So, these days I feel like I’m gushing over flash fiction. I’m constantly impressed by how elegant it is, simple in concept and yet requiring of pretty intense skills to pull it off successfully. I won’t bore you with yet another diatribe on why I think it’s great…
Who’m I kidding, quick abridged version: Fast to write, requires stretching to meet the objective of the prompt, experience the entire writer’s cycle.
Since I’ve written a bunch of it (Check out my stories here), I thought I’d give some advice on what I think it takes to write good flash fiction. Ironically, these tips are good for writing short stories or even novels as well… I think that we find it easier to polish a work of flash fiction than a novel though. Certainly faster.
So, although I’m nowhere near an expert (and I’ll let you tell me if you think I’m any good or not), I do think the below tips are helpful for anybody wanting to write flash fiction.
1) Treat it like you are writing a full story.
That’s right. Brainstorm it. Plan it. Imagine your arc. Don’t just word vomit out 100-300 words and call it a day. Flash fiction prompts may come from pictures, sentences, objects, themes, or more… But the limit to what you do with it is really up to you.
The world behind the story you write is a much larger world than your few hundred words will ever do justice to. As an author, it’s your obligation to try, and if anything, you have a very difficult chore since you need to do it in 1/10 of the words (or less). The best flash fiction I read tells me that it’s part of some bigger story, whether the flash fiction is wrapping that story up, or giving you a teaser into it.
2) Make every word count.
I touch on that above, but this is critical. Short Tale Shrew touches on the topic of “Meaning Per Word.” You can’t make do with an Adverb/Verb combo when a better verb will do. Three adjectives describing your noun takes something away. Even passive voice must often be eliminated in the name of freeing up a few words.
I think its absolutely critical to think of this step, and why flash fiction can really help your novel-writing skills. Each “writing rule” must be scrutinized to determine if you are adding words intentionally… Or just falling into the same wordy trap you invented in high school to get your word count for the teachers.
3) Provide a complete story.
I mention above that you want the story to feel like part of something bigger, but there’s a right and wrong way to do this. If your flash fiction is a scene from a story, but you don’t have enough context to understand what it’s a part of… You probably need to do some work.
Additionally, although the story can (and should) hint at something bigger, that something bigger shouldn’t be necessary to enjoy the work as it is. Your story needs a beginning, middle, and end. Something should be tested as a result of the story that may or may not result in change.
4) Leave the reader something to think about.
The trick of good flash fiction is to build a story that hooks your reader excited to learn what’s going to happen after the story is closed. Will the lobster actually manage to climb out the tank next time? Will the airplane take the next passenger back in time?
It doesn’t have to be the future of the story, though. You could also leave it wondering how in the world did he manage to wrap Christmas lights around a skyscraper? This is fine as long as the story alludes to this being something the reader should wonder.
5) Play with it.
You only have to write a few hundred words. Play around with different things. Try killing the teacher. Try giving the dog superpowers instead… Or write the story from the perspective of the trees watching. There’s no wrong answer, but it’s worth it to try out different ideas and see what happens.
What do you think? What makes a good flash fiction story? What tricks do you use to write flash fiction?