Flash fiction as writing exercises

Flash fiction competitions

In whatever we’re working on – a novel, a script, a short story – we often get to points where we’re stuck: maybe it’s a scene we don’t know how to approach, a descriptive passage we need to develop, or a way of demonstrating a relationship as quickly as possible.

I think “flash fiction” is a great way of exercising those writing muscles. Flash fiction is generally taken to mean short stories of less than 1000 words, though many people focus on 500 or even 300 words. There are writing circles on line that have a 50 word limit.

The short nature of the form – less than 2 pages – forces us to concentrate on what’s important, and get to the heart of the story as quickly as possible.

Entering flash fiction competitions is also a great way of ensuring we write regularly, with external deadlines to drive us (if that kind of thing motivates you).

There’s a flash fiction competition currently open on the Ink Tears website, which I would recommend to anyone developing or refining their writing. Here’s the link:

http://www.inktears.com/Inktears/WritersNewWriters2013FF.html

There are cash prizes on this one, with a top prize of £250.

A writing exercise

Below is a piece of flash fiction I worked on last night. It’s not good enough for entry into the competition above (the end is too flat). I used this as a means of establishing a relationship with a strong emotional base very quickly, and to try (however successfully) to turn that relationship very quickly. It’s not wholly successful. In the interests of writing development, I’m happy to share my failures:

No title – flash fiction

“You know how this story ends,” Jez said. He held Sarah’s hands in his and felt her warmth burning into his cold skin.

“No,” she shook her head. Her lower lip thinned and her cheeks turned to jowls. A tear sprang onto a cheek and clung to her skin. A sickly green light refracted inside it and for a moment Jez saw another eye, green, pure, un-jaded by recent events.

“I can’t,” he said, but his voice cracked.

“Please, Jez. Don’t go.” Sarah pawed at his face. There were no tears there. His skin was already so cold, and whatever colour it might once have been, it was now pale as ashes at dawn.

“I’ll love you forever.”

“I love you, too.” Sarah’s voice broke, and they sat in a silence punctuated by the sound of Jez swallowing over a dry throat, and Sarah hiccupping through her tears.

The clock on the wall ticked, each mechanical wobble of the second hand a gunshot in the quiet hospital room.

“Oh,” Jez’s face creased.

“Do you need more pain control?” Sarah started fiddling with an electronic box, out of which snaked a tube which entered Jez’s arm through a dark bruise.

Jez shook his head. He squeezed his eyes and grit his teeth. “S’OK,” he managed.

“Do you remember the night we met?” Sarah said. She had picked up a thermometer and was holding one end of it, watching the mercury slowly rise to her skin temperature. “You were so sweet.”

“Nervous,” Jez closed his eyes agin. A waxy sheen broke on his forehead.

Sarah smiled at the thermometer, “Sweet, too. I remember you knocked over that vase.”

“Soggy quiche. Sorry,” Jez nodded and managed a smile. He opened his eyes. Sarah wasn’t looking at him. Her attention was on something in her hands which she was worrying, a thumb moving up and down.

She shook her head. “I want more,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry. Sorry. Everyone’s sorry.” Sarah put the thermometer back on the bedside table. At her feet was a Bag For Life. She looked inside at its contents’ shadows and obscure lumps. “How’s the pain?”

Jez’s eyes were closed. Sarah glanced quickly at him. She couldn’t bear to see him in pain. His face was creased, but quickly fell into a plain silence.

“Jez?” She kept her eyes on him and leaned down, fishing in the Bag For Life until her hand found what she needed.

Jez’s eyes snapped open. They were pale. His irises were a pale green, like the tear which had so recently sat on Sarah’s cheek.

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said.

Jez’s face, devoid of pain, moved upwards as he tried to rise.

Sarah brought her hand up. She put the gun to his forehead and fired.

Jez’s face exploded onto the crisp white hospital pillow.

“Fucking zombies,” she said. She put the gun away, picked up her Bag For Life, and left the hospital.

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