Recently, I submitted an entry into the Editor's Unleashed/Smashmouth Flash Fiction Contest. The contest made me think about how shorter works of fiction can be used as practice for creating or improving longer fiction.
I realize that there are some writers who only write poetry, short stories, or novels. And there are some that write in whatever form the story demands. But whether for practice or with an intent to sell, shorter works have certain advantages when trying to learn craft, and each form brings its own lessons.
Writing prompts can be used to warm up the engine--as nothing more than a reving of the psyche to get rid or all those personal doubts, editor voices, and critics that strive to control the unbridled passion of the artist.
Use prompts to break through writer's block, write without worry and just get the words on the page. Use prompts to get in gear by allowing the non-critical part of the mind go whereever it wants to take you. So what if its not possible for purple unicorns to dance on the rings of saturn because the gravitational pull of the moons at high tide would prevent said creatures from being to able to spin. Just Write.
Prompts have an ability to spark ideas, set the writer on fire, and get their fingers moving without the concious tyrant of perfection hovering over the writer. Just Write.
Don't worry about the muse. Don't even look for her. Ignore the critic, he doesn't exist, he'll be there when you need him. Just Write.
Poetry being one of the shortest forms of writing, gains the most impact by careful consideration of each word. The theme, message, or point of the poem requires efficient, powerful, and provacitive writing.
In fiction what may be coined as "purple prose", may be acceptable in a poem.
Poetry can teach a writer how to find beauty in the small and "insignificant" moments in each day and then how to take that beauty, that moment, and transfer it into something that is much larger and cosmic.
This can be a helpful device in showing the personal non verbal interaction between two characters, the relevance of a certain understated action, or the moods and emotions of a much loved character.
Flash Fiction lies between the brevity of poetry and the larger structure of short fiction. It does its best to focus on one intense moment of time like poetry, but can also benefit from the structure of short stories ( beginning, middle, and end).
This is a good form to learn how to strengthen a scene. Each story, whether it's as long as a series of novels or as small as flash--has to keep the reader interested. Every scene in a novel must contribute something to the whole. Every scene needs to hook the reader, while providing information about characters, plot, setting, or other relavant information. Flash fiction is a good way to focus on these elements, and learn how to create the most impact in a scene, how to balance them out, and how to enter and exit them effectively.
Use Flash to learn how to create the elements needed in a successful scene. Use flash to learn how to control mood, or viewpoint, or dialogue, or setting. Use flash to practice character to character interactions.
Compared to the other three short forms, short stories may seem as big as novels. Longer than flash, short stories give the author more time to develop characters, complicate plot, world-build, and work in a structure exactly like the ones used in novels.
Usually they have multiple scenes, which creates a longer story arc than flash fiction. Being larger in size, enables the short story to tell more of the tale with artistic expression. Everything expands, allowing more liberties for the author.
Use short stories to learn how to work with story structure--beginning, middle, end. Use short stories to learn how to connect one scene to another without losing reader interest. Use short stories to understand how to construct novels.
Each of these forms provides advantages that can make writing better in all the others. Practice in each to learn, grow, and improve as a writer.
* Short forms advantages ( general )
--do not take as long to write as a novel
--allow for completion of work and start of new project
--more projects equal more opportunity to change story elements ( voice, characters, plot, setting, tone/mood, etc )
--more projects equal more practice
--use to write spontaneously
--use to overcome writer's block
--use to overcome the critic, the editor, or the doubter
--use to maximize each word
--use to learn power of words
--use to improve imagery, emotion, tone, and mood
--use to understand the scene
--use to practice story elements on small scale
--use to practice story structure on small scale
--use to understand expanded story structure
--use as larger canvas for story elements
--use to connect scenes without loss of reader interest