A Totally Comprehensive Guide to Writing Flash Fiction
Brevity, they say, is the soul of wit.
Flash fiction is the art of telling a complete story in under a thousand words. Sometimes in as little as 50, which is a huge challenge. It takes much effort of the intelligence—or the wit—to encompass an entire plot’s-worth of theme, characters, setting, and conclusion into such a brief space.
But when you get it right, there are few things more satisfying.
I’ve recently got a little… addicted to it. That thrill of getting it right, telling the story that’s in your mind at just the perfect word count, is one of the most delightful rushes in the writing life.
How do I do it? That’s a very good question.
First off, this guide will be anything but comprehensive. For one thing, I have only been writing flash fiction seriously for a year or so, so what do I know? There is still so much about this unique and recent art form which I have yet to learn!
But I can share a few of the quick and easy tips for writing flash fiction which I have discovered.
The easiest and most obvious first:
Don’t worry about length in the first draft. Just write it as it comes. This saves so much stress!
Cut anything that is unnecessary to the story. This includes descriptions, names, adverbs (though I love a well-used adverb, this is one place where they must be avoided!), and repetition. Which bears repetition: If one passage carries the same information as another, even if it also has new content, delete or rearrange it.
Avoid passive tense. It adds words. Sometimes, passive can be necessary. But in flash fiction, find a way around it.
Pay careful attention to POV and try not to “hop heads.”
Avoid flashbacks. If used, be sure they are necessary.
Follow submission guidelines and the stylistic rules of wherever you plan to submit.
Now for my personal, trademarked (not really) technique of writing flash fiction:
Have a story you want to tell—and write it!
Too simple? Maybe. But occasionally a story presents itself complete except for a few details. Then, determine if it’s right for ultra-short format. Every time you introduce a character or describe a new scene, it takes up valuable words. If you can tell the story with minimal scenes and only a few characters, then it will work for flash.
But say you don’t have a complete story, which may be the case more often than not. Perhaps you just have an idea or two that you think may make a good story. How do you develop those seeds into a powerful thousand-word story?
This is my Three Idea Rule.
I know a story concept is ready to write when I have three ideas which have come together to make something. It doesn’t have to be a set-in-stone trio. But these three could be a Concept, a Setting, and a Character. Or a Conflict, a Time, and a Setting. Or whatever comes to you and inspires your muse! Add a challenge or a prompt, if you are writing for a specific publication or contest. Or if you just need something to kick off your imagination, there are also many prompts on Pinterest if you care to look. And then you’re good to go.
I wrote a story called “Watch Me Burn,” to submit to a contest. The challenge was to write to the song “Not Dead Yet” by Ledger. (It’s a good song, with a driving anthem quality. Look it up if you’re not familiar!)
Though it didn’t win the contest, the story did get accepted by the flash fiction online magazine Havok, and appeared on March 12, 2020.
The song happens to fit other ideas in my head, all clamoring to be written. In fact, it fits much better than I thought at first, which means I’m expecting this story to turn out quite well. Following the Three Ideas Rule, this is what I have:
A Dragon-Shifter. Are you familiar with the dragon-shifter concept? I wasn’t until a few months ago and, honestly, I find it kinda silly. Doesn’t mean I can’t use it, though! It just means I must find a setting or component which makes the idea work for me. And I did: A dragon-shifter who is a professional glassblower. What an image! Someone who appears ordinary and human, twisting molten glass through fire they do not fear.
The Exiled Prince. This is a trope which I happen to love. It has many iterations—exile, usurpation, someone of non-royal blood coming to the throne, or even a non-royal setting. I was inspired to use it by a prompt I saw on Pinterest, but I will take it in a different direction: In 1 Samuel 20-22, David is on the run from King Saul, whom he is destined to supplant. This is one of the strongest and most thrilling Fugitive King narratives, with strong, complex characters and stunning, devastating twists. Reading it in my personal devotions a few days ago, I knew retelling it would be perfect for this story.
An Enchanted Portal in the Least Magical Place. Just because I thought it might be funny. The least-magical place I can think of is a huge, empty parking lot or loading area behind a warehouse, a big-box store, or a bloc of corporate offices. Gray concrete, cracked asphalt, blue-white sky. And an enchanted portal, right there in the middle of it!
All this gives me an Urban Fantasy setting. Along with a female main character, now I have a story! As a flash fiction, I am confined to retelling a blend of 1 Sam. 20 and 21: David, on the run and panicking, confronts his best friend Prince Jonathan, who is certain nothing is going on. They arrange a secret rendezvous – which turns out to be necessary, when the mad King Saul tries to kill his own son confirming David’s worst suspicions. Meanwhile, someone who David turned to for help is betrayed and killed by King Saul. So much drama and potential! This story turned out really well, so I plan to continue into the other chapters. More characters, deeper treachery, and a little more resolution to the fugitive’s arc. But this brings me to my final point about flash fiction. Resolution is hard to come by. The story is complete, but sometimes in a way that leaves you right in the middle of the action, craving more. ------- Your turn! Take the three elements I listed above, add the character you have always wanted to write, and have fun.: A Dragon-Shifter. The Exiled Prince/Princess. An Enchanted Portal in the Least Magical Place. You have 1000 words. What will you write? —— Links to Follow Abigail: Website - https://abigailfalangaauthor.wordpress.com/ Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AbigailFalangaAuthor/?modal=admin_todo_tour Facebook reader group - https://www.facebook.com/groups/669683500440520/ Twitter - https://twitter.com/AbigailFalanga Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/abigailfalangaauthor/ Interested in her Havok stories? Become a member for only $5 a year! "Watch Me Burn" members-only permalink - https://gohavok.com/2020/03/12/watch-me-burn/
MARCH 29, 2020