very short works of fiction that are typically no longer than a couple of pages and may be as short as one paragraph.
Flash fiction is an incredibly clever and nuanced art, to tell a full story in so few words suggests a skill that I am yet to cultivate. It never really occurred to me that it was possible to do so but I am learning and it is working.
My first attempt may have started as a piece of flash fiction but the next thing I knew it had sprawled across most of a notebook and was pushing 10,000 words with fully-fledged characters and a couple of subplots… not so much a short story then.
But, I persevered and my second attempt was better, it ended up at only 5,000 words…
So I decided to read some other people’s attempts and see what advice they gave for writing flash fiction, it was an enlightening experience! Apparently flash fiction only needs a couple of characters, who knew? But after reading many (MANY!) different pieces of flash fiction, everything from a love story at a laundrette to a horror story about writer’s block, I decided to give it another go. And this time?
1,000 words exactly (well… give or take a couple!).
This was a massive achievement, a complete plot in only 1,000 words? It’s such an incredibly clever way of writing as it relies so much on subtlety and reading between the lines at the rest of the novel the writer didn’t put into words. As it was (and is still, really) something I struggled with, I thought I would share my tips for writing flash fiction for beginners!
- CHOOSE YOUR GENRE
- It’s important to choose one that you can fully do justice in less than 1,000 words, horror or romance work well but probably don’t attempt fantasy or a crime thriller because you just do not have words to flesh it out
- This is something I struggled with as I usually write fantasy or thriller, it was an interesting experience for me – I chose romance, not something I write very often.
- NO SUBPLOTS
- Focus on the main story and don’t go off on a tangent for anything else, the plot is the single plot that tells the story, we don’t need to know anything extra.
- Again, something I struggled with, as soon as I get an idea I want to write about it, develop that too, but that’s absolutely not viable in flash fiction, you have to limit yourself to one thing. I’m sure that this has also made my other writing more readable and less Victor Hugo-esque (the king of irrelevant tangents!).
- YOU ONLY NEED A COUPLE OF CHARACTERS
- Seriously, be really strict with yourself, you need two – maybe three – characters and that’s it.
- If you try and include too many characters you end up in subplot-heaven but flash fiction-hell.
- I found that forcing my two main characters into a situation where they were alone was one of the only ways to stop me adding more characters and plot-points… either physically (broken lifts work well) or emotionally (the middle of an argument perhaps).
- NARRATIVE VOICE
- Go for either 1st person or 3rd person focalised.
- Do not try to do 3rd person omniscient, there is always too much going on with too few words to do it all justice, it’ll just end up feeling messy and rushed (that’s what I’ve found anyway… maybe you’re all a lot better at it than I am!)
- Just focus on the emotions of one character – 3rd person focalised still shows all of the action, it just shows it through the perspective of a single character.
- Another interesting one to try is the ‘onlooker’ approach where your story is narrated (in either 1st or 3rd person) by an outsider not actually involved in the action which, whilst not the easiest to pull off, is a brilliant way of keeping the tangents to a minimum.
- THE END
- Leave the ending ambiguous, leave the reader with a cliffhanger, end it on a question or a single action that makes everything clear.
- Just because it’s short doesn’t mean that it has to have a clear end in 1,000 words, leave it open-ended, suggest that these characters have lives outside of your snapshot.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started! Good luck and if you do publish anything, drop them in the comments so I read them all! Because who doesn’t want a story you can read in ten minutes?