How to Write Flash Fiction – a Beginners Guide

image from theGiantVermin's flickr stream under cc usage

I know I’ve been going on and on and on about flash fiction for the past few weeks. Interested in learning more about the form? Read on…

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, however, I’ve read an awful lot of the stuff and I’ve written some too. I like to think I have an idea on what makes the form work. If you think you’d like to try writing some fiction, flash is a wonderful starting point.

Finishing something always feels good and if now isn’t the time in your life to work on that novel….or even that short story – well, you’ll be able to finish a flash piece. I know you will (because it’s not the time in my life for a novel either and even I can finish a piece of flash.)

How short is flash fiction anyway?

It’s ironic that this post on how to write flash is likely to be longer than an entire completed piece. Most flash pieces are under 1000 words. Me? I like ’em shorter at under 500 words. I find the shorter they are, the more challenging they are. Plus, shorter pieces are easy to read in one sitting – like while my toddler is eating lunch. A piece can be as short as you want it to be, there are even some pieces that remain one sentence long.

Even though it’s little, it’s still complete

The biggest piece of advice I’d give is that even though a flash piece is short – it’s still a whole story.

There’s a beginning, middle and end. There are characters and there is conflict of some sort. Don’t forget that. If someone reads it and thinks – “I want to read more” then the piece is really a short story in disguise.

If you are struggling with this concept think about it in the context of time. What kind of scene can play out in front of you in a few minutes? If you’re sitting at a red light – what’s happening? What do you see before the light turns green and you drive away? What happens in the line at a movie theater before the doors open and everyone goes in to watch the movie? What’s going on in the lunch room before the boss comes in and you go back to your desk?

Now, I want to make it clear that time is a good frame within which to place your story – but not all flash is restricted by time. Think about the clear thoughts of an Alzheimer’s patient. A conversation. A fight that is over as quickly as it started. The point is, there needs to be a natural end point. Don’t cheat. Don’t end your flash with a question meant to coerce the reader into finishing the story for you. I’ve seen this technique and most of the time it doesn’t work well and I feel like I’m missing out on a key point.

Get Funky

For me, the very best thing about flash fiction is that you can experiment. I love pieces that verge on poetry. Pieces that push the rules and break boundaries. In a short story, some creative devices can become annoying – but with flash, the piece is over before one becomes annoyed and the device stands on it’s own to enhance and lift a piece up.

This is a silly example but if required, you could have a character that speaks backwards. In a flash piece, I could read that without going crazy. In a short story, I wouldn’t bother. It would be too much. Make sense?

Write it? Read it!

If you are interested in writing flash – you should go and read some. There are a few examples to be found here on Maternal Spark. I also recommend:

Smokelong Quarterly

Vestal Review

Flashquake and

Word Riot

Well, look at that – this post ended up under 1000 words after all. Just like a flash. If you have questions, I’ll try my best to answer them. Just post in comments and I’ll see what I can do – or maybe another reader will be able to help out. Don’t be afraid of trying your hand at writing flash – it’s only 1000 words. What could possibly happen?



  1. Oh Heather…I was so excited that I had to comment. I looked over this briefly and am excited to get those stupid dishes washed and get back over here to read more thoroughly.

    See. That’s just it. The worst that can happen with 1,000 words. Words can be lethal and I imagine that wars have begun with far less than a thousand.
    If I incite a riot with my prose, if I cause a stirring inside, it is because I have chosen the correct words. Or the incorrect words.

  2. I’ve never tried flash fiction. It would be interesting to give it a go. If I have an idea I’ll be sure to write it down. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Excellent post!

  3. Cheryl – if you incite a riot with your prose, then incorrect or correct – your words had power. Don’t shut that power down before it gets going. Show yourself what you’ve got!

    Petula – You have a very concise way to your writing. Blogging in a sense is flash, just of the non-fiction variety. I think you’d do very well with the form ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I have never heard of this! How interesting and something I may just have time to do. I wonder who reads flash fiction most? Is there a demographic?

  5. I’ve always been scared to write fiction, much less flash fiction. Although I did have good success with a story I wrote about an interview I had with a dog. I loved writing it and it helped me stretch my wings a bit. But I still always fall back to what I think I do best, non-fiction. Great tips here!


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