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Exercise: In a flash

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Eric Petersen
Posted on: January 20, 2002
Reposted on: January 19, 2003
Reposted on: January 18, 2004
Reposted on: January 23, 2005
Reposted: June 18, 2006

This exercise was developed by Eric Petersen, and was first run on January 20 2002.

Flash Fiction (also known as Short-Short Stories, Sudden Fiction, and Furious Fiction) is a shorter, more compact version of the short story. Its very brief length makes it one of the most challenging forms of writing to partake in.

There is quite a lot of disagreement about the exact length a Flash story should be. I have seen publishers' guidelines declaring it to be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words maximum. The most common maximum length publishers request for Flash Fiction is 500 words, so that will be the limit for this exercise.

Flash Fiction stories are very much like standard short stories in that they must have a beginning, middle, and an ending. They must also have character(s), setting, and theme. However, a Flash story must begin immediately and move swiftly toward the end - no long descriptions, no unessential words. The goal of the Flash story should be to present a single effect resulting from a single cause. The character(s) must change radically and the outcome must be swift.

There are two typical outcomes of a Flash story:

  1. An unresolved or downbeat ending
  2. A surprise ending or unexpected twist - irony

According to Stephen Minot (Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories), Flash fiction has its origins in five different traditions: True Experiences, Anecdotes, Speculations, Dream Stories, and Poetic Stories. Flash Fiction and the Prose Poem are kissing cousins.

Here is the exercise: in 500 words or less, write your own Flash Fiction story, keeping in mind the information just given you above. Use your own ideas or write a Flash story based on the following scenario: a man notices a curious object abandoned on a park bench, so he sits down and examines it, meditating on its nature. For example, the object could be a toy that brings back a painful (or happy) childhood memory.

Flash Fiction is the most challenging form of literature to write, and writing Flash is a great way to sharpen your writing skills. The Workshop's Prose-P list deals exclusively with Flash Fiction and Prose Poetry, so if you enjoyed this exercise, you might want to join Prose-P. To join, just send an e-mail to prose-p-request@lists.psu.edu

Eric Petersen's wrap-up
Posted on: January 25, 2003

Hey, Folks -

As the author of the In A Flash exercise, I would like to commend you all on your submissions. I have seen a lot of excellent writing from you. I had a feeling that I would, because here on Practice-W, all of our exercises require us to limit our submissions to 300-500 words, which are typical lengths for flash fiction.

The main difference between flash fiction and the other exercises we've done is that flash pieces have a definite beginning, middle, and end, whereas the other exercises require us to just write a scene illustrating the point of the exercise.

As you know, I am the administrator of the Prose-P list, which caters exclusively to flash fiction and prose poetry. If you enjoyed the flash exercise and would like to write more flash pieces or prose poems or both, please feel free to join Prose-P by sending an e-mail to prose-p-request@lists.psu.edu and I will add you to the list. We're a small but dedicated group, and I know you'll enjoy yourself on Prose-P.

Thank you all for making this exercise a memorable one.

- Eric Petersen


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