Among the long list of things the rise of social media has made relevant to our culture (memes and conspiracy theories included), flash fiction holds a much revered and well-earned spot. However, it’d be best to remember that flash fiction isn’t one of the hacks social media provided to people too disinterested or lazy to follow conventional sources of literature. Unlike listicles, flash fiction has been around for a lot longer, as is made evident by Hemingway’s famous 6 word story, which was written as the subject of a bet, but has since been considered ground-breaking—and successfully ushered in the era of telling a story with the fewest words possible. The formula to writing good flash fiction remains open to discussion—as each writer follows a different route to finally generate a story which stuns with its brevity, and leaves a lasting impression courtesy of its simplicity.
1. Respect: The problem with most people attempting flash fiction is that they consider flash fiction a sliver broken off from an otherwise beautifully crafted piece of furniture. Two and a half sentences from a novel you were writing, that couldn’t find its place in the desired narrative, is not an excuse to call it flash fiction. Similarly, drunken texts, or the catchphrase from an Archie’s birthday card aren’t flash fiction either. Understand, that a tale told in 140 characters is just as important and can convey just as much meaning as a 140 page transcript. Laziness does this genre no good.
2. Start with an idea: Like a novel or a movie, flash fiction starts with an idea. What if someone died and met God, only to find it wasn’t who he thought? What if an alligator found a human kid, and decided to adopt it as her own? No matter what your idea might be, it must be exciting enough for you to write about it; and yet, relatable enough for the reader to find it interesting.
3. Work on the content: The obvious job that follows the inception is the execution. Have an idea? Write about it. What follows next? How does it end? What do we take from the narration? Answer all these questions one by one.
4. Kill your darlings: A story is rarely completed in the first draft itself. Revisit it. Read it again, and then a third time. There must be something that needs tinkering, something that if changed, adds to its appeal. Find it and fix it. Keep fixing till you’re satisfied with the final draft.
5. Polish it: You might have edited your work, but it still needs polishing. Check for grammatical errors—just because it’s three sentences, doesn’t mean you can ditch the basic rules of language. Believe me; without correct grammar, your story would sound just as silly as an illegible Monday morning tweet which isn’t taken seriously by anyone.
6. Keep the word count in mind: The only constraint with flash fiction is the character/word limit. Whether it’s 140 characters or 50 words, you have to adhere to the rules and not overshoot. But that doesn’t mean counting till the first 50 words and discarding the rest. A word limit only implies you have to do away with the unnecessary. If it can be said in 5 words, don’t use 6. That means throwing away the description of the house the protagonist lives in if it doesn’t benefit the main plot, and doing away with the mention of how the curtains match her scarf with the polka dot motifs and frayed edges.
7. Stay away from texting language: Never, and I repeat, NEVER use texting language, or abbreviations that you just made up. That means ‘u r my luv’ is as redundant as it sounds, and ROFL isn’t accepted as a sign of how hard she makes you laugh either. On text maybe, but not in flash fiction.
8. Have a subject: Often, flash fiction writers try to speak about something without really mentioning who it is they’re talking about. Abandon that idea, or practise. If you want your story to be plausible, it needs to have a character around which the story revolves. It might be a boy, or a cow, or a whiskey glass. But having a central character is necessary.
9. Keep it simple: Cramming too many ideas or themes into one tale doesn’t work out well. It ends up making the tale too convoluted, and the reader loses track of what’s really happening.
10. Try not to follow generic themes, unless absolutely essential: Flash fiction isn’t an excuse to be unimaginative or lazy. Try to think outside the box and use climaxes which the reader hasn’t already seen umpteen times. Flash fiction is all about taking a simple thought, putting it in the bare minimum number of words, trimming down all unnecessary details—and still remaining original and impactful.