Advice on Writing Flash Fiction

I’ve been reading a bunch of flash fiction in the past few days, so I thought I’d share some of my observations on what works for me as a reader.

First of all, what is Flash Fiction? To put it simply, flash fiction is just a piece of fiction that is just really short. From Wikipedia:

Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity.[1] There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction

Let’s frame this a bit more. Let’s stick with really short fiction, say 100 to 500 words.

  1. Grab the reader’s attention right away. Flash is meant to be bite sized nuggets of story goodness. Don’t make me choose the other dessert.
  2. Tell me a story. A complete story. Yes this can be done.
  3. Don’t be so nebulous–the reader shouldn’t have to wait until the last sentence to know what the heck is going on.
  4. Show don’t tell. You hear the rule all of the time for a reason. Don’t tell us the protagonist is scared. Paint the picture.
  5. Easy of the flowery prose. Flowery prose can be good, but in flash fiction you only have so many words. There’s no sense in using them all to describe the supporting character’s jacket.
  6. Easy on the murder, rape, violence. There are other ways to create tension and drama. And with so little words to work with, it is really difficult to do murder, rape, violence that doesn’t seem just cheap and gratuitous.
  7. Surprise endings are overdone. Surprise! Those two people you thought were in love were newts the entire time. (I’ve written a bunch of these in my day and they are fun to write, but do feel a little like the easy way out to me now)
  8. Make me feel. A good piece of flash fiction should make me feel happy. Or sad. Or nostalgic. Or anything other than meh.
  9. Seriously, though. Take it easy on the violence.

Anybody else have thoughts on what makes good flash fiction?

8 thoughts on “Advice on Writing Flash Fiction

  1. I think you’ve hit all the important points, above. Flash fiction is a great writing exercise in making every word count. There are all kinds of outlets in which to publish flash fiction, too.

  2. Pingback: The Bridport Prize Writing Competition | catherinejames2013

  3. Good stuff. I’ve been following the entries in the Lascaux contest you blogged about last week–it’s been interesting, and it’s really made me think more and more about this style of writing (which for some reason I had mix up in my mind with Fan Fiction, so I’ve been glad for the clarification).

    • I’m glad to hear you got something out of this. I wasn’t sure at the time I posted it, if it would help anybody or not.

      I have written an entry for the contest as a guest entry as I’m also helping judge. I’ll link to mine once it’s up there.

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