I write a lot of flash fiction, and I’ve been lucky enough to publish a good amount of it. In fact, I recently published and entire anthology. The Molotov Cocktail collected 40 of my best flashes in a collection titled Night Walk & Other Dark Paths. But how do I write flash fiction? And more importantly, how do I write flash fiction that folks occasionally want to publish? Well, I have a formula, and it used to be three rules (which I covered a couple of years ago), but has now expanded to four. So let me tell you about my new and improved flash fiction formula.
What follows are four rules I (mostly) follow when writing stories under 1,000 words. It is not, of course, the only way to write flash fiction or even the best way to write flash fiction. It’s just my way. What the rules do is allow me to write very short stories with a recognizable plot, clear conflict, and a beginning, middle, and end. In my experience, that’s a successful formula for selling flash fiction. It should also be noted that I’m a genre fiction writer, and that literary fiction often operates under different rules. So, keep that in mind if you primarily write literary fiction.
Okay, let’s get to it. Here are my four flash fiction rules.
That’s my basic formula, and, again, it is not the end-all-be-all of writing flash fiction. It works for me, and I’ve been successful with it. I’ve also found if I follow two of the first three rules, I sometimes have room to ignore one. For example, if I start near the end, and I have only two characters, I can probably fit in a couple of locations. Or, if I keep my character count low and limit my locations, I might be able to start a little further from the end and get in a bit more backstory and setup.
To further illustrate my formula, here are some flash fiction pieces I’ve published where you can see those guidelines in effect (more or less).
This one is a poster child for the first three rules. It features only two characters, in one location, and starts right at the inciting event. This is also one of the very few non-genre pieces I’ve written, so, you know, my formula doesn’t just work for vampires and aliens and stuff. 🙂
This a story where I break one of my rules, but I pull it off because I follow two others. The rule I broke is that the story features three characters, and all of them have dialogue. I made up for it by keeping to one location, starting the story right away, and letting the backstory unfold organically (and efficiently) as the story progressed.
This is an example of my new fourth rule. It’s a sci-fi story told from the POV of the leader of an off-world colony. He’s relating a series of events that take place over a decade, ending with a recent event. The story is punctuated with recorded messages from Earth, which have the feel of a news story. The piece mentions hundreds of colonists, and though it’s technically set in one location, it’s kind of a whole planet, so there’s a lot going on. If I’d tried to tell this story with a closer POV, it wouldn’t have worked as flash.
You might be wondering if I always follow my own rules. Nope. I don’t, and sometimes it even works. This story has four characters, all with dialogue, changes location, and has a fair bit of setup and backstory. Now, I like to think I was pretty efficient with how I related all that stuff, but, still, it breaks my rules. I don’t do this often because it’s tough to pull off, but, hey, when it works, it works.
So that’s my new and improved flash fiction formula. How do you do write flash? Tell me about it in the comments.
Welcome to Night Walk Wednesday, where I talk about the submission journey of a story from my flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths. This week’s tale is “Far Shores and Ancient Graves.”
Another one-hour flash fiction success story, “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” is maybe one my favorite flash pieces. I remember the prompt for this one because, well, I posted it. Here it is:
Pretty simple and pretty grim, but boy did it get the ol’ imagination fired up. My mind immediately went to the remains from ancient battle sites like Visby and, uh, zombies, because, well, I’m me. 🙂 This is kind of an odd one for flash because the narrative device I used is tough to do in a short space and more suited to a short story or even a novella. That said, sometimes when you try something you maybe shouldn’t with a new story, you end up with a piece that works BECAUSE you took that risk.
Some folks say you can’t sell zombie stories anymore (or vampires or werewolves or any overused trope). While there are certainly markets that don’t want to see zombie stores, there are plenty of markets that will consider them. Thing is, what you can’t sell are zombie stories that are retreads of The Walking Dead or Night of the Living Dead. You have to come at zombies from a new angle, something that slaps a fresh coat of paint on a well-worn trope. My secret sauce in “Far Shores & Ancient Graves” is Vikings and the question of how long a zombified corpse stays lively or un-lively. The story jumps back and forth between an 8th-century Viking raid that goes horrifically wrong and a pair of archeologists in the modern day examining some curious remains. The story never uses the term zombie, which is something that, oddly, seems to help when you’re shopping a zombie story (or vampire or werewolf).
When I finished “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” and cleaned it up, I thought I had a pretty saleable piece on my hands. I submitted it to two of the better flash fiction markets, and it was promptly rejected. Then I took a shot with NewMyths, a market that had rejected me ten times previously. I honestly didn’t expect anything other than rejection number eleven, but to my delight and surprise, they liked the story and bought it. So, the moral of this submission story is a) don’t be afraid to write zombies stories as long as you give them a twist and b) don’t give up on a publisher even if they’ve rejected you (a lot) previously.
I subbed this story three times, and as you can see, I received all three decisions (two no’s and a yes) within the span of just three months. That’s much quicker than usual in terms of the time the story spent under consideration. The number of submissions is about average for a flash fiction story I end up selling.
If you enjoyed the submission journey of “Far Shores and Ancient Graves”, check out its 39 siblings in Night Walk & Other Dark Paths, which you can order in print and eBook by clicking the cover below.
Another week in the books. Here’s how I did.
This week’s quote is one I’ve used before, but it’s a fun one, so I’m going to use it again.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
— Mark Twain
You’d be surprised at how effective this is. Here are some examples pulled from one of my works in progress where I’ve done the very/damn swap.
I chose these sentences because they represent three issues this exercise reveals. In the first example, very could simply be removed and the sentence would work fine, but I think a stronger word might be better. In this case, damn is actually a good replacement that fits the character’s voice. I’m also a sucker for alliteration. The second example is more what Twain is getting at in his quote, I think. The very can just go because it’s not doing anything except cluttering up the sentence. Now, in the third example, I’d leave the very. It’s doing real work, and I dig the way it sounds when combined with real. Very is often a weak word that is unneeded or should be replaced with a better word, except, you know, when it isn’t. 🙂
Just one submission last week.
Pretty quiet on the submission front last week, though I did manage to get one new story finished and subbed. I received two rejections, and one was a personal rejection from a new market. Personal rejections can tell you a lot, and this one told me my work is likely not a good fit for this publisher. This is not to say the rejection was rude or scathing. In fact, it was polite and even encouraging, but it was also clear my particular style in the genre they publish is going to be a hard sell. The second rejection was the formiest of form letters, so not much to report there.
I continue to work on short stories for Privateer Press in their new Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika setting. Last week, I finished revisions on the third story and began writing the fourth. I’ll finish the first draft of the fourth story early this week and get to work on the fifth. What’s fun about this particular project is each short story is based on specific group or faction within the game world. Each of these factions have vastly different personalities and motivations, and some of them are not human or, well, inhuman. In other words, I’m getting the chance to explore a wide range of styles and voices with each piece. That’s both a challenge and a lot of fun.
My flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths has been out for nearly a month now and it’s starting to get some nice reviews. You can pick up a copy of your very own in print or eBook by clicking on the link below.
For an inside peek into the anthology and its stories, check out the Night Walk Wednesday feature right here on the blog. I’ll give you all the juicy rejectomancy stats on individual stories from the collection.
More submissions and keep going on my commission work for Privateer Press.
That was my week. How was yours?
Welcome to Night Walk Wednesday, where I talk about the submission journey of a story from my flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths. This week’s tale is “Small Evil.”
If you’ve read previous installments in this series, you can probably guess where this story came from. Yep, a one-hour flash fiction writing exercise. The prompt for this one was a little different, though. Usually, the prompts are photos, but this time it was a short phrase, “One upon a time I was someone else.” That got me thinking about demonic possession, well, because I think about demonic possession a lot. 🙂 The story I came up with is, honestly, not exactly in the spirit of the prompt, but I liked how it turned out.
So I have a formula I stick to when I write flash fiction that helps me write pieces that feel complete. One of the rules in that process is you can have more than two characters OR multiple locations, not both. “Small Evil” is a more-than-two-characters story, so the whole thing takes place in a dingy basement. The set-up is three dudes summon a demon to do their bidding and exact revenge on someone who absolutely does not deserve it. Unfortunately, the would be sorcerers didn’t exactly pay attention in demonology class, and things don’t go well for them. The story is told from the demon’s POV, which is a little goofy, but that’s juxtaposed with some fairly dark subject matter that I think, for the most part, works pretty well.
“Small Evil” is an interesting piece in that it started life as a flash fiction story, and then I immediately expanded it to short story length. I subbed it at that length to the tune of six rejections, then I kind of back-burnered it. A few months later, The Arcanist held a flash fiction contest called Monster Flash. I thought, well demons are monsters, right? And, in this story, so are the humans (maybe more so than the demon). So I whittled the story down to flash length, and it took second place in the contest. The moral of this story is that sometimes you get it right out of the gate, and you don’t need to tinker or expand. In other words, I probably could have saved myself six rejections if I’d just subbed the story as flash from the get-go.
So I subbed this story eight times and received one acceptance and six rejections. The remaining submission I ended up withdrawing after a whopping 211 days and after my status queries went unanswered. Not surprisingly, the market folded a few months later.
If you enjoyed the submission journey of “Small Evil”, check out its 39 siblings in Night Walk & Other Dark Paths, which you can order in print and eBook by clicking the cover below.
Catching up the last two weeks of winterly endeavors. Here’s how I did.
This week’s quote comes from Ray Bradbury.
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”
~ Ray Bradbury
I like this one because it gives me a goal to shoot for. I try to write every day, and for the most part, I’m successful. Now, to me, writing isn’t just writing narrative fiction. I do that a lot, but keeping something like this blog is flexing that same muscle in a lot of ways. Also, I don’t fret too much about how much I’m writing, though I do shoot for 2,000 words a day when I’m drafting a novel. If I can get 1,000 or even just 500 words done each day, I feel like I’m making headway. Where I sometimes struggle is the reading part. I do read a lot, but it’s not always fiction. Lately, I’ve been expanding my literary horizons and trying to read authors whose literary styles are COMPLETELY different to my own. It turns out that’s both rewarding and educational. 🙂
A fair amount of submissions in the last couple weeks.
Five subs is decent for two weeks, but I gotta get that number up. By the end of May, I need to be somewhere around 45 subs to stay on pace for 100. Doable, and I have some new stories ready to go that’ll pump those numbers up. Only two rejections in the last couple weeks (though I did get a third this morning). That said, I have some submissions that have been pending for a while, and I can smell rejections on the wind. 🙂 I did manage an acceptance a few days ago, so that gets me on the board for May and puts that first quarter rejection streak further in the rearview.
As some of you may know, I got my start in writing in the tabletop gaming industry. The first fiction I ever published was media tie-in related to RPGs and tabletop miniature games. If you were to take a gander at the Professional Credits page on this blog, you’d see hundreds of game related entries. Anyway, I’ve taken on a gig with my old pals and former employers at Privateer Press to write five short stories in their new Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika setting. It’s an exciting sci-fi world with a connection to the steampunk setting of the Iron Kingdoms (a setting I’ve written in extensively). I just finished the first draft of the third story, and I’m having a real blast with the material.
I’m planning a series of blog posts on writing media tie-in for gaming companies. It’s an interesting subject, I think, and I have a lot of experience and insight in that area. Keep an eye out for that in the near future.
My flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths has been out for a couple of weeks. You can pick up a copy of your very own in print or eBook by clicking on the link below. If you were so kind as to purchase a copy, please leave a review or a rating. Those are always helpful to authors.
For an inside peek into the anthology and its stories, check out Night Walk Wednesday right her on the blog. I’ll give you all the juicy rejectomancy stats on individual stories from the collection.
More submissions and keep going on my commission work for Privateer Press.
Those were my weeks. How was yours?
A topic I see come up a fair bit in writerly circles is the question of whether you should write only when you’re in the mood, i.e., feeling inspired, creative, and so on. Some writers do only write when their muses are sitting on their shoulders and whispering into their ears. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable approach, and it clearly works for a lot of people. It’s not for me, though. The reason is simple. If I waited for the right writing mood, I’d never write. Getting started is the most difficult part of the process for me, mostly because of the usual cocktail of fear and self doubt (couple of assholes, those two). That said, I’ve learned to fight through that so I can be productive, and this post is about how I go about it. Let me reiterate, though, I am not saying writers who wait for inspiration to strike are “doing it wrong.” They’re doing what works for them, as they should. It’s just that my muse is one elusive motherfucker, and I often have to chase it down with a butterfly net and a bottle of chloroform. So, if you’re like me, maybe this post will be helpful.
Okay, here are three things that get me started writing and keep me going.
1) Clearly defined goals. The most effective writing tool for me is a word count goal. I don’t know why, but aiming at a set number of words on a daily basis just works for me. For novels, that number is generally 2,000 words per day broken up in to 500-word chunks. I write 500 words, then I take a break and pat myself on the back for hitting the mini-goal. Then I do it again, and again, and again. By the end of my writing day I have a respectable 2,000 words, and I feel accomplished and satisfied. Those feelings turn out to be motivating fuel for the next day of writing. The downside is that if I don’t complete my goal, I feel like the day is unfinished, sort of an unsettling “shit, I left the stove on” feeling.
Now, as an occasional media tie-in author, I often have real, honest-to-god deadlines. Those are pretty motivating. In fact, I started using daily word count goals as a way to stay on target and meet those deadlines. Then I started using the word count goals as artificial deadlines and found they still had the same effect. I got more written with them than without.
2) Grit your teeth and go. The first 500 words are always the hardest. Every time I sit down to write, that first page is a hell of a struggle. Not surprisingly, the first 500 can take me longer than the next 1,500. Once I break through that weird mental block I have about beginnings, the words always flow more easily. So it’s a bit of a gut check for me to get started, and I might procrastinate a little, but eventually I’ll force myself to sit down and get on with it. I know it sounds arduous, but I’ve written hundreds of short stories and like ten novels this way, so, you know, you do what you gotta do.
3) It’s not as bad as you think. One of my favorite quotes from Stephen King reads: “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” God, I love that quote because it pretty much sums up my entire existence as a writer. I often feel like I’m shoveling shit when I write, especially when I’m gutting out those first 500 words. You know what, though? Most of the time, when I go back and look at what I’ve written the next day, it’s usually pretty solid, even good. In other words, that ugly feeling is mostly bullshit, just the ever-present demons of fear and doubt doing their best to derail me. It’s nice to hear everyone, even Stephen King, has those same demons. One of these days I’ll learn how to shut them up. 🙂
So that’s how I write even when I’m not in the mood. How do you do it? Tell me about it in the comments.
Welcome to another installment of Night Walk Wednesday, where I’ll talk about the submission journey of a story from my flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths. This week’s story is “Time Waits for One Man.”
This is yet another story crafted in an hour during a flash-fiction writing exercise. I remember the prompt for this one too. It was a shattered clock. That got me thinking about stopped clocks, and then stopped time, and then immortality. The story that eventually came out of all that was “Time Waits for One Man.” I write a lot of stories with biblical themes or characters, and this is one of those. Note, these aren’t really religious stories, just ones that use a Biblical character or tale with a speculative twist.
“Time Waits for One Man” is another of my patented two-people-talking stories. I love dialogue, and that’s all this story is. The setup is simple. A freelance journalist is interviewing a man who somehow survived an accident that should have killed him. In fact, he survived it without a scratch. He tells her he survived because of who he is or more importantly what he is. She’s incredulous, but as his tale unfolds, she begins to believe.
I sold this story in its first submission to Factor Four Magazine, a pro flash market that had rejected me seven times previously. I was thrilled at that acceptance and publication, and the only rain cloud on this sunny situation is that Factor Four shut down not too long after. That’s just a sad reality of publishing, and when I look back at my submissions over the years, it’s rather alarming just how many of the markets I’ve submitted to have closed their doors.
Though “Time Waits for One Man” sold on its first submission, I sent it out as soon as I had the rights back. One of those reprint submissions was to Msyterion, a market that deals with Christian-themed speculative stories. I thought the story might have a pretty good shot there. It was ultimately rejected, but I did get a nice personal note from the editor and an invitation to submit more work.
If you enjoyed the submission journey of “Time Waits for One Man”, check out its 39 siblings in Night Walk & Other Dark Paths, which you can order in print and eBook by clicking the cover below.
April is a wrap. Here’s how I did.
I would have liked to have sent a few more submissions in April, but six ain’t too bad, and I ended the month with 32 subs for the year. I need to pick up the pace a bit in May if I want to stay on track for 100 subs, but I’ve already sent 4 this month, so I’m off to a good start. What I did get a lot of in April was rejections. I had a bunch of submissions that had been under consideration for a while, and the editors pretty much all made their decisions at the same time. The good news is that I broke my long rejections streak and finally got on the board for 2021 with a couple of acceptances, one of which was also published in April.
Eight rejections this month.
Nothing out of the ordinary here. All my rejections were of the form variety. One of them was more disappointing than the others, however, simply because I thought the story was a pretty good fit for the market. The editor though otherwise. That’s just how it goes in submission land. In fact, when I’m actually hopeful of an acceptance, I almost never get one. Weird how that works. 🙂
Three publications in April: a short story, an article, and an entire flash fiction anthology. Links to each below.
1) My first April publication was a flash piece I sold to Wyldblood Press titled “News from Home.”
2) My Rejectomancy column over at Dark Matter Magazine is still going, and last month’s subject was the dreaded withdrawal letter.
3) Finally, my flash fiction collection Night Walk & Other Dark Paths was published last month. It’s available in print and eBook through the link below.
And that was my month. How was yours?
Been a while since I talked about the specific types of rejections a writer might receive, but here’s one that falls into kind of a unique category: the reprint rejection. It’s unique because it’s a story you know at least one editor/publisher liked enough to publish, so you might have more confidence when you send it out. Past success, however, does not guarantee future success, and the reprint rejection is yet another reminder of this writerly reality.
Here are some examples of reprint rejection from my own collection.
Thank you for submitting [story] to [market]. It’s an interesting story, but it didn’t quite come together for us and we’ve decided to pass on it.
We appreciate your interest in our [market]; thanks again for giving us the chance to look at your story.
So, as you can see, reprint rejections, are, well, just rejections that don’t call any special attention to the fact the submission was a reprint. (I can think of one publisher that does, but they’re the outlier.) What can that tell us as writers, though? Primarily, I think it reinforces a couple of unwavering truths about submissions and publishing.
But the big questions is are reprints harder or easier to sell? I’ve covered this topic before, but, in my experience, I think they are slightly easier to sell. A quick look at Duotrope says I’ve sent 44 reprint submissions. Out of those submissions, I received 11 acceptances. That’s a 25% acceptance rate, which is higher than my standard acceptance rate, which is somewhere between 15% and 20%.
Thoughts on the reprint rejection? What’s your experience with them? Tell me about it in the comments.
Welcome to Night Walk Wednesday, where I talk about the submission journey of a story from my flash fiction anthology Night Walk & Other Dark Paths. This week’s story is “The Night, Forever, and Us.”
For once, this story did NOT start out in a one-hour flash fiction writing exercise. This is one of the few times, at least with flash, where I just had an idea I wanted to explore out of the blue, and then, you know, did that. I jammed out a first draft pretty quick, and then turned it over to some folks in my writing group for a critique. After some light revision and a bit of polish, it was ready for submission.
I write a lot of stories about vampires. It’s like a condition; I just can’t stop. In my defense, I do try to come at the befanged bloodsuckers from as fresh an angle as I can, and for the most part I think I pull it off. I mean, I’ve sold a bunch of vampire stories, right? Anyway, with “The Night, Forever, and Us”, I wanted a quiet piece, something with a lot of emotion that presented vampirism not as a monstrous curse but as salvation and hope. Yeah, I know that’s not exactly unique, but it let me explore the space in a way I generally don’t, and the story has a very different tone than most of my vampire stories.
I sold this one quick, but, for me, in a surprising way. Once I finished the story, I sent it off to two of my usual suspects and received quick rejections. Then, honestly, I sort of lost interest, moved on to other things, and the story sat for a while. Six months passed and a new horror flash fiction market opened called Love Letters to Poe. They wanted gothic horror, though, and if you know anything about my work, then you know this is not a sub-genre with which I am well acquainted. Still, Love Letters to Poe looked like a really cool market (and they are), so I racked my brain and searched my hard drive for a story that might fit. I came across “The Night, Forever, and Us,” and I thought, hey, this might work. I mean, Dracula is one of the gold standards for gothic horror, and my story ticked a few of those boxes. Well, I sent it in, and about a week later, I had an acceptance. Maybe I should write more gothic stuff. 🙂
Three submissions is about average for me with a flash fiction piece. I generally sell them much, much quicker than I do short stories, where I average about eight submissions.
If you enjoyed the submission journey of “The Night, Forever, and Us”, consider checking out 39 other frightful flashes in Night Walk & Other Dark Paths, which you can get in print and eBook by clicking the cover below.