Didja like that clickbait headline? Fanastic! Anyway, last month I decided to write a series of flash fiction shorts in order to get my writing brain limbered up for some big novel edits.
Cramming a story into one thousand words is a fine exercise in focusing on what matters. To keep that focus crystal clear I allowed myself a maximum of two hours per story.
Originally my plan was to crank one of these babies out every single day. That didn’t happen—but I did keep to my two hour limit. Between January 7th and January 23rd I wrote twelve shorts, many of which I actually like. Two I liked enough to hurl into the lit mag rejectosphere.
So yeah. 12 stories in 24 hours. (Spread over two weeks.)
Given the time limit and schedule I had to work out a repeatable process. By the third story I’d ironed out most of the kinks.
First off: the outline. No time for our heroes to go on journeys or save cats, there are only a thousand words to work with. I started with a loose bit of inspiration from John Truby’s Anatomy Of Story and abbreviated it until it was unrecognizable.
In a notebook I listed each of the following:
- Place: Where is this set? An airplane, southern Spain, Thailand muay thai camp, …
- Character: Who am I talking about? An angry god, an unsure viking, an amputee surgeon, …
- Need: What is the character’s objective? Connect to their dead wife, force their people to be righteous, be perfectly competent, …
- Plan: How are they attempting to do this? Enslave humanity, buy an exotic plant, move to India, …
- Obstacle: What stands in their way? Alzheimer’s, human imperfection, their own morality, …
- Resolution: (The most hand-wavy part) How does it end? Releasing humanity from bondage, atoning for their flaws, giving up their hobby, …
I took the first thirty minutes to jot down three of these outlines. At the end I picked the best one.
For the next hour it was ass-in-seat, fingers-to-keyboard, bam bam bam, just shit out like a thousand words. Sometimes more sometimes less, I wasn’t too strict on this except that I had to be finished by the end of the hour.
Then hard part.
I let the draft sit for at least eight hours and did other stuff. I’m in Thailand right now so that was alternately: muay thai, working on a software project, editing my novel, and drinking happy shakes with the expat crew.
When the story had adequately rested I spent the last thirty minutes editing what I had written, et viola: one freshly baked, slightly steaming pile of flash fiction ready to go.
I had two stories that I ran out of time on. In both cases the draft was barely halfway through by the time my two hours were up. Rather than commit to a death spiral I tossed them in the junk drawer. 12 for 14 ain’t bad tho.
I also promised myself that I would publish everything that I did finish. Forcing myself to publish after a specific deadline was a decent way to ignore the temptation to cheat and overwork a piece.
Both the process and the results of this exercise were extremely gratifying. I’ve decided to continue, but at a far slower pace. One of these every week going forward, just to keep the mind right.
The twelve shorts can be found on this here site:
- Flight Path - A man, a plane, a dachshund.
- Fight For It - Some boxing stuff
- Remember When - A bit more “literary”. My fave of the bunch, it’s about memory and promises.
- Bits - Perfectionism / surgery
- Gardens - Gardening but weird?
- Counting Teeth - Hobos and djinn
- Finding Yourself - India! Enlightenment! Con artistry!
- Fantasy Island - My least fave. Alaska and fishing and boredom.
- Njall The Tepid - Vikings!
- Hero - Super heroes (and god?)
- Morgan Stop - Brooklynish and whatever.
- Carrizo Springs - The southwest, meth, and getting the fuck out