For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Have you read this before? If so, you’re likely much more familiar with flash fiction than when I first ventured across the genre earlier this year. If not, these six words represent flash fiction, or more specifically, one type of it - a six-word story. I highlight this story because it’s long been associated, erroneously, with Ernest Hemingway, among others. If you're interested for a bit of literary history, read here for more: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/hemingway-baby-shoes/).
Back to question, what is flash fiction?
Although known bymany names, such as short shorts, nano tales, micro-stories, postcard fiction, or napkin fiction (this last one is associated with the false Ernest Hemingway anecdote and how he wrote his alleged six-word story on a napkin while drinking at a bar to win a bet), flash fiction is really just a short story stripped down to its bare elements. No matter the type, though, the range of words is from as little as five to as many as 2000. I prefer tapping out at 1,500. Any of my stories that run longer are thrown into the short story basket and similarly developed.
Although flash fiction stories still contain plot and characters, their focus arguably is on movement. I prefer to use the words - impact and revelation. When you have so few words to choose from to convey a complete story, word choice comes at a premium. You literally have almost no space to concern yourself with development and arcs. Your momentum from the hook to the conflict and then to the resolution (or twist) must move quickly. But how do you do that? By choosing more precise words that leave the most impact and/or biggest revelation.
If you are now wondering how to write a flash fiction, let’s first organize the categories of flash fiction based off of word count. Depending on who you speak with, there are usually five or six categories. I prefer to use the following five, smallest to largest:
1. Six-word story – Technically, any single-digit word story can count as its own
2. Dribble – Single-digit word count to a max of 50 words
3. Drabble – 50 to a max of 100 words
4. Sudden Fiction – 100 to a max of 750 words
5. Flash Fiction – 750 to a max of 1500 or 2000 words (depending on your preference)
For those curious to know the sixth category, here it is:
1. Twitterature – Max of 280 words.
As you can tell from this final category, the modern world continues to evolve even this obscure literary genre. For example, a dribble is sometimes referred to as a ‘mini-saga,’ and a drabble is sometimes referred to as ‘micro fiction’ even though many people refer to any flash fiction with 750 words or less as micro fiction.
Now, is it essential to define your flash fiction by word count? Absolutely not. As we move into our final topic, writing flash fiction, it is likely best to consider the following three key features of any type, no matter the word count:
1. Brevity – By now this feature should be clear! You must get your story across in fewer
2. An Entire Plot – Despite not focusing on plot and character, flash fiction is still a
story. It must contain a beginning, middle, and end. Admittedly, the idea of a complete
plot may become blurred when you significantly cut the word count. I mean – six
3. A Revelation – While not becoming a gimmick, flash fiction will often throw a twist
or an unexpected last line. The sincere intention is to make the reader revisit the story in
a new way.
Now that we have our three key features in mind let’s look ahead to tips to consider when we write flash fiction. I found them at www.masterclass.com/articles/writing-101-what-is-flash-fiction-learn-how-to-write-flash-fiction-in-7-steps#learn-how-to-write-flash-fiction-in-6-steps and have modified most of them here according to my experience:
1. Strong Imagery – Make sure to use the adage of “Show vs. Tell.” This is true no
matter what length your story, flash fiction, short story, novel, or otherwise.
2. Fewest Moments – Stick to the fewest scenes possible – ideally, just one. Too many
scenes, and you’ll likely need to focus on it being a short story, not a flash fiction.
3. Fewest Characters – Again, less is better. Two to three characters are likely best. Too
many personalities fighting for the stage, and you’re entering the realm of the short
4. Emotional Tension – Take your reader on an emotional rollercoaster. No matter how
short, make sure you change the reader’s emotional response. Either from the first to the
second line or with the last line. Potentially both!
5. First Person Point of View – The first-person point of view inherently connects the
reader to the story and increases the likelihood of drama. Using it will therefore save
you valuable word real-estate.
6. Use the Title – Similar to step #5, when you have very few words at your disposal,
take advantage of every single word, including your title. Imagine it as a prologue or a
way to make a twist with the first or last sentence.
These are general tips, not absolute rules! Although I am still relatively new to flash fiction, in my experience so far, I've been able to use a third-person point of view and multiple scenes when writing some of my sudden fiction and flash fiction. However, my favorite tip from the above list is emotional tension! I love using a powerful last line, ending with a twist, catching the reader off guard. Of course, as I continue to grow as a flash fiction writer, I'll continue to experiment and change my methods. The last thing I want is to become predictable or cliché. Flash fiction, or any writing, should be neither of these things!
Before I leave you, I’ll end this blog post with several examples from my own writing that I think best incorporate several of these tips. Let’s see if you can spot them! Please let me know what you think in the comments! And don't forget to spend some time perusing my website!
Her serial killer well exploited them.
I’m a believer in luck and hard work. So, when I was fortunate enough to find a hitchhiker, I made sure to dig them a deep, smothering hole.
House and Husband
Her husband was a drunk and beat her often. One night, after he miraculously passed out from his Tequila, Grace packed her bags, grabbed her son, and put her husband’s food in the oven as usual. Then, they went straight to the airport and returned home to her relatives in Ukraine.
She never remarried. Years later, her son finally asked her why. Grace grew still and stared at him a moment before responding.
“Because I burnt the house down.”
The knock on my back door came around midnight. I answered it with only mild alarm until I saw my unwanted guest. A ghoulish green creature, dripping wet, lifted their arms up at me.
“Go away!” I screamed.
It moaned, refusing or unable to speak, and stood still as a statue, waiting for me to make the first move.
I scoffed and slammed the door. As I rushed away, I heard three thuds in rapid succession.
I turned on my heels. Prepared to fight, I returned to my back door and flung it open.
The little ghoul had vanished.
Relieved, I turned to close the door, but then hesitated. Something had caught my eye.
I reached forward with a cautious finger. Cringing, I traced long streaks of alien slime and goo, which dripped down the door.
At that moment, something struck the back of my head.
I flinched, reaching a hand to my hair and pulling away eggshells.
“Damn kids!” I howled. “Halloween is over!”
Thank you for reading!
You can find me on Instagram, Pinterest, Wattpad, and Medium with the handle @michaelrkielfictions. If you enjoyed this blog post, please feel free to share to your friends, fellow writers, and readers on your social media platforms!
Michael R Kiel Fictions