Posts Tagged ‘Flash Fiction’

How Can Flash Fiction Improve Your Writing?

By: Tammila Wright

Flash fiction fascinates me. Some think of these micro-stories as sloppy attempts at writing. But I am consistently blown away by these condensed pieces of art, precious Picasso’s earning their rightful places in the Louvre Museum. Flash fiction authors can take an entire essence of a story and reduce it to one breath. One “breath” that the reader can consume in seconds or minutes rather than hours. Talent with the ability to clarify what most of us would require many pages. How?  By adopting their Voodoo of clarity to reduce extra words can enhance all genres of writing. Their unique ability instantly captures the reader’s attention with the subtilty of a jackhammer. The reader is encouraged to ask questions, and their imagination is left unhinged. Can’t we all benefit from such genius?

What is this “gold mine” called flash fiction?

Flash fiction goes by other names such as microstories, micro fiction, sudden fiction, or short-short fiction with a word count of somewhere between six and 1000 words. The stories are tight and clear, sucking the reader in quickly, with each sentence moving the plot forward. It contains a complete plot, the beginning, middle, and conclusion involving only one or two characters.

The beginning of the flash fiction contains the hook, the main moral dilemma, and the character’s needs, as in a traditional full-length story. The middle speeds toward the obstacles, moral or physical,  which the character is experiencing. And the end shows the character’s goal completion but with a surprise or a twist which sets it apart from a prose poem or vignette. The overarching theme is complete.

An unknown author created one of the most famous micro-fiction stories:

 “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

Ernest Hemingway may have comprised the micro-story, but historians disagree. Regardless, it is a simple example of flash fiction containing a beginning, middle, and an end.

In Alex Keegan’s short-short fiction, Bones, he gives us a great example of leaving the reader wanting more:

“He had twenty-three minutes, a third of an hour and then a twentieth, thirty-three-and-a third percent of an hour plus five-per-cent. Find the bones, they said…”

Where I believe we get bogged down is character descriptions. Show not tell is our mantra. Does your audience need to know what your character’s first dog’s name was? Yes, you are cool for creating the deep back story, but all of that takes precious word space. Micro-fiction can push us to summarize feelings or emotions tied to an event instead of needless backstory. How can you go wrong with creating instant physical descriptions so the reader can immediately envision the characters and move on to the juicy bits?

To improve my screenwriting, I found a treasure trove in flash fiction.  In screenwriting, an entire scene must be four-line paragraphs, including character descriptions. James Cameron is many things, but you might not know that he is a master of character description in his scripts. For example, perusing the first pages of Titanic, Cameron’s description of the centurion, Rose Calvert:

“The old woman’s name is ROSE CALVERT. Her face is a wrinkled mass, her body shapeless and shrunken under a one-piece African-print dress. But her eyes are just as bright and alive as those of a young girl.”

For other characters, Cameron uses actions such as “sings softly in Russian.” We instantly understand the submersible’s pilot is Russian without looking at his name. What about the character, Brock Lovett’s description?

“…a salvage superstar who is part historian, part adventurer, and part vacuum cleaner salesman.”

The full Titanic screenplay is available online for free, and I encourage you to review it even if you know the ending.

How can flash fiction help in other areas of writing?

How about during the editing phase? By reading and writing flash fiction, we can develop a knack for identifying unnecessary words. Stephen King says he writes his first draft for himself and edits his second draft for his readers. He understands the need for unrestrained creativity but reels it in for the second draft. Also, by developing a “flash fiction mindset” during editing, you may discover information that we commonly repeat. Get rid of it.  

As an exercise, take a random sentence from something you have written. Reduce it to ten words. Now five words. Three? Hand it to someone to read. Ask them if they are confused or want to read more? Can you reduce it to two or one? You might have found your title. Consider these examples, Jaws, Brave, Elf, Rocky, It, The Godfather, Gone With the Wind (yes, that is four, but the novel is HUGE). Flash fiction titles are a study all of its own. The authors make stunning use of every word that delivers a punch. For example, Joyce Carol Oates’s, Widow’s First Year,  is about surviving grief and, Damon Stewart, Déjà vu You Too, Champ, the main theme surrounds reincarnation.

By training us to whittle down our character description, their actions and intentions become clear and concise, improving our reader’s experience. Hopefully, the story will prompt the reader to think deeply about the story’s true meaning instead of drowning in a sea of useless descriptions dragging down the pace. Decongesting the story creates room for the addition of a twist at the conclusion. A twist that might change their understanding of what the story meant instead of confusing them. A twist that answers the central question by surprising the reader rather than frustrating them. Please make sure to include the character’s reaction to the resolution, so you fulfill the reader. 

Tammila K. Wright

Tammila K. Wright is a fifth-generation Colorado Native and self-proclaimed history geek. She writes, talks, and even acts out her love of history. She is a commissioner for the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Commission, contributing articles for the Pikes Peak Bulletin Newspaper. Her past production projects allowed her to work for The History Channel, Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS, and Animal Planet. Her screenwriting has paved the way for two exciting projects in 2021, soon to be announced.  She is a staff blog writer and member of Pikes Peak Writers.

Tammila resides in Manitou Springs with her husband of 32 years, an astonishing daughter, and operates The Feather W Bird Sanctuary. Catch up with Tammila on her website.

Here and Gone in a Flash: How to Write Flash Fiction

So you’ve been thinking about writing flash fiction, but you’re not sure what to write…or, more importantly, what not to write! When you’re used to writing other lengths of fiction, taking on a flash fiction project can seem intimidating.

What is Flash FictionFlash Fiction, Here and gone in a flash.

Duotrope (an online database of writers’ markets) gives the upper limit as a thousand words, but individual markets vary widely on what they want for lengths.

So instead of dwelling on word counts, let’s go with the following to explain flash fiction:

  • A very short story, intended to be read in a few minutes (while standing in line, for example),
  • Which has a character, setting, and problem (a setup) that is resolved in some way at the end,
  • And which has as little else as possible.

Where flash fiction differs from a “prose poem” is that a prose poem can completely disregard character, setting, problem, or resolution and still be effective. Many prose poems are simply images, moments, or character sketches. (Any other differences between poetry and fiction are beyond the scope of this article!)

How to Structure Flash Fiction

When it comes to structuring flash fiction, there are no rules!

One of the most interesting parts about flash fiction is that it can have wildly different structures. Flash fiction can be six words long; flash fiction can be a grocery list; flash fiction can be a list of instructions; flash fiction can be nothing but dialog.
As long as you state or imply a character, setting, problem, and resolution, then your flash fiction piece will probably work.

How to Set Up Flash Fiction

Let’s look at the famous six-word story, usually attributed to Hemingway:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

In a flash fiction story, you can either state or imply your setup, but you have to have one. Here’s the setup for this story:

  • Character: at least one parent.
  • Setting: here and now in a Western culture.
  • Problem: the death of a child.

None of these things are stated outright, only implied.

In a slightly longer story, W. Somerset Maugham’s “Appointment in Samarra,” the elements are stated fairly clearly:

“There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

  • Character: a merchant’s servant.
  • Setting: Bagdad (then Samarra).
  • Problem: fear of Death.

Some stories will state parts of their setup and imply others. Often, when I’m writing a piece of flash fiction, I’ll discover that I can cut a lot of words that are implied by some other element of the story.

How to Resolve Flash Fiction

A flash fiction piece also has to have a resolution. But that begs the question, “Exactly what is a resolution?” A resolution has two parts: it establishes how the problem in the setup is handled by the character, and it tells the reader how to feel about that. The reader can be made to feel happy, sad, conflicted, ironic, or even frustrated that the whole situation is sure to happen again.

Here are the resolutions in the examples above:

In “Baby Shoes…”:

  • The resolution is implied at the beginning of the story, in the words, “For sale:”
  • The problem of the death of the baby is handled practically and cynically.
  • The reader is supposed to feel sad for the baby, but sadder still for the parent, who can’t afford (whether emotionally or financially is not clear) to keep the shoes.

In “Appointment in Samarra”:

  • The resolution is at the end of the story, when Death explains that she was surprised to see the merchant’s servant in Bagdad, when she had an appointment with him in Samarra.
  • The problem of the servant’s fear of Death is resolved by the implication of Death finding him regardless.
  • The reader is supposed to feel a sense of irony, in that the servant’s attempt to flee Bagdad succeeded but his attempt to flee Death did not.

Note how the normal “rules” of fiction are overturned in both stories. In the “Baby Shoes…” story, the resolution is at the beginning; in “Appointment in Samarra,” there isn’t any character development. Writing flash fiction can be an excellent exercise in learning how to break rules.

Darkness in Flash Fiction

One caveat about flash fiction: it is almost always easier to write a dark or cynical flash fiction piece than a lighthearted one. This has more to do with psychology than anything else. Human brains are primed for bad news! It takes fewer words for most people to pick up on an implication of something going wrong than something going right.

One Important Tip

You can almost always improve a flash fiction story by trimming off the ending lines! Something I’ve often noticed and discussed with other writers of flash fiction is the need to cut just one more line—usually from the end—to make the story more powerful.

Recommendations for Study

As always, my recommendation for learning how to study a writing technique is to get out and read something that uses it—and then typing it in. Then with every piece I would ask myself, “What are the character, setting, problem, and resolution?” and “What is the structure and why?” It won’t be easy to answer those questions at first!

Here are some excellent flash fiction resources:

As a reader, what I love about flash fiction is that good flash fiction is very intense and takes risks that other stories cannot. As a writer, what I love is taking those risks. I invite you to thumb your nose at any sense of intimidation and try a few!

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press,, and her website is