Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Apologies All Around" Live at Drabblecast

Norm Sherman at Drabblecast has released his podcast of Apologies All Around by Jeff Soesbe, which was originally published in our February issue. And even if you read it here already, it's so worth the sitcom treatment than Norm gives it -- funny and a little campy and totally different without mocking it or being crazy. Amazing job, Norm.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Karen Smith Places in "Return To Luna" Writing Contest

Yep, that's our very own Karen T. Smith on the list of finalists for the "Return to Luna" writing contest. She'll be published in the "Return to Luna" anthology. Karen, what other details can you provide for us?

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

New Review!

Special thanks to short story reviewer Sam Tomaino (and, of course, editor Gayle Surrette) for a brief review of our brief stories from last month.

The problem with reviewing such short stories is that you can't say too much without giving the whole thing away, and the problem with thanking people for such short reviews is that you can't give a flavor for what they say without quoting most of the review. I'll shut up now so you can read Sam's reviews. (Hint: he seems to have liked them.)

While you're there, you might be interested in the interview with Paolo Bacigalupi. He's paranoid without letting it get him over the edge, which is interesting, and I like this line from his comment about The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement: "I love it. It means more elbow room for me and mine."

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

For Writers: The Turkey City Lexicon

I've just created a nicely formatted version of the Turkey City Lexicon and made it available from my Goodies page.

The Turkey City Lexicon is a copyright-free collection of gaffes, stylistic problems, and other issues that face writers every day. I'm not talking about misplaced modifiers or point-of-view inconsistencies, but higher-level issues. Here are a few samples:
Brenda Starr dialogue
Long sections of talk with no physical background or description of the characters. Such dialogue, detached from the story's setting, tends to echo hollowly, as if suspended in mid-air. Named for the American comic-strip in which dialogue balloons were often seen emerging from the Manhattan skyline.
...
"Call a Rabbit a Smeerp"
A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. "Smeerps" are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.)
...
Dischism
The unwitting intrusion of the author's physical surroundings, or the author's own mental state, into the text of the story. Authors who smoke or drink while writing often drown or choke their characters with an endless supply of booze and cigs. In subtler forms of the Dischism, the characters complain of their confusion and indecision -- when this is actually the author's condition at the moment of writing, not theirs within the story. "Dischism" is named after the critic who diagnosed this syndrome. (Attr. Thomas M. Disch)

You get the idea. Although it targets science fiction writers, there are plenty of items in it worth reading about for all genres.

And yes, that means that I've let everyone else do the real work of making all of this meaningful content, and all I've done is reformat it and republish it. But then, that's what I do with all of the stories, too, so I'm okay with that... :)

If anyone thinks that an HTML version of this would be worth creating, let me know and I'll add it to the list of things I really oughta do someday.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Flash Fantasy & SF: Harder Than Other Genres?

I just stumbled across a year-old post by Steve Goble called "Swords and Flashery". It hits on a topic I've been thinking about as I go through the submissions we've received over the last two months.

[After writing the first draft of a fantasy flash,] I read the [2000-word] piece and found nary an ounce of fat in it. It was the simplest kind of plot I could devise and still have a sense of drama to it. In short, there was just no way I could go back and jettison half of what I’d written.


"Come on, Steve," you might say. "The very first submission to Flash Fiction Online was a drabble, only 100 words long. Surely we can write stories in fewer than 2,000 words!"

But the drabble I received needed absolutely no setup. Steve writes swords-and-sorcery stories. He needs lots of setup.

Science fiction and fantasy require at least one speculative element. You have to describe what the element is and show how it makes the world you're creating different from the world we live in. If the speculative element is a person, you may need to show how this person's history fits in with the rest of the fictional world; the rest of that fictional world then needs sufficient explanation to let it be the context for the fictional person. Objects can be the same way (think of all the history behind Gollum's ring or the Gom Jabbar of the Bene Gesserit), as can political situations, planetary conditions, species of creature...

Well, you get the idea. If you're making stuff up, and you want people to experience your invented world, you have to make it all fit. That's tough to do in a thousand words.

One submission we received came from a professional author with many published stories. I'd love to get his name on my Web site. But the amount of information that came pouring off the page -- just to set up the plot -- was staggering. The plot itself had minimal room to move, and was therefore somewhat unsatisfying. I give him immense credit for trying to get everything into a thousand words, but I don't think it's possible for this particular story.

Does that mean that it's impossible to write flash SF & fantasy? No, of course not. I've already published some of it, and I just agreed to buy a great little SF story by Jeff Soesbe (his first sale!) called "Apologies All Around" for the February issue. I'm acquiring the rights to a very funny SF story by Carl Frederick for our April issue. (As an aside, I'm really happy to have both someone as new as Jeff and someone as experienced as Carl on the site.) But it's hard.

What can you do to make it work? I'm thinking out loud here, but it seems to me that you can (not must, just can) do some of these things:

(a) Make the world you're writing about very similar to the one you're in. The less you have to explain, the more words you can devote to plot. Since literary fiction is, generally speaking, in "our world", there's very little explaining to do. Literary writers have the advantage over sci fi writers here.

(b) Use dialogue sparingly -- and with precision. If you read "The Materialist" from this issue, you'll see only two brief bits of dialogue: 48 words out of a thousand. Note, though: the spoken words that made it into the story are gems. The "higher goal in mind"--"cancer research?"--"Rhodium!" exchange brilliantly and succinctly characterizes Dr. Albrecht in a way that 500 words of description couldn't.

(c) Avoid things like the plague if they're not part of the narrative thread. I recently participated in a flash challenge at Hatrack River. I wrote my flash between midnight and 2:30 AM the day it was due. Reading it the next day, I realized that I had included bits of history of the device that the story revolved around -- history that didn't need to be there. Excise those 150 words, and suddenly I have more space to talk about the stuff that matters: character, plot, and setting. While this theoretically isn't purely a sci-fi-or-fantasy problem, the submissions of the last month show me that many sf writers seem to want to go down that path more than literary writers. Even if you're an engineer, you don't need to explain the engineering.

I'm sure there's more. What do you think?

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