When Short is just too Short

A couple of weeks ago now, trailers started appearing on the BBC for something called ‘True Love’.  Atmospheric shots of Margate, soulful tunes and a whole host of stars flooded the screen and as a huge fan of romantic dramas, it’s fair to say that I got pretty excited.

The shots were wonderful (they made me want to visit Margate!), the actors were moving and believable (especially Billie Piper and Jane Horrocks) and the music worked perfectly, yet each episode left me feeling less than satisified and faintly frustrated. Something was missing.

All the ingredients were there and the scenes were improvised which is a style of acting I really like, but for me, the whole thing just didn’t really work…Having thought about why I was so underwhelmed, I have decided that each story was just too short to really get to know the characters and for plot lines to be properly developed. At a mere thirty minutes long, each episode felt rushed. I felt like I’d only just got to know the characters when the credits rolled and, in my opinion, each story tried to cover far too much in one go.

It’s ages since I’ve watched any soaps but from what I remember about them, they’re pretty plot driven and spend less time looking at the ins and outs of characters so I guess that’s why this time scale works for them. Plus they have the advatange of being able to string out story lines for months, while each episode of ‘True Love’ was stand alone (though some of the characters overlapped).

One of my favourite forms of writing is ‘Flash Fiction’. This is where you tell a story very quickly, usually in 500 words or under. My dissatisfaction with ‘True Love’ got me thinking about whether, flash fiction might also be over too soon for a reader. However, my experience of both reading and writing this type of story tells me that the key to success is to only cover a very small amount of time – (a few hours at most) or make the story about one theme only (such as a relationship, grief, hope etc). All too often, I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to talk about waaaaay too much and it all gets spread far too thinly and probably ends up seeming very shallow to the reader.

I’m most likely bias here, but I’ve concluded that short fiction writing is much easier to pull off successfully than a short dramatic piece! I’m sure some excellent short dramas have been made, but I’m struggling to think of any at the moment!

If you fancy having a go at some flash fiction, there are regular 250 word competitions in Writing Magazine.  There’s also a popular rolling competition called Flash 500 which is for stories of 500 words or less. I’ve had a couple of flash fiction hits with Emerald Writing Workshops which sadly isn’t going anymore 😦 I’m hopeful it might restart sometime as I enjoyed entering those competitons…


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