How to Write Flash Fiction
9th May 2012
May 16th is the first-ever National Flash Fiction Day! Woohoo, time to celebrate! But wait, I hear you cry – how can we celebrate what we do not understand? To which I want to say ‘any excuse for a party’, but that’s not very helpful, so here’s a proper explanation.
Flash fiction means a very short story. Usually this is under 1,000 words – though some would cut that even closer to under 500 words. If that’s still too wordy, there’s also twitter-fiction (140 characters), hint fiction (a single line) and drabbles (exactly 100 words).
If you’re new to writing and aren’t sure where to start, give flash fiction a try. Like playing bass guitar, it’s easy to pick up but difficult to master – and if your story doesn’t work, just try another!
Ready to have a go? Here are some tips on how to write flash fiction:a flash fiction should be a diamond of a story, a perfectly polished gem with everything unnecessary chipped away
1. Tell a story
A short word-limit is not an excuse to waffle on about pretty nothings – a flash fiction should be a diamond of a story, a perfectly polished gem with everything unnecessary chipped away. Even if it’s only a few lines long, it still needs all the basic story elements: characterisation, setting, action and a turning point.
2. Keep your focus small
A flash fiction is small, but suggests a wider story-world: think of it a keyhole that the reader looks through to see something much bigger. With so few words, every action and line of dialogue is intensely significant. Every word a couple exchanges can sum up their relationship; every character action is assumed to be habit. There’s no need to explain masses of back-story or tell us how the characters got to this point, as the reader will take explanations from subtle hints in the story to suggest a wider view.
3. Don’t state the obvious
Why mention that the sea is blue or that a kitchen contains a cooker? These are wasted words that could be better used in telling the story. Only describe the vital or the unexpected.
4. Make your words work
In a flash fiction, words can’t be wasted. Never use a weak verb with an adverb (“he walked slowly”) when you can use a strong verb (“he dawdled”). The same goes for nouns and adjectives – instead of “the cluttered, leafy, overgrown garden” use “the wilderness”. Avoid ‘nothing’ words and phrases: very, quite, little, sort of, a bit. Instead of using more words to make your point, hone it down to the minimum.
5. Keep it simple
A flash fiction is most effective when it focuses on a single thing: a strong image, the crucial change in a character, the subtle moment that sums up a situation, or the final breaking-point of a relationship.
National Flash Fiction Day for free stories, contest listings and videos.
Flash Fiction Online, a free online magazine with lots of great stories.
Fractured West, the flash fiction magazine I co-edit (send us what you’ve written and it might get published!).