Flash Fiction Crash Course
By Dāshaun Washington | Thursday, April 29, 2021
By Dāshaun Washington
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Flash fiction and short stories are two forms of short fiction storytelling. Flash fiction differs from short stories in numerous ways, though what those differences are depends mostly on who you ask. The primary difference between the two is length. Short stories are short. Flash fiction is shorter. Flash fiction, in the simplest terms, is short short stories. Flash fiction is typically 1500 words or shorter, with most flash fiction being less than 1000 words, and commonly as few as 500 words long. While short stories can span across as many as a dozen pages or more, it is uncommon to see a flash fiction that is longer than a few pages. Precise word length is insignificant. The importance is the brevity of the story.
Short stories typically involve several scenes, several moments, several characters, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Flash fiction encompasses a single moment with very few characters. If a short story is a mountain, flash fiction is a mountain peak. Flash fiction saves us the rise and fall of the roller coaster ride and situates us right at the highest peak of the ride.
As you attempt to write your own flash fiction, close your eyes and try to vividly picture a soul-stirring scene. The scene can be sad, horrific, infuriating, or whatever emotion you’d like it to evoke. This scene can be completely imaginary or something you actually witnessed that you’d like to fictionalize. Try to capture an image of this scene. Focus on this single image, then animate it by creating a narrative about what’s happening here. Contain the narrative in the narrow scope of this single image. Give us the details of the brief moments just before and/or after the moment captured in this image.
Example: Imagine an image of a boy hysterically crying alone, sitting on his bed. Now imagine a moment just before this one. Maybe someone left his room just moments ago. Who was it? What's their relationship with the boy? Why were they there? What did they do? What did they say? Are they the cause of the boy's tears? Is their leaving the cause of the boy's tears? Is this the last time the boy will ever see them again? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
Using this example as inspiration, think of an image of a scene that would lead witnesses to wonder what just happened and/or what's about to happen. Now, creating a narrative of the moments just before that image, explore that wonder and answer the question(s) of what just happened and/or what's about to happen. Map out an introduction and conclusion for this narrative. How did this introductory image in this series come to be the concluding image? Let your story be the answer to this question.
Though this may be challenging, try to include a plot twist in your story. Think of a clear and predictable progression between the introduction and conclusion, then disrupt readers’ expectations by diverting from that path. Think of the clear and predictable progression as a short hallway in which you can clearly see one end of that hallway from the opposite end. Imagine someone running from one end of the hallway to the other with their arms outstretched. That’s our introductory image. On the opposite end of that hallway, imagine someone with their arms open wide. That’s our concluding image. Readers’ expectations are that these two people will meet at the end of the hallway and embrace one another with a hug. That’s the clear and predictable progression between our introduction and conclusion. Disrupt this expectation by creating a different outcome. Ex. The person running with their arms outstretched forcefully pushes the other person and they fall with their arms wide open over a sixth-floor balcony. There’s countless possibilities. Think of the ones that will keep your readers on their toes.
To really animate this image into a scene, try to make this image as lively as possible. Give movement to the motionless, sound to the silent. Fill the room with voices. Replace character descriptions with dialogue. Don’t tell us the main character is loud and mean. Show us. Let us witness how loud and mean they can be. Show us how much characters love or hate one another by the lovely or hateful things they say and do to one another. Let your characters’ words and actions be the only things we know of them. If there is something you’d like us to know of your characters, show us.
Extend the lyricism of poetry into all tendrils of your writing in Dāshaun's Writing Lab, "Narrative & Lyric", then push the boundaries between writing and visual arts in his Craft Session, "Text as Image".