Many fiction writers attempt to conquer the flash fiction genre in their writing careers. Don’t let its small size fool you; the flash fiction story proves difficult for writers to master. The short-short story requires lots of planning and editing, so if you’re not sure how to write flash fiction stories, you’re not alone.
Writing flash fiction takes practice, but it also produces some of the most impactful stories in literary canon. This article will discuss how to write flash fiction stories, explore some flash fiction examples, and end with an overview of great flash fiction magazines.
But first, let’s answer the question: What is flash fiction?
What is Flash Fiction?
Much like other literary genres, flash fiction has both a short definition and a long definition. We’ll try to give you both.
The short definition of flash fiction is any fictional story that’s under 1,000 words long. Some journals may have a different definition of flash fiction length, but most accept 1k words as the standard maximum word count.
Flash fiction is any fictional story that’s under 1,000 words long.
The longer definition of flash fiction delves into a poetics of flash fiction itself. What is flash fiction, besides a bare-bones short story? How does that definition impact the process of writing flash fiction?
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A Brief Poetics of Flash Fiction Stories
Flash fiction must accomplish the same as fiction does: namely, a complete story with well-developed characters, a finished plot, and overarching themes. Whether writing literary flash fiction or a genre such as horror flash fiction, the story must feel finished in under 1,000 words.
The story must feel finished in under 1,000 words.
Despite its brevity, flash fiction still needs complexity. If the reader finishes the story without giving it further thought, then the story has not engaged the reader enough. Flash fiction length should not inhibit the story’s value.
So, how does flash fiction manage to be brief yet equally complex as other fiction? Let’s explore the ways that flash fiction minces words, with flash fiction examples to follow.
Flash Fiction Examples and Devices
All great flash fiction stories use the following devices. Make sure you understand them when writing flash fiction yourself!
The language of flash fiction is sharp, economic, and to-the-point. Flash fiction writers are often ruthless editors, truncating their sentences and scrapping whole paragraphs.
The language of flash fiction is sharp, economic, and to-the-point.
Flash fiction example: A Telephone Conversation by Mark Twain. Though the first few paragraphs are wordy, this story cuts down on words by formatting its telephone conversations like a play. This allows Twain to juxtapose incongruous ideas next to each other, making this a finished, humorous story.
Symbolism refers to the use of concrete objects to represent abstract concepts. Most flash fiction stories have a lot of symbolism, allowing the writer to boil a wordy idea into a symbolic object.
Flash fiction example: A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf. This prose poem advances its narrative through its corporeal symbolism. From empty hands to the heartbeat of a home, the heavy symbolism of the story helps contain its concise, hyperbolic emotion.
In Media Res
Many flash fiction pieces start in media res, which means that we start in the middle of the story, rather than the beginning. This roundabout way of writing the plot could help crunch down on the amount of details the story needs to be effectively told.
Flash fiction example: Everyone Cried by Lydia Davis. The story begins in the middle of its moral: all adults want to be kids, sometimes. Though there isn’t a clear plot to the story, it succinctly points out the irony and duality of adulthood.
Flash fiction borrows a lot from the methods of poetry, especially in terms of figurative language.
Flash fiction writing should use metaphors and figurative language to illustrate its world.
Flash fiction example: Sticks by George Saunders. This flash fiction story abounds with metaphors, symbolism, and image-lead narrative. The reader experiences the story through a father’s psychosis as he communicates through the way he decorates a pole. Each image represents the father’s slow decline, communicating its ironies in short bursts of intense feeling.
How to Write Flash Fiction Stories: 4 Approaches
In short, flash fiction has all the elements of longer stories, but with less “fluff.” So, the challenge of writing flash fiction lies in crafting a complete story in under 1,000 words. How should you approach the writing of flash fiction? Consider the following four approaches.
1. Ruthless Editing
Some writers might try starting their flash fiction story as a normal story, then cutting the words down. This is a common approach to writing flash fiction, especially if your story isn’t far away from the 1,000 word mark. If you think you can cut a story down after writing it, then kill your darlings—and have fun with it!
Flash fiction stories require bones before you can put meat on them, so start with the story’s plot. With a plot-first approach, you start by writing only the details of the story, without any description or figurative language. Then, once the plot is written, you fill it with details until you hit the 1,000 word mark. This “fill in the blanks” approach allows you to keep the story to its most important details while still being complete.
3. Start with Poetry
Many literary critics consider flash fiction stories to border the lines between prose and poetry.
Writing fiction from poetry? It’s more likely than you think. Many literary critics consider flash fiction stories to border the lines between prose and poetry, since it uses many poetic devices to convey plot. If you’re a poet as well as a fiction writer, consider writing your story’s plot in verse, then expanding that verse into a prose-poem or prose.
4. End with a Bang
For a flash fiction story to feel “complete,” it needs to “end with a bang.” The final line(s) of the story must leave the reader thinking long after the story ends.
The end of a flash fiction story must surprise the reader in some way. Flash fiction often offers a resolution to the story that inverts themes, uncovers ironies, or offers unexpected dualities. Take the aforementioned story Sticks by George Saunders, one of the strongest flash fiction examples out there. The final line of the story presents the irony in the father’s pole ritual, since it is an unanswered cry for help.
The end of a flash fiction story must surprise the reader.
Flash Fiction Magazines to Submit To
Are you ready to put your flash fiction stories to print? We’ve recently reviewed the best journals to submit fiction to, and some of these journals are also excellent publishers of flash fiction! Take a look at the submissions requirements for the following flash fiction journals.
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Want to learn the finer details of how to write flash fiction stories? Then take a look at our upcoming flash fiction courses with instructor Barbara Henning. We can’t wait to read your next flash fiction story!
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