Tips For Writing Flash Fiction

7 min read

Deviation Actions

Flash-Fic-Month's avatar
Flash Fiction Month is rolling up quickly! To help our participants along, we've asked SRSmith to contribute to our Writer's Resources with some tips on how to write flash fiction, which we think you'll find very useful. Thanks, Steve!

If you don't know what Flash Fiction Month is about yet, please check out our Very Sexy FAQ, and you can sign up with our other writers here!


:work: Tips For Writing Flash Fiction

by Stephen R. Smith with excerpts by Kathy Kachelries

In order to improve as a writer, you need feedback. It's difficult to write something the size of a novel, and equally difficult to carve out the time required to read one and provide any sort of meaningful critique on it. This severely handicaps the feedback loop so important for the aspiring writer.

Flash Fiction on the other hand allows you to exercise all of your story writing and editing skills while creating works that can be read in a few minutes. This makes it ideal for examining ideas, developing writing skills and getting the feedback needed to help elevate you in your craft. Note that while Flash Fiction stories can be read in a few minutes, you shouldn't expect to write them that quickly.

Kathy Kachelries, founder of 365tomorrows, had this to say about Flash Fiction:

"The most concise and widely-cited example of flash fiction is the story Ernest Hemingway penned, allegedly to settle a bar bet: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Despite the limitations of its length, this story, framed as an advertisement, satisfies all of the requirements of a short story: protagonist, conflict, and resolution. A reader imagines the person who wrote the ad: a parent torn apart by the loss of a stillborn or miscarried child. The reader senses the conflict: an incomprehensible feeling of loss, made all the more poignant by the fact that it is not directly addressed. Even the resolution is contained within that six-word masterpiece. By framing it as an advertisement, Hemingway allows us to see the protagonist’s coping mechanism: an attempt to distance him or herself from the loss by selling the only physical evidence that such a loss exists.

Not all short prose is flash fiction. Unlike the vignette or the prose poem, flash fiction adheres to the same conventions as a short story or novel. As demonstrated above, flash fiction gives readers a protagonist and a central conflict, and directs them to a resolution. Due to the constraints of the form, some elements can be implied rather than expressly stated, but a story that begins in media res still holds the shape of its unwritten beginning.


Flash fiction is fiction with its teeth bared and its claws extended, lithe and muscular with no extra fat. It pounces in the first paragraph, and if those claws aren’t embedded in the reader by the start of the second, the story began a paragraph too soon. There is no margin for error. Every word must be essential, and if it isn’t essential, it must be eliminated."

Recognizing the requirements is one thing, writing Flash well is another entirely. When I started writing Flash, I routinely drafted stories of 1,500 words or more, and then tore them down to the limit, and it showed. It's impossible to cut away that much of a story without leaving the remains feeling picked carcass clean; structurally intact but with an apparent absence of meat.

With a piece of even 1,000 words, you should be able to hold the entire story in your head. I don't write anything down until I've played it out many times, establishing the voice of the characters, working out the dialogue and getting a sense of the flow. By doing that in my head, anything that's unnecessary naturally falls away; I don't have the head space to hold onto filler. Once I've got a story idea complete, I write it down. While outlining and writing more traditionally may work, it's far too easy to scaffold too large an idea to be effectively written in such a small space.

Once your story is written, edit mercilessly. If you're over the limit, your first task is to cut away superfluous words. If you find anything that isn't completely necessary, remove it. Sometimes the story that's 100 words under the limit is better than the same story with those words in. Kathy told me early on - "cut out everything you know you don't need, and half of what you think you do." Good advice that you should use.

That done, make the words that remain the best ones possible.

There are some key points that you should consider when writing Flash Fiction:

1. Write your first draft in your head, and rough edit it there. Not writing it down too soon will help minimize your story idea.

2. Don't get attached to your words. They are only words, and you'll write more. If it doesn't have to be in the story, cut it out.

3. Always be showing and keep the telling to a minimum. In an epic novel, you've got the reader long enough you can devote a chapter to telling the history of the world without losing them. In Flash, you've got them for less than 5 minutes. Show them everything, tell them only what you can't show them.

4. Engage the reader from the first few words. Hit the ground running, and at the end, leave them satisfied, but wanting more. Never leave them wanting less.

5. Pick the absolute best words. When you're writing at the most 1,000 words there's no excuse to use the same one twice in a paragraph. There's no reason to use mediocre language when you can use extraordinary language. Don't be too lofty for the sake of sounding clever, but if you can make your reader open a dictionary after reading your story, you've done a good thing.

6. Make the story complete, but brief. Protagonist, conflict, and resolution, some of which can be implied. You don't have to tie things up with a bow, but make the story complete.

7. Spellcheck, proofread, edit, spellcheck and proofread again. Again, this should be a given for any writer, but in a short piece there is absolutely no excuse for a typographical error. None. If you can't be responsible for 1,000 words and their correctness, you'll never be trusted with anything longer. Nothing ruins a story faster and more completely than a writer's apparent disregard for accuracy.

8. Reread point number 7., it's important.

Flash Fiction can be a tremendous amount of fun, and at the same time incredibly valuable while you evolve as a writer. If you can pack an entire story into 500 words, imagine what you can fit into a novel. By developing the skills required to write Flash Fiction effectively, you'll make everything you write tighter and more impactful, and that's something you should always be looking to do.


Thanks again to the lovely SRSmith for those tips, and we hope to see you at Flash-Fic-Month for 31 days of flash fic fun!
© 2009 - 2022 Flash-Fic-Month
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In
hollywoodfreak's avatar