Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Super Duper Flash Writing Contest Winning Tips

I’m pretty stoked. Last month I entered 2 flash fiction contests and won both of them. In fact, I've won 3 out of the 5 flash fiction contests I've ever entered (the KillerCon Creative Fiction Contest in 2012, and the Vegas Valley Book Fest Flash Fiction Contest in 2010 and 2012).

(self aggrandizement alert!)

If you don’t know, flash fiction is a short short story, usually under 1000 words in length, sometimes under 500. They are stories that get in, do their story magic, and get out. They even have micro fiction which is roughly around tweet size.
(my own example):
She watched the dinner guests leave. They never asked where Greg was and she of course didn’t show them the blood and mess in the kitchen.

So naturally Flash Fiction Contests are when a group of caffeine-hazed writers are given a prompt and a short amount of time (20 minutes at KillerCon, 90 minutes at Vegas Valley Book Fest). When the buzzer goes off, you stop writing, just like a test, and then you are at the mercy of the judges.

But let’s get back to me winning. (I need to start that #arrogant twitter hashtag Mercedes[[[]]] and I joke about…)

I thought to myself, “Self,” I says, “You seem to be awesome at these things. Do you have any super-duper tips for winning?”

Well, nothing super-duper. In truth, I’d say 60% of winning at flash fiction is how far you can take your imagination and writing chops. And 20% is being able to perform under deadline. Perform coherently, I might add.

Almost all of that falls under the same writing advice you can find anywhere. (No really, most other people give way more useful writing advice than me, because I don’t really know how I do it…)

But that last little 10% leaves room for a few handy tips and tricks. Nothing fancy, mind you, but this is how I do it and maybe it will work for you. (Or at least free you up to just charge blindly ahead!)

Tip #1: Write the most compelling first line you can think of, right off the top of your head. Then come up with the story behind it.

Don’t construct an elaborate plot. Don’t try to focus on the theme, because by simply hearing it and stewing on it while waiting for someone to shout “Go” the theme is already part of your consciousness.

Make that first line sing. Don't worry about where the story will go. Just write something that can't be ignored.

Mine was "The hardest part was not killing the kids, but cutting them up to fit in the furnace."

Where it came from, I don't know, but it had to be answered. I had to find out what happened next, thus I had to write it.

Tip #2: Don’t cheat and show up at the contest with a full plot or story you already wrote in your head, or worse, already wrote which you will try to recreate.

Don't do this.

It not only smells like cheating but it can backfire on you. Particularly with themes and/or key words or phrases you must use in the story. The elaborate western romance you cooked up will get hosed when the key phrase they give you is "The spaceship docked on the dark side of the moon." Hosed!

(Unless you’re Joss Whedon, in which case, carry on.)

Speaking of key words and phrases, "How do you deal with any key words, or phrases they make you put into the story?" (you ask) “How do you place a word like ‘zither’ and ‘mongoose’ in a space-cowboy drama?” (you ask so many questions)

Tip #3: Love words.
Love words,  love how words sound, love language so deeply that you don’t just cram in obtrusive words like ‘chartreuse’ with a wink at the audience. Actually use them.

I read the dictionary for fun. I have this giant unabridged one that I like to turn to random pages (it also makes a great kid booster seat!) Words are your fundamental tools, even the awkward words.

What if you don’t know the meaning of the word? Ask. You might feel like a goober asking what a zither is, but you'll feel like a Hefty-bag of shame when you write it into your steamy romance mistakenly thinking it means a clothes fastening device.

Tip #4 Economy of words.

The opposite of this blog post.

I am very grateful to the estimable judges of the Vegas Valley Book Festival, and the KillerCon Creative Fiction Contest: Jack Ketchum and Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty, Don D'Auria from Samhain Publishing, and Roy Robbins from Bad Moon Books.
I won... booze?

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