I should make one thing abundantly clear, I’m not an authority on this.
I do not have any awards or certificates that prove I’m qualified to talk about this. I am not one of the masters. I am not one of the greats.
All I am is a blogger with a voice and an opinion who, on occasion, likes to talk about the craft of writing.
Of course, me saying all of this is just lampshading; so that if you disagree with me, I can claim immunity.
Anyhow, people who have been with me for a while know that I have a fondness for flash fiction. I write at least three a month, and they are often my most viewed posts.
Over the course of all that time, I learned some things, mostly through a combination of trial and error, reader feedback, and other people’s experiences.
So, I thought I would share them with you, because maybe it will help you with your own flash fictions, or even inspire you to start writing them. (In fact, if you do end up writing one, post a link in the comments!)
Before we start though, I should clear up what exactly a flash fiction is, for those that don’t know.
Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction.
Alright, now onward to the list!
Lesson #1: Have A Theme
This might seem a bit basic, but that’s because it’s critical to your story. You only have a limited amount of space, so you need to focus on that one thing you want to get across. That does not mean your story needs to beat the person over the head with a theme, just make sure there is one. Whether your theme is death, love, paranoia, or my personal favorite: madness, you need to keep to just that theme, making sure to cut anything that doesn’t help support or expand upon it. It’s the only way you are going to fit your story into the 1,000 word limit.
Bonus Tip: Never tell people your theme. It’s way more fun that way :).
Lesson #2: Keep It To One Or Two Protagonists
Due to the word limit, you need to keep to only a few characters. You really should have only one protagonist, but if you are crafty, you might be able to manage balancing two different character perspectives. Anything beyond that is a bit chaotic.
I will admit to personally breaking this rule. Very specific kinds of flash fiction can manage to have a lot of characters. Those sort of stories usually revolve around a single event being viewed by different perspectives. (I did just that in “The Wave“) . Otherwise, it’s best kept simple.
Lesson #3: Imply What You Can’t Show
Believe it or not, you can world-build in a flash fiction, you just have to be really sneaky about it. Attempting to use exposition is not feasible within 1,000 words, so you have to imply. Tell the reader about the world and the location strictly through contextual cues.
There are a lot of ways to do this, but dialogue is by far the most effective. Having characters offhandedly refer to events or objects during a conversation is a great way to clue people in on what exists in the story (Just make sure not to be too heavy-handed about it). In science fiction or fantasy stories this is incredibly useful, because you can force the reader to automatically paint a world around the narrative.
Another is character reactions. If a character reacts to something we would normally find outlandish in a calm way, then we can immediately assume that either it is totally mundane in their world, or the character is special.
Flash fictions can have as rich a narrative as anything else, it just takes some literary trickery.
Lesson #4: Fiction Rules Still Apply
All the normal rules still apply. All of them. Your story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It must have a protagonist. It needs to have a climax. Set up Chekhov’s Guns and make sure to fire them.
Flash fiction is still fiction, it’s just super condensed fiction.
Lesson #5: Start As Close To The Climax As Possible
By climax, I mean whatever big action occurs in your story. An argument, a fight, a death, a kiss, whatever. Due to how much space you have, you need to start as close to the climax as you can. Because, generally speaking, that is the part that most people are reading for. In a book you have a lot of time to set up various motivations and such beforehand.
You don’t have that here.
All of that stuff has to come across before and during the climax, through implication.
Lesson #6: Don’t Listen To Rules
The obligatory statement that everyone knows. You don’t need to follow what I say.
You’re an artist! Write flash fictions however the hell you want. As I said before, I’m not qualified to tell you how to do anything.
I simply offer you advice.
And my final piece of it is to ignore my advice.
If you can make a story that doesn’t follow any of these rules and still is excellent, and entertaining, then more power to you.
Because honestly, fuck the rules.
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