Serials and FridayFlash

I've been waffling on making Just Enough Power into an ongoing serial. Ideally, I'd write the whole thing, then publish it in ~1K episodes, posting them weekly. So as not to interfere with the FridayFlash, Tuesday would be a good day for these.

Having left everyone with a cliff-hanger last week, I feel a sense of obligation to you to let you know what happens. It's not a story that can be told in a single post, believe me.

I'll be honest, though. As much as the idea of a serial, particularly this serial, appeals to me,
I have a lot of other things on my plate at the moment. I'm not sure I could polish up a serial and do a decent FridayFlash every week. Sad fact, but there it is. Unless something changes, I'm going to have to post episodes of "Just Enough Power" on an occasional, rather than a regular, basis.

Why not kill two birds with one stone-cold-awesome and publish the serial on Fridays?


As much as I love so much of the writing that people post on Fridays with the #FridayFlash hashtag, I'm going to try to stick to a narrower definition of flash: stand alone story, closed plot arc, twist ending. I'll stretch this a bit to say that different stories can take place within the same world, but the basic structure of a flash piece has to be there.

Why? Why be so pedantic? For the writing discipline it imposes.

On the very rigorous end of the structural scale is poetry, in particular sonnets, haiku, limericks, etc. All of these have a defined structure boundary. Either it is a haiku or it isn't. Free verse is great, but it's not a haiku.

Prose tends not to be as rigorous, but the distinctions of flash, short story, novella, novel are all based on stand-alone plot arcs.

I will therefore set a rule on myself that I will NOT post sequels, continuations, excerpts, etc. to my FridayFlash stories, unless they can themselves serve as a standalone flash story, without reference to their antecedent. Such works will go up at other times during the week, without the FridayFlash hashtag.

Why make an announcement? Why not just do what I'm going to do and don't make a big deal about it? Two reasons.

1) This is a way of making public this particular commitment to craft. It's a discipline to write a flash story, and not let it wander off into some other direction. My writing almost always wants to be something other than what I need it to be. Keeping a short leash on it is good for it, for me and for you as the reader.

2) I'd like to open a discussion about flash fiction. Does it have to have a twist ending? Is the thousand-and-first word a violation, or is 1078 words OK? Can the plot be unresolved?


  1. I really like this particular story, but I admire your effort to keep #fridayflash serial free. Anyway, if you provide links to earlier episodes, one can easily catch up when you post another piece of .

    You touched on one of my pet peeves - the thought that every story must have a twist. I think a flash fiction piece can be well written and thought provoking without that surprise at the end. Sometimes it's just about the language.

    Great post. :)

  2. Thanks, Laurita. I've had people comment/complain about stories that didn't have a clever twist. Plot resolution by itself wasn't enough.

    I tend to see the twist as part of the form, so I usually (but not always) incorporate one. Overall plot resolution, twist or not, is going to be indispensable, though.

  3. Mine are generally well-received as far as flashes that aren't just plot and twist. Also, Crookedfang and Allude to Grandeur, my serials have their own blog space and schedule (zip, zilch, nada) lol.

    I will support whatever you do. We're here for you.

  4. I'm a fan of declaring things in order to pressure yourself into commitment. I did it for Nanowrimo, blogging, etc. and it *usually* works. :)

    As far as what is flash? I look at it as a stand alone story 1k or less. That's it. It can be expanded later or not, but there should be a beginning, middle, and end.

    As far as the 1k though, its hard sometimes to tell because different word processors give different word counts. My last FF was 983 according to Google Docs but went over by 24 words according to Open Office. I went with the GD total, but who can say which one is more valid? Still, if its not under 1k I don't think its fair to call it FF. Flash imposes succintness. It's practice.

  5. 2nd comment attempt (after ingesting a snicker's bar, so hopefully i'll successfully post this one ;-):

    As a reader, I love serials in concept but i have extremely limited free time and I simply can't spare the time to go back and catch up on previous installments of a serial and in my limited attention span i wouldn't be able to retain characters and plots from week to week. There *are* readers who appreciate serials, e.g., #thepennydreadful. David Shrock (@dracatorre) got very discouraged after having low readership for a serial that he posted for fridayflash, fwiw.

    In terms of the finer points of flash, i'm sure you'll get a variety of opinions on this, but here is my 2-cents. You already know my take on twist endings after reading my post on the subject a few weeks ago. I also got some really good feedback on the post and have a better idea of how to do effective twists. I'd say maybe half of mine have twists and the others don't, so I definitely don't think it's obligatory. The key is to do it well and don't deceive the reader.

    My opinion on the word limit is that it is a flexible limit. When Jon started #fridayflash, i remember that he said 1000 was the goal, but that he felt that strict enforcement wasn't in anybody's best interest. The readers essentially call the shots and when i posted a few longer stories prior to joining fridayflash (~2000), my readership dropped way off. People were clicking, but not finishing (as evidenced by low comments) which told me loud and clear that it was too long. Depending on the story, especially if it's a fast read with short paragraphs, lots of dialog, etc., i have been known to go over 1000 on occasion.

    And in terms of plot, I don't necessarily feel that everything has to be all tied up at the end. As a reader, it's often intriguing to have open-ended aspects to a story which force you to think through the alternate endings and potential implications of each. There's a fine balance there, tho, because resolution can be good and you don't want the reader to feel as though they're driving off a cliff at the end of the story.

    OK - so that's my very verbose (probably over 1000 word) comment ;-) Still working on brevity ...!

  6. This is a really interesting post and I agree with you for the most part: flash should be stand-alone.

    I don't think it needs to have a twist-ending though and I love to leave it open-ended a lot of the time. And I take the 1,000 word limit as a maximum because ideally, I think flash should be much shorter.

    I prefer reading stand-alone than serial pieces with #FridayFlash as its easier to understand given that we're not always able to read each piece.

    But that said, I'm not going to not read something because it doesn't conform to my idea of what #FridayFlash is.

  7. I've got a Very Long Serial (will end up being 6, maybe 7 parts) that I'm posting on Mondays. My blog is new, but I just had a feeling it wouldn't be right for FF.

    I'm trying to learn to say things succinctly enough to write a 1,000 or less word piece for FF. Practicing, practicing. :)

    Thanks for the article & comments. It's helpful for a newcomer like me to see how others do it and think about it. Very useful.

  8. I did a serial that wasn't intended to be a serial in the beginning. I called it the Diamond Series after the second part and there were five parts. I made a conscience effort to make each a stand alone story. My readership dipped on the second installment and then increased from the third to the end.

    It was okay. But I wanted to write other stuff and felt like I had to finish the series first.

    I don't think a twisty end is imperative, but it's sort-of cool when it happens. The story quotes the end it needs and some times a non-twist resolution is just fine.

    As far as keeping to a thousand words or less...if it's for your own blog, it's up to you. I've gone over a few times—though usually not by much (what's a dozen words among friends). But if you are submitting it someplace, it's time to trim it down. Comment counts seem to go up when the story gets under, say, 750 words. Say it succinctly (unlike this response) and in a color other than purple.

  9. Speaking as a diligent twister, I don't think a flash needs a twist. Jason Sanford made a big deal about excluding flash fiction from the Million Writers awards, precisely because many works fell into that category and thus, in his opinion, they were little more than gags.

    I've come to respect that view, but I write what I write.

    Not to disagree with PJ but I think a compelling longer story will keep your attention. I like action. I'd have read five thousand words, or more, of Just Enough Power in a single sitting if it was anything like the first two episodes.

    OTOH, I have a hard time getting my head around more subtle work, which is trying to evoke responses other than humour or excitement. Horses for courses.

    When you finish the serial, however you post it, you should put it up on Smashwords. Novellas on there can get downloads in the tens of thousands.

  10. Every time I announce a commitment it seems I jinx myself, becoming unable to meet the expectations (mine and eventually other's). That's why I don't do #FridayFlash, sadly.

    I do try to post a story once in a while, and I too believe that brevity is an important aspect of any blog post. As Anton said, there's always space for exceptions, but in general, people who read blogs don't have neither time nor patience to spare. It's hard work to grab their attention with longer pieces!

    In my view, a story doesn't need either a twist or to be completed at all! For instance, I wrote a short story that was more of a scene in the character's life, and I'm quite satisfied with it. (although today I'd cut a few hundred words of it, heh)

    I disagree with Laurita that writing can be just about language. I believe a story can be amusing or disturbing, but it must be about the content and the feeling you incite on the reader, not the writing itself.

    Great post Tony! Made me think a lot. (and write much too, ehh)

  11. Good points, Tony.

    I also agree with the others that flash should be stand-alone (though I have a story that grew from a flash story - becoming a novel(la)-sized tale).

    To me, a story is not only language, but emotion, color, texture and all in-betweens.

  12. Tony,

    This is my opinion but I tend to agree wtih you about #ff. While I enjoy a GOOD serialized story as the next person, I like to see #ff as stand alone stories. Mostly because if I catch a new #ff writer and they are on Part 9, I don't read it because then I'd have to go back and read Parts 1-8 first. When I'm in my #ff mindset, I like to get in and out of the story as soon as possible. That's what makes flash so unique and somewhat difficult.

    Now, this doesn't mean I WON'T read serialized, no, I will. I just need a proper introduction to the author, the story, etc. I do have about four piece of serial fiction on the net that I follow and enjoy.

    I also have two piece of serialized fiction going right now. Those who read the stories and follow them I owe my life to. Those who don't follow yet, I beg them to do so! :)
    With my serialized stories, I tend to keep it short and sweet. Usually 700 words or less AND try to make it a story in a story just in case if someone reads Part 3 (for example) they will know something about the story and not be lost.

    I can't lie, however, I did use the opening scene to one of my serialized stories as my #ff this past week. I did NOT however put it in the #ff collector as I feel it wasn't a piece written for #ff.

    Best of luck Tony in your decision. Either way, I will read and follow! :)


  13. I'm with Benjamin Solah. Flash is best kept microscopic.

    Flash-fiction = < 750 words (preferably 250) and one potent moment.

    It's the haiku of fiction.

  14. I realize that I'm just joining the party, so keep my thoughts in that vein. They could certainly change over time.

    In my own #FlashFriday pieces I try to include a twist. I like the twist and think it adds the necessary oomph for such short pieces.

    That being said, it is not a requirement by any stretch. My top 5 of your stories include examples of both.

    The one thing i do like is that the story is self contained. That doesn't necessarily mean it needs to have an absolute end, open ended are fine, but it certainly needs a beginning, middle, and end.

    Otherwise, IMHO, it is not so much ff as it is an excerpt.

    I do think serials should be treated separately, but I also enjoy stories set in the same unvierse. I think laura Eno does that to great advantage with her Gods. The unvierse is established, so th there's less need to waste words on exposition, but there is still a richer background.

    Serials though are a single story, to my mind, broken up into self contained chapters. Some of which might be stand alone, but most of which would not.

    Finally, on word count, I was working on my last "Circle of Flight" story on both Word and Open Office. Word said the page coutn was 1124 when I closed it. OO said it was 984 when I opened it, and it was counting the "~ ~ ~" section breaks as 3 words!

    WTF indeed. I try and keep mine to a hard line of 1,000 words, but taht's also because I'm trying to be more disciplened in my writing. I can readily write 5,000 words of expository description, but that's not necessarily a marketable skill anymore (Dickens' notwithstanding:-)

  15. I appreciate all of the thoughtful comments here, guys. In the end, we all have to decide what we want our work to be. Sometimes that takes us in new directions.

    Ultimately, there's a discipline in writing, but the technique has to be in service of the art.

  16. Interesting points. Thanks for raising them, as I don't think I've seen them elsewhere.

    I admire your commitment to a certain form. I suppose whatever someone decides Flash Fiction to be, they should stick to that form-- it's a good idea, and it also shows a commitment to your craft. I personally don't think Flash needs a twist. But I do think it deserves the same thing any piece of writing deserves: justification of its existence. Pretty harsh, but true. And maybe sometimes it's easier to see why one particular standalone piece is justified, where as a part of a series can be a little weaker, maybe a transition piece.

    Just babbling now. Obviously your post raised a lot of good thoughts. My only other comment about Flash Fiction, particularly Friday Flash, is that I wish it was kept to Fridays. I realize that people want to promote themselves every day, and nobody wants to spend time on a good piece of writing just to have it vanish into the internet, but I enjoy having my twitter feed inundated with stories on Friday and it makes me sad when that's diluted because it's inundated every day.

  17. Thanks for commenting, Jen. The big thing is the form; it serves no purpose to allow everything to be anything at all. That's not freedom - it's chaos. Whatever rules you will establish, be sure to follow them or at least know why you're breaking them.

    I used to schedule mine to go up at 12:01am Eastern time, to coincide with the start of local Friday. However, I now put them up at around 4:00 on Thursdays, for some technical reasons. I tweet about them every few hours during Friday, then once again on the mornings of Saturday, Sunday & Monday. With the increase of stories, there's more risk of being lost in the crowd noise.

    The solution to that is not to shout louder or more often, but to have things that are more worth hearing.

  18. Well, my understanding was that you didn't tweet the link before Friday and that the story *at the latest* should be up before Midnight on Friday. But of course that's just my interpretation, and I've been known to tweet the #fridayflash link on Thursday eve (after all its Friday in other parts of the world- right?). Hehe

  19. The timing for the Friday always throws me... as I'm nearly 2/3rds of the day ahead... Friday is basically over here when it is starting elsewhere in the world. So naturally - any tweets start appearing Thursday, and basically get lost because I'm not up tweeting when the rest of the world is awake.

    I think Flash like anything else, as you say Tony, is a structure and form in itself. I have noticed since reading starting the Short Story Reading challenge this year, that my attention strays when I have to wait 1500 - 2000 words INTO a story before something happens. Makes me appreciate the craft and brilliance of flash fiction.

    I, erroneously believed, posting up a serial would help with readership - but it didn't for the reasons listed above. In terms of beginning, middle and end for serial episdoes - they are a must. Writing for Fourth Fiction last year really honed my skills in writing short and sweet.

    As for a twist - I love reading a story with a twist - but not every story needs one, and there is nothing worse than a twist for twists sake.

    I'm planning on getting to catch up on the backlog of "Just Enough Power". And if you were to hashtag on a Tuesday, I'd be happy to post up my serial along with you. I'm lucky enough to have several thousands of words already down... to give me time to develop the story over time, rather than completely on the hop.

  20. Okay, I know I'm a bit biased on this topic *grinz* but I'd like to put this out there:

    Jim Strother welcomes serials on fridayflash. And, while I respect your decision to keep your serial off of the hashtag, it's really his decision as to what goes there, and to define what is a fridayflash story.

    I know you are trying to host a dialogue about what flash fiction should be, but it almost feels like those of us who post, and enjoy weekly serials on friday flash are being bullied into not posting there. Fridayflash is my home. It's a wonderful community, and I would feel awful if every serial got taken off there. Mine was not the first. Mine wasn't originally intended to be a serial. But I got such a positive response, and a continued response that I decided to keep going with it. I also make sure that each installment can stand alone - i write it so that new readers won't feel lost. I make sure that it stays under 1000 words. I like the challenge of writing a serial this way, it has helped me grow as a writer.

    I think the idea of another hashtag for serials is awesome, and I'm all for it.(obviously, having started thepennydreadful :) But I think this discussion on whether fridayflash is the correct place for serials is taking the choice away from our fantastic host, Jim Strother.

    As long as he is okay with it, and tells me he enjoys my stories and characters, I will keep posting my serial on his hashtag. And I would encourage you, and others to do so as well.

  21. one quick clarification - The Penny Dreadful is not a flash fiction hashtag or blog. It is a site for serials, in any form - we have folks working on podcasts :) so, I did not create it because i felt serials had to be hosted somewhere other than FridayFlash. I wanted a place for writers to showcase, and experiment with serials.

    And again, i have no issue with a general discussion of what is flash fiction. My concern is with fridayflash - Jim has held a lot of very thoughtful discussions on his blog about what should be on his hashtag - If you haven't already, I encourage you to go read them. If you have an issue with what is on the hashtag, take it to him and let him run the official discussion, if it the issue hasn't already been addressed in his earlier posts.

    And, one last thought - I'm seeing complaints about volume on fridayflash. Jim has always wanted to grow the fridayflash community. That has been a goal from day one. And, to the point, there are people all over the world posting stories. Friday does not start on U.S. time. Just something to think about, when you see things on thursday or saturday, in the U.S.

    Okay, I'll shut up now, and put on the asbestos underoos to ward off all the flames that I am sure will be coming my way *grinz*

  22. techtigger, I think I'm the only one who complained here about stories posted on days other than Friday. And to clarify, that has nothing to do with time zones. I'm not in the US and I'm used to time zones. It's more about people posting onto Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc, to continue promoting their stories, an effort I understand. My sadness about my busy twitter feed is my own problem and I probably shouldn't have brought it up.

  23. Thanks for all the thoughtful discussion Ganymeder, Jodi, Jen and especially Techtigger. Fear not the flamewar! Discussion and disagreements are fine, but I don't allow rough stuff here.

    #FridayFlash was started and was growing well long before I came onto the scene, and it's not my place nor position to set the rules for what other people do or do not use it to announce. The limitations I put on myself apply only to me; I don't expect anyone else to feel bound by them.

    Having said that, I fully realize that is the one who started and originally defined #FridayFlash, and who has worked tirelessly to let it grow into a wonderful community of writers and readers. What does he think of all of this? When I started writing this response, I intended to refer to Jon Strother's very supportive comments about the #TuesdaySerial idea. However, as I have TweetDeck open, I see that in this week's #FridayFlash report, Jon introduces the idea to the #FridayFlash community at large.

    What is flash fiction and what is #FridayFlash are two different questions. I'd like to be clear about something: no one should feel that I'm laying down some kind of gauntlet by stating my definition for flash. As you can see by the comments here, many disagree with me on a number of points. That's cool; there are many paths to enlightenment.


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