How To Write Flash Fiction Well, by Laura Bolt


There is no question that in the world of publishing, the novel reigns supreme, with the short story holding court nearby in various thin volumes and collected works. If you are familiar with literary magazines, (and as a writer, you should be) then you’ve probably encountered flash fiction. Also known as micro fiction, these shorter than short stories usually run between 55 and 1000 words, though there is no set-in-stone definition. If you are thinking to yourself, “Hey, I can knock out 800 words in no time,” you’ve got the wrong idea. If, however, you are a concise writer who is up for a challenge, try your hand at this growing genre.

The defining part of flash fiction is its length, which is also the element that makes it seem deceptively simple. With less than 1000 words, you don’t have any words to waste. The first trick is to draw the reader in immediately. As soon as they read the first few sentences of a story they are already well into it, so you don’t want to waste time up front. One technique is to begin in media res (in the middle of the story), but be careful not to overuse this. Start out with a bang that never lets up.

The traditional novel elements of deep detail and embellishment are usually abandoned in flash fiction, which is often why writers utilize more experimental techniques. With the chains of traditional narration removed, you can really exercise your creativity. Instead of long descriptions, use your language to move the story along. Sometimes good word choices can create an atmosphere equivalent to a paragraph worth of description.

In flash fiction, language should always be powerful. Avoid too many passive words, which can bog your story down and make it lag. Remember, you don’t have any words to waste. While the idea of using fewer words might strike some as simplistic or bare, embrace the strength of this unadorned style. This is an opportunity to use language that will really stick with readers, and to become a master of what is necessary to tell a story. While you are less likely to lose momentum in flash fiction, keep in mind that the rhythm of your writing will really stand out, so make sure there is a good flow and only be abrupt if it fits your story.

Flash fiction gives you the opportunity to write about issues or circumstances that simply don’t fit into a long form narrative. Not all stories make for successful flash fiction piece, so consider your topic carefully before you decide to take on such a short genre. Maybe you are interested in writing about a fleeting moment of intense emotion or realization, or you want to highlight the stark reality of a particular situation. These are great places to start your piece.

Remember, flash fiction is a sprint, not a marathon. Put power, focus, and clarity into your writing and you can craft a piece of very short fiction that stands on its own.

NOTE: Because definitions may differ, check the word limits of flash fiction anywhere you decide to submit.

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Posted in 2011, Author's Resource, Non-Fiction
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