Flash Fiction Basics-Telling Short Short Stories

Rachel Richey Letters From The Editor

Flash fiction, micro-fiction, the short short story, the palm-sized story, postcard fiction, nano-fiction, these are all names for a style of fiction known for it’s brevity. While traditional short stories can range anywhere from 1500 words to 30,000 words, these stories are usually limited to 1000 words or less. These pint-sized narratives are stripped of all of the fluff and detail that you might find in a traditional ficiton. There are fewer characters, fewer conflicts, and fewer backstories. What you do get however, is a beginning, a middle and an end.

While the term Flash Fiction has only become popular in the last 20 years or so, with the 1992 publication of an anthology called Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, by James Thomas, short short stories have been around for as long as writers have been writing. If you take a look at Aesop’s Fables, you’ll find stories that barely fill half a page while still providing readers with an entertaining moral lesson.  Borges, Kafka, and Chopin have all written shorts, but Hemingway is probably the most famous example with his published collection of vignettes titled In Our Time. He has even been credited as the author of a popular six word story:

“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn”

So why are writers drawn to these bite-sized works of fiction? For some, it’s the challenge of having to create a full story within such strict limits. You have to push the boundaries of what constitutes a story and move beyond traditional narrative devices. For others, these limits on length give them more freedom to play around with their ideas. You can write and edit and revise an entire story in few hours compared to the months of work that goes into writing a novel. And still for others, it’s the intensity of short fiction that draws them in. You have to begin the story in the midst of the action and move it quickly towards it’s resolution. Every word has to count. Every word has to move the story forward.

Interested in writing your own flash fiction? These basic tips might help you out.

  • Write your story first without worrying about the word count. You can always trim it up later; the important thing is to get your ideas down on paper.
  • Start in the middle of an action scene. Not only does this cut out a wordy exposition, but it can also give you a chance to show your readers who your character is based on his actions.
  • Cut out unnecessary dialogue tags. You don’t always need a “he said” or a “she exclaimed”. If there are only two characters having a conversation then use your punctuation and paragraphing to make it clear who is speaking.
  • Cut out the redundancies. There is no need to use phrases such as difficult dilemma, absolutely certain, close proximity, or unexpected surprise. Any surprise is unexpected. All things in proximity are close. We use redundancies so often in the course of normal conversation that we don’t always realize how unnecessary they are.
  • Cut out all your adverbs. Do you need to have your character run “quickly”? Isn’t the fact that he’s running provide all the description you need? Does your character need to smile “happily”? Or could you happily leave out this word while keeping the meaning of your sentence clear. I’m not saying that all adverbs are unnecessary, and you can add some back in if you feel that they’re are essential to the meaning of your story. But chances are, you won’t have to.
  • Cut out or cut down your adjectives. You might find that these are as unnecessary as your adverbs.
  • If your story is still too long, then take a second to really think about what you’re trying to say. Imagine that you are relating this story to a friend or acquaintance. Would you tell them every detail and bore them to death? Or would you focus on telling them the most interesting or dramatic points. You’re trying to entertain and hold your audience’s attention. So entertain!
  • And as always, read! Reading will help you become a better writer. You’ll be exposed to new ideas and new ways of approaching a story. Let the work of others inspire you!

In fact, you can start reading now. Check out these flash fiction sites to see for yourself what it’s all about.

Flash Fiction Online

100 Word Story


Every Day Fiction

Vestal Review

And the list could go on and on.

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Happy reading!

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About the Author

Rachel Richey

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As an avid reader and a lover of story crafting, Rachel started Literative.com as a way to motivate and connect authors to tell their stories (and the literary community at large). Her favorite part of Literative is discovering the talent that shows up in our creative writing contests.