Episode 195: Stories like Sparklers

On August 6, 2022, Kasie and Rex recapped and revised their flash fiction experience from Wednesday night’s “Flash at the Bar” event hosted by Raegan Teller. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Flash fiction takes longer to edit than to write, but the really good ones spark and hiss and pop and burn all the way down to your fingers.


  • Flash fiction is really short stories
  • SCWA’s Annual Conference and Virtual Conference are open for registration
  • SCWA’s Short Fiction workshop starts Tuesday
  • How much editing will you have to do to make this Flash?
Photo by Sumit Rai on Pexels.com

Segment 1

Wednesday night we had a fun time at The Aristocrat on Washington, reading short pieces called “flash” fiction. The official definition of flash fiction is stories that are 1000 words or less. Fiction, obviously, not true. But the crucial part of it is the length. Lengths vary, though, which makes it more confusing. Between 5 and 1000 words? Or between 300 and 1500?

So why write flash fiction? What’s the purpose?

According to this Writers’ Digest blog it’s to focus on the “narrative movement” rather than focusing on character development or any other trivial things like setting or plot. So what does the writer mean by “narrative movement”? I don’t know. She never explains. Just provides a list of links to other people’s articles on the topic. The fuck? Yup.

So these bits are from some of those articles. Come on. Rabbit hole with me.

Characteristics of flash fiction (FAQs link):

  • Few Characters
  • Descriptions that show rather than tell (isn’t that all fiction?)
  • Verbal efficiency of a poet – yeah, I’ll give you this. Flash is a read-aloud form.
  • Clear vision – know where the story is headed from the beginning and get there in the end (again, isn’t that all fiction?)
  • Who publishes flash fiction? I dunno. Contests. Lit journals. Instagram. You name it.

Actually, this blog was written by someone who started a flash fiction press. So there’s some specialists. And she answers the question, “Why do it?”

  1. Creativity thrives within constraints – being forced to trim, shape, and economize, you’re forced to be more creative. Think bonsai tree.
  2. Flash fiction masters precision of language – pick the RIGHT word. Build the perfect sentence. You don’t have time or space to be wasteful.
  3. Reinvents the narrative arc – maybe this is a pacing thing? We don’t have time for a slow rise, or a lot of exposition, so we have to contort the story to get the full impact of the plot.
  4. Creating a new kind of reader – one who doesn’t need our flowery language but who can read the clues and read between the lines and fill in the story like a pro without all the excess.
  5. Tiny is precise and is an advanced form of the art – like miniature portraits, the detail and skill of which are unparalleled.

Segment 2

This Writers Digest blog from 2005 tells a compelling story of a streaker at a soccer game and compares it to the joy of writing flash fiction – a mad dash for the end-zone, buck naked and happy. It made me smile. She adds these tips:

  1. They pack a punch – because they’re small, they need to be more than a saucy dance around the ring, they need to be a sharp uppercut, something that takes the recipient by surprise. Characters don’t have time to act or ponder or plan. They must simply react to what’s happening and that spontaneity makes for a compelling moment-in-time story.
  2. The rules governing physics, weather, gravity, time are often suspended. There’s an urgency that belies the need to explain how someone was able to fly. Critics say without the explanation, we’re not really writing a story at all, without a plot, what purpose is there. But the moment-in-time when done right, can really deliver a specific message.
  3. It’s about the voice. Who’s story is this and how will they tell it? Own it? Manipulate it?

Quote from writer Michael Martone (link), this means that flash fiction allows “the melodramatic, the coincidence, the striking juxtaposition of images, facts and details that then get under the reader’s skin. In a short short, the bare narrative is the needle and the language and sequencing of images are the virus, capable of arousing or disturbing the reader.” 

Quick interlude to remind our listeners of the upcoming short fiction workshop Digging Trenches taking place virtually through SCWA and hosted by Keith Lesmesister. It’s four weeks of two-hours-each evening workshops to work on craft and practice structure. I’m excited to attend and encourage anyone interested in getting better at short fiction to consider it. Register here.

This blog from reedsy talks about the four types of flash fiction so let’s educate ourselves on those:

  1. Flash fiction: Max 1,500 words.
  2. Sudden fiction: Max 750 words.
  3. Drabble, or microfiction: Max 100 words.
  4. Twitterature: Max 280 characters.
  5. Six-word story: Any story with a single-digit word count is a category unto itself.

Have you ever considered playing with all of the forms? Like taking the same story and trying it in all those iterations?

Segment 3

What makes it so great? From reedsy:

  • Every sentence works harder than the last.
  • They’re a great exercise for working on your craft
  • Magazines and journals request them and publish them

Like all things with submissions, flash fiction has its own “dos and don’ts.” Here are a few from this link:

  • Do:
    • Jump into the story. Get on with it.
    • Be original.
    • Keep descriptions concise.
    • Show something of the character’s personality in their movements or language.
    • Avoid tying it off with a sweeping sentence related to the moral of the tale.
  • Don’t:
    • Have lots of characters.
    • Have lots of settings
    • Have lots of similes
    • Explain everything.
    • Assume that your first draft is perfect.

And here’s a 15-step guide on how to write flash fiction (this’ll be fun):

  1. Pick a genre
  2. Choose an overarching theme
  3. Create an interesting an flawed protagonist
  4. Choose an antagonist your main character needs to overcome
  5. Pick a single moment in the character’s life to focus on
  6. Start with an interesting hook in the middle of the action
  7. Make your protagonist deal with conflict throughout the story
  8. Create a surprise ending.

It goes on from there but you get the gist. We’ll use the link if we want to discuss it more.

Segment 4

This blog gives 10 tips for writing flash fiction, I’ll just include the ones we haven’t already mentioned.

  • Have a beginning, middle, and end – this is important even if it’s short, it needs a story arc.
  • Pack in description – concise – but leave room for imagination – this is about choosing the details you’ll include.
  • Write long and trim back.
  • Spend more time editing than writing.
  • Read it aloud.

Let’s talk a little bit about reading aloud. We’ve mentioned it a few times before but it’s worth discussion. Performing your work is different than writing and it’s not exactly reading aloud. It’s performing. This link from Joanna Penn’s site talks about identifying the audience, the type of event, and rehearsing the presentation before you take the stage. It’s worth it to invest in rehearsal, finding those places you’ll stumble and thinking of the things you’ll need to enunciate and articulate.

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