Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to Write Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction and How to Write It - Part 1

First of all, if you're not familiar with flash fiction, don't be embarrassed. Recently, a writer friend of mine asked me to explain the concept since there'd been a good amount of hype about it in his social circle and he mostly just smiled and nodded.

A quick definition, then. Flash fiction is a story that clocks in at about 1000 words. Therefore, it’s a quick read, over in a flash. Some gauge the range anywhere from 500 to 1500 words. But the idea is brevity. Any story you can tell quickly might be considered a candidate for flash.

But here's the catch. It's a story. Not a sketch. Not a scene. Not a vignette. Flash fiction is a story told in about 1000 words. While there's some debate even as to what elements are required to create a story, I adhere to the traditional Big 3 - characterization, setting, and plot (crisis, climax, & denouement). A well written piece of flash, in my opinion, balances these elements. Add to this mix an engaging voice (writing style) and you have a successful short short piece.

How short can a story be? I guess that depends on what the writer (or reader) is willing to sacrifice. It's difficult to balance setting, characterization, and a storyline that resolves nicely, so, by necessity, something has to give. I tend to shortchange setting, myself. Many of my flash fictions are dialog heavy and rely on conversation to move the plot along. Where does it take place? Who knows! Who cares? It's fun, it's fast. It's flash fiction!

But really, a tale without setting is probably more of a story concept. And, admittedly, most flash fictions are little more than seed stories that need expanding. In my next post, I'll look at some of the common pitfalls of writing flash (and how to avoid them), including this tendency to simply present a scenario and call it good. Until then, what are your thoughts on flash fiction?

Read Flash Fiction and How to Write It - Part 2.


  1. Overall, I like flash fiction, but it's tricky. Writing a good piece of flash fiction is like bunting for a base hit in baseball: It takes more effort and skill than it appears. You have to be able to establish the "Big 3" and tell your story in as few words as possible, without compromising the story itself. But it can be done!

  2. Kris Rusch recently pointed out that Harry Potter's first book had no opening setting and, if she had been the editor pick it out of the slush pile, she too would have rejected it. (It was rejected a number of times before someone read past the first few chapters, evidently! lol)

    So rookie mistake, but boy...can Jo Rowling plot like a prefect from the House of Slytherin! And what a strength to have, eh?

  3. I'm currently trying my hand at flash fiction, and it really is hard because it has to be a single moment that is *worthy* of taking up 500-1,000. A single, powerful moment.

    (The moment can of course include a plot to fulfill the requirement that flash fiction must be an actual story, though, personally, I think that requirement is debatable.)


Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)