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Mastering the Art of Flash Fiction

Updated: 6 days ago


Image: Flash Fiction - great for every reader (Source Google images)


Last weekend I attended the last ‘Flash and Chips’ event for the year. This writing workshop, run by the brilliant Linda Martin and Laura Keenan of Night Parrot Press (link) combined writing in a small bar (link) with fries supplied. As if this wasn’t appealing enough, to have an interactive session with like minded writers and hosted by the premier flash fiction publishers in Australia was a bonus.


First up – what is flash fiction? The rule of thumb is that it is flash fiction is less than 1,000 words and often less than 500 words. The boundary between flash fiction and micro fiction can be blurry. The key is distilling the narrative to a its concentrated essence. Flash fiction must make every word count. Unlike longer forms of storytelling, where authors have the luxury of intricate plots and extensive character development, flash fiction requires a laser-like focus on the essential elements. The brevity of the form compels writers to ruthlessly choose their words, ensuring that each sentence serves a dual purpose—advancing the plot and revealing story or character nuances simultaneously. An area that I need to work on is also crucial – trusting the reader enough to fill in the gaps that you deliberately leave for them to interpret. This makes the form even more tantalising as the story might be interpreted differently by two different readers (or in fact, the same reader at different times).


The title of the flash piece is also critical as it can be used set the opening scene or foretell what is about to unfold. The crafty also use the title to scrounge a few more words if they are approaching the desired word count (which usually doesn’t include the title).

As there is not enough room to develop a preamble to the story, flash fiction begins in the thick of the action. This immerses the reader in the work right from the start. Some other rules might include:


Focus on a Single Idea or Image:

Keep your flash fiction centred around a single, powerful idea. The brevity of the form requires the tightest focus to make a lasting impact.

Create Strong Characters Quickly:

Introduce your characters efficiently but make them memorable and few (maximum of three). Use a few carefully chosen details to evoke emotion grabbing images, allowing readers to connect with the characters from the outset.

Implied Backstory:

Utilize implication to convey a backstory, instead of stating everything, trust your readers to infer details, creating a sense of depth within a parsimonious word count.

Economize Language:

Every word must serve a purpose. Eliminate unnecessary details, descriptions and metaphors. Use precise and evocative language to convey meaning and atmosphere in the most efficient way.

Build Tension:

Flash fiction often benefits from a strong sense of tension. Introduce conflict early on and maintain a level of suspense throughout the narrative, leading to a satisfying resolution.

Experiment with Structure:

Flash fiction allows for experimentation with structure. Consider nonlinear narratives, unconventional formats, or playing with time to add depth and uniqueness to your story.

Craft a Strong Ending:

The ending is critical in flash fiction. Aim for a ‘resolution’ that leaves a lasting impression or provokes on-going thought. The conclusion should feel earned and satisfying within the constraints of the story.

Edit and Revise Ruthlessly:

Since you're working with a small word count, each word holds significant weight. Revise your flash fiction multiple times, focusing on clarity, impact, and the elimination of unnecessary elements. This can be a good way to hone your skills in this are to apply to longer forms too.


Image: Three Can Keep a Secret featuring great flash fictions writers from Western Australia (Source: Night Parrot Press).


Other rules might include – don’t get caught up on the rules, explore all genres and most importantly have fun.


Some great writers, including Hemmingway, King, Woolf, Asimov and the self-published legend Any Weir (The Martian, etc) have written flash fiction. Closer to home great flash fiction writers include Rashida Murphy, Jeimer Ng, Asha Rajan, Ally Millington, Julie Koh and so many more.

Image: Short and flash fiction inspired by the songs of Paul Kelly (Source: Fremantle Press)


Flash Fiction operates in a growing market. Publishers like Night Parrot Press are frequently on the hunt for good flash fiction. Fremantle Press and The New Yorker also publish flash fiction. The Australian Writers Centre has its monthly 500-word Furious Fiction (link) competition which is great fun and hones your skills. There are many, many other avenues to explore too.


Image: I'm a dog person. I couldn't let the cat with glasses opening image go unchallenged. (Source: Pexel)



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