10 Flash Fiction Writing Tips

Photo © 2009 Race Gentry CC 2.0 BY SA

Every writer who writes flash has one of these lists, even if flash is not his area of expertise. Even if he doesn’t write it down, he keeps it in the back of his mind.

I tend to enjoy character-driven fiction, and I enjoy character-driven flash as well. You might think that flash offers too few words in which to develop good characters, but I believe that it is possible, if you focus your efforts.

Here’s my own list, which I keep in mind when I’m writing flash fiction and short-short stories:

  1. You only have room for one main character, so choose her well. What’s more, in a flash piece, this character has only one compelling need. Because flash fiction is about focus, all of her qualities focus themselves on supporting her single compelling need.

  2. You only have room for one scene, so choose it well. Actually, it’s more like a half a scene, or even a quarter scene. There’s not enough room to tell the character’s life story. One setting, one moment, one change. What is the most important change that occurs in the character’s story? That is her defining moment, and that is what the scene must focus on.

  3. You only have room for a single plot. This single story thread you spin directly from the main conflict. No secondary conflicts. No subplots.

  4. You only have room for a single, simple theme. I love stories that actually say something. And a novel can say two or three different things. It can explore interrelated themes with multiple interpretations. But not a flash story. You get to make one simple point on one theme, and everything else you need to leave for other stories.

  5. Get to the main conflict of the scene in the first sentence. This is your hook. You don’t have time to lallygag around, so get right into it. In as few words as possible, why do I care? Start with a bang and then increase the intensity. Don’t worry about running out of things to talk about or tiring out the reader; you’re more likely to encounter the converse problems.

  6. Skip as much of the backstory as you can. The reader usually doesn’t need to know how the character got to this point. And if he does absolutely need to know some part of the backstory, keep it as simple as possible, and imply as much of it as you can through its relation to the story. In a flash piece, you don’t need to explain everything to the reader. Let him figure it out himself through logical deduction.

  7. “Show” anything related to the main conflict. That is, “show”; don’t “tell” it. This is where you use up the bulk of your words. Ping-pong the primary plot. (I.e., write it in MRU’s.) Focus the story’s intensity here, and don’t let up. The story is too short to require easy-going interludes. Except…

  8. “Tell” the backstory; don’t “show” it. That is, any part of the backstory that you couldn’t get rid of, and you couldn’t leave to the imagination, because it actually builds the main conflict or explains a key plot point… If you have to go off on a tangent, at least gloss over it as quickly as possible.

  9. Save the twist until the end. Or rather, as soon as you’ve laid enough groundwork for the story’s climax, do the deed and get out of there. Skip the epilogue; you don’t need one. (Or if you absolutely must write an epilogue, try: “And they lived happily ever after.” But that’s an extra 6 words you probably didn’t need.)

  10. Eliminate all but the essential words. Get out your editor’s pen, and cross out any word that isn’t absolutely needed. If that means shorter, choppier sentences, that’s just fine, because it increases the tempo.

Naturally, I go against all these rules all the time. Because they’re not really rules. They’re tips. They’re lines on your storytelling map, but they’re not destinations in themselves. And part of writing fiction is having fun plotting your own course across that map.

Keep writing!




20 responses to “10 Flash Fiction Writing Tips”

  1. A. M. Harte Avatar

    An interesting list of 10 points. I think I’ve somehow managed to comply to most of these without consciously thinking about it — have you been subliminally affecting people?

  2. J. Timothy King Avatar

    Darn! You’ve discovered my secret mind-control machine!

    (Yeah, I wish. If I even had such a machine, I’d probably be too morally conflicted to use it.)

    Actually, I got most of these elsewhere, and others just make sense. So it doesn’t surprise me that other authors also follow basically the same rules.

    What really intrigues me is how often we abandon these rules and get away with it. I think they’re just instances of more abstract principles, which we usually follow without even realizing it. As such, keeping these rules in mind probably reminds me of the principles behind them, but the rules themselves are more honored in the breach than in the observance.


  3. Dawn Avatar

    thanks for the tips. exactly what i was looking for

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  9. HOPE NJOKU Avatar

    Timothy its a cute piece you ve got. But telling good flash fiction mostly, is provoked by interest and guided by passion not really rules. They delay.

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  11. CheesyBuns Avatar

    hi do you smell of ham you seem like you would smell like ham

  12. CheesyBuns Avatar

    Also I’m holding in a fart right now

  13. Reterd Avatar

    I followed these steps wrong and summoned Cthulu thanks

  14. JD Avatar

    Been writing flash since 2nd grade. Just the facts ma’am, sir. Had one FF book published and have a sequel in the que. Talk about lessons in word economy. Can use it at school to teach students about editing. Can use it for me to entertain myself.

  15. Abaren Simaris Avatar

    After reading this article, I realized that I make one basic mistake in my writings – I’m trying to show too much elements of the story. So I often finish writing in the middle and I can’t write the whole story. It’s time to change it. Thanks for the hints.

  16. Sardebra Wright Avatar
    Sardebra Wright

    Before your tips, I didn’t understand flash fiction. I do now!

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