As far back as anyone can remember, storytelling has been at the heart of human culture — which is why the vast majority of us love fiction.
Fiction comes in many forms, and for those looking to read or write stories that can be enjoyed in a matter of moments, flash fiction is the answer.
If you’re looking to write a gripping, pocket-sized tale worthy of publishing, let’s consider this.
What is flash fiction?
A work of flash fiction, also referred to as micro-fiction, is a story of extreme brevity, that tells a condensed, yet complete narrative, usually in 1,000 words or less. The vast majority of flash fiction stories fall between the 500 and 750-word mark, and some are as short as 50 words or less — these are also called Drabbles.
Want to take your first steps into the magical world of flash fiction? Here are three essential tips…
Three essential tips for breaking into flash fiction
1. Be economical
Ever heard of the term “Murder Your Darlings”? When writing a compelling work of flash fiction, this advice is essential.
Applied to flash fiction, this term means that you should only use words that are essential to the story and be ruthless when it comes to editing your work: Don’t be precious about frilly turns of phrase; flamboyant strings of words will only water down your message.
The idea of writing an effective piece of flash is to make maximum impact with minimum words.
Take this six-word flash tale reportedly written by Ernest Hemingway:
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
This slightly ambiguous but incredibly tragic mini-story conjures up a range of emotions and a host of wild thoughts in one small, simple and complete sentence. If you had the time, you could mull this over all day — that’s the power of flash fiction.
Of course, your aim might not be to write a story so brief, but remember, when you’re writing a work of flash fiction, editing is half the battle. Start relatively long, take a break and edit your work relentlessly, sweating over every word, trimming the fat where necessary. Afterwards, take a break and do it again.
You’ll be amazed at just how many words you don’t need.
2. Begin in the middle
The idea of a piece of flash fiction is not to tell a long and winding tale, outlining every single plot development, twist and change of scenery — that’s why novels exist.
There’s not enough space to do that, so in a nutshell, what you’re aiming to do is grab the reader by the scruff of the neck from the outset.
And what’s the best way to do so?
Well, start in the middle of the story. It doesn’t matter if the person reading knows what has become before or what comes after, as long as you’ve kicked things off with a bang and wrap up your story well, your audience will get a firm grasp of your characters’ world and be able to come to their own conclusions. Again, that’s the power of flash fiction.
A shining example of an opening line that jumps straight into the heart of the story is ‘Unicorns‘ by author Scott Stealey:
Kevin first shuffled out of the woods a few months ago while I was playing my zither in the backyard.
Not only does this opening line introduce the discovery of Kevin instantly and hook you into reading the next sentence, but it doesn’t waste time introducing settings or the context surrounding the story, yet, it tells the reader everything they need to know to get started.
When you’re drafting out the beginning, middle and ending of your story, consider the most valuable part of your idea and come to a natural conclusion as to where it should start. Once you’ve done so, write three or more possible opening lines, before editing them down — you’ll know which one works best.
3. Don’t cram in your characters
To write a successful flash fiction story, you need to settle on character that add genuine value to the plot: Nothing more, nothing less.
You don’t have time to describe your characters when you’re writing super-short stories. Even a name might not prove useful in a flash story unless it conveys a lot of additional value or information, or saves you writing words elsewhere.
In the best and most potent flash fiction stories, the writer usually includes only one or two characters, perhaps referring to other people or things in a fleeting fashion, and only if necessary.
By developing one or two characters for your story, you’ll be able to focus on being economical as well as direct, resulting in a rich, succinct tale that stays with people long after reading.
When it comes to flash fiction, character clutter is a crime — so steer clear of peppering your work with lots of people, animals, beasts, talking fruit – or whatever else takes your fancy.
To get you in the swing of things, try writing your debut work of flash in the first person; that way you’ll be able to focus on the character narrating the tale, preventing unwanted clutter.
Finally, you should always try to make your last line linger on like Quasimodo ringing a bell.
Always remember, the ending of a work of flash is not the definitive ending of the overall tale, rather it wraps up what you’re trying to convey while taking the reader into a new place or dimension: A space that makes them consider what happens after they’ve finished consuming your text.
There is no substitute for reading, study, time, practice trial and error, but by following these flash fiction writing tips, there’s every chance of creating a compelling micro-tale that will not only grab the attention of a wide range of readers but be worthy of publication.
Have you ever written flash fiction? Share your experiences in the comments below.