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What is Flash Fiction?

By: Catherine Burrows - Updated: 1 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
What Is Flash Fiction?

Flash fiction is a genre that has grown in popularity over the last few years with a large fan base and a proliferation of dedicated flash fiction competitions throughout the writing world. Some claim that the popularity of the shorter than short story is due to the limited attention spans of modern readers, today's texting mentality and the pace of modern life.

What is Flash Fiction?

Flash fiction contains from as few as 100 words to up to around 1,000. There are no set rules about the maximum word count and this varies hugely. Flash fiction is defined by its much shorter and briefer than usual length. It has even developed its own sub-genre of writing, which pays heed to the modern phenomenon of social networking and requires the writer to tell an entire story in as few as 140 character's- NOT words.

Flash fiction has many different names. These include short-short stories, sudden fiction, postcard, micro or nano fiction. Flash fiction is incredibly popular in France and China.

'Flash fiction' covers lots of different genres- historical, fairy tales, thrillers, ghost, romance, childrens writing, horror and science fiction.

How Do You Write Flash Fiction

Start with a strong prompt, idea or topic. Develop these ideas with a mini brainstorming session if you feel that will help. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because the word count is so low, the plot can afford to be weaker. The opposite is true, the brevity of the piece means that the plot needs to be more intense and well-executed. This requires thought and planning.

Don’t focus from the outset on limiting your writing to the tight upper word limit. This will seriously compromise the flow of your writing and will probably be make your writing stilted and contrived. Write the story through from beginning to end, don’t read back or assess your work critically- just write.

This doesn't mean to say you should completely blast the word count. This will create a headache when it comes to editing your work back down to the word count, it may even make the plot untenable. The easiest way to prevent this is by setting yourself a time limit, perhaps 15- 20 minutes.

Flash fiction is no different to other forms of fiction. Its short stature should never detract from this. It needs structure- a beginning, middle and an end. You will need a character, a setting and a central problem or a conflict. This means it has a resolution too. Don’t make the mistake of treating flash fiction as a mini-snapshot or a brief portrait. Something has to happen.

Twist it

A common feature of flash fiction seems to be the twist ending, which works well with the shortened length of the fiction. Twist- in- the- tale, flash fiction creates an illusion for the reader that is challenged or tipped upside down by the final exposition of the story. It’s not an essential feature of flash fiction but it certainly helps the writer to ensure that flash fiction features an element of plot movement. The ending is almost a punch line or a solution to the hints and questions thrown up by the rest of the work. Beware- do not cheat your reader, don’t finish with an ‘it was all a dream’ ending.

Editing is Key

When you have finished writing your piece of flash fiction, go back to your story and edit down to the right number of words. Start by checking you have the correct ingredients: - character, conflict etc.

This is where you need to be very ruthless with your red pen. You must reduce the word count. Make sure you keep the vital skeleton of the story but take away those fatty, fleshy words that do nothing to move the plot and characters forward. This is an excellent lesson in sharp and tight editing. Cut out adverbs and adjectives. Beware of passive phrases, make it immediate and active e.g. Mary stood- not Mary was standing. Make it tight and economic. Pretend each word costs money to write, so save money and cut those words out!

Now re-read for errors- proof it, check your word count and make sure that every word earns the right to be in your story.

Flash fiction is an incredibly rewarding and addictive genre to master. Contrary to appearances, its shorter length doesn’t make it the easier option. Quite the opposite is true; it throws up many challenges and pitfalls. Get it right and it will showcase your writing perfectly.

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