Writing flash fiction

Written by Emma Lawson

April 10, 2020

If you hadn’t noticed already, I really enjoy proofreading and editing other people’s writing. Alongside running my freelance business, I occasionally make time to write some words of my own now and then!

If you love and believe in the power of stories to get to the heart of what really matters, or simply read just to have a laugh, unwind or escape, you may have tried your hand at fiction writing yourself.


Anthony Varallo, fiction editor of Crazyhorse values getting into the heart of the story quickly. “A good flash fiction leads the reader into a world already in full swing – if the story isn’t already underway by the first punctuation mark, forget it – and builds to a moment of change or transformation.  Source: The writer Mag

What is flash fiction?

Flash fiction is an emerging form of writing which is seeing an explosion among indie authors eager to get their words out into the writing community and beyond. Stories can be any genre, and are usually 1500 words or fewer.

The beauty of flash fiction is its brevity, and it’s also what makes it a difficult but incisive writing form. Thankfully, there are tons of talented flash fiction writers out there who show us how it’s done. Check out any of the following for examples:

When you’re reading flash fiction, the author is granting you access to a freeze frame of emotions that end up melting from the page. You are vividly transported to a scene, a snapshot in time, a diorama of life, and plot and characterisation can be distilled into a few punchy paragraphs. Furthermore, the story doesn’t stop at the last sentence. A good ending will linger in the reader’s mind and perhaps pose new questions while moving the story along.

Short stories might be quick to read, but they are not quick to write. The focus and attention to detail required takes time and practice. This is what makes it such a rich and rewarding writing form. While you may be eager to get writing the first chapter of your dreamed of novel, the road to getting your novel published might best be paved with a stretch of flash fiction along the way. The depth of writing conveyed in such concise words leaves no room for flaccid sentences or redundant phrases.

What’s the best way to learn?

The best way to learn is simply to read lots of flash fiction! Work off some writing prompts and experiment. When you’ve created something that resonates, send your work off to publishers of flash fiction and enter writing competitions. Even if you’ve been longlisted, to see your name out there as a writer gives you a massive lift and the courage and motivation to carry on.

For Tara Laskowski, editor of the flash fiction online magazine SmokeLong Quarterly, the elements of good flash are covered by the magazine’s guidelines. In general, it should begin with language that surprises and digs deep, generating narratives that strive toward something other than a final punch or twist. It should contain pieces that add up to something, oftentimes (but not necessarily always) meaning or emotional resonance. And it should be honest work that feels as if it has far more purpose than a writer simply wanting to write a story. Source: The Writer Mag

How can writing and submitting your work for publication help you if you’re a proofreader and/or editor?

When you write your own work and put it out there for the masses, you begin to understand the emotional investment that writers and authors make when they produce work for publication. It helps to sensitise you to the way you give feedback and how you communicate with writers and authors. It builds a new level of empathy and understanding, which can help immensely in creating trust between you and your client.

Here are a few guides to get you started:

  • Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story – edited by Vanessa Gebbie, Salt Publishing

  • The World in a Flash: How to Write Flash-Fiction – Dr Calum Kerr, Gumbo Press

  • Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – Various, Bloomsbury Publishing

  • Writing Short Stories (Writers’ and Artists’ Companions) – Courttia Newland and Tania Hershman, Bloomsbury Publishing

It’s short but not shallow; it’s a reduced form used to represent a larger, more complex story; it’s pithy and cogent, brief and pointed, and like the gist of a recollected conversation, it offers the essential truth, if not all the inessential facts.

Source: Lithub

My initial attempts at writing flash were laughably weak, and I find writing short stories such a demanding, tricky task. I still have so much to learn and improve on and I’m in awe of those who make it look easy.

If you have a few spare moments, check out my flash fiction story on Ellipsis Zine. Let me know what you think, and do share your work with me, I’d love to read it!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like…