Flash Fiction and Exploration

Good news and bad news folks.  Good news is that I have been writing, a lot.  Bad news is that I have not been writing here.  I’ve been working on my short story, which is now novella-length.  And one of the goals I had when I started this blog was to write about the writing process as I rediscovered it.  The funny thing is, once I rediscovered it I didn’t want to bother with writing about writing anymore.

Oh well, such is life.

I’m back today because I do want to keep this thing going (I mean, it barely got started) and to get back into the swing of it I want to write briefly about two things: (1) flash fiction and (2) the best way to plan out a story.

First, I want to encourage everybody to try writing some sort of Flash Fiction.  I just recently did one, and I think it is a really fun way to get some practice with writing.  I will say that your mileage may vary depending upon the topic.  I prefer a topic that gives you a bit of leeway.  The one that I did had no real criteria, other than it could not be more than 750 words and it had to start with this sentence:  “She watched the blood-stained dress burn.”  Lots of places to go there.  The contest is over on 9-30.  Once it is, I’ll share my submsision here.

Second, I wanted to consider the topic of outlining versus “let’s make it up as we go and see what happens.”  I’ve heard a lot of different ways to describe the latter camp.  The kindest has been “Exploratory” writing.  I definitely fall into this camp, and it certainly can create some problems, but it also has some definite benefits.  I personally don’t outline, so I can’t speak much to that, other than sometimes I’m jealous because I recognize how much easier a good outline at the outset could make some of the issues I run into along the way.

For me, when I sit down to write I need a few basic things:  (1) an idea, however murky, for the ending; (2) a few core characters; and (3) a setting.  I tend to prefer not having much more of a guide than that because it gives the characters room to develop and breathe.  I begin to learn who these people are and have ideas that I can incorporate seamlessly and organically.  The downside, of course, is that you can oftentimes end up stuck, and yet for me, it works.  If I outline, I find myself usually having a hard time deviating from the outline even when my spontaneous ideas are better, and I find my outline invariably having more cliched or tropey decisiosn than writing “from the hip.”  However, on the whole the entire experience is very much like driving at night in the rain.  Sometimes you have very little visibility.  Sometimes you think you’ve lost the road entirely, or you miss a turn.  And these times are hard because you have to make a decision:  do you plow ahead and try to find a different route to your ending?  Or do you turn back and try a different way.

And yet still there are other times when you know you’ve found the right path.  You know it because the story pours out of you, like you’re transcribing it for someone else.  And you are on a long stretch of highway with no traffic.  Your brights are on.  The rain relents.  And you can see for miles ahead.

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