Saturday, May 23, 2009

Too Short

Conduit was, in two words, TOO SHORT!!

For me, at least.

I had wanted to make a weekend of it--at least Friday and Saturday--but only ended up being able to participate on Friday for a few hours.

But it all worked out fine. I taught my flash-class on writing sci/fi and fantasy for the flash market and spent a few hours with Kathleen.

How does one teach others how to write flash fiction in an hour? Talk very fast!

Of course I had to address the unique problems that speculative fiction brings to attempting to write very short stories. In particular setting (alien worlds and fantastical realms), characters (not WHO they are, but WHAT they are), and the rules of science/magic. I discussed the idea of using speculative trope in helping a writer avoid eating up his word count in description, and focusing on the characters and the conflict.

I taught mostly about controlling those elements of writing that tend to increase word length, and did so in relation to conflict. There are just some things that can, if not handled well, breed secondary conflicts like rabbits, therefore increasing the need for words in a genre in which word count is EVERYTHING.

I called them:

Big Brother stories--in which a large ORGANIZATION (like a conspiracy of wizards, or a corrupt government), with all its people and intricacies of detail and dark rooms, is an integral part of the plot. This one alone can necessitate an increased number of characters, scenes, settings, chronology, etc.
Chosen One stories--in which a great deal of CHRONOLOGICAL TIME is needed to completely tell the story. As in, the hero is born, he lives his life, he comes the point in his life at which his heroic deed is needed, he dies.
Revenge (and Other) stories--When a character seeks revenge, it means there is an entire story's worth of HISTORY (or BACKSTORY) before the revenge story begins. Of course there are many other story types that might need a great deal of history to tell. But flash can't support a whole lot of history before it becomes a story summary instead of a story. In general, a single paragraph of history/backstory gives a good balance in a flash fiction story.
Around the World in a 1000 Words stories--SETTING is the things here. Settings require some description to place the reader or help the reader visualize the stage. You only have so many words to tell the story. The fewer times you have to describe the stage, the more words you have to tell the reader why the character is there. In relation to conflict, there's a reason why your characters are moving from one place to another, and that reason should have to do with conflict. Is the reason they are moving directly related to the central conflict? Or does it give rise to new conflicts? Move with caution.
Friends stories--How many CHARACTERS can a flash fiction story support? Not a lot. As with any length story, a flash can support an unlimited number of nameless, faceless background characters. But named, acting, speaking characters--now that's another story. The average, it seems to me, is two. I've seen as many as four or five, and one is fairly common. Characters bring conflict with them. Choose carefully who they are and why they're there.

Happy Flashing!


David Steffen said...

You were at CONduit?
I really need to move to SLC. Nobody ever seems to come to Minnesota!

David Steffen said...

It was too short? You could almost say it went by in a flash?
Thank you, thank you, I'm here til Thursday. :)

Vincent said...

Were you there?

David Steffen said...

No I wasn't there, unfortunately.

I have just been surprised at how many names I know were at CONduit--You, Dave Wolverton, Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury, among others. I hadn't realized SLC was such a destination!

Vincent said...

Less destination and more home for those folks--and a lot more. Utah is DRIPPING with talented spec-fic authors.