Flash fiction, a genre that’s becoming increasingly popular among writers, is a wonderful way to express a magnitude of emotions and messages in very few words.
Yes, that’s right. You don’t need to write an elaborate 100,000-word novel to be a fantastic writer.
Sometimes, less is more, and nowhere does that apply more than in the realm of flash fiction.
What Is Flash Fiction?
Flash fiction – also referred to as microfiction or nanofiction – is essentially a very short story. Most pieces of flash fiction do not go over the 1,500-word threshold, and they can even be as short as one sentence.
What’s more, flash fiction comprises some important elements that every writer should include in their story.
You can’t just write a random scene taken out of context and have it over with. No, flash fiction is a genre that’s quite structured in nature and that should feel like a complete story by the end of it.
As you can see, flash fiction is actually much more complicated than it looks. A very short story isn’t necessarily easier to write than a long one because it’s all about the art of squeezing as much meaning as you can into very few words.
6 Elements of Flash Fiction
If you’re about to try writing flash fiction, keep in mind that there are certain rules that apply to every micro story:
Your story must have a plot. This is incredibly important. When writing super short stories, we have the tendency to craft a scene that could be part of a novel, and while there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, your scene ought to have a complete ending.
It’s recommended to begin in medias res. This means “in the middle of things”. Your first sentence is your hook, which is why starting at the complete beginning of the story (“John was born in 1967”) isn’t the way to go. It’s better to immediately immerse the reader through action (“John is running for his life”).
Great flash fiction contains a plot twist. Pulling off a surprising plot twist in as few as 1000 words sounds like a very tough job, right? That’s because it is, so kudos to you if you do manage to craft a shocking ending.
Show, don’t tell. You may be tempted to tell the reader a lot of background information because your story doesn’t allow for more exposition, but the beauty of flash fiction lies in action. Your reader should be able to fill in the blanks while you focus on the intensity of the scene at hand.
A few characters are enough. There’s not enough space to properly flash out even one character, let alone four or five. Remember – your reader doesn’t need to know everything about your protagonist’s life. The story itself is what brings out the most vital aspects of the character’s personality.
A concise and tight writing style is a must. Flash fiction isn’t a genre full of fluff or poetic language. There simply isn’t enough space for it. When writing, opt for an active voice instead of a passive one and cut out all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.
RELATED READ: What is a story arc?
Flash Fiction: A Quick History Lesson
Before we move on to our writing tips, let’s take a moment to recap how flash fiction came to be, shall we?
Flash fiction dates all the way back to prehistory, although it wasn’t called that way back then. Some of the oldest microstories on record are parables and fables, such as Aesop’s Fables.
When it comes to modern history, flash fiction began to appear amongst famous writers’ works in the 19th century (for example, Walt Whitman or Kate Chopin) and was often referred to as a “short short story.
In 1992, the word “flash fiction” was coined by James Thomas, and ta-da! Flash fiction as we know it was born.
Some famous writers who dabbled in “short short stories” or flash fiction include:
- Franz Kafka
- H.P. Lovecraft
- Ray Bradbury
- Kurt Vonnegut
- Ernest Hemingway
The latter is said to have written the famous six-word story “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” however, it is disputed whether Hemingway was the actual author of this piece of flash fiction.
How to Write Flash Fiction: 6 Tips
Don’t over-explain. Your reader should be able to find their own meaning within the story – there’s no need to spell it out.
Focus on one moment in time. Flash fiction doesn’t allow us the luxury of multiple scenes or plotlines, which is why most writers focus on one scene that creates the whole plot.
Don’t forget to include narrative drive and character motivation. Even if you’re writing just one scene, it ought to be a complete story, which means that your protagonist should have a sense of agency and your story should naturally lead to a conclusion.
Implication is your friend. Since you only have a few words to convey your meaning, you’ve got to let the reader think for themselves and create their own assumptions based on your hints and implications.
Use your title as part of your narrative. The title can say a great deal about the deeper meaning of the story.
Edit. You might think that the shorter the story, the less editing you need to do, but that isn’t the case here. Since you’re working with so few words, you want to make sure that every word has a purpose and a clear meaning.
RELATED READ: What is a plot point
Examples of Flash Fiction
Let’s have a look at some very short stories that make for the perfect examples of flash fiction:
Housewife by Amy Hempel:
“She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting, “French film, French film.”
Give It Up by Franz Kafka:
“It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was walking to the station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized that it was already much later than I had thought, I had to hurry, the shock of this discovery made me unsure of the way, I did not yet know my way very well in this town; luckily, a policeman was nearby, I ran up to him and breathlessly asked him the way. He smiled and said: “From me you want to know the way?” “Yes,” I said, “since I cannot find it myself.” “Give it up! Give it up,” he said, and turned away with a sudden jerk, like people who want to be alone with their laughter.”
Widow’s First Year by Joyce Carol Oates:
“I kept myself alive.”
Writing flash fiction is an amazing way to explore the link between the depth of meaning and the scarcity of words.
What’s more, it can also be used as an exercise to wave your writing block goodbye and dip your toes in a new genre, pushing the horizons of your creativity.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s your turn to write one hell of a short short story.