How to Write Flash Fiction Like a Pro: Insights from Successful Writers
by Writing Workshops Staff
A year ago
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How to Write Flash
"Flash fiction gives me the opportunity to make a big impact with just a few words. It's a form that requires precision and economy, which I really enjoy." - Ocean Vuong
Writing Flash Fiction & Short Short Stories
You've heard of Hemingway's six word story about baby shoes, right (complete with a twist ending)? Flash fiction, sometimes called sudden fiction (or even prose poem or prose poetry), is a way to tell a complete story in a small space, allowing the writer to be concise and to the point for the reader.
With a word count of fewer than 1,000 words (and in some cases up to 1,500 words) and seldom featuring more than two characters, flash fiction can be a fun and challenging form of creative writing that allows writers to experiment with different styles and techniques while still telling a complete, compelling story in fewer words than a traditional piece of short fiction.
Masters Who Write Flash Fiction
Masters of craft know how to write flash fiction. The best flash fiction stories provide a complete narrative and allow many writers to delve deep into the emotional lives of their cast and to explore the complexities of the human experience with brevity. Masters of the flash genre include:
Lydia Davis: Davis knows how to write flash fiction! She is a highly acclaimed short fiction writer, and her work has been included in numerous anthologies and literary journals. She is known for her innovative and experimental style, and her stories often explore themes of identity, language, and relationships.
Stuart Dybek: Dybek is a poet and fiction writer who has published several collections of short stories, including "The Coast of Chicago" and "I Sailed with Magellan." His work often explores the complexities of urban life.
Aimee Bender: Bender knows how to write flash fiction. She is a novelist and short story writer whose work has been widely anthologized and translated into multiple languages. Her stories often deal with the magical and surreal.
Karen Russell: Russell is a novelist and short story writer known for her imaginative and inventive style, and her stories often explore themes of the supernatural, the absurd, and the darkly comical.
Joy Williams: Williams is a novelist and short story known for her dark, absurdist style and exploration of themes of loss, isolation, and the human condition (and the odd prose poem or two).
Examples of Flash Fiction Stories Under 1,000 Words
"The Spot" by J.A. Tyler: This flash fiction story, which was published in the literary journal SmokeLong Quarterly, tells the story of a woman who discovers a mysterious spot on her body and becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what it is. At just over 500 words, it is a short and evocative piece that touches on themes of identity and the unknown.
"The Man Who Couldn't Stop Loving" by Sam Lipsyte: This story, which was published in The New Yorker, tells the story of a man named Craig who becomes obsessed with a woman he sees on the subway. Despite being just over 600 words, it is a poignant and moving story that explores themes of love and loss.
"The Girl Who Couldn't Scream" by Nina Schuyler: This flash fiction story, which was published in the literary journal The Adroit Journal, tells the story of a young girl who is unable to scream, even when she is in danger. At just under 1,000 words, it is a haunting and atmospheric tale that touches on themes of powerlessness and resilience.
"The Breeze" by K.J. Kabza: This flash fiction story, published in the literary journal Glimmer Train, tells the story of a man who becomes obsessed with the wind and the memories it brings back to him. At just under 1,000 words, it is a poignant and evocative tale that touches on themes of memory and loss.
"The Bus Stop" by Aimee Bender: This flash fiction story, published in the collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, tells the story of a woman who becomes fascinated by a mysterious man she sees at the bus stop every day. At just under 700 words, it is a short and imaginative tale that touches on themes of longing and the unknown.
"The Beast" by Angela Mitchell: This flash fiction story, published in the literary journal The Adroit Journal, tells the story of a young girl who is forced to confront a terrifying beast in her dreams. At just over 500 words, it is a short and atmospheric tale that touches on themes of fear and the power of the imagination.
"Flash fiction allows me to explore the complexities of race and identity in a way that is both powerful and concise. It's a form that has given me a platform to share my experiences and perspective with a wider audience." - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Start With a Vivid Setting in Flash Fiction Stories
Keep your reader in mind. The first few lines matter in any story. But when writing sudden fiction, it’s important to start with a vivid setting, which can be a real challenge if you let the short word count get in your head.
Consider the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensory elements that could bring your story to life for readers.
Even in a first draft, make sure to include enough information so that you don’t leave readers confused or unsure of what is happening in scene.
With a well developed setting, you won’t need to use an excessive number of words when you write – but just enough to allow your readers to envision the world around your characters.
Develop Engaging Characters
When writing a flash fiction piece, it’s essential to create engaging characters that your readers can relate to and identify with, something writers have been doing with sudden fiction since the nineteenth century.
Start with the main character and go from there. When you have so few words, developing unique and interesting characters is critical in drawing readers into the story. Think about how your audience perceives your characters – do you want them to be strong, independent, or gentle?
Fleshing out these attributes when you write will help make your characters more believable and appealing to your reader. Additionally, having well-defined goals for each character can help drive the plot forward and give readers something tangible as they journey through the story.
When used effectively, characters in good flash fiction can add an enjoyable layer of depth that takes the story from good to great!
Create Conflicts and Tension in Your Flash Fiction
Creating conflicts and tension from one moment to the next are crucial elements when writing flash fiction. Unique, compelling and intense conflicts can help keep readers on their toes as they follow the story.
To achieve this, think of realistic scenarios that your characters could face – confrontations with enemies, relationship troubles, physical obstacles or moral dilemmas can all add layers of conflict and tension to the narrative.
Try to avoid introducing every type of conflict in one story; instead, focus on a few that you can develop more fully and realistically create suspense for your readers.
If you write flash fiction, remember to use strategic dialogue and key moments of action whenever possible to elevate the intensity of your conflicts and make them memorable.
Keep it Brief When Writing Flash Fiction
You don't always need more room. Flash fiction is a great way to engage readers without investing too much time into a story.
To make your piece of flash fiction effective, it should be kept concise and to the point. Stick to a word limit of 1,000 - 1,500 words or less so that readers can quickly get through the narrative without getting bored or overwhelmed.
Pacing is key in flash fiction - use vivid descriptions and interesting dialogue to keep the story punchy and engaging.
Keep your characters active with their actions and choices instead of just telling their stories; this will make them more relatable and help bring your story to life!
Use Descriptive Language Sparingly
Writing flash fiction is all about using powerful words to convey big messages in a concise manner.
To accomplish this in a flash story as you write, use descriptive language sparingly - focus on creating vivid images with simple language that still evoke strong emotions from readers.
With flash writing, avoid adding too much detail or getting caught up in bloated descriptions; keep your language concise and direct, and use carefully-chosen metaphors and analogies to add depth to the story.
By prioritizing clarity over flowery prose in an entire story, you can ensure that your flash pieces resonates with readers while keeping it short and sweet while avoiding unnecessary words.
Plan Your Ending and Final Line
If the first line matters, so do the last line in flash fiction stories. Before you begin writing a piece of flash fiction or your flash fiction collection, it's important to think about the ending. Knowing where your story is going before you even start writing will help ensure that you craft a satisfying conclusion for readers.
Consider all the possible outcomes and decide which direction your story should take so that when readers reach the end, they feel satisfied with what they have read.
Pay attention to pacing and make sure that your story builds up to a meaningful resolution so that readers can connect with it on an emotional level.
Planning ahead is key to creating an impactful and satisfying conclusion in flash fiction.
Read Other Flash Fiction Pieces
To really understand the expectations of writing flash fiction, it's important to read other writers’ work. There are countless pieces of flash fiction available online, so find a few stories that you particularly like and examine what works for them.
Pay attention to pacing, structure, and language and take notes on the techniques used in flash fiction stories.
Reading other flash fiction pieces is also a great way to get inspired and can help you come up with new ideas for your own stories. Get out there and start reading until you get to the final line– it'll be time well spent!
"Flash fiction is a way to practice economy of words and tighten our writing muscles. It's a form that forces us to get to the point and leave out the fluff." - Chuck Palahniuk
Flash fiction and traditional short stories share many similarities for the reader, but some key differences set flash fiction apart.
What Do Editors Look For?
How to write flash fiction? From the first line to the last line, flash fiction length matters and big ideas are of course welcome in the best flash fiction and flash collections, and if you want to publish flash fiction online and in print magazines consider adding this genre to your writing practice; here are some tips for writing to consider before you sit down to face the blank page:
You don't want too many characters. Despite the short length of flash fiction, it is still essential to fully develop your characters. Even if you only have a few hundred words to work with, you can still give your readers a sense of who your characters are and what motivates them.
Ah, plot points! A plot is essential to any story, and flash fiction is no exception. Even in a very short story, the plot must be concise and efficient, but flash writers need to ensure the story is still engaging and has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Focus on Setting
The setting of a story can add depth and complexity to your characters and plot. Even if you only have a few paragraphs to work with, as in micro fiction, you can still create a vivid and immersive setting for your story.
Point of View
The point of view of a story refers to the perspective from which the story is told in a way that makes sense. Flash fiction commonly uses first-person or third-person limited point of view, as these allow you to focus on a specific character or group of characters and their experiences. Keep this in mind in your own flash fiction.
A theme is the underlying message or meaning of a story. In flash fiction, it is essential to choose a significant and manageable theme within the limited word count. Make your reader feel something with your overarching theme.
The tone of a story refers to the mood or atmosphere it conveys and can also amplify voice for an entire story and impact the way your story reads. Choose a tone that is appropriate for your theme and characters and that will engage and affect your readers.
The style of a story refers to the way it is written, including the language, structure, and literary devices used. Like tone, style also creates the marrow of your voice. Create a style appropriate for your theme and tone, a style of writing that is unique to your work, and that will help you effectively convey your story in a limited space.
"Flash fiction is like a quick punch to the gut. It's a burst of energy and emotion that leaves a lasting impact." - Neil Gaiman
Write Flash That is Compact
One of the most apparent differences between flash fiction and traditional short stories is the length. Flash fiction is typically much shorter than a conventional short story, with a word count of fewer than 1,000 words. This compactness requires writers to be very efficient and concise in their storytelling.
Write Flash that is Paced Well
Because of its shorter length, flash fiction tends to have a faster pace than traditional short stories. This can be achieved through short sentences, active verbs, and focusing on action and movement that make sense.
Write Flash that Emphasizes Brevity
In flash fiction, every word counts, and writers must choose their words wisely and eliminate unnecessary detail. This emphasis on brevity can lead to a more concise and economical writing style.
Write Flash that Encourages Experimentation
Because of its shorter length and focus on efficiency, flash fiction often allows writers to experiment with different styles, structures, and techniques. This can make it a fun and challenging form for writers.
Write Flash with Depth
Despite its shorter length, flash fiction can still be a powerful and emotionally resonant form of storytelling. By using concise language and focusing on critical moments and themes, writers can create profound and impactful stories in a limited space.
"Flash fiction is a form that requires discipline and precision. It forces writers to be economical with their words and to make every word count." - Margaret Atwood
A List of Flash Fiction Magazines
Here is a sampling of excellent literary journals and magazines that specifically publish flash fiction.
Many other publications also accept flash fiction, so it is worth researching to find the right fit for your work.
For starters, take a look at these:
"Flash fiction is a way for me to connect with my cultural roots and to share my heritage with others. It's a form that allows me to explore the beauty and diversity of my culture in a way that is both meaningful and accessible." - Edwidge Danticat