Flash fiction—generally defined as stories 1,000 words or less—is seeing a rise in popularity, especially online.
But how can you write a story in only 1,000 words?
Tips for Writing a Flash Story
Include the Elements of a Story
Remember, you’re writing a story. It has a beginning, middle and end. And like all stories, it must have character, settings, plot, conflict. Finally, something must change during the story—a character discovers something about him/herself; a simple event has far-reaching consequences.
Decide What Element Is Primary, the Rest Are Secondary
The tale of three-dimensional characters in sumptuous settings engaged in a complex plot requires many thousands of words. For flash, focus on one element of storytelling. Is your story about a character? An event? An idea? Use details for that piece and quick, simple sketches for the others.
Keep the Action in One Location
For each setting, you need to describe it as well as the transition and the motivation for moving from one to another. So, keep your story in a single location. Once described, give indications throughout the story–smells, texture, furniture, people–to keep the story grounded.
Use Clichés, Stereotypes and Tropes
While all stories should strive to be original, using things we’ve seen before quickly establishes story elements in the reader’s mind. Think about:
- The tough-as-nails woman business executive who secretly longs for marriage and children
- 2 a.m. at an all-night diner just off the highway in the middle of nowhere
- The whore with the heart of gold and her possessive, violent pimp
- A rusty, iron door at the bottom of a metal staircase in the basement of an abandoned warehouse
We’ve seen these things before and they provoke certain expectations, imagery and feelings. While clichés in longer works are frowned upon as unoriginal, in shorter fiction they work to your advantage. In a few words, you can establish setting, tone or character.
And it might also provide the opportunity for misdirection.
Establish Setting, Character and Conflict Quickly
Throwing too much at a reader quickly can overwhelm them. Even in short stories, you should take a page or two to introduce characters, setting and conflict. In flash fiction, all of this should be established in a paragraph or two. Readers will only be with your character(s) for a few pages, so set the stakes quickly.
Establish a “Hook” in the Opening Line
This advice applies to all fiction, but is vital in flash. Readers have to sit up and pay attention immediately. Don’t open with the line “It was sunny.” Try:
- The morning sun barely penetrated the coils of black smoke filling the sky.
- It was a sunny morning, marking the beginning of the 2,000th day without rain.
- If I could’ve had a say, I’d have wanted thunderstorm on the morning of my death instead of sunshine.
What Flash Fiction Is Not
With all of this said, there are types things to avoid when writing flash fiction.
The Knock-Knock Joke
A knock-knock joke is 90% misdirection, 10% gotcha! Though amusing, for fiction this is lazy writing. Like “It was all a dream” or “But they were already dead” endings, all the effort is put into building up to the switch, not telling a good story.
Flash fiction should be a complete story, not a scene from a larger story. No matter how well-written, something should change over the course of a story.