Flash Fiction: No Flash in the Pan

by Angela Yeh
published in Community

I am flash fiction curious. Both because it seems like a wonderful skill to develop and because I am looking to submit to literary magazines in the new year. Also, the challenge of exploring deep truths and connecting to my reader emotionally in just a few brief paragraphs sounds like a lot of fun. To be brief takes time, as they say. Time and skill. Still, it is a great place to start.

Flash Fiction Is For Beginners

Flash fiction, also known as sudden fiction, short-short stories, microfiction, or microstories, is a genre of fiction defined as a very short story. Flash fiction stories can be as short as six words to about 1,000 words on the long end. Cool, right? Fun, even. And a great place to start if you’re just starting out as a writer.

Flash fiction must have a complete plot, beginning, middle, and end. Great examples holds some sort of surprise or a twist ending with the goal of making the reader think about the story’s real meaning. It isn’t a gimmick. It’s a way to make us think differently about ourselves or the world. The best-known flash fiction story is this one that is often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

There isn’t enough build or history for me to cry, but I feel the commiserate ache in my chest as a parent. Those six words are heavy and sharp, and they cut quickly.

Flash Fiction Is Popular

It’s fun — we got that. It’s a challenge; check. For those of you who still need a push to try this type of fiction, let us assure you the market for it is extensive and is growing. 

A Google search for flash fiction markets nets 9,030,000 hits in 0.47 seconds.

When I check my own Duotrope account, it lists 882 publications looking for flash fiction. Your chances of finding a place for your short fiction work are measurably and reliably higher than a full-length novel. I know we’ve all heard enough about Elon Musk and Twitter, but try your hand at the 280-character “twittature” that includes many different genres, aphorisms, and poetry.

Flash Fiction Is Good For Your Creativity

Forget all the fun my-name-in-print butterflies we’re getting — writing flash fiction will make you a better writer. For the same reason writing poetry will up your writing game; you will need to focus. There isn’t time for subplots, five romantic interests, and an explanation of how our main character got that sexy scar above his (or her) eyebrow. 

Flash fiction is a container to hold us, and in that way, it can free us to shake off the chains that hold our creativity down. It’s like a pottery kiln that fires the impurities and fluff away. Don’t you want to find out what beautiful clay vase you have inside you? Or maybe it’s a hammer or a sword that rights childhood wrongs and frees the child within.

Flash Fiction Practice

So how do we start? Right here, right now. Refill your coffee and get some pen and paper. Start with a nice round 260 words and use these tips to focus your narrative:

  • Stick to one moment. Focus on one specific moment in time, one scene. That’s all we have time for. 
  • Stay with one or two characters. Again, this isn’t a party, it’s a dinner date with your best friend(s).
  • Use imagery that packs a punch. Every word and every image must sear their tongues and linger behind their eyelids after they close them for the night.
  • POV: The first-person POV will create an instant connection, BUT flash fiction is for experimenting. Experiment.
  • Don’t forget the surprise or twist at the end. That makes good flash fiction great (and it’s more fun). Experiment.
  • Include your title. When you have so few words, the title can be the punchline too.

Lastly, if you’re looking for inspiration, the New Yorker has a series of very short stories they just posted last summer: Flash Fiction.

Really lastly, don’t explore too much — just get started and then tell us all about it.

Angela is the DIY MFA community welcome dragon (and protector of the realm). She also serves a supportive role as the HUB community curriculum advisor and social media fun time meme coordinator. In her spare time, Angela is a short, tall-story-teller who loves to garden, write about magic, and eat cake. She will send you frosting if you’d like to check out her first published novel, A Phoenix Rises. You can follow her antics on her website.

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