration and then you’d have 7 days to write and post something that was only 100 words long.
It was surprisingly easy to write these. Then again, I’ve never been much of a descriptive writer. I’ve always found it easier to write shorter things, and I get a weird satisfaction in cutting something down to the exact word count. It was easier with X-men drabbles, because everyone in the group knew these characters and their backstories, so you could skip all of that.
Only having 100 words to work with means that every word needs to count.
A couple weeks ago I decided to try writing something for the Kit Sora photo contest. It was fun to get back to drabbles, aka flash fiction. I really enjoyed writing it, agonizing over every word, and fighting with myself to cut it down to 250 words. But, then again, I’m weird.
So, let’s get into my process…
When I write flash fiction I always try to think of the picture I want to paint. What moment in time do I want to describe?
I also try to use specific descriptive words to paint a better picture. Instead of saying that someone’s scared stiff, I’ll go with ‘petrified’ (that’s 1 word fewer already!). I go on Thesaurus.com a LOT.
First I’ll write the scene without worrying about the word count. If I’m short, I’ll think about what could be added to create a more ‘rounded’ story or what could benefit from more description.
If I go over the word count, I get out the axe and start chopping things down.
But what to remove? Well, anything that isn’t necessary. Remember Checkov’s Gun – if it isn’t important then it doesn’t need to be mentioned. If you need to, simplify the story, boil it down to its essence. If you cut a particular thing, does the story still make sense? Do you need it?
I also keep a lot of versions. I wrote 6 versions before finally settling on one I liked that was within the word count. They were all kept in one document so that they could be quickly referenced. The reason I do this is because I might cut something in version 2 that I want to add in for version 5. Or I might add like the phrasing in version 1 and want to go back to it.
Writing Flash Fiction isn't effortless for me, but that's why I like it.
And now, because I can, here’s one of my old x-men drabbles, based on one of my favourite pictures, of Gambit sitting in a window, overlooking the city:
The lights of the city shone like forgotten stars.
Each window represented a life that had been swallowed by the big bad city. Everyone came here for different reasons, but all stayed for the same.
Inside each illuminated window was hope. Inside each darkened window – broken, shattered, forgotten hope.
Sitting on the windowsill, Gambit looked out at the city. What were his own reasons for being here? He couldn’t say. He didn’t know.
Somewhere in the city, a woman’s scream for help went unanswered.
Somewhere in the city, a window went dark.
He was a long way from the Bayou.