Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Flash Fiction: Telling a Story In a Few Words

A few years ago, I published my first Ebook of flash fiction on Amazon Kindle called 26. These are twenty six stories,
each written in just one day as part of a blogging challenge. And since then, I’ve fallen in love with this form of writing.
But let me admit, I didn’t know of the term ‘flash fiction’ until just a few months before I started writing them.

So, let's start with the basic question.

What is flash fiction?

The exact definition may vary, but it is the modern term used for short stories, usually under 500 words in length.
The key is, they still need to be complete stories in themselves, whatever the agreed word limit, be it 1500 or
300 words.

There are many writers who play with this theme of writing short stories; we’ve heard terms such as short-short stories,
immediate fiction, sudden fiction, microfiction, the 100-word pieces, the 55-ers and the terribly tiny tales. These all
come under the umbrella of flash fiction. But the best example of flash fiction, which uses the skill of brevity to a T is,
Ernest Hemingway who gave us the six word story:

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn
These short, swiftly written, and transient narratives can be as powerful as the complexly constructed lines of
drawn-out prose.

Why I love writing flash fiction?

I think my favourite part of this form of writing is the freedom it gives me to just let the pen flow, and jump right
into the action of the story. I love how it takes off the pressure of time and commitment that the long form prose
demands. My latest short story that I published on Instagram titled ‘The Three Mistakes’ (below) took me ten minutes
to write and was inspired by a cycling competition that took place on that day.

The Three Mistakes (Word length: 400 words)

I was a late bloomer in the area of bike riding. It was only in my late twenties, when I took up a part time job as a
food delivery guy, did I actually start to fall in love with cycling. During the evenings, I was in a rush to make it to
hungry customers; pedalling faster and faster swishing through cars and passersby, the neon lights on my bike
making me feel a bit of a superhero. But the days, the days were mine to relax; taking off my superhero costume,
I would cruise around my neighborhood, stopping by for a friendly chat at the corner bike shop. I would love to talk
shop with the guys there and sometimes even help them with bits and parts when they customized a bike for
their customers.

I was living my best life, when in a moment of weakness I bet the guys I was ready to race.
Professional effing race!

I trained for months and then minutes before the registrations were to close, I hit enter.
And so this morning, armoured with a borrowed £2,000 carbon-fibre racing machine, I headed to the
RideLondon-Surrey Classic, a 200km professional road cycle race through London & Surrey, with 150 cyclists
from around the world competing.

As I lie on my bed right now, curled up, alone and ashamed, I recount the three big mistakes I made.

I am not the superstitious kind, but early this morning as I loaded up on a breakfast of beef and creatine, I looked
up my daily horoscope. "Do not leave the house this week", it read. "Sorry, but that's the one thing I can't do now,
can I", I burst into a guffaw and carried about. Mistake one. Actually the first mistake was when I had made the bet.
Duh! So this was the second.

And the third, oh boy, the third perhaps you all saw! My face, red and howling, was captured by the crew of
Surrey Live!

The hardest thing when riding in competitions, is to keep going. And well, I did! Sweat dripping, hands shivering,
I pedalled for two straight hours. And then I couldn't feel my legs. I must have blanked out, because as I opened
my eyes I was being pulled away from the track by two kind riders.

And that's when the tears started rolling and apparently so did the cameras!

Tips for writing flash fiction

I think every aspiring writer should take up writing flash fiction as it tests your creativity and also helps build the
daily habit of writing.

I am still learning and experimenting with this writing form, but here are few tips and tools that help me while
attempting flash fiction:

1. Start with a prompt or multiple prompts

A song, a picture, a phrase, a quote, or even an event/ national day could be your prompt.
In the above example, a picture prompted the initial character and setting development. At the time
I was writing the story, the husband was browsing the telly and he landed on BBC that was covering the
Prudential Ride London event. So, my story went in that direction.

2. Use fewer characters

Focus on one or at most two characters in flash fiction.

With ‘The Three Mistakes’ I could have easily developed a dialogue, say between the bike shop guy
with whom the protagonist placed a bet, or a witty comment or two from the bike riders who helped him
at the track, or a TV commentator giving the punch line at the end. But, one doesn't have the space to
fully develop personalities and bring out nuances of multiple characters in flash fiction, so I chose
otherwise and kept the entire story around the protagonist.

3. Go for a big ending

Flash fictions are big on finishing with a twist ending, or one that offer the readers with an emotional

Here’s a 55-er I wrote a while back,

His loud wails broke me from my deep slumber. I checked my watch; I was asleep only for 15 minutes!
All had been taken care of - his feed, his diapers, his snuggly teddy.

And then I heard her sweet singing voice.

Terrified, I ran to his room.

His mother had died giving him birth.

You have the freedom to experiment, so play against expectations, and end with a compelling last

4. Don’t worry about the word count, until editing

As in any piece of writing, just begin writing and let it flow organically.

If you harp on the word count from the start, you’ll drive yourself crazy. So let the momentum carry you
forward. Once finished, you can cut down on redundant words, and sentences that don’t provide value
to your central themes, to reach your desired length.

5. Have fun with it

There are really no rules to writing flash fiction. Yes, the word count matters but flash fiction offers a wide
playing area, so have fun with it.

While, like in any story, one has to have a beginning, rising action, climax, and conclusion; in flash fiction
you can play around with different voices, moods, settings, structure. You can start with the end, you can
end with a twist, you can leave things unsaid - see, how much fun it can be!

Your turn to write

If I have got you even a little excited about writing this form of fiction, why not give it a go yourself? And I
know a great place you can start, Reedsy - a place where authors meet the best publishing
professionals. They offer writing prompts over on their Instagram, so pick up a queue and get writing!  

Article first published in Unread Magazine - 

Thanks for reading. If you liked my post, tweet me some love, or come say Hi! on Instagram, or best of all Buy my Book.


  1. I love writing flash fictions. I started to write flash fictions with five sentence fictions. It was such a nurturing experience. I should publish those micro fictions hiding inside my drafts, shouldn't I? :) Will check out Reedsy. Thanks for sharing, Aditi.

    1. Yes, you must publish Vinitha. Do it now!

  2. You know how much I love flash fiction :) Agree with all these points. Having a supportive writing group is a big bonus when it comes to fine tuning your work as a fiction or flash fiction writer.

    1. Completely agree, Shailaja! And a massive thanks to you for having formed such supportive groups on FB. Love!

  3. Oh, wow! Loved them all!
    There was a time when I used to love writing flash fiction. I created a blog just for fiction and then somewhere along the way, I veered towards health and wellness and forgot about fiction!
    Will give it a try someday! :)

    1. That's okay. Whenever you get the time, try to pen down shorts. These days I've taken to Instagram mostly and dabble in prose and poetry there. Whatever works for you. :)

  4. I have read this cycling story of yours on Insta and thought it was real and very well written. I used to write fiction once upon a time - maybe should go back and lookie there again! Having a supportive group for doing such writing exercises is actually a huge boost

    1. Yes! Do it! I'll be there to cheer you on.

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