May 6th, 2016

Why You Should Write Flash Fiction

But first, an announcement~ The winner of Chuck Sambuchino’s book, How To Get a Literary Agent is…morgynstarz!  Chuck will be in touch, and will send you the book. Now, on to today’s blog.


I’m a tight writer (I’m cheap too, but in this case, I mean no spare words), so short-short fiction has always fascinated me. But deadlines for novel-length fiction means experimenting with short has remained on  a way-back burner. But I’ve just turned in two proposals, so I’m shuffling burners, and playing with this. I thought I’d pass on what I’ve uncovered about this type of writing.

What is flash fiction? Definitions vary, but generally, they’re complete stories of anywhere from 100 to 1,500 words. All genres lend themselves well to this type of story.

How do you write it? There are some guidelines:

  • Few characters – Many I’ve read only have one, but you don’t have time for more than three. Make them count with good, short descriptions and unique voices
  • Show vs tell – short-short means your words have to do double duty
  • Verbal efficiency and tone – Margie Lawson is the master here. Use her power words, backloading, alliteration and other rhetorical devices to set the tone throughout
  • Big impact in few words: think Hemingway’s, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
  • Use few elements, but use them wisely for best impact
  • Complete story. Beginning/middle/end. Shouldn’t leave the reader wondering what happens next
  • Focus one conflict – one theme – in one scene
  • The first, last line and title are crucial
  • Surprise the reader

More wisdom from STACE BUDZKO

  • Start at the flashpoint –By definition Flash begins at the moment of conflict, when all the action is nearly complete. Think: the final gesture of a love affair, or the start of a good old-fashioned gang fight. All of this is to say we need to avoid preambles or introductions (unless working on a specific conceit).
  • Focus on the powerful image(s)– Find one or more powerful images to focus your story on. A wartorn street. An alien sunset. A Going Out of Business sign. They say a picture worth a thousand words. Paint a picture with words. It doesn’t hurt to have something happen inside that picture. It is a story after all.
  • Hit them where it hurts– Go for an ending that offers an emotional impact. As flash writers, we are in the punch-in-the-gut business. Play against expectations with a sense of narrative mystery or devastating twist, a poignant implication or declarative last sentence that leaves the reader breathless, and going back for more.

Why write it?

  • Get your name out there
  • People can read it fast, so they’re more likely to read
  • You can write it fast
  • Sharpen your skills, learn to write tight
  • Can count toward membership in professional writing organizations
  • You can use it as free content for marketing
  • Competitions
  • Inspiration

Example: Warning – the visual is a bit brutal

Forecast by Nik Eveleigh

The wrinkled man pokes a finger in to the slew of guts strewn across the parched ground. The day-dead rabbit that had previously contained them lies on its side three feet away facing east.

A drag of the finger further displaces the ropes of intestine. Cocking his head the man lifts the finger to his lips and tastes. He hops from foot to foot and rolls his eyes in rapture.

Several minutes pass before his eyes drop and regain their focus. With a nod he creaks to his feet and turns to face the silent, expectant crowd.

“Rain. Two Days.”

I’m all in. How about you? Have you ever written any Flash Fiction? Share with us in the comments!

photo credit: Dr. Frankenstein’s dream II via photopin (license)


A bit about Laura’s latest release – Days Made of Glass:Amazon Cover

Harlie Cooper raised her sister, Angel, even before their mother died. When their guardian is killed in a fire, rather than be separated by Social Services, they run. Life in off the grid in L.A. isn’t easy, but worse, there’s something wrong with Angel.

Harlie walks in to find their apartment scattered with shattered and glass and Angel, a bloody rag doll in a corner. The doctor orders institutionalization in a state facility. Harlie’s not leaving her sister in that human warehouse. But something better takes money. Lots of it.

When a rep from the Pro Bull Riding Circuit suggests she train as a bullfighter, rescuing downed cowboys from their rampaging charges, she can’t let the fact that she’d be the first woman to attempt this stop her. Angel is depending on her.

It’s not just the danger and taking on a man’s career that challenges Harlie. She must learn to trust—her partner and herself, and learn to let go of what’s not hers to save.

A story of family and friendship, trust and truth.

33 comments to Why You Should Write Flash Fiction

  • Okay, I’ll be first – come on you guys, show us your stuff!
    The past is a place. Like Nebraska, or Italy, or Topeka. Who am I kidding? My past is Topeka. But the houses there aren’t shabby with a patina of decay, like now. They’re new and come-from-the-war proud, with tiny floor plans and postage stamp yards, neat flowerbeds and a family dog. A salesman’s color brochure of suburban living.

    On the outside.

    On the inside is a kitchen strewn with broken plate shards. Rooms full of shouted words, scarier silences and cowering kids. Rectangular bottles of foul-smelling liquid, hidden in toilet tanks and the bottom pantry shelves, way in the back. I traced the pattern of the springs underneath my bed until I had it memorized. I still see it when I close my eyes to sleep.
    We learned to keep secrets before we learned to read.

    I spotted other casualties in the hallways of elementary school. Takes one to know one. Like a comic book character, I had special vision. I saw through the regular kid to the confusion and make-it-stop fear. I don’t know if they saw mine.
    Thankfully, the past is a place I can step out of.

    Even if the present is a hospital room where bright spring flowers struggle to mask the smell of decay, and the normal world rushing by the window is so removed from me that it could be a television show. On the pillow, the angry booze-soaked face of my childhood is just a skull clad in a thin coat of liver-spotted skin. Soon, even that will be gone.

    Am I here out of love or obligation?

    Is there a difference?

  • I’ve entered a lot of 100 word FF over on Janet Reid’s blog. I tried to show two, a winner and a finalist version, but it appears the comment area may be limited to XXX words. (?) Anyway, here’s one I did that was the winner that week..her rules are to use the five words she supplies, and, of course, write a 100 word story.

    Words we had to use: chorus, ghost, actor, crane, stage

    Back when I won’t more’n a speck, I heard what sounded like a chorus of voices under my bed mumblin’ some word.
    I couldn’t rightly make it out at first, so’s I kept on listening, night after night.
    Finally, I got it.
    I reckon they was ghosts.
    That actor what shot Lincoln? Useless was last word he said afore he died, no foolin’.
    Troublin’ what I see when I crane my neck like so. They been hammering since yesterday.
    Come dawn, reckon I’ll be center stage.
    It’s alright. I ain’t ever amounted to nothin’.
    Funny. Useless comes to mind.

  • One good drill for writing flash fiction is writing op-eds for newspapers. Time was, your typical op-ed was 1,200 words. Then it was cut to 1,000; then to 750; today many papers won’t print any op-ed longer than 500 words. My current bet is that with the advent of social media such as Twitter, newspaper op-eds will get shorter still.

    Solomon sed.

    • I believe you’re right, Solomon. I never would have believed I could complete a pithy, coherent thought in 140 characters. Now I do it every day! I think it’s a great exercise to make you understand the theory of brevity, and to make every single word count.

  • Holly Robinson

    Such an interesting post! I haven’t tried flash fiction, but now I’m sorely tempted…

    • The fun thing I enjoy about it, Holly, is that you can do it in an hour – gets my creative juices going for my novels. Give it a try! (and if you do, post your results here!)

  • I’ve never tried flash fiction…the closest I’ve ever come is writing haiku. Your info, however, is super inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  • Orly Konig Lopez

    It’s not flash fiction, but the same reasons you state above are why I love switching gears and writing picture books every so often. It’s great exercise to write something completely different from what you normally do.

  • I’m in a Meet up writing group, and we write FF every other week from prompts. I now have over 150 stories and learned so much about writing. Now I have to do something with them.

  • christopherlentzauthor

    Laura, I was chugging along just fine this morning. Then I took a break and I read your blog. And BAM! You didn’t just ignite…you detonated a warhead of creativity in my head. I’d praise you more, but I’ve got some storytelling to do. NOW!

  • Not exactly flash fiction, but I write a rural/family humor column that is sometimes op ed, sometimes short story, rarely fiction except for the parts I have to cut out to make it family-friendly (those are usually the ones that involve cows). I am lucky enough to have an editor who gives me full rein, so I can play with voice, style, subject matter, as long as it’s entertaining. In the midst of plowing through the year long process of creating a novel when progress seems to go backward at times, these are like little pieces of sunshine because I get to FINISH something.

  • I had two FF pieces published in Six Minute Magazine in 2012. It was quite fun. I had no idea what I was doing (still the same today), but I enjoyed it.

  • Thanks Laura. Great idea! This way I can fulfill my writing mission: Focus, Finish, & Fun ! Finish is the hardest part… Except focus. This also reminds me how I enjoy wits!

  • Jon State

    Thanks for the insights on FF. I’ll have to try it. I, m engrossed in a trillogy and need a change of pace.

    • You’re going to love it, Jon. You know those random thoughts you get throughout the day? It’s a great way to develop them – and give yourself inspiration. I feel like such a writer when I do it – something that’s hard to feel, when you’re slogging through an entire novel.

  • This is great. Am going to quote part of it on my blog. Thanks!

  • I used to write a flash fiction every so often on the Changeling Press Friday Flash Fiction thing. It was kind of fun. They’d give the theme and you had a max of 150 words to tell the story.

  • Victoria Marie Lees

    I write YA for Cricket Magazine. The story max is 1800 words. Not many words to develop a fully fleshed-out adventure story. But I like it. Thanks so much, Laura, for these tips. I’ve shared generously on social media.

  • […] If you find writing poetry too challenging, Laura Drake spells out why writers should write flash fiction. […]

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