Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting “Tiny but Mighty: How to Write Amazing Flash Fiction” at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Maryland. As I promised attendees, I’m posting my handout here of some resources for flash fiction writers, some of which was adapted from an earlier handout for a novella-in-flash panel created for the Conversations and Connections Conference in Virginia.
In addition, here are the stories I read aloud or mentioned during the presentation: Soap by Katrina Denza, Nightstands by Cole Meyer, and Gravity, Reduced by Kara Oakleaf.
Tips, Prompts, and a Reading List from Tiny but Mighty: How to Write Amazing Flash Fiction
A Bay to Ocean Writing Conference 2017 panel by Tara Laskowski
Tips for Writing Flash:
- Start at the flashpoint—by definition, flash begins at the moment of conflict, when all the action is nearly complete.
- Focus on the powerful image(s)—Find one or more powerful images to focus your story on.
- Hit them where it hurts—go for an ending that offers an emotional impact. Play against expectations with a sense of narrative mystery or devastating twist, a poignant implication or declarative last sentence that leaves the reader breathless, and going back for more. Not an “aha” moment or a punchline. An ending more nuanced than that.
- Strive for the concrete. Eliminate the word “thing” or “something,” for example. Replace that word with an actual concept, image, noun, etc, that explicitly participates in the image you are portraying.
- Write the whole story, then eliminate useless words.
- Stay away from punchline endings or “joke” flash fiction.
Some Flash Prompts:
Fictionalize a true moment: Start a flash piece with a specific memory of your own grounded in the five senses (touch, smell, feel, seeing, hearing) – For example: the feel of an aunt scratching your scalp or the smell of your child’s bedroom. This memory should be specific enough to work into a moment. Find the story from there.
Use pictures, paintings, or music to inspire a flashpoint.
Tell the story backward or play with the idea of memory and nonlinear time in a story.
Think of writing a flash piece as a scene when working on something longer, say a longer short story or as a novel chapter. Flash is inherently raw with emotion. When wanting to draft a pivotal moment, take the time to draft a flash piece – with a beginning, middle and end — to represent that moment between your characters. Break down the action to its bare essentials for more impact.
Write a story only using dialogue. Use no dialogue tags.
Find a dictionary. Open it to a random page, close your eyes, and point to a spot on the page to select a word. Do that several times to generate a list of random words, then write a flash that includes all of those words.
For Further Reading
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction edited by Tara L. Masih
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction edited by Dinty W. Moore
A Pocket Guide to Flash Fiction edited by Randall Brown
Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook edited by David Galef
What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers edited by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
Flash Fiction Collections
Mad to Live by Randall Brown
Severance by Robert Olen Butler
A Kind of Flying by Ron Carlson
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis
The Coast of Chicago: Stories by Stuart Dybeck
Whiskey, Etc. by Sherrie Flick
Wild Life by Kathy Fish
Maybe Mermaids and Robots Are Lonely by Matthew Fogarty
Surrounded by Water by Stefanie Freele
Truck Dance by Jeff Landon
Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons by Tara Laskowski
Lust by Susan Minot
May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks
Journals That Feature Flash
Every Day Fiction (open to genre)
Gamut Magazine (paying market, genre)
The Short Form
The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts (paying market)
Shotgun Honey (crime fiction)
Gay Flash Fiction (LBGTQ)
Abyss & Apex (speculative fiction)
Aphelion (science fiction and fantasy)
Daily Science Fiction
Matt Bell, Cataclysm Baby
Chris Bower, Margaret Patton Chapman, Tiff Holland, Meg Pokrass, and Aaron Teel, My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form
Aaron Burch, How to Predict the Weather
Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street
Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge
Matthew Salesses, I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying
Lex Williford, Superman on the Roof
Presses that Publish Flash Collections
Rose Metal Press
The Heiress by Tara Laskowski: matterpress.com/journal/2015/03/02/the-heiress/
The Cage in the Woods by Joe Lucido: wigleaf.com/201509cage.htm
Cravat by Roseanne Scott: www.smokelong.com/cravat/
Conjugation by Jen Michalski: www.smokelong.com/conjugation/
Bartleby Snopes contest (2000 words or less): http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/bartleby-snopes-issue-14.pdf
Transplanting by Lisa Smithies: http://www.smokelong.com/transplanting/
Dive by Dawn West: http://www.smokelong.com/dive/
Marriage by Anna Lea Jancewicz : http://www.matchbooklitmag.com/jancewicz.html