Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories: What’s the difference?

The term “short fiction” includes many different types of writing. The most popular among these types are short stories and flash fiction. A short story can range anywhere from about 500 words to 10,000 words, depending on the source of the information. Many publishing companies, especially the ones specializing in anthologies, look for works that range from 1,000 words to 5,000 words. Flash fiction usually ranges from 100 words to 1,000 words.

So, what is the difference between short stories and flash fiction? There are many differences, though they are often difficult to discern. The main difference between the two is the concept of structure.

Short stories should have a basic structure including introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Many believe that a short story is just a flash into the lives of the characters, when in reality, a short story contains the same essential elements as a novel. The difference between a novel and a short story is the depth at which the characters and plot line are explored. In a basic form, a short story needs a beginning, middle, and end, with a healthy dose of character development. 0t should tell a complete story, whether the topic is how a relationship between two people begins, the testing process of a wizard, a car accident, or perhaps even a character’s struggle to find a job. The possibilities are endless. What needs to remain constant is that there is an introduction, character development, a conflict, and a resolution for that conflict. It does not have to be a positive resolution, or a happily-ever-after, but it does need to be a conclusion which the reader finds satisfactory.

Flash fiction, on the other hand, is a “flash” into a situation. It should include one character, conflict, and resolution. The difference here is that the plot can be quite simple. For example, an evening in the life of a character in which realization is achieved. There does not have to be an external conflict in flash fiction, and the resolution can be as simple as the character making a decision they were previously having trouble resolving. There are many forms of flash fiction. Some of the most popular are stories with a word count restriction. There are those that specialize in using exactly 55 words to tell a story, all the way down to 3. These kinds of flash fiction concentrate more on hinting at the plot line, and may not even contain a solid character.

In the end, the main identifiable difference between a short story and flash fiction is the depth of which the character(s) development, plot line, and resolution strive towards. Both forms have great merit, and there are many published authors who have made a name for themselves strictly by writing flash fiction and short stories.

Joy Campbell specializes in article writing, research, short fiction, and creating helpful information for new and emerging writers.

Character Birthdays: Happy Birthday, Heros and Heroines

Happy Birthday Cake for Heroes, Heroines, and CharactersDo you know your when to wish your characters a happy birthday? Many writers neglect the most important day of their protagonist’s life. After all, if she was not born into your imaginary world, you wouldn’t be able to tell her story now. But there are stronger writing issues to consider when deciding your male and female characters celebrate their birthday.

Happy 29th, Again

What is your character’s attitude toward her birthday, and her age? Does she dread every passing year, or does she celebrate with a blow-out party that includes everyone she’s met in her life? When are the birthday’s of your character’s family? If you don’t know, you are missing out on a key area of characterization that you could explore.

More importantly, you may miss her birthday all together! If her birthday falls right into the middle of your story, your character wouldn’t completely forget. At the very least, she would comment to herself about how she is far too busy to go out with her friends this year. Perhaps she’ll miss visiting her parents, because she has now moved halfway across the country to start her new job. Are your character’s kids celebrating their birthdays with a crisis filled birthday party? Her new love interest may forget, and schedule his monthly golf game on the birthday weekend she expected him to take her to his beach side villa. Unless you know, your characters will never age, and gain the wisdom that comes with reflecting over the course of their lives so far.

What’s Your Sign?

Another consideration is that you or your characters may have an interest in exploring what their birthday stands for, in the universal scheme of things. Astrology and Numerology use a person’s birthday to determine their personality traits, and the possible issues they might have to deal with throughout their lives. If you are struggling to flesh out a character, you can look up their birthday, and discover how they might act in their relationships, careers, and home lives. If you don’t like what the results turn up, you can change their birthday to a different sign, and start over. Even if you don’t care about such things, your young college student heroine might read her horoscope every morning, and you ought to have an idea what it would say.

Other uses for birthdays include exploring what happened on that day in history. If your historical hero was born on the day the Civil War started, he would have a different upbringing than someone whose parents raised him during the Great Depression. Many websites and books have such “Day in the Life” descriptions, or you could scan old newspapers near your character’s real world hometown. Even less famous events could play into your character’s life, such as if she were born on the same day the water tower fell and flooded her home.

Planning For Other Character’s Birthdays

Even if your story covers a short amount of time, it is wise to know when all of your characters are born, not just your protagonist. She may be planning a surprise party for her best friend, when she suddenly loses her job and can’t afford to do so anymore. Your antagonist may decide to cause havoc on his birthday every year, because local bullies wrecked his 18th birthday party.

Birthdays are a great rite of passage that everyone goes through each year. It marks new growth, beginnings, and a chance to start life with a clean slate. Your characters could use these same milestones, to take your story in new and unexpected directions.

What do birthdays mean to you, and your stories? Have you explored how your characters react to growing a year older?

Editor’s Note: Know another birthday you shouldn’t forget? Writer’s Round-About! We’re turning 3 this month so come and win some prizes at our birthday bash.

Image credit: Dan Taylor

The Casting Couch for Character Development

Jessica Alba as Max in Dark Angel

Who Do You Want To Act The Role Of Your Protagonist?

An effective way to increase the connection you have to your characters is to sit on the casting couch. There are thousands of talented actors who could be cast into the role of your protagonist. Who would be their ideal counter and play the role of your antagonist? You could even select your supporting cast and run the credits through your mind.

Jessica Alba is going to play the lead role when they turn my current work-in-progress into a movie. Well, in a perfect world she would. Of course I’m sure she’ll love the script. It’s not finished yet but it’s going to be fantastic and it’ll be exactly what she’d want to do next. I picture it; I visualize and see her eagerness and anticipation. She knows the role is right for her and she’s looking forward to spending months in this characters skin.

Who will star in the book-to-movie adaptation of your novel?

As our characters develop during the writing process they grow in our mind. They start off as simple sketches. Insubstantial figments that act on strange whimsy. As we flesh out these strange creatures we discover personality, history, motivation, and depth. In time they take on a life of their own. We hear their voices in our heads and they begin to push the story rather than being resistant followers to our commands.

Visualizing these stars acting out your book can help you delve into character and story. With an actor in mind scenes become almost movie-like in the mind’s eye. As I write a scene I see Jessica Alba as my protagonist. She becomes my character. She mirrors her spunk and fire. Her dark hair and eyes reflect the sense of disturbed darkness within my character. I see the scene unfold as if I were watching in high-definition and surround sound.

Could Paul Walker be my next book's leading man?I haven’t cast my leading man yet. I’m considering Paul Walker but keeping my options open until someone feels “just right”. I find my hero much more difficult not only to picture in my mind’s eye but to feel and know. He’s still fragmented. I can’t “get” him. Perhaps that is why I haven’t been able to cast him. If I could find the perfect actor to play his part would I find myself more connected and attached. Who is this man and if any actor could play his part who would I choose?

Who would you cast in the movie of your novel? Does having your star in mind influence your writing and your sense of connection to your characters?

Commit To Your Top Three’s

“Purpose is stronger than outcome.” ~ Tony Robbins

Now, it’s time to take your three lists of goals. First, look at the “Personal Development Goals“. Of the ones you would like to accomplish within the coming year which inspires and motivates you the most. What leaps out of the page yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!!!”

Select your three primary Personal Development Goals, adding a star next to them on your page. These are your top priority goals; the areas you most desire change; the goals that motivate you to the greatest degree.

On a fresh page write the first goal in bold print. Immerse yourself in that goal and delve into what makes that goal important to you. Write a paragraph or two about why that goal is vital to your happiness. Why are you absolutely committed to this goal. Why are you motivated to take action on this goal? What will it mean in your life? Write how accomplishing that goal will make you feel and the difference it will create in your life. Write about that goals influence on you as a person and why it is absolutely a must-have goal for you. Why does this goal motivate you?

Repeat this process for your three Personal Development Goals and then again for your Things Goals and your Economic Goals.

Anthony Robbins - Get the Edge!

The Rocking Chair Experiment!

When you are writing focus on your emotional connection to gain leverage. Let yourself experience the emotions attached to these goals. Imagine yourself in your elderly years, sitting in your rocking chair, reflecting on the life you’ve lived. Let your mind wander over your goals then take the journey with your emotions.

Imagine that you’re in your old age having never accomplished one of these goals. Examine how you feel knowing that the goal is out of reach. Feel that sense of emptiness and waste, regret and failure. Allow yourself to feel the pain associated with not accomplishing the goal. Does it hurt? Consider all you may have missed out on in life, the directions and options denied to you. If you can shrug your shoulders and feel only a bare tingle of regret then you should cast aside the goal and choose another, or return your focus to your motivation and your reasons for accomplishing this goal. You need to feel a desperate need for these goals because that desire, that yearning and the pain associated with not getting the goal will push you through to its achievement.

Once you’ve discovered the depths of pain associated with not accomplishing that goal bring yourself back to that aged person, sitting in his or her rocking chair nearing the end of life. This time, reflect on the life you’ve lead as if you accomplished the goal. How has accomplishing this goal enriched your life? What options opened up to you? What opportunity to rejoice did it bring? How do you feel knowing you’ve accomplished this goal? Are you excited, empowered, filled with love and thrilled with joy?

The pleasure and the pain associated with your goals are a motivational force that will help you stay focused on their accomplishment. You can repeat this exercise whenever you feel yourself struggling to remember why you want to make these things happen in your life. Review your reasons, add to them, and remind yourself exactly why you set out on these goals to begin with.

“The purpose of goals is not so you get things, the real reason to set goals is what they will make you as a person.” ~ Tony Robbins

Would you like to share one or two of your Top Three’s? Why do they top your timeline? What are your motivations? What benefits do you think will come from having what you’re setting out to achieve?

SG1 Series Part Two: Character Development

Characters are an elemental part of every story. An intriguing plot with a good story-arc is important but without approachable characters your story will never connect with an audience. Readers need characters. Characters are the socket for your stories power supply. It is through your characters that readers can plug into the plot and experience the life of your story.

The Stargate series introduces a multitude of characters in various stages and of differing quality and consideration. Some play bit parts as extras or body count but others grow into the story, we come to love them or hate them, we come to care for the part they play in the story, their injuries and deaths bring anguish and grief or heartfelt cheers.


SG1 – Jack, Daniel, Sam and Teal’c

The original SG1 is a team of four diverse characters. Their differences create an initial challenge; they struggle as a unit until they learn to use each others strengths to counter their own weaknesses. It shows the importance of bringing opposites together. These characters are unique in their own fields. It is their united purposes, each individual to their character, which brings them together. A bond is formed that gives this eclectic community a solid friendship. We see the bond develop and grow with the characters as the series progresses.

It is important to blend characters but avoid carbon copies. Each character should be unique and individual. Distinguish them with separate goals, established histories, areas of interest and technique.


The SGC and General Hammond

The Stargate Command is an entity in its own right. It is actually a collection of individuals that work in regulated ways to create a standardized base of operations. There are many faceless characters lead by the General. Most of the time we don’t connect with these individuals but General Hammond represents the unity. His personality molds the actions of the SGC.

Larger forces need a strong head character to represent their interests. Armies can seem like a long column of faceless men but a charismatic leader will show a distinguishing command of his forces. Each of his men is ultimately the voice of this man and a solid leader is one whose men will lay down their own lives to support the orders he puts forth. This is true of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ guys.


The Goa’uld

While the Goa’uld are a nasty bunch in their own right they are an ideal antagonist. They aren’t evil. They have solid reasoning and a collection of emotional reactions that allow readers to associate with them. The Goa’uld act entirely out of an arrogant sense of self preservation and domination. As a people (um… symbiotic race) they act with rational, intelligent thought. They are challenging but not insurmountable.

Antagonists should be normal people. You can create more impact with a sympathetic antagonist then with a diabolical freak. If a reader can see themselves in a protagonist you have a good story but if readers can see themselves to some small degree in the antagonist then you have a charged situation that will keep a reader tied to the outcome.

There are many more characters involved in the Stargate series. Each new person (or group of people) is shown in snippets. Base motivations appear and personality traits are revealed but characters always have an element that remains unseen. It is impossible to know everything and it is important that characters can still do something unexpected or unpredictable.

Over time, we get to know the main characters. Their own personal stories are revealed and delved into. The primary characters are challenged with personal situations forcing them to make choices that distinguish them. Whole episodes play a vital role in adding depth to these characters and introduce situations that push their qualities forward.

  • Use time in your story to slowly reveal your characters.
  • Allow their actions and reactions to portray the depth of their beliefs and desires.
  • Each scene should use your characters strengths and weaknesses.
  • 3D characters have sides we cannot see.
  • A characters relationships reveal vital clues to their personality.
  • Characters always continue to grow and change based on the situations that occur in each moment of their lives.

Finally, just because your story has reached ‘The End’ does not mean your characters have. Characters should still be imperfect in the final scene. Their growth remains incomplete. Some of your characters may have died but most will live on beyond your closing paragraph and while they began at one point and progressed to another in this story there should always be another world to save, another enemy to fight, another day to live and another dream to follow.

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