An Introduction to Flash Fiction – Esther Syombua

 In Writers' Academy

Flash fiction is a growing genre of short stories, which aims at telling an entire story with a limited word count, mostly under 1000 words. It is also called; very short story, micro-fiction or postcard fiction.

Sub-divisions of flash fiction.

They are defined by word count.

1. Dribble – 50 words or less.

2. Drabble – exactly 100 words excluding the title.

3. Micro-fiction  -300 words or less.

4. Sudden fiction   – 750 words.


Rules for writing flash fiction. 

1. Use one story line. No subplots.

2. Keep characters number to a minimum; usually 1-2 characters.

3. Start in the middle. There is no time for build up.

4. Have a strong ending.

Click to Read Expressive Writing: Using your Personal Voice

Elements of flash fiction.                                                                                                                                    

1. Brevity.Flash fiction tells a complex story in a certain word limit.

2. Character. Flash fiction stories require a character, usually one or two characters. They have a little time to develop. Describe the little details that will bring out a character in the reader’s mind.

3. Surprise or suspense endings. Flash fiction is known for famous twists ending which shocks the reader.


Purpose of flash fiction.

Writers may ask, ‘what is the point of writing flash fiction when it has a limited word count?’. Working within certain constraints, flash fiction becomes like a game, because rules increase creativity. Everyone can run, but it takes determination and perseverance for an athlete to run and win the race. Likewise, rules of flash fiction challenge writers to squeeze more meaning out of a language that they might have thought possible, leaving readers amazed by their accomplishments.



1. Shaping your flash fiction. 

(a)Start your story in the middle of the action. There is no time to build a backstory. Begin your story at a crucial moment in the narrative. Every word counts. Don’t waste time describing characters. Do not leave your readers in suspense so your flash fiction should arrive at its main narrative in first paragraph or line.

(b) Show only the tip of the iceberg. Starting from the middle of the story shows the readers already most of the story has happened. Foreshadowing and tone are important in a flash piece. Focus on a single scene in a plot, readers will be allowed to imagine the rest of the flash themselves. Too many details may bore a reader.

Example; Angel was born in the village and lived there until her father got a job in Lagos.

Instead, have something like; Angel reflected on her childhood as she waited for a taxi.

(c) Carefully select your characters.  For a good flash piece, you will likely to have room for a single character.

(d) Focus your story on a single moment in the character’s life.


2. Writing your flash fiction.

(a)Write briefly. Avoid long explanations and character development. Devote most of your sentences to developing the main conflict in the short story not setting up character backstory.

(b) Focus on the last line.

Think of the last line less of a ‘conventional’ ending but a surprise to the reader.                                                                                 Example; David didn’t have enough time to see exactly who waited on him, but it was not Linda. It absolutely was not Linda.

(c) Cut all non-essential elements. Go back to your first draft and remove as much material as possible without losing the plot or characters. Remove modifiers that are not necessary. Example; ‘very’ ‘quite’ ‘actually’.


3. Read examples of other flash fiction stories to enhance your knowledge. Look for feedback on your work and remember to send your work to print and online journals and magazines for publication.

Above all, Keep writing.


Esther Syombua writes from her home country, Kenya

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