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Writing Flash Fiction

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February 2011
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What is flash fiction?

In recent years, flash fiction has become a popular form of storytelling on the Web. There are many names for this type of fiction, including postcard fiction, short, short fiction, and micro-fiction. There are are numerous blogs and websites devoted to publishing this type of creative writing, typically a fictional story that is 1,000 words or less. There are also contests and an award given out to the best micro-fiction story. So, if you are an aspiring creative writer, who wants to get some practise at storytelling, writing a flash fiction might be worth your time and effort.

In this article, I will discuss flash fiction. The following topics will be covered:

  • Definition of  flash fiction
  • Author’s style
  • Types of genre
  • Suggestions for writing flash fiction
  • Flash Fiction reading and publishing

Definition of Flash Fiction

There are many definitions for flash fiction, depending on the editor, writer, or critic. First, flash fiction is identified by different names. Other popular names for this type of storytelling are “postcard fiction, “short-short fiction, sudden fiction”, micro-fiction. Secondly, in terms of word count, flash fiction is a complete story, written in 1,000 words or less. It all depends on the submission requirements for the web-based publication or print-based publication. Thirdly, a flash fiction story includes all the elements of a short story or novel–such as an inciting incident, protagonist/central character, plot/plot structure, (conflict, climax/turning point, and resolution), supporting characters, setting, Point of View, theme, style, and tone. Finally, the story is very short, and can be read in less than 10 minutes.

Author’s Style

There are many aspects of an author’s style, including word choice, sentence patterns, point of view, narrator, and tone. For the purpose of this post, I will briefly look at tone. What does it mean? It refers to the attitude of the writer toward his audience and subject–the fictional story he/she is writing. Whatever tone the writer chooses to use will also impact the other elements of style. In flash fiction, the writer can use many types of styles to tell a story, including:

  • Satirical
  • Ironic
  • Literary
  • Whimsical
  • Sublime
  • Controversial
  • Conventional
  • Unconventional

The style the writer chooses will depend on the selected genre and type of fictional story.

Types of Genre

What types of stories can you write? Ideally, your story ought to be based on genre fiction, such as:

  • War
  • Western
  • Crime
  • Romance
  • Mystery
  • Sci-fi
  • Fantasy
  • Horror

However, some web-based publications accept experimental storytelling and other types of genres, including erotica. You must visit the website where you want to submit your work, and then read the submission guidelines and a few of the published flash fiction stories to get a sense of the types of stories published.

Suggestions for Writing Flash Fiction

How do you write a flash fiction story? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Tell a complete story. It requires an inciting incident, obstacles, conflict, climax, and resolution.
  2. Use the elements of fiction to tell the story—setting, plot, protagonist, theme, point of view.
  3. Exclude background information. Instead begin the story in the middle of the action.
  4. Use imagery, metaphor, simile, and symbolism to tell your story.
  5. Imply different elements of the story. For instance, you can reveal setting through the choice of dialogue. You can reveal a flashback in dialogue.
  6. Make every word serve a purpose. Eliminate frivolous details, adjectives, adverbs. Use strong verbs. Remember you are writing a flash fiction story, so choose your words carefully.
  7. Begin the story with a hook that grabs the reader’s attention. Often you can begin in the middle of the action.
  8. Tell a story that is plot-driven, not character driven. So, you will need a conflict or inciting incident that begins the story.
  9. Make every word serve a purpose. Therefore, you will need to eliminate trivial details or unessential details, eliminate adverbs and adjectives. Don’t use nominalizations (string of nouns in a phrase).
  10. Write dialogue to move the story forward, to its conclusion. For example, the dialogue could reveal the conflict.
  11.   Use the active voice, and avoid the passive voice to tell the story.
  12.   End the story with a plot twist or change the expected outcome of the story.
  13.  Write a complete story, and then ruthlessly revise and edit it until you get to 1,000 words or whatever the submission guidelines will allow.

 Where to Read and Publish

Where can you read good flash fiction and post your own short, short stories? Here are a few popular websites:

To find out more about flash fiction, you can complete a Google search on the topics that interest you, including contests.

The best flash fiction entertains the reader, tells a complete story using the elements of fiction ( setting, plot/plot structure, characters, theme, point of view, voice, conflct), includes only the essential details, makes a point about the human condition, and leaves the reader thinking long after reading the story.

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