for writers and readers….

Five Tips for writing flash fiction plus one inspirational exercise that will deliver a plot to your keyboard

I originally wrote this post for the Hysterectomy Association when I was writer in residence of their annual writing competition earlier this year.

writing flash fiction 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).

The organisers of the annual Bridport Prize have come up with a useful working definition.

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…

By the way, the 2015  international competition is now open for entries.

5 Flash Fiction Tips

  1. Don’t try to write a 250 word story. Write a 400 words story and cut it back.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Make use of your title. It’s important that it adds to your story and doesn’t just label it.

  5. 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  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.

photo credit: † massimo ankor via photopin cc

7 comments on “Five Tips for writing flash fiction plus one inspirational exercise that will deliver a plot to your keyboard

  1. theowllady
    November 3, 2014

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

  2. A.K.Andrew @artyyah
    November 3, 2014

    Excellent description ofFlash Fiction Bridget but better still is the exercise you suggest. I love random starts & most of my early short stories came that way. But this makes it much more intriguing. Are u going to do a POD hard copy of yr creative writing book. It cries out to not be trapped in e-form.

    • bridget whelan
      November 3, 2014

      So glad you like this exercise. Like you, I find random starts are a wonderful way of triggering stories and I find that they work for most people, most of the time. This one has the added advantage of forcing you to step away from the usual write-what-you-know mode.

      Glad to say that Back to Creative Writing School is now out in paperback and I love how it looks. Ebooks have their place but you really need to scribble in the margins of a craft book like mine, the pages should be well thumbed and sign posted with post-it notes…

      • A.K.Andrew @artyyah
        November 4, 2014

        Fantastic – I will be heading over to Amazon right now.

  3. bridget whelan
    November 4, 2014

    Music to my ears!

  4. Pingback: Write a story in 10 words or a poem in 10 lines…writing competition | BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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