December 14, 2018

Elements of Flash Fiction

By Lindsey P. Brackett

Flash fiction is not like writing a novel. Good thing, since you only have 1000 words in which to tell the story.

With flash fiction, the tactics of subplots, POV shifts, and world building usually cannot happen effectively. When I teach flash fiction classes, I encourage writers to commit to one point of view, one internal and/or external conflict, and minimal secondary characters. Instead of the whole photo album, drop your readers into a moment—a snapshot.

But unlike still photos, flash fiction is not stagnant. The story must move and something must happen. Your protagonist must have an obstacle to overcome and a sense of resolution at the end.

This moment can be as high stakes as diffusing a bomb to save the love interest—or as simple as an older couple rediscovering each other during a routine outing. When writing flash fiction—or truly any story for that matter—start with your character and their conflict. What does this person want or need? What is standing in their way?

Once, I wrote about an overwhelmed mother and her passive husband. (I promise I only half-related to this character.) Because the conflict had to be related to the assignment—ghost story, old well, horse saddle—I set them on a crumbling farm with an old dry well. When the external conflict arises, a child falls in the old well, the tension in their marriage is heightened because he’s not there to help her.

I could build a whole novel from these characters, but if I did, I would lose the great tension this story’s brevity held. The greatest conflict is this one moment—how she (and the ghost of a horse) handled the situation. This is not a story about a marriage’s demise or reconciliation. It is a story about how a mother finds her strength.

When you write flash fiction, find the one conflict that will empower, destroy, or awaken your character. Then use that one pinnacle moment and show how they overcome.
You’ll leave your reader wondering—but satisfied—and ready for more. Maybe they want more of that story, but hopefully, they definitely want more of your writing.

You can read Lindsey’s award-winning ghost story, Listen When I Call, in the 2017 edition of Southern Writers Magazine Best ShortStories.
Lindsey P. Brackett writes southern fiction infused with her rural Georgia upbringing and Lowcountry roots. Her debut novel, Still Waters, inspired by family summers at Edisto Beach, released in 2017. Called “a brilliant debut” with “exquisite writing,” Still Waters received 4-stars from Romantic Times and was named 2018 Selah Book of the Year. Connect with Lindsey and get her free newsletter at or on Instagram and Facebook: @lindseypbrackett.

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