Future Flash

To celebrate the start of The Open University’s free online course, Start Writing Fiction, course provider FutureLearn is challenging authors to try their hand at writing Twitter fiction.

Today (Tuesday 12) and this coming Friday (15 May), you can join authors and aspiring writers, who are being challenged to write a flash fiction story using just 140 Twitter characters, including the hashtag #Fic140.

Writing a complete story in just 140 characters is no mean feat, so the kind folk at Future Learn have collated ten top tips on how to write and create characters using a variety of ideas from the course.

You won’t be able to incorporate every single tip into your #Fic140 challenge, but some of them are sure to help you prepare or spark inspiration.

And don’t worry if you’re not a Twitter user – you can also submit your 140 character story by following this link, and writing your story directly into the comments section instead.

1. Create a “writer’s notebook”

Take in the world around you by collecting quotes, facts, people and ideas from everyday life, so that you can revisit it for inspiration. On the importance of a notebook, Will Self said:

“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”

2. Understand who you are as a writer

Discover what works best for you when it comes to writing. Where do you write best? What time of the day? What inspires you to write?

3. Be original

Often as a writer, you can worry about not being original enough so feel the need to use gratuitous language. But you can still be original by using plain language. Collect words from the dictionary or that you hear in conversation and everyday life. Also, use words that are personal to you and that you like. Author Kurt Vonnegut said:

“Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long.”

4. Preparation is key

A blank page can seem daunting. Prepare by taking time to do some research. Review your writer’s notebook, ask yourself if you know your character fully, and consider the shape and length of your story before you begin.

5. Don’t wait until you have the perfect first line

Set yourself goals and give yourself a deadline. Author, Ben Dolnick, said:

“Get a kitchen timer. Writers are ingenious at redefining what qualifies as doing work (‘If I just spend this morning cleaning my desk…’). A kitchen timer tolerates no such nonsense. Set yourself a daily writing quota (as little as a half hour is fine at first), set the clock and get to work.”

6. Draft and then rewrite

Focus on getting that first draft down. Then you can think about perfecting. Take advice from J K Rowling – she rewrote the opening chapter of her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, a total of fifteen times, until it was just right.

7. Develop characters

To help you arrive at your story and flesh out your characters, to really get under their skin and know them fully – think of their physical description, their thoughts, their personality, where they’re located, their back-story and how they act. Who are their friends? What’s their favourite food? Do they like dancing? Consider everything. Author, Mike Burns, said:

“I believe you should be emotionally bonded to the people you write about, whether they be real or fictional. Feel sad for their hardships and happy for their triumphs.”

8. Consider how to use detail

Detail can be used to keep the story going in the direction you want it to and the amount you use can control the speed of the story. Talking of detail, Anton Chekhov said:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

9. Ask yourself why? And what if?

Think about what causes your character to do things or act the way they do. Adding a dilemma, challenge or conflict will help you create the plot. But even though you know what’s going to happen next, your readers shouldn’t. They need to have a sense of excitement and uncertainty as the plot unfolds.

10. Edit

Interrogate your writing and learn how to self criticise. Understand when to look at the big picture and when to look at the detail. Joyce Carol Oates said:

“Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!”

Follow @FutureLearn and look out for #Fic140 on Twitter, to take part in the challenge today and Friday 15 May. Or if you don’t use Twitter, write your 140 character story in the comments section of this link – Future Learn will tweet some of the best.

You can also join Start Writing Fiction now – the course will get your creativity flowing with writing tips, discussions with other budding writers and advice from published authors.

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