What the heck is flash fiction and do I have to wear pants?

Stanley the Streaker: I’m here with Eilidh from Thain in Vain and we’re talking flash fiction, tips to get started and the upcoming 13 Week Streak – Summer Flash Fiction Challenge hosted by Eilidh and Charlotte from Drafty Devil. Welcome, Eilidh. Great to see you, and I mean all of you!


Eilidh: Thanks Stanley! It’s great to be here. I would love to know whose birthday suit you are wearing?

Stanley the Streaker: Ha, ha! I would love to say Alexander McQueen, but alas, it’s all me, baby! So, tell me little about flash fiction and why you love it.

Eilidh: A few years ago, I wanted to develop a regular creative writing practice, but could never quite find the motivation. In 2014, I decided to host a 52 week flash fiction challenge – basically, I wanted (read: force myself) to write a story a week and decided that flash fiction would be support that goal. I used the blog as a way to be accountable to me and to those doing the challenge. Over the course of that year, I developed a writing habit and found voices, characters and stories within myself I never knew existed. It was liberating and exciting! I made a connection with a writing community and many cool and creative folks. It was a really powerful experience for me.

Stanley the Streaker: Amazing. You mentioned that you chose flash fiction to help write a story a week. Can you tell me about why?

Eilidh: I just love the challenge of telling a story within a limited word count. Flash fiction aims to tell an entire story within a short work count – usually under 500 words. There is no set rule about the number of words. Some say under 400; others say up to a 1,000 words. It’s really up to you. I personally dig 500 words for no reason in particular.

Stanley the Streaker: Sounds like fun! What advice do you have for readers about how to write flash fiction?

Eilidh: After writing a story a week for a year, I learned a lot about writing super short stories. Here are five key tips you can use when putting fingers to keyboard and bring your flash fiction to life.

  1. Start your story in the middle of the action. In other words – cut to the chase. This can be a scene with tension or important dialogue between characters. You don’t have enough words to go all Dickens-esque with complex character development and long, meandering exposition on scenery. For example, the first  line from my story Nature Made Me Do It puts readers in the middle of a courtroom trial, just as the verdict is about to be read:
    “Judge J.E. Owl called the court to order and waited patiently as the incessant mumbling died down. “I believe we have a verdict,” he asked the jury foreman.”
  2. Show don’t tell. Obvious advice, but true in all fiction. The general rule is that in most flash fiction you only have room to focus on a single main character, with maybe a couple of supporting characters. Don’t waste your valuable 500 words blabbing about your character’s qualities – instead put them in a scene, and let their qualities show through dialogue, action and thought. Here’s the first paragraph of my story The Words that shows a whole lot about the main character:
    A loud thud woke Morley Craik with a start. The glass of scotch resting on his crotch tumbled to the floor. He watched as the golden fluid absorbed into the sun-faded rug. He shook the nap from his head and reached for his laptop. The words on the screen were chilling. He didn’t recall writing them, but after a couple of belts of scotch a man can forget things. He grabbed the glass from the floor and scotch bottle from the table.
  3. Focus the story on a single moment in your character’s life. For flash fiction, choose a moment in a character’s life that tells a lot about them in a short amount of time. Try to focus on a single moment or an even a single scene. Here is an example of an opening line from my flash fiction story Create or Die that puts the reader in a single moment in the character’s life:
    “I looked down at the strange invitation I’d received a week earlier. It read: ‘You are cordially invited to attend the “Create or Die” exhibition.’ I had no idea who the invite was from, but I figured it must be from one of those pretentious assholes I went to art school with.”


  4. Focus on the last line. Craft a final line that sticks in your reader’s mind. It should take the story in an unexpected direction, or take the reader to a new place that encourages them to think about the story. In my story Night Shift, a convenience store clerk received a strange phone call that changed his life. This final line was an unexpected outcome of the story – go read it and see what I mean:
    “Welcome to your new life of the undead. You feel great, don’t you, Wayne. Being a vampire will do that. Your new name is Holla. Go forth and build our numbers.”


  5. Join flash fiction challenges – like the 13 Week Streak – Summer Flash Fiction Challenge! Yes, this is a cheeky promo, but it’s no secret that the best way to improve your writing is to write. If you’re like me, I love a challenge to get me focused and motivated.

Let’s get writing!!

11 thoughts on “What the heck is flash fiction and do I have to wear pants?

  1. Megan says:

    I remember that flash fiction challenge! I came across it in the middle of the year, but I had a lot of fun writing the stories I did. I had just started my blog then, so it was a perfect motivator to keep writing regularly.
    Good to see you again Thain in Vain! 🙂

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