Updated: Feb 23
Writing Flash Fiction Workshop | Guest Blog by Finnian Burnett
This week in the GCLS Writing Academy, I’m giving a workshop on flash fiction. I’m enamored with flash and not just because I’m an instant gratification person. (Though that is certainly true.) I love the brevity. I love being forced to develop a character in a few short words.
When writing flash, you can’t waste space. If you’re going to write about, for example, your character’s appearance, it has to be relevant. You don’t have the space to give a long laundry list of attributes to your character.
I’m currently writing a book on how to master flash with my colleague Kimberly Cooper Griffin. We try to stress the economy of words. This is true of the character’s appearance. Here’s an example from a recent story of mine, pre and post editing.
Example 1 (106 words):
The clerk watched the boy walk down the aisle. He had hollow cheeks and dark circles under his eyes. He wore baggy clothing that looked hand-me-down, and he was so slender as to appear waifish. He was all knees and elbows with drawn cheeks and a dark, pointy haircut that emphasized his narrow face. The clerk felt sorry for him, despite the sullen look on his face, and she wanted to give him the cookies, pay for them herself, offer an apple maybe or a granola bar to go along with them. He reminded her of her son, Bobby, how gangly he was before he enlisted.
Example 2 (64 words):
The boy’s hollow cheeks, the dark circles under his eyes and the hand-me-down clothes that hung from his slender frame gave him a waifish appearance. The clerk wanted to give him the cookies, pay for them herself, offer an apple maybe or a granola bar to go along with them. He looked kind of like her Bobby before he enlisted, all knees and elbows.
Notice how the second version reads more smoothly. We get the same information about the boy’s appearance and the clerk’s reaction to him but without the over-description of the first version. And we’re saved ourselves 42 words—something that becomes incredibly important when you’re writing a 300-word story. And this is another reason writing flash can help hone your novel-writing skills.
In a novel, you have more space, yes. But do you really want to take it all? Do you need that whole paragraph describing your character’s hair, skin, clothing choices? Or can a few brief words of description from the point of view of someone else suffice to give your reader and image?
I’m looking forward to putting the WA students through the high-intensity flash workshop this week because I love the exhilaration of seeing someone realize that they can master the form.
If you want to know more about the Writing Academy and what our program can do for your writing, please check us out at https://www.goldencrown.org/page/EDUCATION-Writing-Academy
Finnian Burnett is a professor, a writer, and a lifelong learner. They’re a doctoral student at Murray State University and an MFA instructor with Southern New Hampshire University. Finn has run the Golden Crown Literary Society’s Writing Academy since 2015 and served as the Director of Education for several years.
Under their former name, Beth Burnett, Finn published several books with Sapphire Books Publishing, including two Rainbow Award winners and self-published book, Coyote Ate the Stars, won first place in fantasy in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.
They have also published works in various anthologies and journals including Sinister Wisdom, The Herstry Project, Flash Fiction magazine, and the Resiliency Journal through the Calgary Arts Development.
Finn is a self-proclaimed flash addict and is currently working on two novellas-in-flash.
Finn lives in the interior of BC with their wife and their aptly named cat, Lord Gordo. They can be found at www.finnburnett.com