Flash fiction is an increasingly popular genre that more literary editors are looking to scoop up for their journals, and many well-known authors have jumped on the bandwagon. The word count for flash fiction often varies by journal and can range from the length of a tweet to 1,500 words—with 500 – 750 words the most common rule of thumb. But how do you write a whole story in such a condensed form? Writer’s Relief outlines the best tips and pointers to help you write great flash fiction.
How To Write Flash Fiction
Flash fiction is sometimes confused with prose poetry. However, a flash fiction piece should contain all of the narrative elements of a traditional short story, while prose poetry emphasizes imagery, rhythm, and expression. Here’s how to get started writing flash fiction.
Plan: Since it’s so brief, you can just scribble out a few lines and boom—you’ve written a flash fiction piece, right? Wrong. It’s just as important to plan out a flash fiction piece as it is a traditional-length short story. Determine your key plot points and story arc. Remember: Flash fiction is a complete story in micro-form.
Use Your Title: Since the word count is so limited, it’s important to use everything in your writing arsenal to complete your story. Here’s a tip: Make your title part of the story! Your title can be an introduction to the piece, a statement about the story’s purpose, a concise plot summary, or even the first line of the piece itself. You can show your creativity with a great title while cleverly shaving off a bit of your word count.
Limit The Number Of Characters: In this case, we’re talking about the number of people in your story, not spaces you’ve typed (although this is about flash fiction, so keyboard characters should be limited too!). Keeping track of multiple characters in a standard short story is almost impossible—it’s definitely out of the question when you’re writing flash fiction of no more than 1,500 words. If you want to write a story about how all of Santa’s reindeer meet Snow White’s seven dwarf buddies, this isn’t the genre. Focus on one or two characters so you can develop a full story without going over the allotted word count.
Jump Into The Action: Begin your flash fiction with the story underway—there’s no space for lengthy detail or backstory. Unless it’s integral to the plot, no one needs to know that your protagonist has flashing green eyes or that his cousin twice-removed lives on a dairy farm in Delaware and they haven’t spoken in months. Immediately give your characters something to do and move the story along quickly.
Experiment: Just like any genre, it’s okay to get experimental, especially with your story arc! Maybe you want to start at the end of your story and work your way back to the beginning. Or you can play around with the standard elements of a genre: For example, write a romance like it’s a true crime story. Do something unexpected to make your flash fiction pop!
Choose Your Words Carefully: When you have only a few hundred words to work with, every word is important. Skip uncommon or unusual words that would require explanation or pull readers out of the story. Our pro-tip: Scrap the word “very.” Instead of saying a character is very hungry, use the word famished. Very tired? Say “exhausted.” Make smart use of the thesaurus in your word processing program or crack open your copy of Roget’s.
Nail The Opening And Closing: In flash fiction, the two most important lines are the first and last. Your first line hooks the reader into your story, while the last line offers a final impression. You may even consider writing those two lines first and then adding everything in between!
Flash fiction isn’t a genre for everyone, but it can be fun—and helpful in developing your overall craft as a writer. Writing flash fiction is a great way to train yourself to keep short stories short. Next time you sit down to write, give flash fiction a try!
Question: What do you think is the hardest part of writing good flash fiction?