Flash fiction stories: Writing tips and examples

What is Flash Fiction?

Flash fiction storiesTo put it simply, flash fiction are stories that are extremely brief and small. They are also known as micro fiction, short shorts, post card fiction etc.

Ernest Hemingway once famously bet that one could write a story in just six words. Consider the following ‘story’ which won a flash fiction contest; the word count limit for this story was set at just 6 words!

John meets Sarah’s father. Prefers him.

In 2008, CNN asked their readers to submit to their 6-word flash fiction compilation and you can read the entries here.

Word count for flash fiction stories

Although Wikipedia indicates that the starting word count for flash fiction stories is around three hundred words, there have been many flash fiction contests around the world with maximum word count limits set to 15 words or lower.

While the minimum word count is debatable there seems to be a consensus on the maximum word count. Many writers believe that the maximum word count is around 1000 to 1500 words. If you are thinking 500 words is a lot of difference (hell, you can fit another flash in that range), the fact remains that while 1000 words seems like an ideal cutoff, there are contests online that keep it at 1500 words and still call it flash fiction; having said that you might encounter more stories with a 1000 words as a cutoff limit than with 1500 words as a cutoff.

Most Popular Contests for Flash Fiction Stories

Over the years the genre has struck a note with contest organizers. Owing to brevity and the relatively lesser judging time involved the format has become very popular. There are plenty of online contests both in India and abroad that encourage participants to write flash fiction.

Please read this very (very, very) exhaustive listing of flash markets; some of these are contests while some others are call for submissions. Here’s the link.

Where can you read flash fiction stories?

Aesop’s Fables are considered the oldest stories in the flash fiction genre (yes, it is a genre in itself) and with dwindling attention spans and in-your-hand technology you can read a lot of quick fiction online. It is more popular online than in print form, especially in markets like India. (Honestly, I haven’t read any Indian flash fiction anthologies or collections in print. So, I’d be happy to have some recommendations, if any!).

So, google away! Or if you prefer it there are mobile phone applications like Fivers:  Flash Fiction for the Phone retailing on the iPhone App Store. There are other apps in the Android markets too.

How does one write Flash Fiction stories?!

So, now we get to the interesting part. Here are some tips to consider while writing flash fiction; as always, these aren’t sacrosanct. Make them up along the way. Also, if you are submitting to contests make sure you read ALL the guidelines, especially word count limits, else your work will not be considered.

1. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end

Like all stories there has to be some meat. Even if it is 6 words, remember that it is not just a sentence but a story.

2. Pick one point and End it (or close)

There is really no space (literally) for multiple storylines and conflict points. Ideally, dwell on one conflict and try to resolve it or at least take the story to a point of an implied conflict resolution.

Consider the example mentioned above; the first four words are used only to provide information, i.e, boy meets girl’s father. There is no story there for it remains just a sentence until the conflict is introduced. And, the beauty of the next two words is that it sort of both creates the conflict and brings the story to a conclusion.  Is there scope for more “story”? Yes, but not within those 6 words.

3. It has to be funny or witty or spooky or puzzling or all of it

Well, this is my personal rule, of sorts. It has to be entertaining throughout! That remains non-negotiable. While entertainment is necessary in whatever format one is writing in, it holds most true for flash. In the longer formats, like the novel for instance, some readers are known to persist simply for loyalty to the author or for curiosity sake, skipping through descriptions and going straight to dialogue if narrative gets too boring and at the end of the reading experience, the reader might still say, “overall, good book”. One does not have that luxury in flash fiction for if a reader abandons a 100-word story mid-way (horror of horrors), it is plain bad writing.

4. It is okay to imply and not say the whole thing (because of paucity of space)

Readers might have to play a participatory role in the story. So, it is okay to imply character traits and history using just a few words like “always unkempt” or “perennially infamous.” In longer formats you would spend more time building character value using back-story.

5. Start with something happening rather than setting or character traits

Basically, get straight to the action point.

6. Write the full version in your head and then edit, edit, edit and finish with a punch line

You remember précis writing in school, don’t you? Well, there you were given a long passage and had to cut it down. Here you create your own ‘long’ passage and when you read it you can edit. Once it is short, crisp and concise and spells entertainment with every word, it is ready to win all the contests in the world!

All the best!

 

We are looking for 15-word flash fiction stories to publish right here! Please leave your stories in the comments field below. It’ll make us very happy 🙂

About Lavanya

Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind | MBA | Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Special Prize (2011) | MFA in Creative Writing programme (City University of Hong Kong) | Her literary fiction novel will be published soon by Roli Books.

16 thoughts on “Flash fiction stories: Writing tips and examples”

  1. John Ciarmello

    The first meeting. Stands; behaviorally quit. All eyes shift. “Question?”
    “Have to poop? oops!” Discharged

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>