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How to Improve Your Flash Fiction Writing Skills

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

Flash fiction is an incredibly exciting and versatile form that gives both novice writers and experts a way to explore narrative and voice. If you’ve written your own flash fiction before you know that it can be harder than it looks. Learning about the elements of a good flash fiction story and reading some of the best flash fiction writers can help you improve your own flash fiction writing.



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What Is Flash Fiction?

There is no singular definition of flash fiction but in simple terms, flash fiction pieces are very short stories. Flash fiction pieces are generally under 1,000 words and are also known as microstories and postcard fiction. There are additional terms for flash fiction pieces depending on their length, including dribble (under 50 words) drabble (under 100 words) and trabble (under 300 words). Many writers who specialize in other forms still write flash fiction because it can be done quickly and is a great way to explore different types of narratives.

One of the first examples of flash fiction is a famous six-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This story has all the hallmarks of a piece of flash fiction in that it conveys a narrative in a quick and brief manner. Flash fiction is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, and there are many places to find flash fiction online and in print. Some well-known flash fiction writers include Lydia Davis, Sherrie Flick, Jamaica Kincaid, and Stuart Dybek.

8 Tips for Improving Your Flash Fiction

As with any other form of writing, the best way to improve your flash fiction is through practice. That said, here are some tips to keep in mind as you build your portfolio of flash fiction pieces:

  1. Read as much microfiction as possible. If you’re planning on writing flash fiction stories, you should be reading as much short fiction as possible. This includes flash fiction stories as well as short stories you might find in short story collections.
  2. Experiment with different ways of approaching a story. Writers find different ways of arriving at the premise for a piece of flash fiction. Unlike a traditional short story, great flash fiction can explore a period as brief as a single moment in time. As a writer, your way into a flash fiction story might be a striking image or setting or an evocative moment you witness in your day to day life.
  3. Center your story around a clear protagonist. Most flash fiction stories have a main character. It’s hard to include more than one or two characters because of the time constraints of the genre, but a strong protagonist gives the story a point of view. You don’t have much time for character development, but you’d be surprised by how much you can communicate about a character in a short amount of time.
  4. Understand the backstory, even if you don’t explore it. Even if you don’t plan on spending a lot of time exploring backstory, you should have a complete story fleshed out for each character in your flash story. Many writers use flash fiction as a vehicle for complex and nuanced character study despite the brief length. If you have a thorough understanding of your characters, your audience will be able to connect with them more.
  5. Focus on a small part of a larger story. One way to generate a flash fiction piece is to take a small chunk of a larger fictional work and make it the focus of your microfiction. If you do other forms of fictional creative writing, chances are you have one story that you can’t seem to crack. Try taking one of the plot points in this story and making it the focus of a piece of flash fiction.
  6. Build to a twist ending. Because of their length, flash fiction stories are a great place to experiment with twist endings. An effective ending can be communicated in a single last line or even a single word. Many pieces of microfiction have an ending akin to the punchline of a joke.
  7. Value the editing process. Just because a flash piece generally has word limits on the lower end doesn’t mean you should skip the editing process and finish working on a story after the first draft. Good flash fiction should be proofread and edited just as you would with any other piece of writing. A good story is often crafted in the editing process, and flash fiction is no different.
  8. Submit your flash fiction for publication. The last step to writing flash fiction is submitting your piece for publication. You have many options when you choose where to submit. You can submit your work to a flash fiction magazine or online periodical like Smokelong Quarterly, which is entirely dedicated to flash fiction. You can also submit to a magazine like The New Yorker, which publishes fiction pieces of varying lengths as well as poetry, cartoons, nonfiction news pieces, and reviews. Mainstream publishers like W. W. Norton & Company also publish flash fiction collections.
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