Flash fiction always presents an exciting challenge: write an incredible story in a bite-sized word count.
Challenge accepted! Anytime. Any day.
For us writers, flash fiction presents an opportunity to play and practice with word choice, try some creative ideas, and keep a check on our writing abilities.
For the readers, flash fiction might be a short read but it’s still a difficult undertaking for writers, and the fact that it’s tough to get recognition or money solely from writing flash fiction makes it even harder to devote time to this type of writing in fiction.
However, flash fiction prompts are usually simple; just a short catchy idea and you’re good to go.
Alright then, let’s get started!
Types of Short Stories
Before I go on to talk about flash, I’d like to briefly define the types of writing in short stories that are there. Of course, there are varieties of formats, and some of these formats are unique in so many ways but I’ll just briefly define them.
An anecdote is a brief, interesting account of a real incident. An anecdote tells a story about an actual incident or person.
A drabble is a very short piece of fiction, normally having a word count of 100 words.
A mini-saga is a type of short story written in 50 words precisely.
Simply put, a fable is a short moral story. The story often features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, and other things. The moral is told at the end of the story.
Finally, we have flash fiction.
What Is Flash Fiction?
We can define flash fiction as a very short version of a short story. This type of short fiction can be as long as 1500 words depending on the publishing platform.
There isn’t a set word count that tells it apart from the usual short stories. However, flash fiction is so brief that it doesn’t offer much room for a comprehensive backstory or character development.
Writing flash fiction requires the wizardry of compacting entire story ideas into a couple of short paragraphs. It’s like loading an entire planet, like earth, into a cargo plane.
Flash fiction has most of the elements that longer stories have. The skeleton is basically the same—the story has a beginning, middle, end, and it has the main character.
Good flash fiction utilizes the following elements: Brevity, surprise endings, and rich language.
Brevity: Usually, flash fiction has to tell a complete story in 1500 words or less, or… a lot less.
Rich language: Flash fiction uses poetic language to give the story a thicker texture. Creativity in this short fiction category includes great story ideas and knowing to use impactful words.
Surprise Endings: I have emphasized this point in this section. Good flash fiction writers know how to twist their story ending. They always try to finesse the reader’s expectations and when they succeed, it means they’ve succeeded at making the end a good one.
Why Write Flash Fiction?
There are a lot of reasons for writing flash fiction. For me, writing flash fiction is just pure fun. Most of the time, I join flash fiction writing challenges on social media.
For a lot of writers, writing flash fiction helps them escape from the rough grip of writer’s block. Flash fiction does help shake up the creative juices and give you enough motivation to go back to writing longer fiction.
Other writers treat flash fiction writing as a way of practicing and strengthening their writing abilities—just like the way athletes train to keep themselves in shape.
How to Write Captivating Flash Fiction
Flash fiction is a type of short fiction but writing it is a tall order—the creativity that goes into creating this short read cannot be underestimated.
Here are a couple of tips that will help you write good flash fiction.
1. Make Every Word Count!
With such a small word count, you can’t afford to use ineffective words—you’ll end up writing a lot of things and saying very little. To make sure every word is effective, you have to use strong imagery and help your readers visualize your story.
2. Don’t Spread Your Story Too Thin
Flash fiction doesn’t offer you as much freedom as a novel or a novella does. This means that you have to be economical with your elements. One or two characters will do; too many characters will only complicate things as you have to fit them all into a very short story.
Sometimes you’ll notice that the story needs more characters. If this happens, you have to consider moving it to the short story section.
Otherwise, you have to remove any excess characters and inessential dialogue.
3. Be Economical with Your Scenes Too
Again, you have to remember that you don’t have many words to waste and you can’t stuff more than two scenes into a piece of flash fiction.
The best way to go about this is to let your story revolve around one particular moment in time. Then, just make sure you make this moment as captivating as possible.
A story in the flash fiction category doesn’t need extraneous plot points—you have to be concise and freestyle your way through the writing rather than try to map your story as that can lead to a bloated story.
Avoid jumps in time and background stories; there’s neither time nor space for those. Instead, try to describe the character using this single moment or scene.
4. The End Should NEVER be a Cliché
You let your reader end up with the “I knew it’d end this way” feeling. Don’t give us what we expected; rather, try to switch things toward the end.
Try to end your story with a surprise, on a different emotional note than the one the story began on. And since the story is short, this different emotional note will naturally be quick, adding to the enthrallment.
Overused settings are always not impactful—you have to experiment with every story, that’s what creativity is all about.
The thing is: stories are always similar, and it’s hard to create a completely different setting or ending. However, you have to take this as an advantage—tell the reader whatever they expect to hear early on and blow a reader’s mind towards the end.
5. Be Magical With Your Titles
When I say magical, I’m not talking about writing fantasy. What I’m saying is: you have to come up with a title that sort of fulfills our “make every word count” shibboleth.
You only have so few words to work with, you might as well make use of the title to captivate your readers. Even if you’re not sure about your story, the title can act as a honey trap.
6. Don’t Be Ambiguous
Just because your story needs to be wrapped up in a few words doesn’t mean that you have to write a story that isn’t very clear.
If you intend to have an enigmatic ending, then being ambiguous can actually work. However, the rest of the story has to be told using sentences and phrases that are trenchant and replete with dynamic details.
7. Connect With Your Reader
Try to create an instant connection to the reader and make them understand your story better and faster. The faster they connect with the story, the fewer words you need to tell the story.
One way of achieving this is by using the first-person point of view. The first-person POV always succeeds at creating an immediate connection to the reader and you can use this to your advantage.
It’s a NO-NO for a flash fiction piece to have POV shifts. Use one POV, and use that to build the story.
15 Flash Fiction Writing Prompts
Usually, and somehow, my prompts for flash fiction are amusingly longer than the story itself.
But there isn’t a guideline on flash fiction prompts anyway, so they are okay. A flash fiction prompt can be an elaborated idea or a single word.
What matters is creating a story with a good hook, complete arc, and impactful ending. Take a look at some flash fiction prompts I came up with:
- A young man meets his father for the first time, at his father’s funeral.
- A groom realizes that his bride is a vampire, on their wedding day. He also realizes that he’s the only human at his wedding.
- When a car salesman gets back home, he realizes that his dog has been trying to tell him that his wife wants to kill him.
- “It’s exactly a minute before I die and I intend to live life to the fullest in the next 60 seconds.”
- “Joey, outside, earth as we know it, is gone. The moon is bigger, the air stings, and the soil burns.”
- Ted, who was in solitary confinement for six months, escapes from prison but is greeted by a ghostly silent city.
- A pirate ship is sinking. Everybody but the captain has abandoned the ill-fated ship. The captain knows what sank his ship and wants to confront it, deep in the Martian sea.
- Jeff’s promoter has just informed him that they will make 100 times more money if he loses the fight. Jeff’s 18-year-old son is sitting ringside and the 36-year-old Jeff is burdened with the dilemma of choosing between money and making his son proud.
- A homeless man dies and meets the spirit who’s tasked with welcoming him to the ‘afterlife’ but the spirit thinks there’s been a problem. It isn’t the man’s time to die but the homeless man insists he’s more than ready.
- Bertha meets the queen of England for the first time. They’re sitting on the same dinner and Bertha is feeling a little tensed up when, suddenly, the queen asks if she’s in the mood for a karaoke battle.
- A monk finds himself in a mental institution. He’s trying to figure out what drove him round the bend.
- Kiara just ate some ‘mushrooms’ and she, suddenly, finds herself at the bottom of the ocean.
The Difference between the Graphic Fiction and Flash Fiction
Graphic Fiction combines words, picture boards, and typography to tell a story. Take, for example, a comic novel, that’s graphic fiction.
On the other hand, Flash Fiction may be just a brief story and doesn’t have to use pictures to tell a story.
Well… graphic fiction can also be short, but you tell that it’s graphic because of the pictures and their descriptions.
Short Stories and Flash Fiction
People think that the only difference between flash fiction and other short stories is length. However, this is not entirely true—the difference in length leads to other differences.
There isn’t a universally accepted word count for flash fiction and the length varies depending on the publisher. For some publications, the word count lies between 100 and 1,000, while others put it as high as 1,500 words. The range for ‘normal’ short stories is 1,000-10,000 words. You can see that the ranges do overwrap sometimes.
The extreme brevity of a story in the flash fiction category means that the story isn’t given much freedom to develop. On the other hand, a short can contain more details (but, compared to a novella or novel, a short story still enjoys less room for creativity, backstories, etc.).
So, unlike flash fiction, short stories are more flexible and can contain more characters, scenes, and a subplot.
Flash fiction works off one idea for plot and character and, just like other longer forms of short stories, tells a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end with the elements of storytelling in place.
When writing either flash fiction or short stories, you need to be efficient with your word choice, clear and concise. As I said in the tips, remove unnecessary descriptions and dialogue and deal with inessential adjectives and adverbs. And as long as you don’t “tell,” you’ll be fine.
Flash fiction writing is a great way to keep your creative juices flowing. However, flash fiction isn’t something you write for fun; there are a couple of literary magazines that accept flash fiction submissions. You can also keep your social media pages relevant by publishing micro-stories continuously on those pages.
The best thing about creative writing is that you can always break the rules—whatever one publishing says is a NO-NO, another deems acceptable.
And that’s also the best thing about flash fiction, you’re free to experiment, and you don’t have to worry about publishing; there are countless avenues with little to no restrictions.