Today I am so pleased to welcome J. Scott Coatsworth to Joyfully Jay. Scott has come to talk to us about the Rise anthology. He has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Scott a big welcome!
Over the years, I’ve read thousands of 300-word stories for the annual Queer Sci Fi flash fiction contest – 2,329 of them, to be exact. I’ve seen some amazing things done with just a handful of words, and I’ve seen slaughtering of the English language like you wouldn’t believe.
I’ve also read enough to see some patterns in what makes a good flash fiction story, and what doesn’t.
Let’s start with some terminology. A micro fiction story is usually told with just a few words – often a single sentence. One of my faves, purported to have been written by Hemingway:
For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.
A whole tragedy is suggested in just those six words.
On the flip side, your average short story generally runs from 1,000 words minimum to about 15,000 max, although that can be a little fuzzy.
Flash fiction sits between the two, usually 100-1,000 wordss. For the purposes of our contest, we chose 300 words, which in a printed book is usually 1 ½ to two pages long. Good flash fiction usually has the following characteristics:
- A strong opening sentence that suggests a rich complexity in the story to come.
- An entire story arc – beginning, middle, and end
- A (well-earned) surprise ending, or a gratifyingly warm one
- An unexpected twist on the theme that few others have used, which nonetheless makes sense.
Some of my favorite flash fiction stories of the past ten years have revolved around food, often connecting it to a beloved family member and/or a recipe passed down with time. I’ve also really enjoyed the ones that genuinely surprised me at the end, or that included iconic imagery, like the one with the drag queen surveying the battered coastline from a pirate ship.
And every year, there are “expected” themes – with “ink” it was tattoos, with “flight,” angels, with “impact,” meteor strikes. This year’s “rise” theme conjured up a swarm of zombies, but some of the most delightful stories explored yeast and bread magic.
On the flip side, there are some clear things that you should probably avoid:
- Do not title your story the same name as the theme
- Do not sprinkle the theme name liberally throughout your story in the vain hope that this will make it more likely to seem “on-theme.”
- Do not run with the first (and probably most common) interpretation you come up with, as it will probably be the one everyone’s using, and will make it that much harder to stand out.
- Do not write an opening scene. We see this far oto often. It should be a complete story, not the beginning of a longer tale.
- Make sure you check all the boxes – for this contest, stories must include at least one obviously LGBTQ+ character (first person stories are notorious for missing this), a spec fic angle, a clear use of the theme, and be written well. Oh, and mind the word limit. I have had to reject a number of stories that I loved because they didn’t make sure the story met all the criteria.
Although writing a 300 word story seems like it would be easy, it’s a true challenge, requiring every bit of an author’s writing skill. Each word counts, and there’s no room for unnecessary descriptions or extraneous plot. I find it to be a very clarifying exercise, even for experienced authors.
Ready to give it a try?
We’ll be announcing the theme for our 2024 contest in November… join the QueerSciFi.com newsletter list (and get four free eBooks) if you want to be notified: https://www.queerscifi.com/join-our-maillist/
And the contest itself will open on March 1st. Hope to see something from you!
Eight definitions to inspire writers around the world, and an unlimited number of possible stories to tell:
- An upward slope or movement
- A beginning or origin
- An increase in amount or number
- An angry reaction
- To take up arms
- To return from death
- To become heartened or elated
- To exert oneself to meet a challenge
Rise features 300-word speculative flash fiction stories from across the rainbow spectrum, from the minds of the writers of Queer Sci Fi.
Series Blurb: Every year, Queer Sci Fi runs a one-word theme contest for 300 word flash fiction stories, and then we choose 120 of the best for our annual anthology.
Universal Buy Link: https://www.otherworldsink.com/book/rise/
Queer Sci Fi is giving away a $25 Bookshop.org gift card with this tour:
- By entering the giveaway, you’re confirming that you are at least 18 years old.
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- Winners may be announced on the blog following the contest. By entering the contest you are agreeing to allow your name to be posted and promoted as the contest winner by Joyfully Jay.
- Prizes will be distributed following the giveaway either by Joyfully Jay or the person/organization donating the prize. In order to facilitate prize distribution, the winner name’s and email may be provided to a third party awarding the prize.
- By entering you are agreeing to hold Joyfully Jay harmless if the prize or giveaway in some way negatively impacts the winner.
- Void where prohibited by law.