Elements of great flash fiction

Over the past few years, I’ve been participating in some flash fiction contests over at Shock Totem.* These contests begin on or about the first of the month with a prompt revealed in a secret room. The participants have 1 week to create a story and submit it. Once the week is over the participants have 3 weeks in which to read, comment and vote on the best flash story.

To me, it’s always amazing how 1 prompt can inspire so many different stories. On average we have 20 to 30 participants but sometimes we have more than that.  While a theme might be repeated, no story is the same.

Now, I do have to admit that most of the time my stories fall short of even being good. I charge through the idea too quickly to really refine the idea let alone the story line right. But other writers blow me away.

Last year I took a class with Carrie Cuinn on short fiction. It was a great class that focused on micro and flash fiction.  Again the process was similar to the flash contests. We were given an assignment including the word count and then we read and commented on each other’s stories. It was a great learning experience. My flash piece, “Ordinary Hero,” arose from that class.

Crossed Genres published an issue of flash fiction stories in July. There’s some great work there too.

Other writers have produced wonderful pieces of flash and micro fiction over the years such as Damien Walters’s “Like Origami in Water” (which started out as a flash piece in the ST flash contest.)

Flash and micro fiction aren’t easy. Unlike novels or even short stories, there’s a very limited word count to work with. Flash is usually only 1000 words or less.  Micro can be anything from 6 words to 250 depending on the market. That doesn’t leave room for much but the very core of what’s going on. And essentially that is what flash fiction is. It’s a pared down core of what is happening to or around a character.

Because there isn’t much room, flash and micro fiction requires a lot of focus. The writer can’t go into many details unless it is necessary. In some stories certain elements such as setting, time line or surroundings can be implied or suggested by other details. Even character descriptions are brief if they are there at all.

These very short stories rely on direct conflicts that happen and are resolved quickly. While they might use breaks to show that time passes, many of them follow the events closely to the end of the story.

Flash and micro fiction also use stronger words for the most part. The action is more direct and sharper. The dialog is crisp and precise.  There’s no room for meandering in these stories.

I’m still working on creating good flash stories. Most of the ones I’ve submitted to the flash contest are simply too big for the word count. But that’s fine, I’ll keep trying until I get it right, like “The Fadeaway.”


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