What is flash fiction?
In the simplest terms, flash fiction is a term used to describe a short piece of fiction (under 500 words) that tells a story – it has some kind of a conflict and a small number of characters with complete character arcs.
How do I write flash fiction?
Flash fiction stories have some common characteristics. Follow and you’ll be a flash fiction faster than the time it takes to write a, well, piece of flash fiction…
- A small word count
The clue is in the name: flash fiction. A flash fiction writer must be extremely economical with their words, using as few words as possible to tell a great story. This is often achieved by cutting out unnecessary words (imagine you’re writing using Twitter). Try using stronger nouns and verbs, rather than a multitude of adverbs and adjectives. Write concisely – because, quite literally, every word counts.
- Focus on one main conflict or idea
You only need one main conflict or plot for your piece of fiction. Don’t try to do too much – be selective.
- Make sure that idea is small, not big
Big ideas are for big stories, so make sure your idea is small and manageable within the constraints of a piece of flash fiction. Focus on the one key idea/emotion/image you want to portray, and work from there. Simple is beautiful.
- Make it personal
Use your own experiences – imagination – fantasies to make your writing distinct. There’s more room for risk-taking in flash fiction – because you only have a tiny space to grab the reader’s attention.
- Only a few characters
Flash fiction is short – so you can only accommodate a couple of characters. Even one is fine – it will give you more room for your story.
- Make sure you have a character arc
Just like any longer story, a character in flash fiction needs to encounter some kind of conflict and develop or change in some way.
- Use a limited number of scenes (again, one is fine)
Choose a small yet powerful scene in your character’s story and focus on it. Multiple scenes will eat your word count.
- Start somewhere near the middle
This is perhaps the most important tip for writing your flash fiction! Don’t start at the beginning – you need to begin somewhere near the middle: the crossroads, the dilemma, the beginning of the conflict. Avoid backstories and character-building – it’s unnecessary.
- End the story before the last sentence
End your story somewhere before the end, to allow your readers to consider the story’s implications along with the character.
- An excellent title
Choose an effective title – but try not to give your story away.
- An excellent last line
This is not the ending of your story – that should have come before. But you still need a fantastic closing line. It doesn’t need to be obscure or confusing – but you do want something that will stick on your reader’s mind.
- An excellent first line
First impressions count and all that.
- Write lots, then cut it down
If you struggle to write a concise story, don’t worry. Start with just writing – and once you’ve got down the story, you can focus on editing and cutting it down to craft it into flash fiction.
- Do everything a short story does
Despite all the cutting-outs and you-don’t-needs, your flash fiction does (kind of) need to do everything that a short story – or any story, for that matter – does. It has to have (some kind) of a beginning, middle and end, characters and a conflict.
- Be clever
Don’t give everything away – but don’t give away too less so that your reader loses interest. Foreshadow to build suspense. Leave some things unsaid. Layer. Be smart – because that’s what makes good flash fiction.
- Read other flash fiction
Read all of these tips but still a bit hazy? Read other flash fiction, lots of other flash fiction, to give you a clearer picture (and ideas, of course). And even if you do know exactly what you’re doing – read other flash fiction anyway. It will help.
Examples of flash fiction:
Examples of crime flash fiction:
Examples of BAME flash fiction:
For more information, tips, writing exercises: