Tips for Writing Flash Fiction
Writing flash fiction is different not only from writing a full-length novel but also from writing a short story. Flash fiction is a unique form of storytelling, and while it can be immensely satisfying to produce, there are some format basics to learn first. It might sound like an easy genre—surely writing a story gets harder the longer it is, right? Not necessarily. To effectively tell a story in so few words, your storytelling skills need to be superb.
Whatever genre you work in, we can help you with your writing. Check out our services for authors to learn more.
Flash fiction in a nutshell
Flash fiction is an extremely short story, ranging from just a few words up to about 1,000 words at the “long” end of the spectrum. For the most part, flash fiction stories still include a beginning, a middle, and an end—they’re fully fledged stories, only extremely short. Flash fiction can be written in any genre, and the only limit is your imagination.
Flash fiction writing tips
No matter what kind of flash fiction story you want to write, there are some best practices that can help you craft strong stories with few words. Check out our tips below and use them to hone your skills. Considering how short flash fiction stories are, it’s easy to practice writing a lot of them.
1. Focus on one event
In flash fiction, you need to limit the story to one event or even one moment. A single point of view is typical. You need this focus so the reader can become completely immersed in the story, absorbed in this one singular event. You don’t have time to get into other events, so put all your energy into this one.
2. Get to the conflict quickly
As you can imagine, there aren’t enough words to develop your character’s backstory, describe the setting in detail, or build tension slowly. You have but 1,000 words at best. You need to throw your character into the conflict as soon as you can. This is an opportunity to learn how to tell effective stories even without all the character details necessary in a novel.
3. Pay attention to the beginning and the end
The first and last sentences will make or break a flash fiction story.
The beginning: You need a hook to grab the reader’s attention immediately since you won’t have enough words to develop fully your characters and setting. You should always start with a hook in a novel, too, but in flash fiction, the lack of space makes it imperative. Get right into the action.
The end: Don’t let the story trickle to an end. Flash fiction needs a sharp, definite conclusion. It’s common for such stories to end with a twist of some sort. This isn’t a gimmick but rather a necessity for the format to work. In a story this short, you need to finish with something surprising that will leave the reader ruminating long after the end. Think of fables and urban legends—very short stories that have killer endings or deliver morals via a twist. These are the stories that stick with us. The ending makes a flash fiction story, so it has to be good, and you have to deliver it well.
4. Use precise descriptions
The sights, smells, and sounds should be precisely described in order to evoke the setting or the tone of the story with few words. Use strong, vivid imagery so you can paint the picture with as few brush strokes as possible. Since you have such a limited number of words to work with, you want to make sure each one you use is as powerful as it can be.
For example, there’s nothing wrong with this description: “He was old and worn out. Clearly drunk, he probably hadn’t had a meal or a wash in a long time.” However, a shorter and more vivid description would be “His ragged beard smelled of rum and stale bread.” The latter gives a similar impression but is a more focused description and uses stronger imagery. It’s also important to offer description through action—the age-old “show, don’t tell.” In flash fiction, this is the only way to tell your whole story.
5. Think hard about the title
You can’t just gloss over the title in flash fiction. With so few words at your disposal, use the title to provide context you can’t write into the story or to set up an expectation that will help make your ending a surprise. Of course, the title is a vital part of any story, but with flash fiction ones being so short, its importance is all the greater.
Here are a couple of examples of flash fiction titles used to the story’s advantage:
John Redding Goes to Sea by Zora Neale Hurston. This title is compelling. We’re promised an adventure, something exciting or perhaps harrowing. It’s similarly an adventure to discover how that title is both true and untrue as the story unfolds.
Gator Butchering for Beginners by Kristen Arnett. This title is evocative. It promises a gruesome story and also sets the expectation that it will deal with how to butcher alligators. We see how the story keeps that promise while also subverting that expectation.
The main takeaway is that you must write flash fiction with intention. Be precise and stick the landing.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with flash fiction. That’s the beauty of it—you can play around with themes and storytelling devices that publishers would never be willing to take a risk on, exercising your creativity to its fullest. The benefit of writing stories so short is that you have many opportunities to rewrite and revise. So, play around with your story, and you’ll be a flash fiction pro in no time.
Have you written something that needs a professional eye? Send us your manuscript for a big-picture edit.