Writing Flash Fiction – Hints and Tips

Newspaper cuttings are a great source of inspiration for Flash Fiction.

I’ve been writing flash fiction for seven years now, and find it a great way to hone skills. I don’t worry about publishing it, I just use it as a chance to experiment.
Flash fiction tells a lot with economy of words. It differs from other short forms of writing, such as character sketches, descriptive passages, or evocative poems, because it has STORY. A start, a middle, an end. A change, a resolution. The linearity, of cause and consequence, that makes a story.

So, how to write it?

Focus on ONE main conflict, large or small

Are you telling a small story big: a moment under the microscope? The distinctive emotions of a unique character in a tiny, but illuminating, fragment of their life?
Or are you telling a big story small, stripping it of extraneous detail? The collapse of a galaxy, millions of lives lost in one nuclear bang?


Stories feature characters. Characters who change, as a result of their experience in the story. Choose your characters carefully. Think about specific particulars that define your characters.
Consider the conflict: who – or what – is your character’s antagonist? Maybe it’s a traditional goodie vs baddie story. Or maybe your character has an internal conflict, and is fighting themself? Or maybe, the antagonist is an external force, such as weather or bureaucracy?
Try to pare down to protagonist and antagonist – don’t clutter your story with unnecessary characters.

Pack an emotional punch

Stories are memorable when they stir emotions. Select your single main point carefully, ideally linking it to an eternal aspect of humanity: love, death, hope, grief, etc. Even if the story is ostensibly about something else, seek the universal emotion within it. Then use symbolism and and metaphor to reinforce that emotion as you tell your story.

Ideas for getting Ideas: What to write about?

I love newspapers – I tear out anything that takes my eye, and keep it in a folder. When I’m in need of inspiration, I can browse my folder. Pictures, headlines, little snippets – even just faces.
Choose a ‘slice of life’. Look at the news, select an event, consider how it might affect someone involved. Use this to explore universal themes such as love, death, power, etc
Or work from a picture. Take a face, a place or an item. Use it to create a vivid image that takes readers into a character’s world.
Or try a twist at the end: build one expection, then subvert it. Think of it as two stories: the story you’re REALLY telling (the twist) and the story you want the reader to THINK you’re telling – the diversionary text.


Use flash as an opportunity to explore, and try something different to your usual work. Write a genre, a style, a point of view, that you’ve not done before. Try something NEW.

Take Time

Flash is short to read, not to write. Once you have a draft, edit, edit, and edit some more. Cut anything extraneous. Select specific, precise words that justify their place in your work. Stress test it: is every sentence essential to your denouement? If not, why is it there?

So, what are you waiting for?

Give flash a go.

About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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