Flash Fiction–One Judge’s Perspective

Written by Cindi Carroll

  Why write a flash fiction story?

Writing a flash fiction story, whether it’s 100 words, 500, or 1000 is indeed a challenge.  An effective short story requires all the elements of good writing, but in a compressed format.  The flash fiction story writer must be able to distill the story to its finest essence, but with a twist to its ending.

Why write a flash fiction story?  It gives you, the writer, an opportunity to hone your skills, to learn a new writing form, to improve and to polish your writing.  You will also learn a few computer skills along the way, as most agents and editors today require you to send your writing as an attachment to an email.

How do I know it’s a Flash Fiction Story versus a Short Story?

One good way of determining whether you are on the right track, or whether you have more to learn, is to read lots of examples of winning stories. There are lots on line to choose from. Read some of Pikes Peak Pen Women’s Flash-Fiction Winners . Secondly, enter a contest, and if offered, request a written critique from a seasoned writer. This will help you see first hand where your writing needs to improve.

What do I look for when judging a flash fiction story?

  • I look for a good command of the English language, its grammar, and punctuation.
  • Does the story follow the theme set forth by the contest holders? (This is a must!)
  • Does it have a beginning (which can be implied), a middle, and an end? I look for the opening sentences to draw me in, to make me want to read more.  I look for characters who find themselves in a conflict or a dilemma (whether internal or external).  By the end, I expect to see a change — in attitude, in the situation, something learned.  Flash Fiction is known for their surprise endings. A superb ending might have an unexpected twist.

            One of the biggest problems I see in contest entries is a lovely vignette (depicting a scene or setting), rather than a story.  The vignette better belongs in a longer work.  The same thing is true with lots of emotion if there’s no story to go with it. The brevity of Flash Fiction demands clarity.

  • I look for clarity in the writing. I don’t want to reread a piece multiple times, trying to ferret out the writer’s intention.  As you contemplate writing Flash Fiction, pick which details are necessary to the story and which are not. Ruthless editing is required to trim your story, keeping it concise. No rambling!
  • The story should move right along. (This is called pacing.) Here are some things that slow a short piece down: convoluted sentences,  too wordy–or too much description,  using passive voice rather than active, too many adverbs.

        Ramp up your pacing by adding dialogue to show tension or conflict, use active voice. Look  for a balance of long and short sentences. Check punctuation and eliminate dialog tags, where possible.

  • One of the hardest things to learn in any writing form is the distinction between “show” vs. “tell.” Every reader wants to be drawn in, to be immersed in the story.  Too much telling is like writing an outline or a summary–and the reader looses interest quickly.  Showing includes dialogue, some description, emotions, internal thoughts.  Strive to find the balance of show vs. tell that is right for your story. (There are good sources for writers on-line and in book stores to help you hone these writing skills.)
  • Above all else, pass your piece on to a reliable, experienced, writing buddy to read before you send it off. Ask them to help you find mistakes, to note where your story’s clarity is vague, or places where it slows down too much, etc. Double-check–even triple-check the contest’s Writers Guidelines, making sure you are following them to the letter.
  • Adhere to the contest’s required word count and format for your entry.

 Give flash fiction a try!

Flash Fiction is a challenging genre! No doubt about it. But you might be surprised by how beneficial and rewarding this challenge can be to your writing.

Cindi Carroll, Flash Fiction Contest Chair, and Judge

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A note about Cindi Carroll: She has been a Letters Pen Woman since August 2010. She is also a wife, mother, and grandmother, a retired teacher, a docent for twenty-seven years for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. If that’s not enough, she’s also a seamstress, a children’s storybook writer and a novelist. Cindi has served Pikes Peak Branch of NLAPW in several capacities—the longest one being the Flash Fiction Contest Chair, and judge.

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