How to Write Flash Fiction

Matthew Donnellon

Photo by Natalie Grainger on Unsplash

Flash fiction is dangerous fiction.

It’s the kind of story that leaves zero room for error. Here, the writer must be at the top of his or her game or risk seeming like a fool.

It’s playing with fire.

Too long and you’re boring.

Too short and you’re just a tease.

You have to titillate the reader in a way they’re not used to.

If they aren’t leaning forward in their seat begging for the next bit of story then the writer hasn’t done his job.

If brevity is the soul of wit, then flash fiction is the wittiest writing of all.

But, you ask? How do you write it?

Well, keep reading.

Keep it Short

Yes. I know. I’m stating the obvious. But occasionally the obvious must be stated.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to say flash fiction is a thousand words and under. That’s probably getting close to short story territory, but it’s my article and I make the rules.

I see it far too often. There’s a story claiming to be Flash Fiction but moves at a snail’s pace. And there are far too many words, and really it’s just the writer prattling on and on.

This isn’t a gentle amble in the countryside.

It’s a sprint, a hard one. The kind that leaves you coughing and heaving and wondering why you have to take gym class in the first place.

So how do you keep it short?

Lose some words.

Like a lot of them. Most of the ones you think are necessary probably aren’t. Chuck’em. I know you paid a lot of money for that English degree. I did too. But truth be told, you can get by with like 40 words, and that’s if I’m feeling loquacious.

If your prose is even the littlest bit purple it doesn’t belong in flash fiction. Save it for when you’re famous and your editor can’t tell you what to do, or for the YA novel, you wrote in high school.

Only keep what’s necessary. A piece of writing advice that’s been attributed to many writers is to “kill your darlings.”

Here, you don’t kill your darlings.

You desecrate their corpses.

You defile your elegant writing in service of the story. Any syllable not moving the story forward is essentially useless.

Tell Don’t Show

Didn’t see that coming did you?

Sometimes you have to just tell. It’s an extension of the point above. It’s what helps shorten the story.

You can write, “he was tough looking. He had bruised knuckles and a battered face. He wore his leather jacket like a second skin and looked as though he was itching for a fight. He was not very nice to puppies and tended to scare old ladies.”

That’s a lot of words to say he’s a bad guy.

Just write he’s a bad guy. The readers will trust you. It’s your story after all. They kind of have to.

Punch The Reader In The Gut

I mean don’t actually do it.

But you have to shock them a little. If it’s horror. Make sure the ending is scary. If it’s a sad story then make it really sad. Shock them. You don’t want them to see the ending coming.

You have very little room to make an impact.

It’s not a book. The reader doesn’t get hours and days with the character to build a relationship and start to empathize. If you want the reader to remember your story afterward, you have to grab them and shake them (metaphorically speaking of course.)

You want them to be thinking about your ending three days later.

Now do these things.

Write fast.

Write hard.

Blow their minds.

You can do it.

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Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories

Detroit, MI

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