How to Write Flash Fiction

9th May 2012

The first ever National Flash Fiction Day is fast approaching, and if it's tempted you to try your hand at scribbling some for the first time, chances are you might need some advice. Luckily, writer Kirsty Logan has given us some tips...


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.

Recommended Reading:
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!).

For more from Kirsty, check out her website, follow her on Twitter, or read the five-minute Friday interview she did with us a while back.

(Image via mpclemens)