What is Flash Fiction and How to Write It?

Updated September 23, 2011

The term “Flash Fiction” is a product of the Age of the Internet but flash fiction itself is not new in any sense of the word. Back in the antediluvian days when I got my start in writing by writing fiction for adults, Flash Fiction, a tale between 300 and 1000 words was called a short-short story. The traditional short story had a word count of 3000 to 5000 words. At least, almost all traditional fiction magazines preferred story with a word count between 3000 and 5000 words. There truly is a new category of fiction today, called “Micro-Fiction”, with a word count between 10 and 300 words, but Micro-Fiction is beyond the scope of this article.

Strategy Number one: Focus on the smaller story within the bigger story.

To tell of a young boy’s love for cars and how he went on to become a champion NASCAR driver, would take a novel-length manuscript, but you could tell of the elation that he felt and how he shared it with his girlfriend after winning his first race in a car he built himself. The boy’s first time in the winner’s circle is just one of many smaller stories in the larger story. Find your smaller story within your bigger story and you have a workable idea for a piece of flash fiction.

Strategy Number Two: Bury the pre-story in your opening paragraphs

In a longer work of fiction, you could spend pages describing all the love, blood, sweat and tears that the boy put into building the car that captured his first checkered flag. You could take the pages needed to tell how he worked two full time jobs to earn the money to buy all new parts, instead of scouring the junk yards for usable parts as he had for his earlier cars that had never gotten him even close to the winner’s circle. What you might have taken fifty pages to tell in a novel, you have to squeeze into the opening preamble of a flash-fiction piece. A writer does not know the true meaning of writing tight until he or she has tries to write flash-fiction.

Strategy Number Three: Begin telling your story in the middle of the action.

In a piece of flash-fiction, you would not be able to tell the story of how he won that race lap by lap. If I wrote the story, I would start the story with five laps left in the race. I would have the kid’s car get hit by another car, spinning the kid car out and into the midfield. When everyone thought that the kid had no chance at all, he miraculously restarts his car’s engine, gets back into the race, and takes the checkered flag.

Strategy Number Four: Focus on one strong image

With this story, I would focus on the kid’s determination to win the race no matter what happened. Keeping the girl he loved depended on it because she was going to leave him. She felt that he would never amount to anything as a race driver, and she wasn’t going to stay with a loser. He has to win this race even if it kills him.

Strategy Number Five: Keep the readers guessing until the very end of the story.

Will the kid ne able to make the lost laps with only five laps to go? Will he take the checkered flag and keep his girlfriend that he loves more than life itself? Or, will he lose the race and the girl he loves? After the catastrophic accident, it will not be hard to keep the readers guessing right up to the second he crosses the finish line a mere second or two in front of the second-place winner.

Strategy Number Six: Use an allusive reference to another well-known personage in a similar situation.

In this story, one could allude to the Junior Johnson Story.

Strategy Number Seven: Use an unexpected twist

The kid and another driver are battling it out for the lead. It looks as if they are going to tie for first place and that will not save the kids girl. To keep the girl he loves he has to be the true winner of the race, the only first place winner of the race. With the finish line racing toward them, the flag man ready to wave the checkered flag as they crossed the finish line together, another driver loses control and slams into the rear of the kid’s car, pushing his var ahead of the other car as they cross the line. By another accident the kid becomes the first place winner.

Other Strategies

There are many other strategies that one could probably use in writing flash-fiction, but these seven are sieven of the best ones that I know of.