Like all stories it needs a beginning, middle and end. For me, writing flash fiction is very similar to writing jokes. I did stand-up comedy and worked on sitcom scripts for many years and I think that helped hone the craft of getting to the meat of the story in as few as words possible.
In flash fiction, there is no room for subplots, multiple characters and full descriptions. Your goal is to establish your main character, the predicament she might be in and then come to a satisfying ending. It’s the same for a regular short story or novel but highly condensed.
Establish your main character. One of the best ways is to start in the middle of a conflict. For flash fiction the old saying, “Action speaks louder than words” is true. If your character is standing in a line at the bank, don’t have her walk to the bank, notice it’s a clear day, enter the bank, say hello to the guard and get in line. Start with a man saying, “Hands up, this is a robbery.” How does she react? Put her hands up like everyone else, tries to dial 911, hide her purse or pull out a gun to join the bank robbers. Each action and reaction gives us a quick read of who that character is.
The predicament. Right away throw your character into the lions’ den. Create more conflict. This is the bulk of story. How does the antagonist maneuver through the action? Throw in a couple twists or turns.
A satisfying ending. For me, this is usually a big twist much like a punchline at the end of a joke. You’ve been leading the reader down one path and suddenly you switch paths. Boom! It’s over. This is the hardest part of writing flash fiction. Sometimes when walking my dog Seymour, just the twists come to me and I don’t even know the story. And sometimes the ending changes and it’s even a better one than what I thought of because of how the beginning and middle turned out.
You may be saying to yourself, I know all that but how do you do it under 100 words or 750 words. My suggestion is, first write your story in three sentences. Don’t cheat and use long run on sentences. For instance: A street magician sees a man attack a woman and flee into the night. Later he sees the same man, they scuffle and the magician kills the killer. The magician finds out he’s killed the wrong man and is now arrested himself. The full story is called John’s Spot. It’s told with 742 words. I’ve even written 100 word stories and believe it or not, 6 word stories. The six word stories are based on what Hemingway claimed was the best story he had ever written: For sale, baby shoes. Never used. Wow, there’s a whole sad tale right there. Here are more examples of 6 and 100 word stories.
It’s a good way to get published and make a name for yourself in the writing world. I’m not great at multitasking but I’ve found that I can use writing flash fiction as a break from writing a novel.
The markets are out there. Some of my online publishers have been Akashicbooks and Spelk Fiction. A great source for all publishers seeking short stories is: Sandra Seaman’s blog.
Keep writing and keep it short! www.stephenbuehler.com
Stephen Buehler’s latest short story, Seth’s Big Move appears in the new LAST RESORT anthology.
Stephen Buehler’s latest short story, Seth’s Big Move appears in the LAST RESORT anthology. His short fiction has been published in numerous on-line publications including, Akashic Books. The Derringer Nominated short story, Not My Day appeared in the Last Exit to Murder anthology. He has just finished revising his novella, The Mindreading Murders, into novel length. He is also currently seeking a home for his mystery/comedy P.I. novel, Detective Rules. By day he is a script/story consultant, magician and lives with a dog named Seymour. www.stephenbuehler.com