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Creating a Compelling, Award-Winning Story in the Flash Fiction Context: An Alternative to NaNoWriMo

As November approaches, many writers are gearing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an international writing event in which writers challenge themselves to write an entire book, or 50,000 words, in the month of November.

As anyone who has ever joined a quiet writing group knows, there’s power in writing together. Your energy is amplified by the energy of the other writers around you, and you become less interested in browsing hilarious cat memes on the internet and more focused on putting words on the page. This is what makes NaNoWriMo so successful.

But for those writers who aren’t trying to complete an entire novel this month, how can you still get in on the coveted energy boost, accountability, and community spirit of creativity?

Think Smaller

Remember it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. November can still be a powerful month to move your writing goals forward. Maybe you just need to think smaller. A lot smaller. Rather than trying to write an entire novel this month, perhaps a more realistic goal for you would be to explore microfiction.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with microfiction, flash fiction, or microstories, all you need to know is that they’re different ways of saying writing that is very short. Like anywhere from 5 to 5,000 words short, with most genres falling somewhere between 100 and 1,000 words.

For most writers, the most challenging aspect of writing in these genres stems from figuring out how to pare your story down to the essentials, rather than how to fill up the space. Instead of staring at an empty page and being overwhelmed by the amount of work it will take to create an entire novel, it can be inspiring to figure out how to tell a complete story in just a few lines.

A Fun Way to Challenge Yourself as a Writer

What makes microfiction unique is the same thing that makes it especially enjoyable—its length. Because these are such short pieces, the length is very doable for most writers. In fact, by focusing on limiting yourself to a maximum word count instead of a minimum word count, you may quickly realize just how many words you write—and how many more words you wish you had!

Many writers start by writing a small story several times longer than the word limit. For instance, if you have a 100-word limit, it’s common to have your first draft be upward of 200 words. After a few revisions, you may start to get attached to your story only to find that it’s still 150 words or more.

Figuring out which parts you can cut while still maintaining the essence of what makes your story captivating is what makes writing microfiction such a fun challenge. Watching your story change as you simplify it is enlightening and gives you a unique perspective on what the soul of your story is really comprised of.

Plus, finding short flash fiction contests is a great way to submit your writing that doesn’t take too much time, energy, or financial commitment. And by writing teeny pieces, it reminds you that you are still a writer even if you’re not currently writing an entire novel.

How Do You Tell a Compelling Story That Impacts the Reader When You Only Have 100 Words?

So you love the idea of writing microfiction and you’re ready to give it a try. But how do you make the most of the few words you have? Here are some of our favorite tips for writing in this unique style:

Show, don’t tell.

When you show something with your writing instead of simply telling the reader about it, you invite the reader into your story in a more vivid, visceral way that allows them to experience what’s happening rather than reading a summary from the outside. This brings the story alive and deepens the impact.

Write with your five senses.

Focusing on sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell is a quick, direct way to bring the reader into the story. Plus, words that highlight our senses have a powerful effect on the reader’s experience and connection to your writing.

Evoke images, elements, colors, and/or emotions.

This helps the reader see, feel, and remember your story after they’ve put it down. Remember the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words”? When you choose language that creates a powerful image in the reader’s mind, you maximize the value of your selected words.

Write from a place of emotional connection.

Writing is typically easier and the story more electrified when the writer’s emotions match those of the character they’re currently writing about. So if your character is discouraged in the scene, but you’re joyful and lighthearted, it may not mesh well and could be difficult to write convincingly about the character’s struggle.

How are you feeling right now? Angry, exhausted, relieved, hopeful, silly? What’s a situation that you can create about a character with that same emotion? Or, if you already know what emotion your character is feeling, wait to write about it until you’re also experiencing it.

Be simple and concise.

Distill your story down to just the basics. Cut the fluff.

Tell a complete and compelling story.

Give enough background to set the scene, engage the reader, and create a framework to tie it all together. Create character depth succinctly. Figure out what the reader needs to know about your character and focus on that.

Check your stereotypes.

When you’re writing such a short piece, it can be tempting to rely on stereotypes to fill in the details. However, your writing not only validates how you see the world but also reflects what other people think is possible and ultimately shapes the way the world will be.

So look for your biases. Are they intentional or implicit? Do you want to leave them there or change them? You have precious space, so which characters get priority? How would your story look if you changed a character’s gender, race, or body type? How would the reader’s experience be different? How powerful would it be for us to see more examples of diverse characters?

Always, always be true to yourself.

There’s a reason you want to tell this story at this time. Listen to that.

Adhere to contest requirements.

If you’re submitting to a contest, be sure to adhere to contest guidelines. This includes things like the theme or genre, word limit, whether the title is included in the word limit, deadline, payment, and submission instructions. Basically, read the fine print.

Now that you know how to craft a compelling story with maximum impact in only a few words, you’re ready to play around with this fun genre. You don’t need to take yourself too seriously. Have fun, enjoy the process of writing in this unique style, and celebrate what you accomplish.

We hope you enjoy this fun little challenge to inspire you to hit your writing goals this month! Best of luck and remember that whether you’re going for a full novel or creating a teeny piece of microfiction, our world is better because of the words you choose to create. Maybe your words will encourage, inspire, delight, or entertain someone. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Want to Take it a Step Further?

If you’d like to submit your tiny creation to an international writing competition for a chance to win $1,000 USD, please check out the Tadpole Press 100-Word Writing Contest. View examples of previous winning stories from our contest to get a sense of what our judges are looking for.

The current contest ends November 30, 2022. If you refer someone who submits a winning entry, then you will also win $50 USD. So please share the contest with any friends, colleagues, or neighbors who might be interested. Thanks and happy writing!

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