Flash Fiction Tips

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

Even though flash fiction is short, and it can be hard to tell the whole story in 750 words. You should avoid just writing a prologue. Instead, write a complete story. A satisfying ending is a great way to up your game, and it also gives you important practise 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, things like description 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

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.

Good luck!

Tracking Character Development

If your character changes throughout a story, it can be difficult to track their development. This is especially true in longer works, or if multiple characters undergo complex changes.

Solving this issue is deceptively simple. All you need to do is make a list of the changes each character has and link them to events in the story. At a minimum, jot down these five things about a character:

  • Character’s state at the beginning (the lie they believe)
  • Character’s state at the end (the truth they discover)
  • Event(s) that show the beginning state (living the lie)
  • Event(s) that drive the change (discovery of the truth)
  • Event(s) that show the ending state (acceptance of the truth)

By linking the changes to specific events (scenes, actions, even just a bit of dialogue), you will show the why and how of the change to the reader, and you will be able to identify any incomplete or unexplored character arcs.

Spreadsheets can be helpful for laying out the information:

In many cases, you will have a single character go through multiple arcs.  For example, if this was a longer piece of writing, Benjamin could also struggle with his relationship with his mother, which ultimately drove his clingy nature. Just add a new row on the spreadsheet (or another set of bullet points).

For a novel, imagine if this story was told via switching the point of view between the two characters, and each could have a dozen or more changes that they go through in this life-altering encounter. Keeping track of it all would be a hassle, but now you know how!

For more on character arcs, check out K.M. Weiland’s excellent series on the subject.

How to get better at writing

How do you become a better writer, anyway? This is a question we see frequently. It’s fairly straightforward.

  1. STUDY. Read books and articles on how to write.
    • What to do: Read some good books on the craft of writing. There are also good audiobook courses. We have a good list of learning resources on our Resources page.
    • What happens: You’ll learn how to recognize both good and bad writing when you read it. You’ll be able to study the work of others, and apply those lessons to your own work.
    • If you don’t: If you only write, without learning how, you’ll waste time generating a large quantity of low quality work. This work may be fixed in editing, but it’s more efficient to write the best first draft you can, and if you don’t study, you won’t know how to fix it anyway (or you will work very slowly.)
  2. READ. Study the work of good writers, especially in the genre you want to write.
    • What to do: Studying high-quality writing (and not just any random thing) is crucial: check out the National Book Awards, or for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, or any other relevant literary awards. Pay attention to what the writer is doing, and how it affects you as a reader. Remember, you are writing for your reader—not for yourself. Take notes if you want, and review them at the end.
    • What happens: Combined with a study of writing techniques, you will see how writers construct stories that entertain their readers. This will help you improve your writing by learning from others examples.
    • If you don’t: You’ll end up writing a story that doesn’t hold up to the quality most readers of your genre expect, and you’ll learn the craft of writing very slowly.
  3. WRITE. Practice your writing skills, especially short stories.
    • What to do: You can start a huge novel project, but a better choice is usually a series of short works such as journal entries, short stories, or articles. Short pieces are faster to write and edit, so there is less risk of burnout, and you will be able to see your progress as you improve. Writing prompts can be helpful if you are not sure what to write about. We have thousands of writing prompts available via a chat bot on our Discord server as well as monthly short story themes.
    • What happens: Combined with the knowledge of how to write (from your study of the craft and the works of masters), you’ll be able to practice your new skills, and you’ll also accomplish your writing goals over time.
    • If you don’t: How can you be a writer if you don’t write? Also, the stories you want to write will never be written. You’ll have a great knowledge of the craft perhaps, but no actual work of your own.
  4. EDIT. Most of the work of writing is actually editing.
    • What to do: You may edit as you go, or edit at the end, but most first drafts need a lot of editing. Give yourself permission to write bad first drafts, then polish them into decent second drafts, better third drafts, and so on. Most successful authors revise their work dozens of times before it is published. Editing or critiquing the work of others, and having your own work edited or critiqued, can help you see your blind spots. Studying, reading, writing, and editing (as above) will build your skills so that you can give good critique, and understand the critique that people give you. We have active writing and critique discussion on our Discord Server, and often discuss our editing work. You might also want to read this post on editing.
    • What happens: You’ll massively improve the quality of your work by editing it. The more you edit, the better it will get, but only if you’ve spent the time studying and reading to learn how to create good stories.
    • If you don’t: Unless you are unlike every writer in history and somehow you write perfect first drafts, your work will probably be disappointing to readers due to typos, grammar problems, point-of-view issues, and other basic mistakes that are easy to miss when crafting your first draft.

That’s it, those are the steps! The rest is up to you: be disciplined and spend the time to build your skills—or don’t, and you won’t.

You don’t have to do those steps separately; in fact, you may get better results and find it more interesting to switch between the different tasks as needed. Just make sure not to neglect any of them and you’ll be on your way. Good luck!

How to use diagrams in your outline

Sure, you can outline in a word document using bullet points, or you can keep track of characters and scenes in a spreadsheet, but what else can you do?


One of the most helpful ways to think about characters is called a character map, which shows the interactions between characters.  Here’s a simple one from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities:

Here is another one, a character map for my favorite book, Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.


You can also create diagrams for one single character, sometimes called a “mind map” of all the things that describe a character.  Images can be helpful.  Here’s one for Harry Potter.


Another type of helpful diagram is a plot diagram.  Here are a few from around the internet that break up some popular movies into the standard three-act structure.

Your plot may not actually follow this structure, and that’s OK.  As long as it’s a good read, you can do whatever you want.  The point is that diagramming it can lead to insight into how to outline or edit your story.

Here’s the structure for The Matrix (above) and Thelma and Louise (below) for some examples.

Hopefully these examples will give you some ideas about how you can think about outlining and editing your story visually, as well as with the more standard spreadsheets and bullet-point outlines.  Now back to writing!