Three years ago when I began dabbling in flash fiction, I never imagined this was something I’d enjoy doing so much! It started off as a whim, grew into a curious exploration, developed further into a writing exercise and is now a full-fledged passion.

Presumptuous as it may be, I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a few tips for writing flash fiction or micro fiction, based on my own experience.

First things first. Before we plunge into the tips and tricks of the trade, here’s a basic question.

What is Flash Fiction?

The exact definition may vary but short fiction which tells a complete story in under 500 words is what qualifies as flash fiction. Ever since this model took off and more writers started trying their hand at it, we’ve had variations on the number. So, youΒ now find 100-word pieces, 200-word fiction and even 33-word micro fiction written on the web.

In the tips below, I’ll link to flash fiction examples from my attempts. Click through, read each of the pieces (don’t worry, they’re all short ) and be sure to ask any questions you may have in the comments. I’d be happy to answer them.

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Tips for writing flash fiction
Image courtesy:Shutterstock

1. Start with a prompt or a theme

MyΒ earliest attempts at this genre (and my latest one) have all revolved around a prompt from a good writing site. Yes, you know I’m going to mention Yeah Write here. Why a prompt? How does it help?

When I began writing fiction, I used to stalk the grids on yeah write and read all the other pieces by the other writers. How this helped was that I could see how a single prompt or theme generated 15 or 20 different perspectives! It was incredible. So I began to do the same thing.

Take a prompt. Any phrase. For instance: ‘Into the wild’.

Now, close your eyes. What are you seeing?

  • You may be in an actual jungle, flanked by green and brown and you feel a slight shiver at the unknown.
  • You may be walking into the middle of a duel in the wild west! What are you going to do? Watch or stop it?
  • You find yourself rafting down the rapids and you feel a surge of panic as the wild waves rise to meet you.

I’ve just conjured 3 scenarios from one phrase. That’s how ideas grow. Let them lead the way. Take the one that appeals to you and build the story around it.

For example, what does the word ‘terminal’ mean to you? Write down 3 variants and then click on the story linked below.

Read- Terminal: Micro Fiction

2. Title first or story first?

During the A to Z Challenge in 2015 and 2017, I chose to go with flash fiction on this blog tailored to each letter of the alphabet. Since I had a theme each year, it was fairly easy to pick out the titles. Writing down the letters from A to Z on a sheet and then writing out words or phrases against them helped me with the titles.

Sometimes, though, you get the idea for a story first and then get to decide what you’d like to title it. In the piece I linked below, that’s what happened. I came up with the idea of a love story and put a different twist on it. Once I’d written it, I was wondering what I could title it. Re-reading it gave me the hint.

So which is better?

The answer: Both.

I’m not kidding. It really does depend on each piece you write. My suggestion is for you to try out both methods and see which makes it easier for you. The trick is not to force it but to allow it to happen.

Read: Endurance

3. Use a word counter

This may be the best thing ever for writing flash fiction, folks! My secret? I write directly in the word counter so that it shows me how much I tend to ramble when I write micro fiction. The one I love is WordCounter.Net

Right down to character count and spell check, this tool is a boon. A word of caution, though. Don’t be so caught up in the word count that you lose sight of the writing process. Write as you would write anyway. Then, feed it into the word counter and observe critically to see where you can manage to bring down the number.

For instance, this 33-word piece below was originally 100 words in length. It’s a trial and error concept, really. Keep writing daily, even if you don’t publish it on your blog.

Read: The rogue pea

4. Start in the middle of the action

Flash fiction does not allow too much room for setting a scene, descriptive phrasing, building up the climax and ending with a neatly wrapped up conclusion. The whole challenge lies in how you dive straight into the heart of the story.

How you can work here is start off by writing a piece in the regular way. Set the scene, work your way up to the action. Now, step back and remove the setting. See if the story makes sense. Remember, the context has to be understood even by people who don’t have a background to draw from.

A good way to do this is use dialogue as I have done below in both pieces.The tone of the piece is set. Think of it as a scene in a movie. You are now curious to know who the speakers are. What caused them to speak this way? Who are the other characters? What’s the situation?

Arousing curiosity is the equivalent of a good ‘hook’ in your first paragraph in a traditional longer piece. Work on your hook and your readers will follow it through till the end.

Read: Anything you want

Read: Known

5. Find your voice

I can’t emphasise this enough. There are plenty of flash fiction writers out there. What will help you stand out is your voice. I’ve found that when I either write humour or something poignant, these two voices work the best for my micro fiction.

Decide before you write the piece on which direction you want the story to flow. Do you want to make the reader giggle? Scare them maybe? Perhaps make them think? Or use drama to help them relive the scene?

The best part is you can do all of the above if you try well. Don’t imitate other writers. That always falls flat. Write in the style you know and feel most comfortable exploring. A good piece isn’t about using fancy words. It’s about using the right ones.

Read: Sticks and Stones

Writing Flash Fiction on your mind? In this post I teach you how to write flash fiction using ten simple steps. #Writing #WritingTips #Writers

6. Cut out words which add no value

This may be the most favourite part of writing flash fiction, especially if you are an editor. Cough I love snipping, cutting and pruning a piece. As a reader, I want clarity first when I read any article or story. Does the writer convey the idea without rambling, moving around the central point and come to the heart of the piece? (There’s a place for rambling blog posts, by the way, just not in micro fiction).

What are words which have no value? I know most people would say adverbs, but that isn’t always true. An adverb can actually help the action in a micro piece.

  • Redundant words: Have you used two words that convey the same thing? Remove them.
  • Repeated ideas: Have you written the same sentence in another way? Does it add any value to the piece? It not, remove them.
  • Use tighter phrasing: ‘Women realised that they were now widows thanks to the war’ can be written as ‘Women transformed into widows’, as mentioned in the piece linked below.
  • Try alternative words: It’s tempting to use the word ‘said’ after each piece of dialogue. Instead, use substitutes that will convey the emotion better: muttered, whispered, murmured, gasped.

Read: Desolation

7. Leave some things unsaid

The beauty of a flash fiction piece is you don’t always have to give a neatly packaged piece with all the loose ends tied up. Leave the reader wanting more. It’s a bold move, mind you. Not every reader will appreciate the concept of wondering what happened to the protagonist at the end of the piece.

But it’s a worthwhile move. Flash fiction is not meant to resolve things. It’s supposed to make you think, wonder and ponder. The open-ended nature of these pieces allow the reader freedom to draw their own conclusions.

This piece below is something people have asked me to elaborate upon, in a longer story. Maybe I will do it: key word being ‘maybe’.

Read: False- A flash fiction piece

8. Always pay attention to grammar

Okay, this has got to be point 1, actually. But, please, please pay attention to grammar. You cannot afford to cut out articles and important connecting words to make the word count. It doesn’t work that way.

Watch the tense. Have you started the piece in past tense? Make sure it’s past tense all the way.

Is the syntax correct in each sentence? Have you seen the change in form? If yes, correct it.

Are the sentences too long and winding? Do they affect the reader experience? Work on them.

Read: Beautiful– A flash fiction piece

9. Go for a big finish

Flash fiction has the unique advantage of what I call the ‘twist ending’. Now this isn’t always true of all flash fiction writing but it’s worked for a lot of my pieces.

If you aren’t comfortable with ‘twist/ open endings’, go with a statement that will leave a big impact on the reader. It has to be something that will evoke interest and sustain the pace of the piece.

In the piece below, interestingly, I had two endings. Read the whole piece first. Now, remove the last sentence and read it again. When I did that,the responses to the piece were so different. In the first instance, the readers sympathised with the man in the story. In the second, the readers identified with the woman better.

Why? Simple psychology. You appreciate something that you can relate to.

Read: Variance

10. Step back and read the piece as a reader

After writing any piece of fiction, don’t jump for joy. Okay, you can, but do it after this step.

Read the story as a reader would. Imagine that you are coming upon this piece as someone who doesn’t know the background, the context or the setting of the story. Does it make sense? Do you need anything which will help you out? Does the piece strike a chord, make you want to read the writer more often?

If it works, then you’re good to go. If you have even a margin of doubt, send the draft to a friend to beta read the piece. Listen to critical feedback and work on changing what didn’t work.

Read: Sanctuary

Hope this has helped you think about trying your hand at flash fiction.

Have I left anything out? Ask away in the comments.

*For a very professional, detailed and excellent piece written by one of my favourite writers and editors, do read this articleΒ by Christine Hanolsy:

Bigger isn’t always better

*Pinnable Image courtesy: Shutterstock

45 thoughts on “10 Simple Tips for Writing Flash Fiction or Micro Fiction

  1. Blogging is definately not my day job. Im trying to promote my
    business by wanting to write about it. But crap is it ever
    difficult. I do admire your content, and I just had to comment to
    give you kuddos on wonderful information and content.

  2. I knew you wrote something about Flash Fiction and actually pulled it out of your archives, Shailaja. Loved this post. Sensible advice for beginners. I have done many 55 fictions/non-fiction posts and I agree with what you said here.

  3. Hey Rashi πŸ™‚ Short stories can typically go up to even 2000 words or more. It depends on the contest, the rules and so on. Short stories do allow for slightly more room in terms of background, build-up, plot twists (multiple ones) plus dialogues as well as back story of the character.

    If your contest is very specific, they will mention what you need to do. I haven’t written anything specific to short stories but I recommend anything by this site, yeah write πŸ™‚ Here is one you may find useful:

  4. This is a super piece. And m so glad to stumble upon this when in the middle of a contest. However, I do have a query pls. How different are flash stories and short stories apart from the word count and the fact, that former doesn’t leave room for scene setting. Is there a piece on short stories too I can refer to?

  5. You know, I was enjoying my afternoon siesta, when there was a sudden news flash..”You haven’t read the tips on flash fiction post by Shailaja!” And, I sprang from the bed and dashed out to get my laptop to read this post from ages ago!
    This was wonderful, informative and also motivating, Shy! I have tried my hand at flash fiction when I used to do Five Sentence Fiction. I enjoyed the exercise thoroughly and so miss the FSF prompts these days. But, there’s something round the corner that will give me a chance to try it out all over again. I hope I do it well.:-)
    (Do excuse the grammar errors in this comment, if any. I am too excited to think straight!) πŸ˜›

    Thank you so much for this post, sweetie!

  6. Flash fiction is actually anything under 750 words, Kala. Micro fiction can go up to 200 words πŸ™‚ I think you do a wonderful job with fiction so you should give this a go if you can πŸ™‚

    Thank you for reading and your appreciation!

  7. This is really an informative post Shy. I always thought microfiction was supposed to be not more than 100 words. A task I still find daunting, and hence never attempted it. It takes a special skill and practice of course to be effective and pack a punch in those few words. Thanks for sharing some really insightful tips!

  8. This post is going to be my go-to guide while writing flash fiction from now on, Shailaja! You’ve covered all the aspects of flash fiction, and all the doubts I had in my mind.

    I did check out a few flash fiction pieces, and the pea one is too cute ?

  9. Such a comprehensive and well written post on flash fiction. Or any piece of writing, really – these rules are universal.
    There used to be a prompt called 200 Word Tuesdays that I used to write for. It was so much fun. Sadly, they closed down their old site, and I lost the fiction pieces I’d submitted. They now have a new site up – do check them out if you’re interested.

  10. First of all, I must comment on how structured and organized you are! I don’t write flash fiction. Still, I read through your whole post, simply because it was so easy to read!

    Flash fiction is one thing that I just can’t understand. I like my 1000 words. 10,000 is even better. And books that go into several parts are the best! Why be so miserly when you’re telling a story? (Yes, I’m one of those people who take 6 hours to tell the story of a 3-hour long Bollywood movie! :P)

    That being said, I am also seriously awed by all of you who CAN write meaningful flash fiction (or any form of micro-writing)! Being able to make sense in so few words is an art. Hats off to you guys!

  11. Totally love Friday Fictioneers! Used to do them very regularly at one point of time. Time to resume again maybe πŸ™‚

    And ha ha, yes, good marketing πŸ˜‰ No shame in that. I have read some of your 100-word posts in the past. Will resume again.

  12. I am a very detailed person and I love details and descriptions! Writing a short piece has always troubled me. I took time and tried it one at a time. A 100 word drabble has been my best friend since then. I work on almost every prompt from ‘Friday Fictioneers’ and write a drabble. Have you checked them out?

    Great tips and good that you provided an example for all of them. Good marketing too πŸ˜‰

  13. Thank you, Parul! I really appreciate you reading through the whole post and checking out the linked posts too. How sweet of you! I know fiction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but to be read and encouraged for it is such a pleasure. Thank you again πŸ™‚

  14. Wow! One, you write a post on flash fiction and make it so organized and look easy.
    Two, great post! You know I don’t write fiction but I have always enjoyed your posts. As I read your posts, I could really see how each of your posts conveys what you suggest. The best part about reading you is that you walk the talk πŸ™‚

  15. Thanks Vishal πŸ™‚ I agree that genre is something that can be explored in great detail even in flash fiction. Have never really tried my hand at noir, so I wouldn’t know how to do it. But maybe it’s worth trying out. Glad you found the tips helpful!

  16. These are invaluable tips Shailaja and did dabble into flash fiction in the past. It’s enjoyable but at the same, there is more to it like you pointed out on imagination part and the end. You’ve opened my eyes on flash fiction to make the structure exciting and why not noir in form:)

  17. Thank you, Rachna. A while ago most flash fiction stayed on the net. Today, though, there are calls for submissions to flash fiction anthologies around the world. One quick glance at Amazon shows how the market for that is growing. Probably because it also appeals to the current generation that is looking for quick reads over long ones. I am one who enjoys both, so I may not be the best target audience, but I do know that flash fiction is easier to read online than, say, a novella, on a blog. I’ve actually pitched my fiction to a few anthologies online. Not been accepted yet but I have seen writers who have been, so I know there’s a market for this genre πŸ™‚

  18. Those are some very detailed and useful tips, Shailaja. And since you are someone who does flash fiction so well, this was so apt. I am sure those who are interesting in this genre will find this post very helpful. One thing I am curious about. Is this genre only for the blogging public or are there any published works in flash fiction just like there are for short stories?

  19. Thank you, Rajlakshmi! I agree that it can be tough initially, but it’s an art one can learn with some effort. I know that’s how I did. Your words are such sweet music to my ears. Thank you for the support.

  20. I feel Flash fiction is the toughest genre to write. You need to engage the reader throughout the story and then end with a Big Bang. Loved reading all your tips and the examples you shared. True, there’s no space for filler words. You write them so effortlessly… Your narration and vocabulary is always spot on.

  21. You’re such a fabulous teacher. I loved how you deconstructed flash fiction writing. This is so thorough – like a flash fiction writing handbook.

  22. So glad you felt that way, Vishal πŸ™‚ A lot of these points can actually apply to tautly written blog posts too. That is, of course, if people are interested πŸ™‚

    Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

  23. Superbly insightful post as always Shailaja. I don’t have the talent for FF, but your tips are applicable to regular writing too.

    The 2 tips which stood out for me are – Find your voice and cut out words which don’t matter. They’re aspects I struggle with every day. Thanks for reminders.

  24. Thank you Lata πŸ™‚ Glad you liked it. I want to do a round up post of prompts and writing spaces on the net. Will try and do that soon. Love Friday phrases. Used to participate regularly at one time πŸ™‚

  25. I really admire you for the kind of micro/flash fiction you write. You need to have that special something to do it like you do. I know I can’t so I just make peace with reading you πŸ™‚

    Good tips and why not since it has come from you, someone who knows the craft.

  26. some good tips there Shailaja. Very useful. I also enjoy the #FP tag on twitter which is FridayPhrases. They have a prompt for each week to write microfiction in 140 chars. Its wild.

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