Nasty, Brutish, and Short
Evil Flash Fiction by Patrick M. Tracy

Fundamentals of Flash Fiction

By Patrick M. Tracy

What is Flash Fiction?

For some, the term “flash fiction” itself may be unfamiliar.  Flash fiction is the art of telling a full-fledged story with very few words.  Most commonly, flash fiction is considered to be a story between 200 and 1,500 words. For those who can more easily relate to manuscript pages of text, these stories are between one and five pages in length.  These tiny stories contain beginnings, middles, and ends, just as longer stories do.  Everything simply occurs much more quickly.  While writing, say, 500 words may seem easy, there is some art to the process of telling a good story in such a short span.


Why would I want to write Flash Fiction?

Writing flash fiction can provide a variety of benefits. If a writer is just starting out, the short word count can decrease anxiety. If you must only write a few hundred words, there’s little to fear. Also, because a flash fiction story can often be written to the conclusion of a draft in one sitting, the beginning writer can experiment, being unafraid of a story “failing”. For more experienced writers, the discipline required to write “short” can be of great benefit to them when they return to longer works. If the writer can maintain the economy of language he learned while writing flash fiction, his longer stories will move at a fast pace as well. Finally, there is a market for flash fiction on the Internet. If you become highly skilled at writing these short tales, you may be able to make a few bucks and gain some publication credits for your efforts.

What’s the Secret?

There are no “secrets” in writing, only helpful maxims. Here are a few that are especially useful for flash fiction:

  1. Brevity is the Soul of Wit: As the Immortal Bard said, express your ideas with the minimum of words. Of all story forms, flash is the least tolerant of excess verbiage.

  2. Don’t use one POV too many: Generally, using more than one point-of-view character in a flash fiction is a bad idea. Tell the story from one character’s perspective, if you can. If you’re having a hard time, you may need to plan the story out more thoroughly.

  3. Use your Allusion: Yes, it’s a bad paraphrase, but it’s also a great tool. In flash, you’ll need to allude to the past and hint at the future. You don’t have enough space to show everything that has happened or might. You can only structure your words so that the reader does this “broadening of the tale” for you.

  4. One Memorable Scene: Frequently, you’ll only have one scene to work with. Think of flash being a distillation of a bigger story, and you’re coming in just in time to see the climactic events occur. If you can properly contextualize those events, you’ve told a great flash fiction story.

  5. All the Standard Rules Apply: Just as any other story, flash fiction needs a great opening line, an interesting character, and a vibrant setting. The challenge a flash writer faces is that you have to convey all of this in a few artful sentences.

A Final Message:

Don’t be afraid to try writing. Flash fiction is a great medium to start on. Remember, it’s better to have written and stunk than to have never written at all. In order to write well, you must first WRITE to begin with. None of us writes a masterpiece in our first effort. It’s okay if your early stories aren’t earth shattering. You can’t sit down at the piano and play Rachmaninoff the first time out, either. It’s a process.

2 Responses to “Fundamentals of Flash Fiction”

  1. This is really helpful information. I was not aware of the term or the definition. However this would have been useful to me in a recent “Sudden Fiction” workshop, in which we are given a prompt and just go at it. I had a very hard time framing a story to conclusion in the given hour. I will think of your “Fundamentals” next time I work on a short story. Thank you!

  2. “You can’t sit down at the piano and play Rachmaninoff the first time out, either. It’s a process.”

    This is the heart of it for me. I aspire to greatness and I often had the mistake of trying to reach the moon in one shot. Flash Fiction is everything I need right now and thanks to you I’m not afraid of it any more. It was just… the thought of leaving all my cards on the table to be judged as a writer. and then to do it all in LESS time was a bit unnerving. but that last line reminds me that victories come from good practice. I can do this!

    Thanks for the inspiration and explanation.


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