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Hey it’s me BearCounter, and I’m here to give you some pointers I’ve learned while writing flash fiction. This is going to be short, but important. Not all of these points will be mandatory, or work for everyone, but they are useful tools to try out either way.
Flash fiction is not a prologue or an excerpt
Flash fiction is short, and it can be hard to tell the whole story in 750 words. You should avoid just writing a prologue or an excerpt. Instead, write a complete story. A satisfying ending is a great way to up your game, and it also gives you important practice in writing endings which I’m sure most of us lack.
Think about the economy of words
Since you have so few words to use, descriptions become all the more important. A few powerful, concise descriptions can make a world of difference. A paragraph or two of description or world building will most likely fly right by, essentially wasting words. Readers will usually fill in the world around you if you give them something interesting or vivid to start with.
The prompt is there to inspire you
You do not need to follow the prompt to the letter. Follow the spirit of the prompt! You should let it inspire you and write something interesting. I personally always discard the first idea or two when I look at a prompt, since I know there’s going to be at least five people writing that same exact idea! Switch POVs around. Play on the expectation that the prompt lays out.
Editing is important
You may be sighing in relief when you finish your story, but please remember to proofread and edit it. The best advice I ever got was to read the work aloud, since you will find a lot of weird things you just glide over when reading it in your head. Your head knows what you meant, and reading it aloud forces you to actually look at the words. Nothing is as jarring in a short piece than typos, weird punctuation, and just outright wrong words.
Write early, fix it later
If you write your story the day it’s due, you won’t have a chance to read and edit it the next day with fresh eyes and detached emotion. Take a cue from novel writers and take a break after finishing it. This will give you time to think about it, make changes, and complete more editing passes.
Additional thoughts on flash fiction from Merlin the Wizard:
Checklist for a complete story
The most successful flash fiction stories are structured just like longer stories:
- Start with a hook that intrigues the reader and a character who has a goal
- The bulk of the story is some kind of “conflict” or “mystery” or “question” that prevents the character from reaching that goal
- At the end, the “conflict” or “mystery” or “question” is resolved, usually with an unexpected and/or emotionally moving ending
Flash fiction entries that don’t have these important parts of a story (or “non-stories” as I call them) tend not to do very well in the voting. They may be a rambling exposition with no plot, or have no discernible main character, or have no plot question/mystery/conflict, or if they do it’s not resolved.
Make sure that your stories are actually stories and you’ll have a much better chance at success.
Why you should write flash fiction
Writing flash fiction is a highly effective way to rapidly build your writing skills. This is because it forces you through the entire writing process in a relatively short amount of time—a process that could take months or years for a longer work. The flash fiction process in one of our competitions includes:
- Idea generation
- Outlining / planning
- Rough draft
- Revision and editing
- Critically evaluating stories (reading the other entries and voting on them)
- Optional: Submitting your work for feedback from the other entrants (who already read it with a critical eye)
If you start the story a few days before it’s due, you can get the entire process done in less than a week, completing the full feedback loop up to 26 times a year (the competition is every two weeks). You can even write more frequently if you want, just for the exercise. Based on the feedback you receive, your next story will be better, and the next one better still.