Flash fiction, as we’ve discussed here before, is one of those things you can pick up during a short break. Even if you have no more than 20 minutes to write, it’s possible to whip up a story. The key to writing great flash fiction, however, is a plan.
Much like writing a novel, you need to know where it is going before it takes you there. You don’t have to plot the whole thing out, complete with an outline, but you should definitely give the ending some thought. The key is to ask a few pointed questions.
Step One: Ask
Let’s say you’re using a prompt, either because you like it, you need to fit into an anthology’s parameters, or you’re entering a contest. That prompt is “sirens”. You need to, somehow, work that into a flash fiction piece of no more than 250 words. Your first step is probably going to be figuring out where the sirens come in. Will they be coming from a police car? An ambulance? An alarm system? For this example, I’ll go with a video game.
The decision on where the prompt fits in should raise a few questions. In our case, the questions may include:
- Who is playing the video game?
- What video game is it?
- Why are sirens a part of the game? Does it signify something?
Questions that move away from the logistics of the sirens to more deeply investigate their place in the story include:
- How do the sirens relate to the story?
- Where do the sirens fit in? Do they start or end the story? Are they a cause or an effect?
There are, of course, no right or wrong answers to these questions. They depend on your style of writing and the type of story you want to write. There are other questions the decisions you make above may answer for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to consider:
- What is the genre of the story?
- How will this story make people feel and react?
- What will be the pace of the story?
Let’s start answering these questions.
Step Two: Answer
The main character’s son is playing a video game, but she doesn’t know the name of it, or what it’s about. She’s rather disconnected from him. The sirens aren’t directly related to the story, but trigger a memory for the main character. The story opens with her in the kitchen, washing the dishes. Her son is playing his video game in the living room with the volume of the television much higher that it needs to be. She’s about to tell him to turn it down when she hears the sirens. The knife she’s washing slips from her hand, and it all comes rushing back.
From the looks of things so far, this flash fiction piece could be a thriller. There will be no breaks or breathing room. The story will move at a quick pace, keeping readers guessing as we move from one sentence to the next. Everything we’ve worked out so far could be just the first paragraph or two. The rest of the story could be a flashback. Maybe 90% of it will be a flashback, then return to present day to reveal something. The way you decide it plays out will determine the tone, and the affect the story will have on readers.
Generally, flash fiction does not allow room from flashbacks, but once you master the rules, you can break them, right? They key is to keep one of the timelines very short. In this case, the present day will be short, and only exists to include the prompt. The meat of the story is in what happened to the main character before this point.
Step Three: Execute!
Planning this story took us all of three minutes. There will be times when you need to plan a bit more. There will also be times when some questions remain unanswered, or you have to write your way through some of the questions. It’s just important that you have a good idea of what your story is about and where it’s going before you are 150 words in. Everything does not have to be carved into stone, so you get to decide how detailed your plan will be, and how much wiggle room you have if new ideas pop up along the way.
Alicia Audrey is a writer, editor, blogger and social and political commentator living and working in Nassau, Bahamas. She enjoys writing flash fiction, and is currently working on a women’s fiction novel entitled The Whispering Willow. She prides herself on keeping the local post office open by sending far too many penpal letters and packages to friends and strangers alike on a weekly basis. Her favourite things include journals, tea, cupcakes, sarcasm, challenges, and autumn. She tweets her musings to everyone, but no one in particular, as @_AliciaAudrey.