18.11.15

How not to Write Flash Fiction

I read a lot of Flash Fiction. Over the years I’ve noticed that some writers continuously flounder over these common misconceptions and mistakes. If you’re trying to master the art of Flash Fiction writing, these eight “don’ts” might help you jump up to the next level.

  1. Don’t approach Flash Fiction as though it’s just a very short story. Flash has its own set of rules and the king of those rules is this: you have no time. This means spending the first eight lines on background and leaving minimal space for any action to occur is sure to flop. Don’t do it.
  2. Flash Fiction is supremely brief. But the buck stops there. You can write non-fiction flash, romance flash, fantasy flash and any other genre you feel passionate about. For some reason many of the submissions I receive in my Flash Fiction courses forget all about genre, so focused are they on brevity. Yes, it’s really short, but the genre field is wide open. Don’t limit yourself to any specific genre.
  3.  Don’t submit a vignette (unless you are considering a magazine that explicitly states they accept vignettes). A vignette is merely an impression of a character, setting or event. Flash has all of the same elements of other fictional forms, so yes, you need a character, plot, location, action and resolution.
  4. Don’t write a full character, plot, location, action and resolution. Huh? Didn’t number three say to do just that. No, it did not. I wrote that these five elements are necessary, that doesn’t mean you need to explicitly write them. Consider using hints, implications, allusions or any other means at your disposal to keep the vital elements of your story brief without eliminating them.
  5. Don’t waste your title. You have very little space. Use your title to the fullest. Remember, a title is not a decoration; it’s not the literary equivalent to icing on a cake. It’s a lot more like the eggs or salt.
  6. Don’t forget about cause and effect. This is a biggie and often absent in Flash submissions. It’s a great idea to make something happen in your story that directly causes something else to happen. Protagonists who accept everything as it is, feel sorry for themselves, or just move on, well you might already have stopped reading at this point because—and I agree—it’s boring. Just because it’s very short does not at all mean you can forget about cause and effect in story.
  7. Ditto for location. Almost 100 percent of first drafts I receive in flash are located no-time in no-where. I haven’t quite figured out why that is, but fiction in particular is about location. Readers dislike guessing where we are and what century we are in. They don’t like thinking: gee, if he’s stuck on the side of the road in a snow-bank, why doesn’t he just use his cell phone to call someone? Hmm, maybe they don’t have cell phones in umm when is this story taking place again? Do you see how as a reader I’ve gone right out of the story? This is always a bad sign. Do not allow the reader to attempt to solve conflicts on her own or to lose empathy for the heroine because she cannot figure out why she doesn’t just Google or download an app for whatever the problem seems to be. Locate your reader in time and space as soon as possible.  


And finally, number 8: Don’t worry about what’s trendy or in at the moment. You have way more of a chance of publication if you keep to your own distinct voice and truth.

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