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A Flash In The Pan

August 28th, 2021

Before I go any further this week, I’d just like to remind you that we are now accepting entries for our current Flash Fiction Competition. As usual, there are prizes of £300, £200 and £100 and each winner also receives a Writers Bureau course of their choice, plus publication on our website. The entry fee is £5 for one story or £10 for three (£4 for one story or £8 for three if you are a member of the Association of Freelance Writers). Your story should be no longer than 500 words and the closing date is 30th November.

But if you’re trying to decide whether to enter and you’re a Flash Fiction novice, here are some simple guidelines to help you stand a better chance of writing the kind of story our judges are looking for.

There are many forms of flash fiction, and stories can range from thirty up to a thousand words.

But don’t make the error of thinking an anecdote or character sketch counts as a complete story. That isn’t the case at all. Flash fiction has to cover all the elements of a longer story, but in fewer words.  Impossible?  Not if you bear the following tips in mind:

Know your theme

Before you even start to write, you need to know what you want your readers to take from the story. As with longer fiction, don’t confuse this with the plot, which is the vehicle you will use to convey the theme.


Give the characters a reason to be on the page. Give them some kind of goal, something to achieve or an obstacle to overcome. Make life difficult for them. The story has to have plenty of conflict or tension and a satisfying (but not necessarily happy) resolution.

If using humour, remember that there has to be more to the story than the punch line at the end. There has to be a definite plot – a reason why the story is being told. Also, stories can have a twist ending but, again, it’s not obligatory!

Characters and settings

Pick one main character and have everything and everyone else revolve aroundthem, and keep the supporting cast to a minimum. Only include characters who are essential to the story’s outcome.

Don’t have your characters moving from place to place. Try to keep the action in one locality. You don’t have to go overboard with descriptions of people or places – you can hint at settings and only need to describe people if that aspect is important to the story. For example, if the story is about life in an old folks’ home, we need to know that, but we don’t need details on what each resident looks like.

The main event

Choose one critical moment in the main character’s life and show how this impacts on the outcome. Pick the setting, the pivotal moment, the consequence. This is what flash fiction has to focus on.

The hook

Open with a bang as close to the action as you can and provide the reader with a

compelling reason to read on.

Show, don’t tell

This is such an important aspect of all fiction, but especially flash where you don’t have the available words to tell the reader everything they need to know. You have to show it using succinct dialogue and the characters’ actions and interaction.

Avoid back-story boredom

Keep the back-story (the characters’ history and the events leading up to the present day) to the absolute minimum. If it doesn’t impact on the story, don’t put it in. If it really is essential to the story (are you sure it is?) use as few words as possible to put the reader in the picture.

And finally…

Is it flash?

Not all stories are able to be condensed. If there is too much story to tell in the availableword count, then all the editing in the world is not going to make it work. It is better towrite something completely new than trying to cut a 2,000 word story into something it was never meant to be.

PS After reading this, hope you understand what the pic is trying to tell you!

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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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