Flash Fiction, Short Fiction, & Contests

Anyone who’s been on my blog probably already knows that I’m a novelist. The vast, vast majority of my finished works are novel-length or almost there, even if they haven’t been published yet. There is a very simple reason for this:

My ideas are complicated. The world of Pandemonium can not be compressed into less than 20,000 words. My very first completed story was about 18,000 words. I never thought I’d be able to write cohesive short stories, and certainly not flash-fiction.

For those who don’t know, flash-fiction and “short stories” don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Short stories are, as far as I can tell, anything that could potentially be read in one sitting. I’ve seen word count limits ranging from 7,000 to 20,000, and I don’t know if this is a regional thing or if there’s some sort of “official” short story length, but for the sake of convenience, we’ll pretend that anything between 5,000 and 20,000 words is classified as a short story. My first finished (still unpublished) story, Homeworld, started as a short story (18,000 words) and then grew another 10,000 words when I edited it. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

Flash-fiction — or, as I like to call it, bite-sized fiction — is much shorter. About 1,000 or occasionally 1,500 words. That’s not much. Admittedly, it’s more than I had been expecting before I tried it out, but I still find myself having to shave a bit off to fit inside the word count limit, though.

I’ll be honest; when I first read about fiction contests with word count limits at around 1,000 words, I freaked. I’d never written anything that short that wasn’t a 13-year-old’s clueless first, stumbling steps around fiction writing. How the hell am I supposed to fit a good, cohesive, finished story into 1,000 words? My novels average at about 125,000 to 130,000 words. Though to be fair, I’m a sci-fi writer, and sci-fi novels tend to run on the longer end. But still, without room to characterize or build settings or describe… how do you tell a story without the basic building blocks? It’s like being told to paint a masterpiece but only being given access to three paint colors. Sure, it’s possible. Theoretically. But how?

So, I tried. I spent most of my first day staring at a blank page with the contest’s prompt written on it. Then I tried typing out just basic ideas for a story. Not the story itself, just possible outlines. I didn’t know what to do next, so I switched over to another competition that didn’t have a set prompt. And I wrote my very first under 1,000 words story. Science fiction, of course.

Unfortunately, it was only after I finished said story that I read the small print on the competition’s guidelines, where they announce that they consider themselves a literary magazine.

Well, great. But it’s just 1,000 words, right? I can finish that in no time!

Except, I wasn’t kidding when I said that lit fiction bores me to tears. I tried writing it during my early career and didn’t finish a single project before I finally stopped punishing myself and returned to what I really love. If you happen to love lit fic, that’s fine, but I just don’t get it.

I spent most of the time I tried writing lit-fic staring at an empty page. I’d type out a sentence and delete. Type, delete, type, delete, rinse and repeat. It just didn’t fit, or it turned out too action-y or science-y for lit-fic. Finally, I gave up and went back to editing my novel.

But I am nothing if not determined, and this competition was everything I loved: easy to apply to; offered fairly good prizes if I’m lucky enough to win; aimed at “new and emerging writers”, which includes self-published writers (like me); and perhaps best of all, offered publication to winners. Don’t get me wrong, cash prizes are great. More money to spend on books 🙂 But right now, I’m most concerned about getting my name out into the world, so if I win, publication would be great.

And, well, I’d like to prove that I’m not just a one-trick pony. Or, in this case, one-genre author. I’d like to branch into mystery and/or thriller when I’m finished with my current sci-fi series, and I’ve heard of authors getting pigeonholed into one genre or another. Like JK Rowling having to use a pseudonym to write mystery. Winning a few competitions, even if they’re not exactly up at New York Times level of fame, still means something. And, well, a writer can never have too many award wins on his or her resume. That’s true of more than just writers, in fact.

I’m not abandoning my novels, definitely not. I’m just hoping to branch out a little and spend my time working on more than just one project. That helps avoid getting burned out, which can happen to anyone, regardless of how much you adore your work.

Wish me luck. If I win anything, you can bet I’ll be crowing about it all over social media, so don’t worry about that. It’ll still be a month or so, though, before the winners are announced.

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