I’m all about learning new genres and mediums of writing. Writing YA Romance will always be my true passion, but I could be missing out on some other fun writing opportunities if I never give them a try. One medium of writing that interests me is flash fiction. The idea of writing a whole story in so few words sounds like a challenge worth attempting.
Perhaps you already know flash fiction is right for you but you don’t know how to get started. Or maybe you’ve been dabbling in it for a while but could use a bit more direction. Even if you feel like flash fiction is the last thing you’d want to write, I truly believe every kind of writing can teach us something about our own preferred genre or medium. So I hope today’s post about flash fiction is useful to you one way or another.
Since flash fiction is not my strong suit, Dacia Arnold has graciously offered to show us how it’s done. And she offers tons of great pointers and advice. Thanks Dacia!
How to Write Successful Flash Fiction
A few years ago, I hit writer’s block. I was half way through writing my first novel and I was stuck. I needed a side project, something to give my brain a break from my work-in-progress but would keep me on track with my writing habits.
This is when I discovered flash fiction. Flash fiction is an entire stand-alone story that is anywhere between 500-1500 words (called flash because one can read it “in a flash”). The challenge being that one must work through an entire plot structure within the constraints of the word count.
If you are a plotter, here are some helpful ways to structure your flash fiction the most effective and “right-brained” way. If you are a pantser and find yourself long winded, this might help you reel it in a bit.
I’ll use a 1,000 word example.
Plot Structure of Flash Fiction
Introduction (150 words)
- In flash fiction, the reader should immediately be thrown to the wolves, so to speak. You hardly get a paragraph to explain (in some context) the setting and characters in your story.
Rising Action (600 words)
- This is the meat of your story where you develop the main conflict and how it affects your protagonist. There are a handful of literary conflicts one can use in flash fiction: (wo)man vs (wo)man, (wo)man vs Self, (wo)man vs Nature, (wo)man vs Society, and (wo)man vs Technology. Identifying this will help you to stay on track.
- With only 600 words, much is sacrificed. Descriptions for example, unless they are important to the storyline, should be skimmed until you have developed your story within the confines of the word count.
- Less is not always more; however, metaphors and symbolism go much farther in flash fiction. Foreshadowing, not so much.
Climax (200 words)
- Here is where you have some leeway. Word counts can be shuffled if your climax is a quick confrontation or is a simple piece of irony revealed. You’re able to lend more to the rising actions if your climax is abrupt.
- Your conflict needs to be definitely addressed. The main confrontation between (wo)man and the struggle needs to happen. It is incredibly important (unless you are writing literary fiction) that this happens within the story. It’s what John Updike calls the “reader/writer contract.” Where the reader expects to be delivered to an answer or else the work will seem unfinished.
Resolution (50 words)
- I say only 50 words because flash fiction is often a cut and run business. In my personal experiences, I often end up killing people in flash fiction because, well it’s short and sweet and what more can you do?
- The answer is a ton. Softly “closing the door” on your story with a few loose ends is sometimes fun, but be sure to resolve the main conflict.
What to Do if Your Flash Fiction is too Long
The first thing that should be cut from your story is unnecessary description. Clothing, eye color, even minor characters. If you can mash two minor characters into one, you might save some valuable real-estate on the page.
What to Do if Your Flash Fiction is too Short
Nothing. If you have a full plot structure, you are welcome to add in details to beef up the story. If you come up short, I would say that you completed the exercise of writing flash fiction.
All in all, unless it is a challenge hosted by some platform you follow, there really are no rules. The famous Somerset Maugham quote goes “There are three rules for writing…Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Lastly, because I am not John Updike or the genius who defined plot structure or types of literary conflict, here are some links of reference:
John Updike: In His Own Words
Meet Dacia M Arnold
Dacia M Arnold is an author of adult light science fiction. She enjoys writing main characters who are otherwise normal people with extraordinary abilities. Dacia is an author, a mother, and a ten-year Army veteran and served two tours of combat as a medic. She incorporates these life experiences into stories of all lengths. You can find Dacia M Arnold’s short fiction and nonfiction at https://daciamarnold.com