Short But Sweet: Creativity Through Constraints In Flash Fiction

In her introduction to the anthology Fast Food Fiction Delivery, Singapore-based writer and editor Noelle Q. De Jesus writes, “[e]veryone is writing shorter and faster, condensing the plot and crystallizing the climax…” Such is the essence of flash fiction, fiction pieces that are around 500 to 1000 words in length, packing the full weight of lengthier pieces of fiction in a quick package that can be read in a few minutes. It’s not exactly Twitter fiction (though several 140 characters-a-pop posts can be made into a flash fiction piece), but it’s not your regular short story, either. It’s smaller, faster, but with as much flavor as its larger, wordier cousins.

That does not mean that flash fiction is easy to write, however. Don’t let the shorter word count fool you – a faster piece can look easier to write, but the flash fiction writer must be able to skillfully weave in all aspects of a good story – from the introduction to the climax to the resolution – under the pressure of a smaller word count. So what’s the tendency going to be, for the flash fiction writer? Cut, cut, and cut some more. David Gaffney, in an article on The Guardian, writes about his experience writer shorter fiction (which he refers to as “sawn-off tales”):

It felt destructive, wielding the axe to my carefully sculpted texts; like demolishing a building from the inside, without it falling down on top of you. Yet the results surprised me. The story could live much more cheaply than I’d realised, with little deterioration in lifestyle. Sure, it had been severely downsized, but it was all the better for it. There was more room to think, more space for the original idea to resonate, fewer unnecessary words to wade through. The story had become a nimble, nippy little thing that could turn on a sixpence and accelerate quickly away.

Flash fiction compels you to remove the weight and decoration normally afforded to you by writing without any considerable restraint in terms of word count. This is a great test for how you are as a writer. Fond of long, painterly, but meandering descriptions? Need to take a while to introduce your character? Can’t help but use some lengthy dialogue between two characters to show just their relationship dynamic? All these will be challenged when you write flash fiction, and for better or for worse, you’ll be compelled to come up with new ways of going around your own writing, trying to come up with the same effect you’ve produced through longer prose.

But take that all as a challenge! There’s a lot of merit in trying your hand in writing shorter – but equally impactful – stuff. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get to fine-tune your writing, too!

I want to know more about flash fiction! But where do I go?

Here are a couple of resources to get you started:

Already written flash fiction? Share it with us!


Jillian is an English Literature graduate who loves reading science fiction and fantasy, and is a big fan of J.G. Ballard. She is obsessed with coffee, video games, and rottweilers, and keeps herself busy by writing and walking around a lot. She's currently reading Jeanette Winterson and a lot of YA literature.

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