Do you want to write a flash fiction story, but need some help? Scroll down and take a look at the following 8 tips on how to write a flash fiction story for beginners.
1. Read flash fiction stories
When you are a beginner, the best way to learn how to write any kind of story, of any genre, is to read as many stories of the same genre as you can. It will enable you to learn the basic tropes, basic clichés and basic elements of the genre, from romance to science fiction and fantasy.
Reading examples of flash fiction will give you a good idea of what kind of story you are aiming for. There are mainly two types of flash fiction stories – shorter ones, that can have as few words as five or six, up to three sentences at most, and longer ones, that can have up to one thousand words. Speculative and science fiction short stories can also often be classified as flash fiction if they fall under the one-thousand-word limit.
2. Keep the story short
Aim for a shorter story rather than a longer one, and then try to tell the same story with fewer and fewer words, editing it until you reach the lowest word count possible. However, you must still aim to tell a story.
In shorter flash fiction, there is always a certain point the story is trying to make, no matter how short it is. Even if the story is only six or seven words long, it conveys something that happened, or invokes a certain feeling.
The flash fiction stories on the longer side (up to 1000 words), need to have a beginning, middle, and an end. They need to have a protagonist (or protagonists) who has a problem that they are trying to solve, with varying degrees of success depending on the story itself.
3. Imply rather than tell a story
When it comes to flash fiction, especially short flash fiction, it is not about the words written on the page, but the implication behind them.
Let’s take one of the most famous examples of short flash fiction, believed to have been penned by Hemingway on a bet that he can write a story using six words:
“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
The first image that comes to mind is that of a family having a baby that died before the baby could wear the shoes (maybe the baby died while still in its mother’s womb). Although there are other interpretations – maybe the baby had so many shoes that it never wore that particular pair, so the family is selling them now as they had never been worn, our brains are always very quick to jump to the worst possible scenario. In the case of Hemingway’s story, the reader is quick to assume the baby did not wear the shoes because it died and as such, those six words gain a lot of weight and invoke the feeling of sadness in the reader.
4. Play with genres
One of the best things about flash fiction is that you can play with genres in the traditional sense of the word. You can have a short flash fiction story that is a romance, a mystery, a science fiction or fantasy story, or horror, drama – any traditional genre can be used.
A most notable genre, for the shorter form of flash fiction, is humor. In fact, a well written joke is actually nothing but flash fiction, because the way a joke is constructed is with a premise, development, and a punchline – like a very short story
Horror is also a notable genre that you can use to tell flash fiction stories. Here is an example, Fredric Brown’s Knock:
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door.”
Another (very sad) horror example, from Gregory Maguire, written for Wired magazine:
“From torched skyscrapers, men grew wings.”
Reading those words immediately makes one remember the tragedy of 9/11 and how people jumped off from the burning World Trade Center skyscrapers.
5. Use a simple premise
When it comes to flash fiction, you should aim for a simple premise, even if the theme behind it and what you are trying to convey is complicated. The idea is to convey something interesting, funny, complex, deep, and perhaps most importantly, poignant, by using a simple premise.
The easiest way to do it is to ask a “what-if” question in relation to the topic, and provide an answer. For example, what if time travel was possible, or a time-traveling machine was invented?
Another way to use a simple premise is to ask a “what would a person do” in a certain situation. For example, what would a woman say if the man she desired turned out to not be so perfect? As Margaret Atwood put it for Wired magazine:
“Longed for him. Got him. Shit.”
Playing around with those two questions, what if [this happened] and what would [a person feel in a certain situation] will enable you to come up with your own examples of the answers.
6. Invoke a feeling
As previously mentioned, in shorter flash fiction stories, the story is in the implication behind the words, rather than the actual words. Your aim is to invoke a certain feeling with the words, like sadness, terror, or fear in the reader, or invoke an emotional response, like laughter, by using humor, sarcasm, or irony (or all three). You aim to write words that will make the reader automatically assume something sad (or scary or funny) happened, with as few words as possible.
With longer flash fiction stories, your aim does not change. Even those stories should invoke a certain feeling in the reader, even if the story is more complex. In longer pieces, the story does happen on the page, but it is still the implication behind it that makes the story poignant, scary, or funny. You do not need to offer detailed character explanations, only enough for this implication to come across.
7. Ambiguous ending
It is undeniable that the flash fiction story has to have an ending, and it should end at the perfect spot. But, that ending should be more on the ambiguous side, rather than be an ending that actually clarifies anything or offers any kind of definite conclusion.
For example, we have the short story by Isaac Asimov, titled “Insert Knob A in Hole B,” which is barely 350 words long, and he wrote it as a challenge on a live television panel.
The story itself is about two astronauts on Venus being unable to assemble their equipment properly because they had trouble understanding the instructions said equipment had come with. They sent word to Earth and begged for help, so Earth decided to send a robot to assist them. This robot would be able to assemble any and all equipment, regardless of the quality of the instructions. Upon receiving the robot, the two astronauts open up the crate to find that the robot has been disassembled in more than 500 parts for transportation, and accompanying the parts of the robot were a set of poorly detailed instructions for assemblage.
We do not learn (nor do we need to learn) what will happen to the astronauts now, and in that way, the ending of their story remains ambiguous, because the funny implication has been achieved and the story has ended at the perfect spot.
8. Practice a lot
When it comes to writing, the saying goes that the more you write, the more you will learn about writing. Writing flash fiction is very challenging because you are trying to convey as much as possible with as fewer words as possible.
Practice daily and often, experimenting with shorter works of a few sentences or even a few words, as well as longer ones. Take different premises, different genres, and play around with them, especially using the two types of questions we mentioned earlier (what if and what would).
The best thing about flash fiction is that due to the length, it does not actually take that long, time-wise, to write a piece. The difficult part here is in coming up with an idea and a point to make, and then trying to convey the same in as few words as you can. For that reason, it’s best to practice the most with using one or two sentences and very few words.
Of course, you will not be able to write a flash fiction story successfully on your first attempt. But, the more you practice, the closer you will get to understanding how it works and at which point the story and its ending “click” and you will know the story should end at that point, and it is successful as it is.
Once you have examples that you consider to be successful, you can edit them and try to make them even shorter, and use even fewer, but more descriptive words in the narration and the writing style.