6 Steps to Writing a Solid Flash Fiction Story
How I Developed My Process for Writing Very Short Fiction
So you want to write flash fiction, but you can't imagine fitting a whole story into one hundred, five hundred or even one thousand words? I've written about one hundred flash fiction stories over the last three years, been mentored by a flash fiction writer from the U.K., and participate regularly in a writer's forum where we critique each other's work. I've read and reviewed hundreds of flash fiction stories ranging from horrible to outstanding.
I'm beginning to understand the process of writing very short stories, and it is quite different from writing longer forms of fiction. Here are five steps that will help you write a tight and solid flash fiction story of your own. I hope you do write one, and I look forward to reading it here on HubPages.
Step 1: Three Ways to Discover a Concept for a Story
Here are three methods I use for coming up with an initial idea for a story.
- Flash of inspiration—A sudden idea for a character, plot or scene.
- Prompts—One or multiple prompts provided through an online prompt generator, a friend or a competition.
- Free writing—Write for a certain number of minutes, then stop.
A flash of inspiration occurs without warning. You suddenly think, hey, that would make an awesome story. My experience is that you had better write it down because it will disappear as quickly as it flashed into your brain.
Prompts are another way to come up with ideas for stories. I did a search here on Hub Pages for the words writing challenge and was rewarded with ten pages of results. Many of these are challenges presented by one hubber to the rest of us and are accompanied by some kind of prompt in the form of a photo, a self-interview, a painting, a phrase, a poem or a partial short story. Off the top of my head, I recall challenges presented by Bill Holland, Ann Carr, John Hansen, Jennifer Arnett, Genna East, and Frank Atanacio. The pictures above were prompts for some of these challenges.
A short free write is another way to discover a story. My son and I were camping a few years ago and decided to do a free write while sitting by the campfire. The single guideline was that it was to be dialogue only. That's right, not even a dialogue tag was permitted. To this day, that has been my favorite prompt and yielded one of my most treasured flash fiction stories.
Step 2: Narrowing the Focus of the Story
You have a vague idea of what you want to write about based on a flash of inspiration, a prompt or an initial free write. Beginning with this basic concept, follow these four steps to clarify the plot and characters of your story.
- Five-minute free write based on your basic concept or a vague idea.
- Reduce the free write to a one-hundred-word story.
- Reduce to a sixty-word story.
- Reduce to a ten-word synopsis which focuses on the main characters and what they do.
Step 3: Expand the Synopsis Into a Story
Write a five hundred or one thousand word story based on the ten-word synopsis.
Steps two and three are based on a flash fiction model put together by Charli Mills (No relation). Charli's model is called TUFF or The Ultimate Flash Fiction. What I have presented is a summarized and adapted version.
If you don't have a story idea to start with, begin with the five-minute free write in step two and proceed from there.
Step 4: Initial Editing of Your Story
You now have a five hundred or a one thousand word story. It's time to edit and rewrite.
Choose a genre or a genre mix: Let the genre be your guide. If you chose a genre before you began, this step will be easier. Look at what you have written. Where does the genre begin? If it's a suspense story, where does the suspense begin? If it's a mystery, where does the mystery begin? If you haven't chosen a genre, it might be helpful at this point to assign one.
I've discovered that everything I've written that comes before the onset of the genre, is backstory. When backstory is placed at the beginning of flash fiction without strong elements of the genre, it kills the story.
Cut the backstory: Let's say your story is about someone who has been kidnapped, and your point of view is from the perspective of the victim. You could begin the story with that person having dinner around the table with their family. Afterward, they go for a walk and are abducted, taken to a cellar where they are bound and gagged.
Why not begin in the middle of the drama with the poor victim in the cellar all tied up? The backstory about having dinner with the fam and going for a stroll can be that person's reflection as they sit in the dark. Your story has suddenly taken off with jet engines rather than creeping along like a baby stroller.
Step 5: Aggressive and Brutal Editing Ideas
Editing is a matter of cutting unnecessary words, characters and side stories from what you have already written.
- Find essential characters and eliminate nonessential ones.
- Find side stories and eliminate them if they don’t substantially impact the story. Most side stories are dead ends which might be fine in a longer form of fiction but are not appropriate for flash fiction.
- Fit backstory elements into appropriate places as flashbacks or memories of characters. These can be a few words or a paragraph depending on your word count.
- Create a captivating opening sentence and paragraph.
- Smooth out sentences that are awkward.
- Eliminate unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Focus on strong nouns and active verbs.
- Find and eliminate passive voice (Passive is when verb action is performed on the subject of the sentence. Aim for your characters to always be active, performing the action of the verbs).
- Eliminate all unnecessary words until you are under five hundred or one thousand words, even if it hurts.
- Reread and rewrite until the story flows the way you want it to.
- Be aggressive and brutal in your editing. If the words don’t fit, you must omit.
Step 6: Beta Readers and Rewrites
If you plan on publishing the story or using it in a competition, you might seek the help of a beta reader(s). Here is a definition of a beta reader from Wikipedia:
Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context. Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterization or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.
Utilize the input of your beta reader(s), keeping in mind the story is yours to tell. Use only what you feel enhances your story.
Rewrite until the story flows in a way that satisfies you. Use beta readers again, followed by another rewrite.
I caution you, especially if the story is going to be used in competition or publishing, to have two phases of beta readers. In one competition, I did my final draft without betas and submitted a story with a couple of harmful errors which I did not catch.
Summary of the Six Steps to Writing a Flash Fiction Story
Everything you need to write a well-crafted story is in these six steps. I've noticed in my own writing and in that of others, the tendency to do a less than adequate job on editing and rewriting. This is where exciting new ideas can arise including a clever twist at the end. The twist doesn't always happen, and that's okay. When it does happen, it can really spice up your story. I wish you the best of luck and lots of enjoyment as you write in this exciting, fast-paced format.
© 2015 Chris Mills