You know those bite-size candy bars you get for Halloween? Flash fiction is similar; tiny, but still tasty. In this article, we’re going to explore flash fiction and what makes it so fun. Let’s get started.
What Is Flash Fiction?
Put simply, flash fiction is an extremely short story.
It’s usually defined by word count, and though opinions vary on an exact figure, the general range is between 500 and 1,500 words.
Despite its seemingly niche nature, flash fiction has been around for quite a while. Authors such as Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ernest Hemingway all dabbled in it. How can we do the same?
Start with Experimentation
Part of the allure of flash fiction is its versatility. Since it's so short, a flash fiction piece might be a conceptual exploration or a description of a single moment. It need not be a traditional story with an arc and all that (though it still could be). Feel free to experiment.
For example, I once wrote a flash fiction piece about two siblings spying a monster out in a field behind their house. It was a unique writing experience since the entire story was the dialogue of one sibling to the other. That experimental narrative voice might not have worked in a longer piece. But in just 800 words, it felt unique.
If you're not sure where to begin, start with that weird idea you've always brainstormed but never tried. Try second-person narrative voice. Try future tense prose. Try telling a story in reverse. Try telling the story from an alien point of view. This is the place to do it!
Concentrate on Your Prose
Language is hyper-important in flash fiction. Which is not to say it's unimportant in novels or short stories. But since flash is so short, a poorly constructed sentence or vague image distracts more than it otherwise would.
Fortunately, flash fiction is far easier to edit. Since you have fewer words to review, spend extra time on each one. If a word doesn't serve your piece, then cut it.
ProWritingAid will tell you if you've used too many words that aren't moving your story forward. The Sticky Sentences Report highlights glue words in your text. These are words that stick your sentences together, but don't have much meaning themselves. By removing some of the glue words ProWritingAid highlights, you'll achieve snappier sentences, which is all important in flash fiction.
Poets might be seeing some parallels here. Though many poems are shorter than short stories, they require just as much (if not more!) effort to compose. The same goes for flash fiction. Generally speaking, style and artistry are prioritized, while pure narrative is de-emphasized.
Finally, don't view the word count as a limitation – take it as an opportunity. Since novels can pretty much continue as long as one wants, they can lose focus. Flash fiction, on the other hand, has a built-in end point. Think of it like the social media network Twitter.
On Twitter, the character count limit forces users to be clear and concise. Tweeters can't overuse purposeless adverbs, copious adjectives, or two words where one will do. The same goes for flash fiction. You don't get those long passages of description that sometimes end up feeling self-indulgent. Instead, flash fiction forces us writers to get to the point. I don't know about you, but to me, that's pretty refreshing!
Read Great Examples of What Works
As mentioned, flash fiction has been around for a long time. That means there are plenty of examples to draw inspiration from. I'd recommend the book Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories to start.
There are many online markets that also carry great flash fiction stories. A few examples:
- Flash Fiction Online
- Flash Fiction Magazine
- Brilliant Flash Fiction
- Daily Science Fiction
- The New Yorker
These sites are partially or entirely devoted to flash fiction. Read a few of their stories to get a feel for the form. See what works and what doesn't. Develop your own style from there.
Furthermore, once you've finished a few flash pieces, why not submit them to these markets? It's a great way to get your work out into the world (and perhaps make a little extra, too!).
Try Converting Your Old Stories
If you're anything like me, you have tons of unfinished short stories lying around. Maybe we never finished them because they're meant to be flash pieces!
Of course, it's not enough to submit half a short story and call it good. Make sure the piece stands on its own, either as a complete story or as a satisfying exploration of a concept. You might even try the same exercise with a chapter from an unfinished novel. You never know where inspiration might strike for your flash fiction work. So look to your old work first!
Well, this article ended up being about as long as a flash fiction piece. I hope it's given you inspiration to try the form.
Looking for a Challenge?
Write a 500-word flash fiction piece in the box below, then click the button to check it with ProWritingAid. Try to stick as close to 500 words as you can. Let us know how you got on in the comments!