Diet Story: Writing Flash

I am residing in an odd form of editing hell at the moment. I’m trying to write a flash piece (on a deadline). It can be no more than 700 words. It will be in a professional publication with a very wide circulation (much wider, I’d wager, than most of the genre magazines I’ve been published in), so I really want to make absolutely certain it’s my best work.

You've got to imagine a LOT more red pen.

You’ve got to imagine a LOT more red pen.

But it’s only 700 words. And that’s killing me.

I am not a sprinter. I am a long-term, slow burn kinda guy. I like complexity, depth, backstory and I like to make all that complicated stuff look simple. Trying to strip down a story into its barest components leaves the story feeling naked to me. Like, if I can’t include the occasional witty tangent, then why bother, right?

Flash Fiction (i.e. stories under 1000 words) has always been a mystery to me. I mean, I understand poetry (even prose poetry), but how does something that short have a beginning, middle, end, an interesting character, a developed conflict, etc? I mean, I’ve seen it done, I suppose. Most of the time, though, they don’t feel like stories to me. What’s more, the story ideas I have naturally land somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 words. That, for me, has proven to be the minimum amount of space I’ve been able to tell a story I’m satisfied with. Even those sometimes feel like a sprint to me.

Being a good writer, though, is not about spinning your wheels in the same ruts. It’s about expanding your capabilities, deepening your craft, and welcoming challenges. So this is my challenge: tell an interesting, compelling, complete story in what amounts to 2 standard pages and some change. Not a vignette, not a mere scene – a whole tale.

Here’s some of the strategies I’ve decided to adopt:

Three words: In Medias Res

There is no time for beginnings. We start in the middle, dammit. I can’t hand-hold the audience through pointless exposition. No time, kids! Keep up!

Dramatis Personae? NO: Dramatis Persona

I’ve got space for basically one actual character. There can be other people, but there just isn’t time for anybody else to be developed.


I can cheat, especially on that last one, by using characters and places my audience is already familiar with. The more I can get the reader to fill in the blank spaces themselves, the more space I can have to developing plot.

Pith Over Wit

Being clever takes words and space to accomplish. Being pithy just requires the right jab at the right moment. You can’t tell a raft of jokes – maybe one or two. You can’t build great towers of words – you have to lay foundations of just the right ones, and let the audience do some of the building for you.

…and that’s what I got, folks. We’ll see where it takes me.

And, for the record, this post is 507 words long. The whole damned story would only have 193 left to play with.

About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on May 4, 2016, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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