Rules of the Road for Writing Flash Fiction

1. Study the Form

Flash Fiction is brief, disciplined. A maximum of 1,000 words, they leave no room for complex character development, convoluted plots, or long character arcs. Though the form can be used with any genre, its limitations are best understood after careful study. Flash Fiction pieces can be read in five minutes or less. Spend an hour or two reading stories in your target genre. Make copies of stories that appeal to you to serve as examples.

2. Writing Prompts are Your Friends

A writing prompt, be it an image, a sentence outline of a story, or a character is a rich source of story ideas. You can use your own ideas, but you should not ignore the wealth of prompts that exist. There are many sites on the internet. Spend some time seeking out a source of prompts that can be used for your own stories. Take a few minutes or ten (it’s all good) and choose one that stimulates your story buds.

3. Begin writing “In Media Res,” in the middle of things.

Now, write!

Really, what did you think happens next? You knew you had to start sooner or later. Get a nice cup of something to drink.—It doesn’t have to be coffee, though why the hell not? Assume the position in your favorite writing spot. Set a timer for an hour. (That part is important.) Now, write! Don’t stop! It’s only a 300 to 1000 word first draft. You’re not writing an epic here. Don’t worry about it being good. Get the story down. Make it complete.

Oh, and remember to write in media res because you don’t have time to go looking for the beginning.

4. Limit the Number of Characters.

One is good. Two is optimum. You don’t have time to describe or characterize more than that. In 300 to 800 words, your characters are, at best sketches. Hold the ruffles and flourishes for your regular shorts stories, novels, and epics.

5. Follow Classic Story Structure (AKA Freytag’s Pyramid) (Unless you like experimental, that’s Okay, too)

Give it exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. Don’t freak out, man. This is classic storytelling, and you’ve been doing this since you told your first story, even if you wouldn’t know Freytag from a Maytag. All these aspects of the story will be there. I bring this up because dénouement, (resolution, revelation, or catastrophe, the untying of the knots of the plot) has a special place. If you end your story abruptly, whether it be through the natural flow of the story or a radical twist that leaves people gasping, you can’t just drop your readers off the page. A little falling action gives readers a chance to think about what they read and gives the change in your character’s solidity.

6. Editing

You know the drill, spellcheck, grammar (it matters), go over the story for errors. If you have a friend or belong to a critique group get them to read it. (I belong to an incredible group on Facebook where people line up to criticize me.)

Second drafts are better drafts, and it’s only 300 to 1000 words.

6. Editing – Make Your Title a Hook.

In a Flash Fiction Story, every word must work for you. This is doubly true of the title. The title will be the first words consumed, and you want them to taste delicious. Put your best effort to edit your title so that it contributes to the story and draws a reader in.

7. Editing – The End: Make Your last line memorable

The last line is that rare chance for another first impression. When the readers finish your story after about an average 3.5 minutes, you want to leave them a reason to remember your name.

8. Submission

Not to me. As a writer, you are your own person. No, there are hundreds of places to publish your Flash Fiction. Check out Writer’s Digest. (You can find them in books stores.) Look for markets. You can also Google “Flash Fiction Markets” and check out one that sounds good. (Or just close your eyes and throw a dart.)

Many of the markets use the “Submittable” application. There is no more painless method to submit your stories.

9. What Next? (Jeez, Do I Have to Tell You Everything?)

Wash, Rinse, Repeat!

Set a goal per week, from one to however many you think you can do. Writing a novel or larger project? Flash Fiction takes an hour or two a week per story. They will teach you to start and finish stories.

Well, don’t just SIT there. WRITE SOMETHING!

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