Have you ever wanted to try writing flash fiction? In this post, we answer the question ‘What is Flash Fiction?’and give you tips for writing it.
In this time of lockdown, we’ve noticed lots of writing groups and writing challenges pop up with flash fiction prompts. But, what is flash fiction and why should we be writing it?
What Is Flash Fiction?
According to Macmillan Dictionary, ‘Flash fiction is a style of writing which involves producing very short pieces of fictional literature. This is quite different to the concept of a short story, which is usually several pages long and can notch up thousands of words. Works of flash fiction, by contrast, can comprise as little as a single page or 250 words.’
The term was first used in the 1990s, but the genre has been around forever. It can be traced back to the fables of Ancient Greece, but short short story writing became popular in the 1930s.
Ernest Hemingway famously wrote this: ‘For sale, baby shoes, never worn.’
Flash fiction is also called postcard fiction, sudden fiction, micro-fiction, short short, and short short story. It also includes the 280-character “twitterature” story and the six-word story.
There may be so many terms for this type of fiction because nobody really seems to know exactly what it is or how long it should be. We can write in any genre, in any style, and in any tone. We can create whatever mood we want with these short pieces.
These short pieces use all the usual elements of fiction, including characters, story goals, conflict, beginnings, and endings. Obviously there is very little time to develop all of these, and many of them are hinted at or implied.
Showing and not telling becomes important in this mini-genre. (Try our How To Show And Not Tell In Short Stories free course.)
Many famous authors wrote in this genre, including Anton Chekhov, O. Henry, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, Ernest Hemingway, Julio Cortázar, Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Brautigan, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, John Cage, Philip K. Dick, and Robert Sheckley. Somerset Maugham published Cosmopolitans: Very Short Stories (1936).
About The Length
Some people define it as anything up to 1000 words, some up to 300 words. Many writers use ‘micro-fiction’ to define stories fewer than 300 words. Within this, they use the word ‘drabble’ for stories of exactly 100 words and ‘dribble’ for 50 words.
Why Should I Write Flash Fiction?
- You could get published. There are many online journals that accept submissions.
- It’s a great way to get into writing. Instead of a daunting 80 000-word novel, writers can try their hand at short pieces. They can see if they enjoy writing and want to spend more time doing it.
- It’s a way to join a community. There are many flash fiction communities, including The Keep Writing Challenge run by our sister site Deadlines for Writers.
- It’s good for experimenting. You can write in any genre, in any viewpoint, and in any tense.
- It helps you cut the fat. It’s a great way to learn how to identify the essential parts of a story. Many beginner writers overwrite with too many descriptions and too many characters. You cannot do that with flash fiction.
- It’s practice. And practice makes perfect. The more you write and experiment, the better you get at writing.
5 Tips For Writing Flash Fiction
- Read in the genre. You need to know what you’re writing before you begin. This does not mean that you have to copy anybody, but do get a feel for what you’re doing before you start.
- Choose one character who wants something. This is usually a protagonist. You cannot focus on more than one character in such a short piece of writing. One character with a small story goal is great.
- Focus on a small part of a much bigger story. Imagine that your short piece could be backstory that doesn’t quite make it into the book, or it could be part of a scene in your book. It could be a vignette.
- Edit what you’ve written. Just because you’re writing short doesn’t mean that you get a pass with mistakes. If anything, your proofreading and editing should be even more vigilant with short pieces.
- Submit. Send your stories to online journals. You never know, your story may be exactly what they are looking for.
TOP TIP: Try our How To Show And Not Tell In Short Stories free course.
© Amanda Patterson
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