Flash fiction is short, usually under 500 words. That’s a good thing; you can write it quickly. The bad news is not many people want to publish it. Here are my top tips to help you with that!
First things first, let’s talk about flash fiction itself. Flash fiction is a very specific type of writing. With the 500 word limit it imposes, you’re forced to think outside the conventional writing practices. The three-act story structure? That has to go aside. Having subplots? No time for that. Epic stories about the fate of the universe? You can’t fit that in 500 words.
If you want to write flash fiction, you are going to have to reconsider what you understand under the term “writing”.
With that said, here are some of my top tips for writing flash fiction!
Because of the brutally tight word count, you can’t spare a word. When writing flash fiction, you have to carefully consider every word. As a writing exercise, I want you to take this paragraph, which is 70 words long and cut it down in half, without changing the meaning. Post your answer to the comments below this article.
Another good exercise, in my opinion, is trying to write Twitter Fiction. Basically, the goal here is to write a story in 140 characters. Arguably, you can’t really write a great story this way (although there are exceptions). However, by trying this out, you learn how to write conservatively and carefully think about each and every character.
Themes, characters, subplots, and scenes
When writing novels, you can usually fit in more than 15 characters, 20 scenes, many subplots, and a ton of scenes. If you’re writing short stories, you can fit a few characters, a subplot or two, several scenes, a primary theme, and maybe a secondary one.
With flash fiction, you can’t afford a luxury like that. Usually, it’s best to keep it down to two characters interacting with each other. While changing sceneries does help up spice things up a bit, setting up a new scene does take up a long time; precious time you can’t lose.
A theme is important to every story. Having a strong theme might be a breaking point for your story. For this reason, even your flash fiction story should have one. But only one, because it’s hard to fit more in such a small word count.
Now let’s talk subplots. As might know, subplots can drive the story forward in times when the main plot is slower. In flash fiction, there’s no time for that! In most cases, you can focus on only the main plot – adding a subplot might shift the focus, and you generally do not want that.
Emotions in flash fiction
In most cases, you should pick one main emotion the flash fiction story is trying to evoke. When somethings pulls up emotion from deep within us, we tend to like it more (or think about it more). In novels, you can generally pick an emotion to try and evoke in the reader for each scene. Once again, because of the harsh word limit, you can’t allow yourself more than one emotion per story.
Before you start writing your story, decide on what emotion you want to evoke. Then, be sure to support this emotion with your theme, the way you describe your setting, characters, and objects, and the words you use. I’m going to write a more detailed article on evoking emotion through writing in the future.
In flash fiction, you do have very limited space, so it might be hard to fit a credible story arc for a character, but it’s important to try nonetheless. A clear, reasonable development in a character can support the theme while creating believable situations in the short story.
Keep your scope tight
Sometimes, you just want to write a story with high stakes, the fate of the world on the line, an epic adventure, all that stuff. However, keep those ideas for longer formats. Flash fiction is more suited for a tight-scope style of writing. The stakes can still be high but in a more personal way.
Don’t start at the beginning
I suppose you have heard about the three-act story structure? A large number of stories told in modern media abide by this structure. The story is split into three parts, or acts. In the first act, the inciting incident happens. Basically, this is the event that sets everything else in motion. The first act is often called the setup.
The second act is the longest one. This is the buildup. It spans usually one half of the story.
Lastly, the third act, which is the climax and the resolution. In this act, every plot point is resolved, alongside the climax of the story; for example, in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo throws the Ring into the fiery depths of Mount Doom is the climax.
That goes for normal stories. However, since you have such a limited word count in flash fiction, you can’t really afford a first act. In most cases, you have to jump right into the second act, where the action begins. It’s a delicate art to set up the scene mid-action, but you have to learn it if you want to succeed in flash fiction.
How to get flash fiction published
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to get your story (any story, not just flash fiction) published. As a writer, you are going to deal with a LOT of rejection. There is no way around it.
However, you can do certain things to improve your chances of being accepted. First things first, before you even write a flash fiction story, find a market you want to be writing for. Below, you can find a list of publishers accepting short fiction like this. Check what they publish, read a few stories from each one of the publishers, check out all their submission guidelines. Then decide which one you want to target, and try to write the story in a similar style to those they have published in the past. However, you don’t want to copy the style too specifically – there is still a high chance of you being rejected, and then you’ll want to send the story to other publishers.
Once you write a flash fiction story, put it away for about 3 days, maybe even a week. In this time, write more!
After the time has passed, come back to your work and edit it. Cut unnecessary words, remove weak words, replace them with powerful ones. Edit your story. Be sure to take at least twice as long editing a piece as actually writing it.
After you have your story in the best possible shape, read the guidelines (again) of whatever publisher you want to submit it too. Be sure to format your story correctly, either using the format expressed in the guidelines or, if there is none, using the Standard Manuscript Format.
Once you submit a story, write down the story’s title, the publisher, and the date somewhere in a spreadsheet. You will be sending a lot of submissions before you get accepted, and you don’t want to fall into chaos.
With that said, there’s one more crucial ingredient to having a publisher accept your story. Have a good story in the first place. I can’t write that story for you, but I have written a ton of articles on various Writing topics, feel free to check these out. If you want to, you can also sign up for my newsletter – if you do, you can send me your writing, and I promise I will always give you my feedback, any time you need. You will also get access to an exclusive Flash Fiction Checklist, and a halo of other resources.
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Publishers accepting flash fiction
Here is my list of publishers accepting flash fiction. Usually, you can get paid for publishing under these names. Any information on this list is subject to change, so if you find a mistake, or if you know about any more publishers, please let me know in the comments!
Flash Fiction Online
Maximum response time: About 8 weeks
Check out Flash Fiction Online’s Guidelines
Every Day Fiction
Maximum response time: 90 days
Paying: $3 for a published story
Check out Every Day Fiction’s Guidelines
Maximum response time: 6 weeks
Check out 365 Tomorrows’ Guidelines
Maximum response time: Unknown
Paying: $45 for a published essay
Check out Brevity’s Guidelines
Maximum response time: 8 weeks
Paying: $50 for a published poem
Check out Pedestal’s Guidelines
Flash Fiction Magazine
Maximum response time: Unknown
Paying: $0-40 for a published story
Check out Flash Fiction Magazine’s Guidelines
I’ve put together a printable list of these publications, so you can have them all in one place! You can download it for free in the Eledris Discord server, which is a growing community of worldbuilders and writers who would love to welcome you there!
These were my top picks on writing and publishing flash fiction. Now, I have a final writing challenge for you. Rewrite this article to be under 750 words long. Send me your attempts to firstname.lastname@example.org, or in the comments down below, I’d love to see your work!