An Overview of Flash Fiction
Updated: Mar 22
Until recently, I wasn’t even aware flash fiction existed. But back in 2019 I discovered Havok Publishing, which introduced me to the world of these uber-short stories. I’ve been hooked ever since, reading heaps of flash fiction and learning as much as I can about how to write it. I’ve gathered quite a bit of information along the way, so I figured I’d compile the basics into a blog post in case it would be helpful to anyone who’s also new to flash fiction!
Disclaimer: I’m no expert when it comes to writing flash fiction—the following information is simply what I’ve personally noticed about it over the past two-and-a-half years. But hopefully you’ll find it useful!
What Is Flash Fiction?
Flash fiction stories are typically under 2,000 words (though the word count isn’t set in stone). They can even be as short as six words, like Hemingway’s infamous story, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” They're like an episode of The Twilight Zone—a brief glimpse into a different world or life, snatched away as soon as we begin getting comfortable with it.
Why Write Flash Fiction?
If you’re like me and normally write novel-length fiction, writing flash fiction can seem like an impossible—or even pointless—task. But writing flash fiction helped me dramatically improve my prose and my editing abilities, and it allows me to explore ideas that I don’t want to write an entire novel about. Flash fiction stories are also great for showcasing your writing abilities—you can enter them in contests, post them on your blog, share them in your newsletter or on social media, or submit them to various magazines and publishing companies.
How Do You Plot Flash Fiction?
Like any good story, flash fiction should have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning setup should only be a few hundred words long, if that. The middle will take up the majority of the story, and after the climax—the most intense point of the story—will come a brief ending.
The beginning of your story will introduce us to the main character(s), their world, and provide any crucial details needed before the inciting incident happens—the thing that sets the story into motion. Sometimes the inciting incident can happen right away, even as soon as the first sentence, and the setup information needed to understand it is sprinkled throughout the paragraphs following it.
In the middle of the story, stakes are rising and tension is steadily building to the climax. After the climax, you want an ending just long enough to wrap up any loose ends. Flash fiction endings usually aren’t long or poetic.
Just because flash fiction is short doesn’t mean you can get away with writing shallow characters. Make your characters’ personalities quirky and strong so they shine through immediately. Character arcs are important—ask yourself, “how has this character changed during the story?” If the answer is “not much,” ask yourself, “What experience has the character gone through, and how can I make the reader feel those same emotions?” If the readers feel connected to your characters, they’ll feel grounded in the story, no matter how short it is.
This ties into your story’s theme—not all stories need a theme, but every story needs a purpose. Why are you writing this story? Is it a comedy, where the goal is to brighten someone’s day? Is it to show the power of a singular emotion, like love, envy, or pride? Is it to teach readers an important virtue? To provoke deeper thought about a certain subject?
Once you’ve identified your story’s goal (which becomes its theme), you can explore ways to best get that theme across.
Another crucial part of flash fiction is the twist—something that throws a loop in the story. The twist typically comes at the story’s halfway point or at the end.
-A midpoint twist creates a surprising new conflict, and when that new conflict is solved, that signals the readers that the story is over.
-A twist ending will make readers want to re-read your story to see if they saw the twist coming.
A few ideas for twists:
-A revelation of new information
-The answer to a mystery that’s been unfolding throughout the story
-Something is not what it seems—a character, location, object…
-A death, natural disaster, or problem with unfortunate timing
-A secondary character is introduced or makes a surprising choice
Okay... But How Do You Actually Write Flash Fiction?
Cramming your fantastic plot into so few words can be a challenge. Concision is key—always ask yourself, “how can I say this in fewer words?”
I’ve found outlining to be extremely helpful—I write down the main events of the story and allot a certain number of words for each section.
For example: “Beginning: Danielle approaches the abandoned theater, thinking about the ghost stories she’s heard about it—200 words.”
Doing this with each section of your story will help you stay on track and under the word limit.
I tend to be very redundant in my writing, which is unacceptable in flash fiction. I often mention the same thoughts or ideas multiple times, and though that may be fine in longer fiction, if you mention something once in flash fiction that’s usually enough.
You can practice trimming words using your favorite books—it hurts less than practicing on your own writing at first. 😜 I like to take a page from a book and look for ways to lower the word count. Could something be described with fewer, more specific words? Are there any filler words—unnecessary adverbs, “just,” “even,” etc.? Are there two actions written (“she tucked her hair behind her ear, then slid her hands into her pockets”) when there could be just one ("she slid her hands into her pockets”)?
It's difficult at first, but the more you do it the easier it becomes. And of course, you can always have friends read your story and help you out!
Do you write flash fiction? Tell me in the comments below! If this post was helpful to you, feel free to share it on social media or with a friend who likes short stories.
Until next week, keep on writing! 💪🏻