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  • stevenmitchell

Fiction in a Flash

I love a good flash fiction story, one that’s quick to read and makes an impact. But just because something is quick to read, it doesn’t mean it’s quick to write. Some of the shortest pieces I’ve written are my favourites, but it’s been a challenge to create characters and a story world in such few words. A writer has to use all their skill. There needs to be a killer opening. The ending often has a twist or surprise ending. There are characters and a plot to think of. It’s intense.


There are many forms of flash fiction including a Dribble (50 words), a Drabble (100 words), and Twitterature (a story using one Tweet’s 280 characters), but flash fiction is generally regarded as a story under 1000 words. There are countless flash fiction competitions to enter, and online journals which could publish your stories, so here are some tips to help produce the perfect piece of flash fiction.


Make every word count

Think about what you’re trying to say and figure out the simplest way to say it. With such a small word count, you need to use strong words and imagery. Find the perfect word for the purpose—use a thesaurus. Avoid adverbs. Cut out all superfluous words like that/just/very. Remove things like I saw/I heard/I thought because the reader is inside the character’s head and is already seeing/hearing/thinking through them. Remove unnecessary dialogue tags. You’re aiming for the cleanest text possible.


Keep it simple

To minimise the word count, have only one or two characters. Describe their appearance simply and only tell the reader what is necessary to know about them. Add only essential dialogue—there’s no room for a flowing conversation. One setting is perfect. Jumps in location, time, and background stories become confusing in such a short story. Don’t change the tense or point of view.


Make the title work hard

You only have a few words in the story so make the title do some heavy lifting. For example, the title could show the setting—A Walk on the Beach—so you don’t need to mention the beach within the story.


Instantly hook the reader

Your first words need to draw-in the reader. Have a punchy first sentence. Start in the action. If you’re struggling to reduce the word count of your story, think about whether you could cut the beginning and start in the middle where the action is in full flow.


Have a powerful ending

You don’t want a ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ clichéd ending. Try to end on a surprise or a different emotional note.


Make it easy to understand

Flash fiction is a great place to experiment with storytelling, and many pieces of flash fiction have an enigmatic ending, but the reader mustn’t be confused by the rest of the story. Most readers don’t want to be bewildered.


And finally, don’t aim to write a saga

The focus of your story needs to be tight. It’s good to be ambitious but be realistic about how much you can convey in such a small word count. Like an iceberg, only show the top 10 per cent of your story above the water, and the reader will conjure the remaining 90 per cent below. These types of stories are known to work particularly well in flash fiction:

·      Single climatic moments of discovery or realisation.

·      A series of moments, with only brief detail given about each moment.

·      A character narrating a brief flow of memories.

·      Stories exploring weird, frightening, and fantastic moments.

·      Stories recreating familiar short stories or taking the form of brief pieces of writing like complaint letters or adverts.


So, that’s it. Now go and write something short.

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