I received these tips from the Writer’s Bureau School in the UK and they’ve kindly agreed to let me share them with you.
By the way here’s a link to their current flash fiction contest in case anyone wants to enter.
Writing Great Flash Fiction
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.
Plot: 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.
Characters and settings: Pick one main character and have everything and everyone else revolve around him or her – keep the supporting cast to a minimum. Only include characters who are essential to the story’s outcome. 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.
Is it flash? Not all stories can be condensed. If there’s too much story to tell in the available word count, then all the editing in the world isn’t going to make it work. It is better to write something completely new than trying to cut a 2,000 word story into something it was never meant to be.