Flash Fiction: Genre Facts, Writing Tips, and Story Examples - HobbyLark - Games and Hobbies
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Flash Fiction: Genre Facts, Writing Tips, and Story Examples

Linda Crampton is a teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. Her favourite genres are classic literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.

Computer, laptop, tablet, mobile device, or paper are all good tools for writers of flash fiction.

Computer, laptop, tablet, mobile device, or paper are all good tools for writers of flash fiction.

The Lure of Very Short Stories

Flash fiction, short-short fiction, or microfiction is becoming very popular. I can understand the attraction. Creating very short stories that have power can be an enjoyable process for writers. Reading flash fiction written by others is often an interesting and inspirational activity.

Some people might think that creating flash fiction is easier than writing a conventional short story because it contains fewer words. This idea is incorrect, however. When a writer is limited to a certain number of words in their stories, a stimulating and educational challenge is created. The goal is to eliminate unnecessary words and to make sure that every word that's left is important to the story in some way.

I enjoy creating flash fiction and trying to improve my skills. I also enjoy reading the work of other writers and exploring their ideas about writing. Some great examples of very short stories are being created today.

Some people enjoy writing outdoors.

Some people enjoy writing outdoors.

How Long Is Flash Fiction?

There is no generally accepted definition for "flash fiction", other than the fact that it's shorter than a typical short story. Writers are creating stories from one sentence to one thousand words in length and calling it flash fiction. Websites asking for flash fiction submissions are increasing in number. I've discovered several that accept no more than 100 words, another that accepts no more than 300 words and one that accepts no less than 500 words and no more than 1000 words.

The terms used for flash fiction also vary. Some people differentiate between longer flash fiction, which they call short-short stories, and shorter microfiction. Microfiction is sometimes limited to a hundred words or less, not including the title.

The Challenge of Creating Flash Fiction

I don't worry much about terminology. Whatever my very short stories are called, they're fun to write. When I start a flash fiction story, I keep in mind that I'm trying to create a short piece of writing but I don't set myself a word limit. Deciding in advance that I must write only 100 words (for example) can inhibit the flow of ideas. Once I've finished the first draft of the story I edit it to try to make it more succinct.

When I started writing flash fiction, I thought that a stipulated word length would limit my expression and prevent me from developing a story properly. Now I find that while this seems to be sometimes true, it often isn't. Part of the joy in creating flash fiction is to try to eliminate extraneous material while giving sufficient information to convey the writer's intended message. The "every word counts" idea is great for developing writing skills.

I enjoy the process of including clues in the stories but leaving readers to make their own interpretation. Their interpretation may be different from mine, but that's fine. In a way, flash fiction is collaborative fiction, especially in its shorter forms.

Baby shoes are the topic of what may be the shortest flash fiction story.

Baby shoes are the topic of what may be the shortest flash fiction story.

One-Sentence Stories

Some flash fiction is amazingly short. I admire writers who can create an intriguing or meaningful story in a single sentence or phrase. What I find especially interesting about these sentences is that the reader is actually creating most of the story in their mind. A good sentence is thought-provoking and can provoke a different tale in each person's imagination.

The phrase below is considered to be an extreme example of flash fiction. It's often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but there seems to be little evidence to support this idea.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

— Unknown

Tips for Writing Flash Fiction

Here are some writing tips that make sense to me and that have helped me in my efforts to create flash fiction.

  • Several flash fiction writers recommend writing the first draft of the story without worrying about length (within reason). Once this draft is finished, they cut out words that they feel are unnecessary, including many adjectives and adverbs. This creates a leaner and often more effective story. If you can't cut words out of your story or if the process feels forced, maybe that particular story isn't meant to be flash fiction.
  • The process of writing flash fiction is not as quick as many people imagine. It takes me at least several evenings. Even when I think the story is finished, when I look at it the next day (and at a later date), I often see problems. Don't be in too much of a rush to decide that your story is finished. You do need to eventually declare that your work is complete, however, even while allowing for the possibility that you may want to edit it in the future.
  • Writers need to be very careful at the beginning of the story. There aren't enough words to set the scene or describe the characters in the shortest stories. David Gaffney is a British writer who is known for his flash fiction. He recommends that writers start their very short stories in the middle.
  • David Gaffney also says that the ending of a very short story shouldn't really be an ending but should leave the reader wondering. He reads three of his flash fiction stories in the video above.

The last line .... should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant.

— David Gaffney in The Guardian newspaper

I love the quote above, with one caveat. I definitely think that the ending of a very short story should stimulate the reader to think about the details that weren't revealed in the story. I also think that the writer should be careful that the ending isn't so puzzling that the reader doesn't understand the story, however. The ending should be reasonably satisfying even if it doesn't answer all of the reader's questions.

Introducing a large cast of characters such as the riders or horses at the RCMP Musical Ride is not a good idea in flash fiction.

Introducing a large cast of characters such as the riders or horses at the RCMP Musical Ride is not a good idea in flash fiction.

More Tips for Writing Very Short Stories

  • Keep the number of characters in a flash fiction story low. It's unlikely that you'll be able to use a large cast of characters effectively when there aren't many words in your story.
  • Keep the plot simple and stick to only one or only a few incidents. The shorter the word length of your story, the more constrained you'lł be with respect to plot.
  • Keep descriptions of people, scenes, and objects to a bare minimum.

From the tips above, It may seem that there are serious limitations to flash fiction. If you read the very short stories created by experienced writers, however, you'll see that wonderful tales can be created. In fact, many writers would likely agree that the "limitations" are actually benefits because they force a writer to concentrate on the effective use of words.

Reading can be educational as well as enjoyable.

Reading can be educational as well as enjoyable.

Learning by Reading

Reading other people's flash fiction creations can be a useful process for writers. A simple web search for "flash fiction" will bring up many results. After reading some good stories, you'll almost certainly be inspired by the possibilities of the genre.

Flash fiction can also be read in books. The oldest examples of very short fiction that are known today are often said to be Aesop's fables. The stories are thought to have been written in Ancient Greece during the sixth century BCE. Very short stories were likely written at an even earlier date, however.

If you're tempted to submit your own flash fiction creations to an online or offline publication, make sure that you read the rules of the site or publication carefully. In addition, try to find some reviews of the publisher. You also need to be clear about the payment structure, if there is any, and about the rights that you give up and keep if your story is published.

A flash of light is an interesting phenomenon.

A flash of light is an interesting phenomenon.

"A Flash in the Pan"

Evan was casting a spell in the basement. His wife was in the living room, waiting for the new arrival. "Have you started?" she yelled. "Yes, dear," Evan yelled back. "Remember to wipe your feet before you come upstairs," Megan said, as she often did when he performed spells. She loved the things that he created for their home but hated the soot that his efforts produced.

Once he was able to concentrate, Evan discovered that his job was unusually easy. He was pleased to see the increasing intensity of the light and to feel its developing power. Upstairs, Megan watched the space next to the piano, hoping for the appearance of an armchair covered with a rose print fabric to match the drapes.

The spell ended with a zigzag flash of light striking the casting circle. "Is it there?" Evan yelled after a moment of recovery, as he always did when he finished a furnishing spell. There was no response, which was strange. He went upstairs without wiping his feet. He discovered that there was no armchair next to the piano and no Megan either. She had never left the house while a spell was in progress before. Evan looked around, feeling that something was amiss.

When he noticed that the surface of the carpet was rippling, Evan realized that he had performed a transmute spell instead of a translocation one. He hadn't made that mistake since Megan had banished his activities to the basement. Being careful not to step on her, he went into the kitchen to get a cup of tea. Spell casting was tiring and thirsty work. He really wasn't up to doing more right now. He'd work on getting her back tomorrow.

A songbook that may contain arias from operas, oratorios, or cantatas

A songbook that may contain arias from operas, oratorios, or cantatas

"Friendship Failed"

He started to sing the aria that she loved most of all, stretching his arms out as though inviting her embrace. The effort was much too late. Friendship needed to be a two-way street. She had tried so hard to develop the relationship. Her kindness and interest in all that he did had evoked no more than a mild response. His indifference had stung and—she agreed to be honest with herself at least—offended her. How dare he ignore her attention and treat her gratitude with such disdain! Did he really think that he was so important? For a home service robot, he was far too big for his boots.

© 2015 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 10, 2020:

I enjoy learning something new every day, too. You've described an interesting way to write a story, Liza!

Liza from USA on February 10, 2020:

As usual, I'm on-board about learning something new every day. I just wanted to share my experience of writing short stories with my husband years ago (before we got married) where we started a short paragraph and send it to each other. Then, we must continue writing the story or article until we finished it. It was fun! Thanks for sharing the article, Linda!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 05, 2019:

I appreciate your comment.

Livliv Sue on March 05, 2019:

This was very helpful for me. :) thx.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 16, 2017:

Thank you for the comment, Mark.

Mark Tulin from Santa Barbara, California on October 16, 2017:

Thanks for the tips!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 23, 2017:

Thank you very much, Sarah. I appreciate your kind comment.

Sarah Flanagan from Melbourne, Australia on March 23, 2017:

Thanks for this article, it was amazingly helpful and I feel like a better writer after reading it. Thank you very much.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 03, 2016:

Thank you, jamesplee. I appreciate your visit.

James Lee from Las Vegas, NV on December 03, 2016:

I really enjoy creating graphics for my stories and find I can spin a yarn around most any image or picture. Your article has shown me how flash fiction can be something to focus on with my own style of writing.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2016:

Thank you for such an interesting comment, Denise!

Denise Cole Aparo from Connecticut on February 14, 2016:

Hello Alicia,

Your article is interesting and I enjoyed your flash-stories!

I have never heard of this writing style. It reminds me of 'speed-dating,' where you have 'an organized social activity in which people seeking romantic relationships have a series of short conversations with potential partners in order to determine whether there is mutual interest.'

What you have instead, is an organized story in which people seeking literary stimulation read a short tale with potential characters in order to inspire them to expand their reading interpretations and comprehensions. (I had a bit of fun there, with comparisons!)

Nice!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 05, 2016:

Thank you very much for the interesting and informative comment, manatita44. I appreciate your visit and your kindness!

manatita44 from london on February 05, 2016:

Excellent work, Alicia. Great stuff! You give a very balanced and well researched view of the Flash Fiction genre. I really like that.

I spent a long time doing what I tell people about writing, that is to say: Practice, practice and more practice ...read, read and read some more. Now I do not do this. I do not even take a course. I mainly use logic and intuitive capacity, and because of meditation, most of the past simply returns to me.

I like David's style, and I like your enhancement to it. Personally, I like the 500 to a 1000 word approach, as I like mystique, intrigue ... and this allows me to weave a much more beautiful story. I have a few here on HP. Shaynani and the Beauty is my last and very recent.

All in all, I think that you've done a most wonderful job, and I applaud you for this. Much Love, Alicia.

P.S. Whether it's Flash, or other works of prose, I can usually wrap it up in 20 - 40 minutes. But that's just me. After nearly all my life of reading, the words flow easily. Of course all good writers tend to go over their work, even much later. I do this too.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 19, 2015:

Thank you for the comment, Rachel. Flash fiction is an interesting genre! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on November 19, 2015:

Hi Alicia, that's the first time I heard of Flash Fiction. The older I get the less I like to read long stories, mostly because I have a tendency to fall asleep. lol So I think flash fiction would suit me fine. I do love to read though. Thanks for sharing this information.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, Kelsey. I think that writing flash fiction is both fun and challenging! Good luck with your stories.

Kelsey Elise Farrell from Orange County, CA on September 20, 2015:

This is a great hub and very informative. I've dabbled in flash fiction and have always enjoyed it. This makes me feel like busting out my writing pad and starting on some one-sentence-stories. Thanks for sharing!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 19, 2015:

Thank you very much, mactavers! I appreciate your visit.

mactavers on August 19, 2015:

Thank you, Thank you. Very interesting and inspirational.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 16, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, travel_man1971.

Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on August 16, 2015:

This is every informative. I would like to try writing 'flash fiction', too. Story ideas keep brewing in my mind these days. Thanks for sharing, Ms. Alicia.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 19, 2015:

Thank you very much, RoadMonkey. I appreciate your comment and visit.

RoadMonkey on July 19, 2015:

I enjoyed your two pieces of fiction, especially the one about spell casting - that was funny. I could just see that happening! Very useful information about flash fiction, thanks.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 14, 2015:

Hi, kalinin1158. I'll definitely check out the writer that you mention! His work sounds interesting. Thanks for the visit and the vote.

Lana Adler from California on July 14, 2015:

Love flash fiction! One of my favorite (absurdist) flash fiction writers is Daniil Kharms. Some of his stories are literally a sentence long, like you mention. Incredible! I think it's definitely harder to write short fiction than 2,000-page novels. Voted up

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 23, 2015:

Thank you for the comment, Mary. I appreciate the vote and the share, too. Good luck with your flash fiction!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on May 23, 2015:

I enjoy writing short stories, but mine are too long to be considered flash fiction. You have inspired me to try my hand at writing these.

Voted UP, and shared.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 27, 2015:

Thank you very much, Martie! I appreciate your comment a great deal.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on April 27, 2015:

Very informing and encouraging! One of these days I will have time to indulge in flash fiction.

I love yours, Alicia. Both are excellent :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 23, 2015:

Hi, Mel. Thank you very much for the comment. I know what you mean about needing more words for some writing projects! I enjoy writing both flash fiction and longer stories.

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on April 23, 2015:

I'm afraid I could never be a flash fiction writer or even a flash non fiction writer because for some reason my ideas always need at least 2500 words to develop and my fiction always runs 7 to 10 thousand words. I also enjoy word play and turns of phrase, which flash fiction seems to inhibit somewhat. Nonetheless, I recognize the value of the genre and I enjoyed your stories here and hope you will share more. Great hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 22, 2015:

Thank you very much, FatBoyThin. I appreciate your comment about the story and the hub.

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on April 22, 2015:

Love your 'spell' story - it does exactly what flash fiction should do - leave possibilities for the reader to think about. Great Hub and lots of good advice.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 20, 2015:

Thank you very much, Deb. I appreciate your comment.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 20, 2015:

Your flash fiction is wonderful, as it left me smiling, and with a couple of possible scenarios for each one. I believe you were successful in both stories, as you sure left me intrigued with my own afterthoughts.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 16, 2015:

Thank you for the visit and the comment, grand old lady.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on April 16, 2015:

It's nice to know a little bit of flash fiction. It helps me to understand this genre, as I tend to feel like it is an unfinished story.This article helps a lot.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 12, 2015:

Thank you for the comment and the vote, Vellur. You're right - writing flash fiction is a challenge!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 12, 2015:

Flash fiction is not easy to write as you say, it needs a lot of thought. To keep the story short and hold the reader's attention is a challenge. Great tips on how to write flash fiction. Voted up.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 09, 2015:

Thank you very much, colorfulone! It's nice to discover another flash fiction fan.

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on April 09, 2015:

I wrote a lot of flash fiction on another site but have yet to publish any for HubPages. It is fun, but like you say it does take some time.

Thank you for sharing tips and some fine example stories, Alicia.

Interesting and useful - Kudos!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 07, 2015:

Thank, Catherine. I appreciate the comment and the votes. Good luck in the competition.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on April 07, 2015:

I have to do two flash fiction stories for the Florida Writers Association contest in the next week. Thanks for the tips. Voted up ++

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 07, 2015:

Hi, Bill. Thanks for the comment. Flash fiction can certainly be amazing!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on April 07, 2015:

Hi Linda. How interesting. I've never heard of the term Flash Fiction so I learned something new today. Amazing that a gripping short story can be created with so few words. Very creative.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 07, 2015:

Thank you, Mark. I appreciate your comment and vote.

Mark Lees on April 07, 2015:

A really interesting hub about one of the most under appreciated literary forms - flash fiction. Voted up :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 06, 2015:

Thank you very much for the kind comment, Flourish! I'm grateful for the votes as well.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 06, 2015:

I like your twists at the end of your flash fiction stories, and this hub will be very helpful for those who seek to venture into the genre. Well done! Voted up and more. I like your creativity!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 06, 2015:

Thank you very much, Marlene. I appreciate your comment! I'm a big fan of flash fiction, too.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on April 06, 2015:

I am a true fan of flash fiction. I like the idea of having something to read that can be read and done in a short time. It is quite satisfying. I enjoyed your stories and the tips you share on how to write flash fiction. Awesome hub! I learned a lot more than I ever knew.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 06, 2015:

Thank you, Larry.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 06, 2015:

Very useful tips for this emerging genre.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2015:

Thank you very much for the visit and the kind comment, drbj.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 05, 2015:

What superior examples of flash fiction you have written, Alicia. Thank you for this lovely and intriguing treat.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2015:

Hi, Homeplace Series. I appreciate your visit and comment!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Writer Fox! I agree - creating one-sentence stories would be a great classroom activity.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on April 05, 2015:

Thank you, very much! Always nice to have the latest information! ;-)

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on April 05, 2015:

This is a super tutorial for writing Flash Fiction! I particularly liked the idea of 'One-Sentence Stories.' English teachers could use a simple idea like that to spark creativity in their classrooms.

Enjoyed and voted up!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, cam8510. I appreciate the vote and the share, too! I practice writing flash fiction a lot as well. For an apparently simple form of writing it's actually quite complex!

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on April 05, 2015:

AliciaC, I love the stories and your instruction on writing flash fiction. I keep pumping them out, hoping to someday really get the hang of it. Thanks for the interesting and entertaining article. Voted up and shared.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2015:

Thank you very much for the visit, Venkatachari! I appreciate your comment and votes.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on April 05, 2015:

Alicia, your ideas are great. You have dealt it smartly and aptly. Both of your stories are also great works. Voted up and awesome.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2015:

Thank you very much, Jodah. I appreciate your comment a great deal! Happy Easter.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2015:

Hi, Rolly. Thank you very much for the kind comment. I hope you have a happy Easter.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on April 05, 2015:

Hi Alicia, this is a very informative hub about flash fiction and with the bonus of two great stories from you as examples. Well done, voted up.

Rolly A Chabot from Alberta Canada on April 05, 2015:

Hi AliciaC... great article and explanation of Flash Fiction... very well done my friend... I have printed this so I can reference it...

Hugs from Canada

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 04, 2015:

Thanks, Jackie. I appreciate your visit and comment! Best wishes.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 04, 2015:

Very informative; have been trying my best to understand this and you have helped; thank you!

Happy Easter!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 04, 2015:

Thanks for the visit, Bill. I hope you have a very happy Easter, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 04, 2015:

I'm sorry for the short visit today. My to do list keeps growing. I just stopped by to wish you a very Happy Easter.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 04, 2015:

Thanks for the comment, Ron. I hope you have a very happy Easter.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 04, 2015:

Hi, Mekenzie. It's nice to meet you. Thank you very much for the vote and the share. I love your comment that "words paint pictures"! Good luck with your exploration of flash fiction.

Blessings to you as well, Mekenzie.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 04, 2015:

The couple of times I've done short, short stories I've enjoyed it. You've encouraged me to do more.

Susan Ream from Michigan on April 04, 2015:

Alicia, you've sparked my interest. I love the concept of flash fiction. Words paint pictures and learning to use them sparingly and carefully is intriguing to me. Voted up and Shared.

I'm off to do some more reading on flash fiction. Thank you!!

Blessings!

Mekenzie

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 04, 2015:

Hi, Faith. Thanks for the lovely comment! I appreciate the comment, the votes and the shares so much. I'm looking forward to reading your flash fiction. I know what you mean about editing. It seems like the process is never ending!

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Easter, Faith. Blessings to you.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 04, 2015:

Alicia,

This is the most helpful article on writing flash fiction that I have read to date! I have actually been working on a flash fiction piece for a bit and wanted to publish it last Sunday and here it is almost another Sunday.

I am "Ms. Wordy" and realize I needed to seriously edit, edit and edit more. I have the storyline in my mind with only two characters really, and maybe one incidental one. So, I have just written it out all without any word restriction to tell the tale I want to tell, and so now I am, as I stated, in the editing process.

Your hub here has been most helpful for me at this particular time, especially!

I had to laugh out loud at the surprise endings of both your fabulous flash fiction stories. It appears you have this writing flash fiction down and have produced two wonderful and enjoyable flash fiction pieces for all to enjoy.

Up and all the way across, tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

Happy Easter weekend. He is risen!

Peace and blessings always