Flash Fiction Writing Exercise: md 2/21/08

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Flash Fiction Writing Exercise: md 2/21/08

Everyone will do this step-by-step process that will help you access your creativity.

Outline a draft story in your coffee break! Impossible? Not if you use the BUBBLE technique, which will concentrate your attention on short, easy-to-answer questions.

The technique described below is open-ended. There are no prescribed story-starters as you provide all stimuli yourself. It is a creative technique that utilizes the mind’s ability to weave meaningful connections between disparate elements.

Steve Moss, Editor of The World’s Shortest Stories (Running Press) says about the 55 word stories in his collection, “...for our purposes a story is a story only if it contains the following four elements: 1) a setting, 2) a character or characters, 3) a conflict and 4) resolution.” Using the bubble method as described below, your story will contain all of these vital elements.
The method is split into three parts - DROPPING THE NET, BRIDGING THE GAP, CATCHING THE FISH. Writing flash fiction means writing fast and writing tight. WRITING FAST - it should take you about 5 minutes to accomplish the first stage and about 10 to 15 minutes to accomplish the second stage. We shut down your internal editor to get you from a point where you have no story to a point where you have written a rough draft. In the third stage we WRITE TIGHT. Reawaken your editor to get the story honed down to an entertaining short-short of less than 200 words.
Ready to start?
Get a blank sheet of paper, a magic marker and a timer that can be set for seconds and minutes.


a) Write down these words - SETTING, EMOTION, and PERSPECTIVE OF MAIN CHARACTER - in block capitals in the center of the sheet spaced out evenly one below the other. Now circle them. These are your BUBBLES.

b) Now draw 8 lines irradiating outward from each of your BUBBLES as if you were drawing spider legs. You should now have 3 “spiders” - one below the other in the center of the sheet of paper. At the end of each line, you will be writing 8 words in block capitals, which you will also encircle. The time limit for writing down the 8 words will be 60 seconds. Write the words quickly without thinking too hard. Set your timer to 60 seconds.

c) For SETTINGS write 8 settings that come to mind spontaneously: e.g., HOSPITAL, JUNGLE, MOON, etc. They can be ordinary or whacky or a mixture of both.

d) Now reset your timer and move to EMOTION. Write down 8 emotions - e.g., LOVE, DISAPPOINTMENT, GREED, JOY, etc.

e) Next, move on to PERSPECTIVE OF MAIN CHARACTER. Set your timer again to 60 seconds and write down 8 different ANIMALS. For example, CAMEL, MOUSE, LADYBUG. (These ANIMALS will encapsulate the predominant PERSPECTIVE of your MAIN CHARACTER, i.e. how he or she views the world. ANIMALS are rich in associations so by playing with the idea of an ANIMAL as a framework for personality you mine a rich field of connotation. I will show exactly how this works later. For now just jot down the ANIMALS)


a) Pick one idea from each bubble and highlight it with the magic marker. For example you might choose JUNGLE from your SETTING BUBBLE, JOY from your EMOTIONS BUBBLE, and MOUSE from your PERSPECTIVE BUBBLE.

b) Now make new BUBBLES on a clean sheet of paper and write the words you selected inside. This time write them horizontally across the BOTTOM of the paper.

In our example the bottom of the sheet would look like this:


Encircle each of the words to make them into BUBBLES.

This forms the BOTTOM LINE or FINAL SCENE of your story. Why that? In writing flash fiction you need to write fast. To write fast, you must know where you are going. You have just given yourself a DESTINATION. We still have no idea of what the beginning of the story is but we know that at the end of your story your MAIN CHARACTER (man or woman, young or old – doesn’t matter) will have the perspective of MOUSE (maybe he will be feeling shy or timid?). He will be in a JUNGLE (either physically or metaphorically -more about that later) and he/she will be feeling the EMOTION JOY.

Dropping the Net – Part 3:

a) Draw a line upwards from your center BUBBLE - (EMOTION). At the end of the line, near the top of the page, write LACK OF and your original EMOTION. In our example we would write in LACK OF JOY. On the right hand side draw another BUBBLE and write the word MAIN CHARACTER? inside. To the left of the EMOTION BUBBLE write the word SETTING? and make that into a BUBBLE.



This is the TOP LINE of your story. Initially, your MAIN CHARACTER, for whatever reason, is suffering from A LACK OF (in this case) JOY. We don‘t yet know the SETTING he or she is in and we also do not know if our MAIN CHARACTER is a man, woman, child (or something in between!).

b) Between the TOP LINE and the BOTTOM LINE, in the center of the page, write CONFLICT??? and encircle it. CONFLICT is important in any story, micro-fiction included. By encountering a CONFLICT, the MAIN CHARACTER undergoes a CHANGE. This CHANGE leads to the RESOLUTION of the story as seen in the BOTTOM LINE.

The complete page should now look something like this (with more space in between).




This is the framework of your story. All you need to do is hang on some flesh.

Dropping the Net – Part 4:

Now set your imagination to work. We will take the words in the BUBBLES as springboards. Don’t stick to them slavishly - let your imagination weave its own pictures and associations. The answers I have given below are merely suggestions. Everyone who does this exercise, even with the same stimuli, comes up with completely different responses.

Look at the BUBBLES on the TOP LINE.

Again draw spider legs out from each of the BUBBLES and jot down spontaneous responses.

We will ask WHO, HOW, WHERE, WHY questions.

Again WRITE down the answers to these questions FAST.

a) Look at the BUBBLE on the TOP LINE where it says MAIN CHARACTER.


The MAIN CHARACTER IS SOMEONE WITH THE PERSPECTIVE OF A MOUSE i.e. someone quiet, shy and easily intimidated. Jot down your ideas at the end of the lines.

b) HOW is he feeling initially?

He is suffering from a LACK OF JOY, maybe he feels frustrated as he is stuck in a boring job. Jot down your ideas at the end of the lines.

c) WHERE is the MAIN CHARACTER at the end of the story?

The MAIN CHARACTER is in some sort of JUNGLE. Maybe AN AMAZONIAN RAINFOREST or a COMPLICATED JUNGLE OF A RELATIONSHIP. Jot down your spontaneous ideas.

d) HOW is he feeling?

Joyful. Perhaps he has discovered a rare Amazonian medicinal plant. Or maybe he is caught in the throes of indescribable bliss even though he doesn’t know for sure what his next step will be (emotional jungle?) Write down your own ideas.


a) WHY is he there?

Try to forge a story line that will take your MAIN CHARACTER all the way from the TOP LINE down through a CONFLICT to the BOTTOM LINE. Jot down your ideas as to the MAIN CHARACTER’S persona (job, marital status etc), the initial SETTING (his office, the street, his home etc) through to the impetus for change, CONFLICT??? (loses job, falls in love, reads an interesting ad)
b) These questions set up a CREATIVE TENSION between your skeleton view of the INITIAL SITUATION and the FINAL SCENE. Your mind searches for the UNKNOWN CONFLICT that has taken the MAIN CHARACTER form the EMOTION AT THE OUTSET to the FINAL DESTINATION.
c) At some point the story will take over and you will want to start writing. Set the timer to 10 minutes (or 15 if your coffee break is longer) and scribble down the bones of a story. Don’t worry about expressing yourself elegantly. The task here is to RELEASE THE TENSION you have set up between the beginning EMOTION and the FINAL SCENE.

In the first two stages we set ourselves TIME LIMITS to WRITE FAST. In the final stage we set a WORD LIMIT to WRITE TIGHT.

The first draft of the story is there on the desk in front of you. How long is it. Maybe 400 words. Slash it by half. That’s right. Reduce your word count by throwing out all the unnecessary words, phrases and ideas. It sounds brutal and it is. But it is also effective. By writing tight, you are able to CATCH ONLY THE HIGH QUALITY FISH. As you reduce your word count, you will find that you automatically REWRITE. Better words and expressions pop to mind. Use them. But set yourself a WORD LIMIT- I recommend either 60, 150 or 200 words. This is the single most effective way I know to WRITE TIGHT.
If you complete all three stages, you should have a finished manuscript of 200 words or less. It will encapsulate all the elements of a traditional story line. You will have a MAIN CHARACTER in a SETTING in which he comes across a CONFLICT. By resolving the CONFLICT he will have undergone a CHANGE.
Now all you need to do is write a self-evaluation and hand it in!

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