This week, I’m going to do a little bragging. I help to Admin a small on-line writing group. Last October, we initiated a new feature in that group that we call the Friday Flash Fiction Challenge. It began with a specific weekly challenge to write a 500-word story on an assigned theme, from a specific point of view, etc. Stories were due the following Thursday at noon and the winner received their choice of a writing related Amazon eBook from a list we provided. A consolation prize of a professional edit of their story was also offered to another entry.
Members wishing to participate must adhere to Shunn Short Story manuscript formatting, must stay within the allowed word count and write a story with a beginning, middle and end. They may submit at any time during the challenge by attaching their story to a PM to any of the admins. The stories are then rated by each admin on a 20-point scale with 5 points each for format, meeting the challenge, grammar/punctuation and overall story quality.
Using the scores, we determine a winner and runner-up. We then send out acceptance and rejection slips to each entrant, keeping to the format of a standard rejection or acceptance letter as seen in the industry. Each entry gets feedback from the admins as well.
Our idea was to help our members get over the fear of submitting their work, encourage them to write regularly, and give them the closest approximation to the actual writing/submitting process that we could.
Our little project has evolved over time based on the needs of the group and the admins. We now allow 750 words to give more space for a complete story and two weeks between challenge and deadline. We average six or seven submissions per challenge.
Over the last nine months, the average scores awarded by each admin have steadily risen from an average of 15 or 16 to high 18s and 19s. Our most recent challenge resulted in 8 entries and the combined score from four admins for the top 5 stories covered only a 3-point spread.
In the first nine months of our little challenge, no less than 3 stories have been accepted for publication or published in traditional magazines and e-zines.
The point to all this bragging? Practice really does make perfect, and short or flash fiction is an incredibly fast way to improve your writing skills.
Think about this. A novelist will write an average 100,000-word book with a single beginning, middle and end and will spend anywhere from a month to several years on it. A writer who writes flash fiction, will do all of that in less than 1,000 words and can, if they wish, complete several each week. They learn to tighten their writing, choose each word with care, develop a cohesive and complete plot, characters and setting. There’s no room for fat, so they learn to gleefully kill those darlings with no remorse.
Many writers will tell you that the best way to become a professional writer is to write. That may, in fact, be true. But what one writes can greatly speed the process. Even for experienced writers, whipping out a flash fiction piece between chapters in their main work can be excellent practice and a nice break.