You know, participating in Madison Woods‘ 100 word Flash Fiction challenges every week and checking out other people’s stories is teaching me several things. For one it’s teaching me to appreciate how everyone has different strengths. Some people are really good at creating twists even within the brief space the challenge permits. Some people are really good at scaring you or creating eerie, creepy stories. Some are good at communicating emotional truths that move you.
All of this is also helping me recognize things that don’t come naturally to me and require more work on my part.
Plotting is not my favorite part of writing. Figuring out what comes next and tying it all together so the story makes sense is hard, I think. It’s different for a 100-word story than a 200K one, though. The former doesn’t take much planning. You just kind of have to figure it out as you write it, if you don’t see it from the get-go. You can take that same approach with a longer story, but the longer it is I think the more difficult it’ll be in the end to make it all fit together. (Not impossible, just difficult.) Having somewhat of a plan, even if it’s a very sparse one, helps to keep you from wandering by giving you some goals to write towards along the way.
For the most part, though, I prefer to discover things as I write, so plot doesn’t come easy. It’s more of a byproduct of my explorations, heh.
Another part of plotting I think is challenging is incorporating plot twists. I don’t usually think about twists when I write, particularly in my flash stories, so if they do pop up, they aren’t likely to be earth-shattering revelations. Also, it’s hard to know the power of a twist or really “see” it as a twist when you already know the outcome. In my longer project I have a few, but it’s a mystery to me how well they work or not with the foreshadowing and whatnot ’cause I haven’t shown anyone else yet! (Not all of it, anyway.)
All things to look forward to in the beta reader stage, I suppose. This leads to something else I’m learning…
Different concepts require different lengths which, in turn, require different ways of going about telling the story. I feel like most of the flash story ideas I’ve come up with so far have fitted comfortably within the 100-word confines, though I have come across one or two that needed more room to breathe. I suspect the more stories you write the better you’ll get at predicting how long it needs to be in order to tell it thoroughly. I knew coming into my Element 7 project that it would be big; I just didn’t know how big at the time. (The things you get yourself into…)
But larger stories are just a bunch of interconnected ideas presented with a recognizable beginning, middle and end so as to make sense on a whole. You could deconstruct a longer story into several shorter ones, or you could take a shorter one and develop it into something longer. (This may seem painfully obvious to others, but I’ve maintained a long-story mindset for so long that it’d never really occurred to me to try shorter stories until recently.) Story concepts may be modified (shrunken or enlarged) to serve different purposes, though I still think each concept has an inherent story length it wants to be told in. And perhaps writers have preferred lengths for writing, depending on the kinds of concepts they come up with. Even after getting involved with these 100-word challenges, I still feel like my native story length is novel length. That’s where I feel most at home. I like having more room to explore the complexities of characters, cultures and unusual situations.
In any case, I am glad to be writing shorter stories. As I’ve mentioned before in comments, it gets you thinking about how to say more with fewer words. As I comb through my WIP during edits, I’m finding ways to cut out non-necessities (though somehow I often manage to add something even more important within the same length like it’s a trade-off) and condense certain blocks of description while maintaining the core ideas. I’m not a master at that yet, but it is getting easier. The end goal is to have every word count for something and contribute to the whole and also to fully realize the concept behind the story–no matter how many words this takes.
Yeah, so that’s what I’ve learned so far between working on 100-word shorts and the chihuahua killer, heh.
What aspects of storytelling are most challenging for you?
Also, do you seem to have an inherent story length, or do you pretty much like to write in all kinds of formats?