Flash Fiction goes by many names: micro fiction, sudden fiction, short short stories, skinny stories (no fat allowed) and postcard fiction. I gather in China it translates to a palm-sized smoke because it should only last as long as a cigarette (thanks Wikipedia).
There’s no easy way to describe what it is, but I think the organisers of the annual Bridport Prize have come up with a useful working definition. The Bridport, by the way, has just closed its doors for 2014: next year’s international competition opens again in late November.
Flash fiction contains the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications and resolution. However, unlike the case with a traditional short story, the word length often forces some of these elements to remain unwritten: hinted at or implied…
You only have 250 words to play with for your Hysteria flash fiction entry and that means you must write tight.
5 Flash Fiction Tips
- Don’t try to write a 250 word story. Write a 400 words story and cut it back.
- Use a setting or a character with which your reader will be familiar. For example, if your story is set during WWI you won’t need to spend words describing what it was like in the trenches – we have a shared understanding of the appalling conditions soldiers endured. In the same way, Father Smith conjures up a visual image in the way that Mr Smith doesn’t.
- Use a familiar story telling structure. I once won 25 euros with this 30 word story. A Fairy Tale of Croydon. This is the foot that the glass slipper wouldn’t fit. These are the lips that didn’t turn you into a prince. Happy anniversary. This is the wish that came true.
- Make use of your title. It’s important that it adds to your story and doesn’t just label it.
- The Latin poet Horace wasn’t thinking of flash fiction when he advised writers to start in medias res – in the middle – 2000 years ago, but there’s no room for introductions or scene setting when you have so few words. Dive in and trust the reader to follow.
Where to Find Inspiration
I hope these tips are useful, but they aren’t going to help if you’re still struggling to find an original story idea.
You might like to try this exercise. It is one of 30 featured in my paperback and ebook Back to Creative Writing School. Go to Wikipedia. In the left hand column you can click for a random article. Click it four times to get four articles – you’re allowed to throw one away. Make a story out of the three you have left.
This is what I came up with:
- Short biography of an accountant who became Lord Mayor of London in the 1990s
- A small asteroid first discovered in 1989
- List of Gambia’s diplomatic missions throughout the world
- A butterfly called the Tiny Flat found in the Kutch region of India
My gut feeling was to ditch the asteroid. So I imagined a stuffy male accountant attached to the British embassy in India. An amateur naturalist, he falls in love with a member of staff at the Gambian mission. It is inconvenient for all sorts of reasons (both married to other people? I don’t know yet, but whatever the problem it has to be serious enough to scupper career plans) and their relationship lasts as long as the short life span of the Tiny Flat that they come to know on their walks. Only for the man it is the one true love of his life.
If this was a short story, in the last scene the main character, dripping with ancient chains of office, presides at the annual Lord Mayor’s Procession. At the moment when he has it all, when there is nothing more to achieve, he sees a limousine bearing the diplomatic plates of the Gambia and he is transported back to the woman he long ago gave up. If I were writing flash fiction this would be the only scene.