How to Write Flash Fiction – and Why You Want to

Some people like to say that flash fiction is “new”, that it has become so popular because of the Internet. The latter part might be true, because many places are looking for something quick and to-the-point … but flash fiction is far from new. It has had a bevvy of loyal enthusiasts for years now, and these enthusiasts are often baffled as to how it got overlooked for so long.

What is flash fiction? In simplest terms, it is a short-short story. Usually, flash fiction is no more than 500 words in length, but packs a huge punch in the page it fits on. Flash fiction is like a snapshot, a single moment in time. It concentrates on the action; whereas in a novel or even a traditional short story, you take time to set up the scene and populate it with believable characters, flash fiction focuses on the important pieces of a story. It has a definite conflict and resolution, but instead of being peopled with characters it is usually fine-tuned to one character.

Writing flash has a lot of benefits to the writer. Not only are you pushing yourself to develop different aspects of your writing style, it helps you really work on your ability to hone the elements of surprise and suspense in your stories. You don’t have to worry about filling page after page with those elements – it all comes fast and hard, a “flash” of story.

Writing Flash Fiction

The key thing to remember when you start your flash story is that it must be brief, but compelling. Depending on whether you’re doing the writing just for yourself or for a market, the number of words will vary (most editors are looking for flash fiction that is between 300-900 words) but it should be compact and really make an impact.

Most flash fiction features a story of a single act, one moment in time – though that moment can be stretched into a sort of slow-motion surreal thing if you have the talent and patience to craft it. Sometimes, the story is the culmination of several unwritten events, which have led up to this point of dramatic impact. That dramatic impact is all you’re concerned with writing.

Practice writing flash fiction with several of the ideas below. Seriously, I cannot stress how much the excersize of just doing it will improve your writing as a whole.

Focus On Action

In all stories, there is one overall theme; an idea, an event, an emotion … there is something that makes your story tick. In flash fiction, this is the only thing you have to worry about. A discussion of how couples interact, complex relationships, would take an entire novel or more – but you could refine the idea down to how one partner feels when they aren’t included in a conversation. What they see when their partner arrives home. Find the point of conflict, the major action, and focus on it.

Skip the Pre-Story

There isn’t time in flash fiction to tell the reader about your character’s childhood, the years of frustration that led them to some heinous act. Instead, skip right to the point and fit any background into the first paragraph … then move on and tell your story.

Action!

Yup, I know, I keep repeating this one. Here’s a slight twist though … what if you start right in the thick of the action? A woman is running … the echoes of a gun-shot are bouncing down an alley … In other words, don’t describe more than you have to. The reader will naturally fill in some of the blanks, if you describe the action well enough.

Describe, Don’t Tell

A general rule of thumb when you’re writing, this one applies very strongly to flash fiction. When you start to focus on the action, you will probably find that action taking place in a powerful “image”. Paint a picture with your words, and really create an environment with the setting. Your action within the setting becomes even more gripping when the reader has a sense of where it’s all happening.

Leave ‘Em Guessing

Leaving a reader hanging till the end of the story can work very well in flash fiction. One of my favorite pieces was one that I wrote about a hockey game … only, I described it the way one would see a battlefield. Scarred, icy terrain and a single bleeding wound on the face of the victor crossing that terrain in gliding steps to grip hands with his foe … and I let the emotion ride until the very end of the story when the winning hockey team was hoisted onto the shoulders of fans. Lure your reader through to the end. This won’t work with every story, but the ones that it does work with are powerful.

Flash Fiction Markets

Hey, if we can have fun writing a story and find a way of getting it published, everyone’s happy. Here are some of the places currently looking for flash fiction stories.

SmokeLong Quarterly is a literary magazine dedicated to flash fiction.
“SmokeLong publishes flash fiction up to 1000 words. We have a special place in our hearts for the 400-700 word range but will give equal consideration to all pieces within the guidelines.”
http://www.smokelong.com/cover.asp

Vestal Review publishes flash fiction under 500 words in most genres.
“Will not accept submission during the months of March, June, September and December. We publish most genres other than children’s, syrupy romance or hard science fiction, and we love humor”
http://www.vestalreview.net/submissions.htm

Funny Times is a flash fiction publisher focusing on humor.
“Looking for Humor, Politics, and Fun. We print columns, stories, and cartoons. Pays $50 for humor piece of 500-700 words. Any kind, any subject, but it must make us laugh.”
email for guidelines, ft@funnytimes.com

Mind Caviar publishes erotic flash fiction.
“Explicit sexual imagery is preferred. Writing must be sensual, preferably food or sex-oriented, thoughtful, emotion-provoking, dimensional and intelligent. Our focus is on indulgence and sensuality, but we are also looking for gender issues, alternative lifestyles, educational pieces and commentaries.”
http://www.mindcaviar.com/submissions.html

Writing Austrailia publishes flash fiction online.
“General short fiction, mainstream, literary, genre, children’s stories; up to 1,000 words. Good writing is the main criterion. No explicit sex or violence. Payment is up to $50.00 on acceptence.”
http://www.writingaustralia.com/submissions.html

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