Flash Fiction Tips

Hey it’s me BearCounter, and I’m here to give you some pointers I’ve learned while writing flash fiction. This is going to be short, but important. Not all of these points will be mandatory, or work for everyone, but they are useful tools to try out either way.

Flash fiction is not a prologue

Even though flash fiction is short, and it can be hard to tell the whole story in 750 words. You should avoid just writing a prologue. Instead, write a complete story. A satisfying ending is a great way to up your game, and it also gives you important practise in writing endings which I’m sure most of us lack.

Think about the economy of words

Since you have so few words to use, things like description become all the more important. A few powerful, concise descriptions can make a world of difference. A paragraph or two of description or world building will most likely fly right by, essentially wasting words. Readers will usually fill in the world around you if you give them something interesting or vivid to start with.

The prompt is there to inspire you

You do not need to follow the prompt to the letter. Follow the spirit of the prompt! You should let it inspire you and write something interesting. I personally always discard the first idea or two when I look at a prompt, since I know there’s going to be at least five people writing that same exact idea! Switch POVs around. Play on the expectation that the prompt lays out.

Editing

You may be sighing in relief when you finish your story, but please remember to proofread and edit it. The best advice I ever got was to read the work aloud, since you will find a lot of weird things you just glide over when reading it in your head. Your head knows what you meant, and reading it aloud forces you to actually look at the words. Nothing is as jarring in a short piece than typos, weird punctuation, and just outright wrong words.

Write early, fix it later

If you write your story the day it’s due, you won’t have a chance to read and edit it the next day with fresh eyes and detached emotion. Take a cue from novel writers and take a break after finishing it. This will give you time to think about it, make changes, and complete more editing passes.

Good luck!

Distraction-free writing in Google Docs

Writing without distractions in Google Docs is easy! Here are the steps.

Press F11 on your keyboard to go to full-screen mode in your browser. This will hide most of the browser menu bars and your operating system menus. You can press F11 again to turn it off.

Optional: Increase zoom size. Depending on the size of your screen, you may want to increase the zoom. I usually use 150% or 200% for full-screen writing. You can also choose “Fit” at the top to make the text as wide as will fit the screen!

Turn off all the optional view items, if they are on.

Go to the View Menu and choose “Full screen”

Now you are writing distraction-free!

Optional: Invert the colors

If you find that the bright white background is hard on your eyes, you can invert the colors by installing an Add-on / Extension in your browser to invert the colors. (You can also change the text color and the page color, but it doesn’t affect the entire screen.)

I’ve found that the Chrome Add-on “Dark Mode Night Reader” works very well with Google Docs and doesn’t slow down my browser like other dark mode extensions. Using that extension and the tips above, my full screen looks like this:

It may seem too dark in the screenshot, but it’s actually just about perfect for me, and I find it far less tiring on the eyes than black text on a white screen.

The extension will give you a little icon in your Chrome menu bar that you can click on to cycle through the four brightness settings. If you right-click on it and choose “Options” you can set up your default brightness level (what you see on every site).

Optional: Distraction Free Mode browser extension

Alternatively, you can install “Distraction Free Mode“, an Add-on / Extension for your browser (Chrome, Firefox, or Safari) that does this all in one click. It works well, but it lacks some of the customization options that the above method provides.

Now that you know these tips, you can easily set up your preferred distraction-free writing environment in Google Docs!

Optional: Set up offline editing, and then disconnect from wi-fi

To truly go distraction free, unplug from the internet! If you use Chrome as a browser, you can set up Google Docs Offline Mode to save your edits locally and then upload them to your Drive when you reconnect. I have used this extensively while flying (airplane mode) and it works great.

Tracking Character Development

If your character changes throughout a story, it can be difficult to track their development. This is especially true in longer works, or if multiple characters undergo complex changes.

Solving this issue is deceptively simple. All you need to do is make a list of the changes each character has and link them to events in the story. At a minimum, jot down these five things about a character:

  • Character’s state at the beginning (the lie they believe)
  • Character’s state at the end (the truth they discover)
  • Event(s) that show the beginning state (living the lie)
  • Event(s) that drive the change (discovery of the truth)
  • Event(s) that show the ending state (acceptance of the truth)

By linking the changes to specific events (scenes, actions, even just a bit of dialogue), you will show the why and how of the change to the reader, and you will be able to identify any incomplete or unexplored character arcs.

Spreadsheets can be helpful for laying out the information:

In many cases, you will have a single character go through multiple arcs.  For example, if this was a longer piece of writing, Benjamin could also struggle with his relationship with his mother, which ultimately drove his clingy nature. Just add a new row on the spreadsheet (or another set of bullet points).

For a novel, imagine if this story was told via switching the point of view between the two characters, and each could have a dozen or more changes that they go through in this life-altering encounter. Keeping track of it all would be a hassle, but now you know how!

For more on character arcs, check out K.M. Weiland’s excellent series on the subject.

Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy Awards Combined Novel List

In the Google Docs link below, you’ll find a combined list, without duplicates, of all the winners and nominees of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards for Best Novel. The novels are sorted by author’s last name (to aid in book shop hunts).

Feel free to save your own copy using “File -> Make a copy”. With your own copy, you can use the green filter icons at the top of each column to sort or filter the table by that column. For example, if you only wanted to see winners, and not nominees, you would filter by the first “won/nom” column for only “won”.

Google Docs Spreadsheet link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1GJAWbhrUa9qEM16YZEZNMnEJpQDuwreOqCZgAwHjAns/edit?usp=sharing

If you are interested in chatting about novel writing, check out our Discord Server, The Library, a chatroom for fiction writers. Discord is a free and easy-to-use chat application for the web, desktop, and mobile devices.