How to Write a Short-Short Story
Collect everything. Collect words impossible to translate to English (start with schadenfreude and portmanteau). Collect particularly crafty sentences in books (“This was not the kind of river you fell into and got out of again; it was the other kind,” says Neil Gaiman in Neverwhere). Collect memorable quotes (from people such as Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Stars in the universe far outnumber all sounds and words ever uttered by all humans who ever lived.”). Collect definitions of words you didn’t know existed (imbroglio: a complicated and embarrassing state of things). Collect scientific facts, historical events, songs with catchy refrains, pictures of kids and sailors and new species of bugs and mobster mugshots from the 1920s. Poke your fingers into the vast ends of the universe and snatch up everything worth writing about. You need all the details you can get your hands on so you can be precise as an assassin. Pile them up in neat stacks, categorized and ordered accordingly. Repeat unendingly. Never stop collecting.
Make a mess. Shuffle through your neat stacks and pick out the bits that ignite, glow, spark. Keep shuffling until you have a handful of volatile snippets and set aside those that don’t fit together nicely in your palm. Be sure your workspace is clear. Then, hurl your inspirations recklessly in every direction. You’ll find the story through the chaos, twisting and weaving those bits and pieces into something of your own. Sculpt your creation, delicately or haphazardly or in a new way entirely. When you are finished, stand it up and dust off the debris. Polish.
When you’re ready, set up your camera. Focus on a moment, or a snapshot, of this mess you’ve created. Flash fiction is photography. Your story exists in the flash of the camera, but you’re not the photographer. You’re the guy who sets up the props, the still life. You’re the guy who adjusts the lighting and the backdrop. Hell, you’re the camera. Keep tweaking that delicate snapshot up until the flash pops. It’s over so quick, though you’ve spent hours preparing, setting up for that snap when the photographer clicks the lens. The photographer is your reader. Your reader is the one calling the shots, really. She’ll see what she wants to see. Your job is to give her something worth seeing.
Hayley Fitz will begin interning at Passages North in the fall. She looks forward to reading your short-short story submissions then.