If you just want to know the top 7 or 10 golden rules for writing flash fiction stop reading now, open a new tab in your internet browser and Google, “Tips for writing flash fiction.” You will find dozens of articles that talk about the same rules over and over again, with only slight variation in presentation. These are all great articles, and I encourage you to read them as you won’t find that information here.
In this article, you will find the top 5 most important (yet least talked about) tips for writing flash fiction.
The tips below are the result of reading large quantities of flash fiction for years, both as a fan of flash fiction and as an editor reviewing stories for my clients.
So here is what have I gleaned from those countless stories and gallons of coffee consumed while reading them.
Wait you said you weren’t going to rehash the 7-10 golden rules? Hold that thought and keep reading. In Flash fiction, you must have 2 hooks (see I told you to keep reading)! The first hook has to occur in your title. Yup, that’s right, your title has to have a solid hook too! If your title isn’t enticing, thought-provoking, or the cause of an irresistible curiosity prompting the reader to venture further, then your 2nd hook won’t matter. Many readers cruise the titles to decide which flash fiction stories even to give a 10-second trial read. So unlike novels or even short stories, if the title doesn’t grab the reader relentlessly, then you have already missed the mark. Next, you need a story hook, a very strong one right in the opening sentence. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that placing the hook in the first paragraph will suffice, even if it is a decent hook. In flash fiction, you have to grab the reader right from the very first word and yank them through the story only releasing after the last word that appears in the text. Great flash fiction makes a reader feel exactly like that. Like they were grabbed by the collar and thrust into a new world, released only at the end of the ride. If a reader pauses while reading your story, it’s the kiss of death.
2. Never start at the beginning!
Flash fiction never starts at the BEGINNING of a story. Instead, it starts at the beginning of the most critical action sequence that occurs closest to the END of the story. In flash fiction, you have to start your story when something is happening and ideally at the highest point of the story arc. Just like any narrative, flash fiction needs a beginning, middle, and end with a solid plot. But you’re not going to have subplots. Focus on one plot and one main conflict. The conflict should be the most important one that happens in the broader storyline and acts as the driving force of the story. Therefore, the main conflict needs to appear almost immediately in flash fiction.
3. Tension/Tight Writing
In flash fiction, tension has to be strong and continuous. As such, tension has to present at various levels in every sentence. Every word and every sentence must move the story closer to resolution. Flash fiction by definition is typically under 1000 words. It is a unique medium, and it requires a specific storytelling skillset. Words often have to wear multiple hats, such as creating an action while also providing vivid visual details. You must be ruthless and make every word justify its place in the story and prove that it is adding essential value.
4. Don’t tell everything!
You need a solid storyline with very vivid details that can be shared in the least amount of words with all non-essential text eliminated. That said, the best flash fiction leaves some things out. It leaves clues to possible conclusions or reasons why, without stating the answer explicitly. It allows readers to draw their own conclusions, sometimes multiple conclusions about a single-story element. Good flash fiction digs its hooks deep into the reader’s brain, causing them to mull the story around in the back of their mind even when they don’t mean to think about the story. Don’t take it too far, however. Writers that leave too much of a gap or too much ambiguity just annoy readers, leaving them to feel cheated at the end like they wasted their time. Every reader wants some sort of solid resolution, so be smart in your approach.
5. Emotional Impact
All great fiction connects with readers on an emotional level. That’s what they’re looking for, and flash fiction is no exception. This is why you need to show, rather than tell, emotional attributes. Sometimes naming an emotion has its place, but showing an emotion builds a better connection with the reader. One way to create an emotional impact is to bake it into a twist ending. Many stories have a twist at the end, and it is almost an unspoken attribute of flash fiction. Readers like a story that leaves them with a punch in the gut at the end.
Now that you know how to write amazing flash fiction here are 6 paying sites where you can submit your stories!
1. Craft Literary -They pay $100 for original flash fiction. They also occasionally have contests.
2. Smokelong – They pay $25 and publish pieces under 1000 words.
3. Flash Fiction Magazine – They pay $40 for stories ranging from 300-1000 words.
4. Lamplight – They pay 3¢ per word, $150 max and 1¢ per word for reprints.
5. The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts – They pay $50 for stories up to 600 words. Submissions are open now from March 15-June 15, 2019 and the average response time is just 3 days!
6. Haunted Waters Press – They pay $3.00 for Penny Fiction, flash fiction stories told in exactly 19 words—no more, no less!
Last year, sometime in October, I published a hilarious story, written by Merlin Fraser. I named it “On a different note” and the ones who read it had a good laugh with Merlin’s humor.
With this guest post, Merlin shows us that he’s not ‘only’ a great writer, and has his well known, a bit rough humor; but he is also a talented author of great sensitivity and treasures his memories with a warm heart and a trace of sadness many of us would not have expected.
I wanted to share this side of Merlin with you and I’m sure you will read his guest post and find it as valuable and admirable as I do.
“And now for something completely different,” to coin a phrase, I pinched it from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in case you were wondering where you heard the expression before.
I’m sure you tire of my exploits with trees so a change of tack is required as I explore some of the many characters I have met during my country upbringing.
Journeying back to the 1950’s I think this character reflects a slightly cruel streak in our past due to a complete lack of understanding as to the causes of what is now considered a mental illness.
Bernie was a gentle soul never known to harm anything or anyone but to all he was cruelly known as the village idiot and to my everlasting shame I have to confess that as a kid I was no better than the rest.
To this day I have no idea what the problem was within Bernie’s brain, as I remember he was looked after an old lady at the far end of the village but as to their relationship, I have no idea. To her great credit, Bernie was always clean well fed and fairly well dressed in hand-me-downs’, presumably donated from other villagers.
Bernie would do odd jobs, take letters to the post box, that sort of thing and could always be relied on to hold one end of a long skipping rope for the girls or go in goal for a friendly football kick about. Although I suspect today’s parents would have a different view of a Bernie in the midst of their offspring and would probably demand his removal from the community, however, as I said Bernie was absolutely harmless.
For a while, he did the daily village paper rounds, until one dark stormy winter’s day all the daily papers were found thrown inside the door of the village church. With hindsight, I think that in that thunderstorm Bernie just got scared, panicked and ran home. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that was the end of the only paying job he ever had.
After that, the paper delivering job fell upon us kids, and we took it in turns to bugger it up as best we could but in a crafty way so as not to raise too much suspicion or acquire a thick ear. Whether this was a childish attempt to get Bernie his job back or just a piece of rebellion I cannot say, but in my case probably the latter. However, whichever kid had the duty Bernie was always a constant companion chattering away and pointing at anything and everything that caught his eye. Except on Sundays, his guardian always insisted Bernie went with her to church.
Not very far away from our village there was a large agricultural college and quite a few of the students had their own transport, mainly vintage motorbikes but there was the odd Ex Army Land Rover that could, somehow or another, manage to hold about ten students, more depending up the season or how drunk they were.
Back then, any such college was way beyond the means of the average family and the agricultural college more so and it seemed to be populated by the children of the landed gentry or well to do Farmers. In other words, ‘Privileged OIKS,’ who because of their often-rowdy behaviour would get banned from more and more pubs and have to travel further and further afield to get a drink. They used to invade our village pub on a regular basis. Now our pub landlord was a genial host, far more tolerant than many and more than happy to take their money, and it is the subject of money that brings me back to Bernie.
Most days, thanks to his never-failing routine depending on the time of day you could always find Bernie. If there were cows or horses in the fields close by that’s where he would be feeding them handfuls of grass stroking and talking to them.
As kids it took us ages to win the confidence of big animals, Bernie, on the other hand, was always surrounded by them. Even little birds would take food from his hands. While if it were me the little sods would sit on the ground about twenty feet away with their head cocked at that jaunty angle and that look in their beady eye that said, “you have got to be joking!”
On sunny summer evenings Bernie had a favourite seat on a wall across from the pub, he never went in unless he had found or was given an empty bottle and then he could reclaim the three pence deposit. From his perch, Bernie had a grandstand view of the pub and as he sat there in his own little world, he would sit swinging his legs and waving at all who came and went.
On the occasions when the invading hoards came from the college, some would try to engage Bernie in conversation, which was impossible. If he wanted something he would ask or more often just point, he talked, more often than not any response to your reply was never connected. Therefore, we learnt to simply listen and smile in understanding.
However, one Sunday evening there was much hilarity outside the pub close to Bernie’s wall and Bernie seemed to be in the centre of the action. To Alan, my best pal, and me it looked like the college students were picking on or making fun of him and we went to investigate. What exactly we intended to do was unclear since there was about twenty of them and only two of us and at that time there was a considerable age and size difference. Thankfully, it never came to that because as we got closer, we discovered that there was some sort of game going on and by the happy look on Bernie’s face, he was winning.
To explain the game, I have to take you back to pre-decimal British coinage, I won’t bore you with the confusing facts as to why there was 240 pennies in a pound or 12 pence in a shilling but the size of the coins of the day played a significant part in the game.
Therefore, a sixpenny piece was half the size of a shilling piece. A shilling was half the size of a two-shilling piece and there was another coin, which was called half a crown that was slightly bigger than a two-shilling piece and worth six pence more.
I’m already confused, and I grew up with this crazy system, but fear not it’s not critical because the game here is based upon size and as you can see from the above description size relates to value, all very logical, however, I doubt Bernie had any notion of logic.
The students seemed to be taking it in turns to challenge Bernie by showing him two coins of different sizes and demanding he chose one. Bernie always took the smaller coin and therefore the one of lesser value, this was the cause of the hilarity and so the game went on until the students tired of the game, they sweetly called ‘idiot baiting’ and returned to the pub to throw beer and darts at one another.
Allan and I tried as best we could to explain to Bernie the error of his decisions, even showing him the difference in size from the collection of coins he had won by playing the same game between Allan and me, Bernie just frowned and shook his head.
We gave up, well I did, Allan had one more question, “Bernie why can’t you understand?”
Bernie emptied his pockets and at a rough guess he had at least two pounds in loose change, by kids standards a King’s ransom in those days, he looked at us and said, ”If Bernie take big coin they don’t play with Bernie no more !”
I learnt a valuable lesson that day and I suspect Allan did too.
What happened to Bernie?
Sad to say I have no idea after I joined the Navy in the early ’60s my family moved away from the village. When I eventually went back for a visit a few years later he was gone. The old woman who looked after him had died and I suspect the local authorities moved in and sent him off to an institution somewhere.
Nowadays in the mad rush and tear of modern living, I often think of those far off days, it was a far gentler time, the pace of life was far slower, and I can’t help thinking the world is a sadder place without the Bernie’s and the gentle humanity of a close community.
On the Jane Friedman blog I found a great article on how to grow an email newsletter starting from zero – written by Christina McDonald. Thank you very much for the detailed descriptions and great ideas, Christina!
An email list is your secret weapon for selling books—it is a direct connection to your reader. But when I got my first book deal, I had no audience, no author Facebook page, and no email list. I knew I needed to build awareness to give my book the best chance to succeed. Here is my step-by-step guide to how I built my email list to 6,000 subscribers in one year.
1. Draft a plan
The first thing I did when I got my book deal was sit down and come up with a plan to build an email list. Coming from a digital copywriting background, I knew that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were good for brand building, but not for getting people to buy. Buying happens through an email list. I also knew I would need to provide people with a benefit to get them to sign up. Here’s what I decided to provide:
Today I found an excellent encouraging and important guest post on C. S. Lakin’s ‘Live Write Thrive’ blog. The post is written by Ali Luke and she tells us why our writing matters. Thank you, Ali.
How important is your writing to you?
Is that importance reflected in how much time you spend on it?
Pretty much every writer starts out writing without being paid—often without any prospect of payment. This is particularly true for fiction writers, who might well hone their craft for years, even decades, before successfully selling their work.
In fact, for many writers it’s not just a case of “not making any money”—it’s a case of spending money. Books, courses, conferences, pens, notebooks, software—it all adds up.
Perhaps you worry that you’re wasting your time (and your money). That, ultimately, your writing doesn’t really matter. That you should be doing something else instead, whether that’s the housework or spending more time with your family.
I firmly believe that your writing does matter, though—regardless of whether you’re making any money from it.
Writing Is an Important Creative Outlet
Do you feel better, generally, when you’re writing? Do you feel you’re accomplishing something? Do you enjoy spending time with imaginary people? Do you love coming up with invented worlds?
I found a guest post on Rachel Poli’s blog. Ari Meghlen writes about how to guard our writing time. Thank you very much Ari and Rachel!
Firstly, thanks so much to Rachel for inviting me onto her awesome blog and share my thoughts with all her readers.
Unless you’re a full-time writer, you will have to carve out time for your writing throughout a million and one other tasks from errands, to chores, to a job etc.
So, you need to guard your writing time and here are some simple tips to start you off:
Set a Commitment
Give yourself a commitment. Whether that’s a daily word count, a monthly scene quota or just a single deadline to complete the first draft. Write it down. Put it somewhere you can see it every day when you sit down to write. Add in a reward for yourself for when you reach that commitment.
Decide the Outcome
Knowing what you want to have done when you sit down to write will reduce delays. If you’re a plotter, keep your outline close and know what part you want to be writing that day. If you’re a pantser, decide what you want to be writing – a chapter, a scene etc.