The story goes that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write an entire story in six words or less. His response:
For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.
Flash fiction is a genre of literature tells a story in a very short amount of time. The maximum length varies from as much as 1,500 words to no more than 300 words. This six-word story is a great example (although the connection to Hemingway is historically dubious). Flash fiction is the perfect expression of creativity in limited space, so we wanted to develop a game that would harness that creative power in a collaborative setting. The game is called Flash Fiction with Friends, and voting is still open on the second run – check it out and leave a comment with your favorite story!
What we’ve learned through Flash Fiction with Friends can be very helpful to writers and their craft. When the camera wasn’t running, we discussed the genre and the game with Doug, Nat, Brian, Dom, and Courtney, and a couple of things came up consistently:
- Don’t second-guess yourself. The 30-minute time limit forced our writers to grab their first idea and stick with it. Even though everyone had an idea of what they would have done better if they had more time, they were all proud of what they had written. Whether it’s a good idea or not, carrying an idea through to completion is a powerful experience. One of the best questions we asked each other afterward was, “Where did you figure it out?”
- You do you. Each writer has their own unique approach, so the flash fiction stories we wrote were wildly different even though they had all come from the same small writing prompt at the same time. Creative writing is about self-expression, so let your personality and principles come through in the stories that you write. The beauty and interest of Flash Fiction with Friends, as with writing in general, comes from the contrast among those unique perspectives.
- Remove distractions. The option was left to all of our writers to type their stories, yet for whatever reason each of them chose to write their first draft on paper. For 30 minutes each writer was focused on nothing but the story growing on the page in front of them. That intense focus was a powerful factor in the quality and length of the stories created, even though some of our writers could barely read their own handwriting.
- Less is more. It only took about 500 words of prose for each writer to fully realize their idea. Don’t be discouraged by the idea that good writing has to be a long and painful endeavor – flash fiction proves that it doesn’t. And don’t be afraid to cut your favorite words or sentences for the sake of the piece. The Spare Room Project has often benefited in writing from an app called Hemingway that will pare down any text you upload to create a more focused and powerful piece. It’s named after the aforementioned author who, while he may not have written the six-word story above, was known for his powerful brevity.
Thanks for reading, and make sure to vote for your favorite flash fiction story!
This week, try writing flash fiction alone or with friends to see how little it often takes to tell a complete story. Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
*If you had to summarize your entire life in six words, what would they be? For more about the six-word story and to read some great examples, check out Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.
*Credit to Sara Bader for the classified ads used in this image; read more in her book Strange Red Cow: and Other Curious Classified Ads from the Past.