But it’s not that easy. With a thousand words to tell a story with, there are a thousand mistakes you can make. From my experience with flash fiction (both as a writer and as the editor of Theme of Absence), here are what I think are three of the most common errors writers make when writing flash fiction:
1. The story that isn’t a story.
I ran into this problem a lot when I first started trying to write fiction. My stories weren’t really stories, but were more like a scene out of a character’s life. I think the kids call this “slice of life” stories. I think they are more common in literary fiction (where an obvious plot can sometimes seem like an afterthought to a non-lit major) but in genre fiction, something needs to happen.
That means the story needs a beginning, middle, and end. In other words, a plot.
I think it’s okay to imply, rather than describe the beginning, and there’s nothing wrong with an ambiguous end most of the time, but the elements of a beginning and end need to be there. This is a bigger problem in flash fiction because when the word count limit is so low, the beginning might seem rushed and that “ambiguous” end might seem like the ending was just cut off. I guess the best thing to do is just think things out beforehand. With flash fiction, there’s not a lot of room to experiment.
2. The summary.
This one is bad. Have you ever read a story that seems like it’s just an outline? That’s what it feels like when a 2000 word short story is squeezed into a 1000 word flash story. It’s good to take out some details. It’s bad to take out all of the details.
3. The big twist.
Flash fiction doesn’t need to end with a twist. Yeah, I said it. I know it’s common to try to build to the twist in flash fiction, but it’s not always necessary. Your character doesn’t have to end up being an alien, or a zombie, or a vampire or whatever. In fact, a lack of a twist can often be better than a twist.
If the twist is done poorly by being too predictable or too far out of left field, it will come off as forced and kill the story. Sometimes it is okay for the hero to remain human, remain “good”, and walk off into the sunset victorious.
A few years ago I wasn’t the least bit interested in flash fiction. Fast forward to the present, and I’ve published four flash stories so far, with a few more scheduled this year and also started Theme of Absence, which publishes primarily flash fiction. How crazy is that?
Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve broken at least one of these rules, if not all three of them in one way or another. But that’s how we learn, right?
What about you? Do you agree or disagree?