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6 Steps to Writing a Solid Flash Fiction Story

Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

It's difficult to stay under the 1,000 word limit commonly required for flash fiction. Here are 6 steps that will guide you to writing a tight, solid story for publishing or competition.

It's difficult to stay under the 1,000 word limit commonly required for flash fiction. Here are 6 steps that will guide you to writing a tight, solid story for publishing or competition.

How I Developed My Process for Writing Very Short Fiction

So you want to write flash fiction, but you can't imagine fitting a whole story into one hundred, five hundred or even one thousand words? I've written about one hundred flash fiction stories over the last three years, been mentored by a flash fiction writer from the U.K., and participate regularly in a writer's forum where we critique each other's work. I've read and reviewed hundreds of flash fiction stories ranging from horrible to outstanding.

I'm beginning to understand the process of writing very short stories, and it is quite different from writing longer forms of fiction. Here are five steps that will help you write a tight and solid flash fiction story of your own. I hope you do write one, and I look forward to reading it here on HubPages.

Step 1: Three Ways to Discover a Concept for a Story

Here are three methods I use for coming up with an initial idea for a story.

  1. Flash of inspiration—A sudden idea for a character, plot or scene.
  2. Prompts—One or multiple prompts provided through an online prompt generator, a friend or a competition.
  3. Free writing—Write for a certain number of minutes, then stop.

A flash of inspiration occurs without warning. You suddenly think, hey, that would make an awesome story. My experience is that you had better write it down because it will disappear as quickly as it flashed into your brain.

Prompts are another way to come up with ideas for stories. I did a search here on Hub Pages for the words writing challenge and was rewarded with ten pages of results. Many of these are challenges presented by one hubber to the rest of us and are accompanied by some kind of prompt in the form of a photo, a self-interview, a painting, a phrase, a poem or a partial short story. Off the top of my head, I recall challenges presented by Bill Holland, Ann Carr, John Hansen, Jennifer Arnett, Genna East, and Frank Atanacio. The pictures above were prompts for some of these challenges.

A short free write is another way to discover a story. My son and I were camping a few years ago and decided to do a free write while sitting by the campfire. The single guideline was that it was to be dialogue only. That's right, not even a dialogue tag was permitted. To this day, that has been my favorite prompt and yielded one of my most treasured flash fiction stories.

Step 2: Narrowing the Focus of the Story

You have a vague idea of what you want to write about based on a flash of inspiration, a prompt or an initial free write. Beginning with this basic concept, follow these four steps to clarify the plot and characters of your story.

  • Five-minute free write based on your basic concept or a vague idea.
  • Reduce the free write to a one-hundred-word story.
  • Reduce to a sixty-word story.
  • Reduce to a ten-word synopsis which focuses on the main characters and what they do.
Flash fiction is the macro photography of literature.

Flash fiction is the macro photography of literature.

Step 3: Expand the Synopsis Into a Story

Write a five hundred or one thousand word story based on the ten-word synopsis.

Steps two and three are based on a flash fiction model put together by Charli Mills (No relation). Charli's model is called TUFF or The Ultimate Flash Fiction. What I have presented is a summarized and adapted version.

If you don't have a story idea to start with, begin with the five-minute free write in step two and proceed from there.

Step 4: Initial Editing of Your Story

You now have a five hundred or a one thousand word story. It's time to edit and rewrite.

Choose a genre or a genre mix: Let the genre be your guide. If you chose a genre before you began, this step will be easier. Look at what you have written. Where does the genre begin? If it's a suspense story, where does the suspense begin? If it's a mystery, where does the mystery begin? If you haven't chosen a genre, it might be helpful at this point to assign one.

I've discovered that everything I've written that comes before the onset of the genre, is backstory. When backstory is placed at the beginning of flash fiction without strong elements of the genre, it kills the story.

Cut the backstory: Let's say your story is about someone who has been kidnapped, and your point of view is from the perspective of the victim. You could begin the story with that person having dinner around the table with their family. Afterward, they go for a walk and are abducted, taken to a cellar where they are bound and gagged.

Why not begin in the middle of the drama with the poor victim in the cellar all tied up? The backstory about having dinner with the fam and going for a stroll can be that person's reflection as they sit in the dark. Your story has suddenly taken off with jet engines rather than creeping along like a baby stroller.

Step 5: Aggressive and Brutal Editing Ideas

Editing is a matter of cutting unnecessary words, characters and side stories from what you have already written.

  • Find essential characters and eliminate nonessential ones.
  • Find side stories and eliminate them if they don’t substantially impact the story. Most side stories are dead ends which might be fine in a longer form of fiction but are not appropriate for flash fiction.
  • Fit backstory elements into appropriate places as flashbacks or memories of characters. These can be a few words or a paragraph depending on your word count.
  • Create a captivating opening sentence and paragraph.
  • Smooth out sentences that are awkward.
  • Eliminate unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Focus on strong nouns and active verbs.
  • Find and eliminate passive voice (Passive is when verb action is performed on the subject of the sentence. Aim for your characters to always be active, performing the action of the verbs).
  • Eliminate all unnecessary words until you are under five hundred or one thousand words, even if it hurts.
  • Reread and rewrite until the story flows the way you want it to.
  • Be aggressive and brutal in your editing. If the words don’t fit, you must omit.

Step 6: Beta Readers and Rewrites

If you plan on publishing the story or using it in a competition, you might seek the help of a beta reader(s). Here is a definition of a beta reader from Wikipedia:

Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context. Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterization or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.

Utilize the input of your beta reader(s), keeping in mind the story is yours to tell. Use only what you feel enhances your story.

Rewrite until the story flows in a way that satisfies you. Use beta readers again, followed by another rewrite.

I caution you, especially if the story is going to be used in competition or publishing, to have two phases of beta readers. In one competition, I did my final draft without betas and submitted a story with a couple of harmful errors which I did not catch.

Summary of the Six Steps to Writing a Flash Fiction Story

Everything you need to write a well-crafted story is in these six steps. I've noticed in my own writing and in that of others, the tendency to do a less than adequate job on editing and rewriting. This is where exciting new ideas can arise including a clever twist at the end. The twist doesn't always happen, and that's okay. When it does happen, it can really spice up your story. I wish you the best of luck and lots of enjoyment as you write in this exciting, fast-paced format.

© 2015 Chris Mills

Comments

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 17, 2019:

Thank you, Liubawa Manusha.

Liubawa Manusha on October 10, 2019:

I always find interesting essays on the site - https://www.genuinewriting.com. when there is no time for study, I order the writing of articles.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 04, 2017:

Melissa, Thank you for those comments. Flash fiction and other forms of short stories are a good way to get the satisfaction of completing a story when you are accustomed to writing much longer works. It is one more element that makes writing fun.

Plexiana on June 04, 2017:

Flash fiction is really interesting to me as it seems to spark the creative juices. When I don't have the time available to sit and write a full novel flash fiction and short stories always seem like the perfect compromise!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 09, 2015:

Ruby, I just responded to your story along with an apology for being so late finding your entry in the challenge. See the comment at the end of your story.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on September 06, 2015:

https://hubpages.com/literature/Reunited-Flash-fic...

My response to your challenge

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 05, 2015:

Don, I am thrilled you are taking part. This really makes my day. Without even looking, I know that we have another fine story to add to this collection. I'm headed off to read it right this minute.

I've noticed that the counter on the hubs seems to count some of the text that is already on there before we even begin. So I'm sure you are still under 1000. But you do have to watch out for those word count police. Ruthless.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on September 05, 2015:

I thought I would contribute something. It is called The "Coffee Shop Spirit"" However, I am not sure of the length. It was a few words less than 1.000 words on the word processor but seems to end up with more on the hub.Anyway, I sort had fun writing it.

https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Coffee-Shop-Sp...

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 05, 2015:

Will, I'm honored to have you taking part. I'll get right to it. I'm en route to my next contract job, driving from Oregon to Michigan and then Kentucky, so I may be a bit behind.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on September 04, 2015:

I took up your challenge Chris...it's called 'Blessed Forgiveness'.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 03, 2015:

rebecca, I hope you are able to use some of the parts of this hub. I've put them to the test many times and they work for me. I hope they work just as well for others.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 03, 2015:

Nadine, I hope your muse haunts you all night and you wake up inspired. Thanks for read the article.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on September 03, 2015:

Ah ha, now I understand flash fiction. Even if I don't get a chance to do the challenge soon, this sure was a great lesson in writing it, and longer stories, too. Thanks!

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on September 03, 2015:

Nice challenge. Its bedtime for me now but I will sleep on it and if I wake up with an idea I will start my day writing while sticking to your three guidelines.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 03, 2015:

Shyron, I am looking forward to your "something" and don't expect anything or anybody will end up in the scrap heap. Thanks for reading.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on September 03, 2015:

OK Cam I am hooked and like the proverbial fish out of water, I will flop around till I come up with something or get thrown back in the scrap heap/sea.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 30, 2015:

sujaya venkatesh, Thank you for visiting my hub, and I'm glad you found it worthwhile. Feel free to join the challenge.

sujaya venkatesh on August 30, 2015:

recounting an enriching experience

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 29, 2015:

Randy, Yes, I like how the poll capsules are working. I've got some others now that I've customized slightly.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 24, 2015:

For some reason I cannot respond to comments on my tale today. The responses do not work in the comment capsule. Here it works fine. HP may be pissed off at me for some reason or there may be a glitch of some sort. :(

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 24, 2015:

Chris, I like the way you added the poll to your newest tale. Works great!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 24, 2015:

Deb, I encourage you to give this a try sometime. There is no deadline here, so just start with step one and see where it goes. I'd love to read a flash fiction by you. Thanks for stopping in and for the very generous compliment.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on August 24, 2015:

Clear, concise, and to the point! This isn't my forte, but perhaps one day I will give the challenge a try. In the meantime, I will keep learning by reading what one of the masters writes.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 23, 2015:

Audrey, you will not be disappointed.

Audrey Howitt from California on August 23, 2015:

Looking forward to reading the pieces this challenge generates

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 23, 2015:

Yes, let's all get together and do this! Put customised polls on all our hubs.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 23, 2015:

Do you think sci-fi is:

Weird

Futureistic

Scary

Metaphysical

Or whatever

Customizable polls! Awesome!

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 23, 2015:

I don't edit my tales to keep them featured so I don't have anything to lose if HP takes them down. It's no-lose situation as far as I'm concerned. Even if they get picky we can simply ask a question like:

Do you think (place genre here) fiction is:

beautiful

interesting

awesome

Or whatever

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 23, 2015:

What the heck, I'll go stick one on the hub I just published.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 23, 2015:

Randy's idea of using a poll for rating the hub is a good one. If HP want to take the vote buttons away they just have to live with it. External traffic viewers may not have utilised them, but other hubber used it as a way of showing respect for other creative writers.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 23, 2015:

Genna, now there is a compliment. You bookmarked my article. Thank you f0r reading and for the kind comment. The stories so far are remarkable.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 23, 2015:

Hey, RTG, I'm right behind you, bro. ;)

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on August 23, 2015:

I've bookmarked this wonderful how-to advice on the art of writing flash fiction. Thank you. And I look forward to reading the challenge entries.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 22, 2015:

Egad Chris, my full name is Randy Trouble Godwin and it would serve HP right for taking away our ability to have our tales evaluated by our readers. I'll go first and see what happens! Besides, HP has pissed off enough people already so they deserve some pay back IMHO. :o

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 22, 2015:

Randy, you rebel rabble rouser. I distinctly remember reading that the poll capsule was not to be used for evaluating the quality of a hub. I just looked for that item in the archives, but can't find it. You might want to check it out first. You wouldn't want to get into more trouble than you may already be in.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 22, 2015:

Yes Lela, but I'm afraid I'd be too honest for the job, :P

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 22, 2015:

Excellent idea, Randy! Have you thought of running for president of the country? I would vote for another Georgia man!

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 22, 2015:

There's more than one way skin an ass.....er.....cat, Dzy. :P

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 22, 2015:

OH, great idea, Randy! LOL

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 22, 2015:

I suppose we could use one of the poll capsules as a replacement for the voting whatchamacallit, Chris. I may try it on my next tale to see how it works. That'll teach 'em!! :)

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 22, 2015:

Randy, I've had the same thought. I try to write other articles as well, but I do a lot of fiction. It's their site. They could have a required ratio of fiction to nonfiction, I suppose. Maybe I shouldn't be giving them ideas.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 22, 2015:

DzyMsLizzy, and I hope you do. Thanks for stopping by.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 22, 2015:

I think HP may be trying to discourage the creative writers here by removing the voting section. After all, CW makes them nothing.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 22, 2015:

Interesting--I may give it a shot...

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 21, 2015:

We've been commenting here on the demise of the voting buttons. I just noticed another thing lost with that. I've got a new story that is not getting an abnormally few number of comments due to the genre/content, but the views are normal. Some of these readers might have given feedback via the buttons even though they didn't want to comment. So we've reduced the options for feedback down to two, commenting and sharing.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 20, 2015:

Austinstar, I agree about the share button. Sharing someones hub is the biggest compliment you can pay.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 20, 2015:

Gosh darn it, those HP people are trying their damnedest to improve this site even if it bites them on the nose! Maybe more people will actually take the time to leave real comments instead of just 'voting" and then moving on.

There's a suggestion to make the Share buttons bigger and more convenient. I think that would be better than votes anyway.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 20, 2015:

Messing with my work is the line I've drawn, Randy. It's their site, but its my work. We have to have clear boundaries.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 20, 2015:

I sincerely hope those of us who dislike the recent changes will vote with their feet, Chris. If they screw around with my work, I too will make like a shepherd and get the flock outta here. :o

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 20, 2015:

Here is the link to the announcement concerning the voting buttons: https://hubpages.com/forum/topic/132577

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 20, 2015:

Ruby, take your time, this will be here when your family leaves. I can't wait to see what you come up with. I know it will be creative.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on August 20, 2015:

I love to read flash fiction. With your five steps listed I may come up with something. It will not occur this week as I'm having family visiting. Thank you for the challenge...Hummm a walking cane?

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 20, 2015:

What is the replacement?

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 20, 2015:

Yep Lela, HP is taking away something many writers like and replacing it with something we cannot opt out of. I hope it bites them on the ass!!!

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 20, 2015:

What ? No voting buttons? Noooooooo.....

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 20, 2015:

Mary, I was hoping you would find this challenge. I'm looking forward to seeing how you interpret these prompts. Have fun with it. By the way, I just went up and looked for the voting buttons, and they are gone from my page too.

Mary Craig from New York on August 20, 2015:

Leading us like sheep, I love it. Of course I'm going to have to try this challenge.

The only thing that upsets me is I can't find any "voting buttons". I'm viewing this in AOL so thought that might be it but when I moved to Firefox, still no voting buttons!

Anyway, thanks for the lesson and the challenge.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 19, 2015:

Gee whiz Chris, I don't how I missed it! LOL!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 19, 2015:

Randy, it's just below the final photograph, the one of the mountain with "Writing Challenge" written across it. There's another just like it at the top of the article. You aren't a dumb...ass. There's nothing dumb about you. :)

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 19, 2015:

Hey Chris, I've published my entry but don't how to find where I'm supposed to post the link. Yes, I am a dumbass at times! :D

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 19, 2015:

Hi Larry, Thanks for reading. No pressure and no hurry, but always welcome to take part.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 19, 2015:

it's an interesting concept. Time is the issue. If I get a chance, I'll give it a go.

Great hub.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 19, 2015:

Shauna, I appreciate you sharing that. Very nice. Yes, it is difficult to tell a story in so few words, but when we learn what is most appropriate to leave out, then there are more available for the right stuff. I do think my steps in this hub will make a difference for those who don't write FF very often. Good luck and I'm excited to see what you come up with.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 19, 2015:

Chris, I love flash fiction, thanks to you. I wasn't really familiar with it until I started following you. Thanks for the five steps.

It's very hard to write a story in so few words, but I think I'll give your challenge a shot.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 19, 2015:

Hi John, I hope you can take part, but I know life can be busy. Cackleberry farming is time consuming work.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 19, 2015:

Hi Chris, hopefully I get the time to write a story for this. I will certainly try. Great hub explaining the process and interesting challenge.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 19, 2015:

Go for it, Ann, and have fun writing.

Ann Carr from SW England on August 19, 2015:

Thanks, Chris. That's perfect. Now I can get my teeth into it!

Ann

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Awesome, can't wait to read it.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 18, 2015:

Thanks, Chris! I've already completed my attempt, but I'll go over it a few times till I'm happy with it. Cheers! :)

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Randy, yeah, $1000 prize. I'll pay for it out of my HP PayPal account.......over a period of a century.

Absolutely use photos. It's your hub as always. Great to have you along for the ride.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 18, 2015:

Seriously though, can we use photos?

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 18, 2015:

I sure hope to win the $1000 1st prize you're offering, Chris. Very generous of you! :P

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Audrey, I'm glad you stopped by. Flash Fiction certainly would not be the format of choice for someone who likes to wax eloquent in their writing. You can enjoy the stories that others write and we will enjoy the kinds of writing you like to provide for us. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Ann, I'm so glad you will participate. No problem about waiting. We'll just keep it up and running as long as people want to participate. Drama, it is quite different from the other genres of fiction. We won't be writing plays, just normal stories. Let's use this as our definition for the challenge.

"We say that drama is mimetic which means that it imitates life. You may have heard people say that drama mirrors life. Yes, it is the only branch of literature which tries to imitate life and presents it realistically to the people. It is this mimetic impulse of drama that makes it appeal to people."

http://anang0592.blogspot.com/2013/01/drama-as-lit...

This has enough in it to guide us here. Drama in writing is like a Soap Opera. It presents us with real life situations. I hope this helps.

Audrey Howitt from California on August 18, 2015:

I love reading flash fiction, but find it difficult to write--I am too verbose really for my own good--this was an excellent article--and good luck with the challenge

Ann Carr from SW England on August 18, 2015:

What a great lesson in how to write flash fiction, Chris! It's set out so clearly and it all makes perfect sense.

I will have a go at your challenge but it might not be straight away as I've got lots going on in the next week or so - visitors to entertain. I'll do asap.

One question - does Drama mean we've got to write a play or does it mean the story has to be dramatic? I might sound stupid but I'd rather be clear about what I'm supposed to do!

Excellent hub, Chris - I'm copying it to put on the 'desktop' for future reference. Also sharing. And thanks for including me and my little girl!

Hope all's well with you.

Ann

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 18, 2015:

Yep, the temperature is just too damn high. Got to cool off under the a/c here in Texas. I wish I had some Georgia peaches though, Randy. Sounds lovely.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 18, 2015:

I agree, Lela! A power nap is good for inspiration, especially for us old timers. :P

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Austinstar, that is practically unbelievable. 400 words already? You deserve a nap. "Slave Cane," I'm getting a mental image and you've got my attention. Can't wait to read it.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 18, 2015:

Well, I did get it started before I forgot what the 'flash' was, LOL. Tentative title is "Slave Cane". Hope that give you an idea about what the story might be about. Got 400 words already.

But time for my nap. This life of a retired person is so strenuous :-)

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Randy, yes, give it a go. In the words of Rob Schneider, "You can dooo eeet." Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to reading your story

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Austinstar, It's great to have you along for this one. If you have the story idea already, then you should have it posted by the end of the day, right? :) Thanks for reading and taking part.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Elsie, I'm thrilled to hear that you are in on the challenge. Time limit? Yes, sometime this century would be good. Thanks for reading and participating.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Bill, I'm glad you found the article helpful. I'd love to see a story by you, but you do a heck of a lot of writing already. Thanks for jumping in here. I appreciate the read.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 18, 2015:

Hi Chris, I'm considering trying another FF story, but as you know, I'm a bit long winded. Great advice on this hub! :)

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 18, 2015:

Well, this hub kind of hit me upside the head and in flashed a glimmer of a story idea, so I'm in!

I like challenges as much as the next writer. Good luck to all and I hope we get a nice collection out of this one.

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on August 18, 2015:

Yes! I like your challenge, will certainly have a go, as soon as I find time in my busy life on a winter farm.

Is there a time limit?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 18, 2015:

That's what I'm talking about...real steps to take in order to properly write a flash fiction. I'm a paint by number sort of guy when it comes to directions, so this was very helpful. Thanks!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2015:

Colin, Great, glad to have you along. Check the prompts again. I had to make a change in order to avoid violating the NYCM Challenge copyright. I think it's fine since it isn't verbatim now.

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on August 18, 2015:

Oh I do like a challenge! Just have to come up with something to fit your brief and then try a bit of your aggressive and brutal editing. Well, we'll see. Nice one, Chris, should get some interesting results.