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Flash Fiction -- The Essence

Updated on September 1, 2016


During the past century, perhaps as a result of the invention of the telegraph,the short story moved from the anecdote or the adage into a complete 'novel' in perhaps ten pages.

If one looks at Poe or O.Henry, everything is said in the brief snapshot of story.

Overtime, getting it all together in under 2000 words was the goal. This meant every word had to count, and anything unnecessary had to be cut out. Starting in the middle, in a kind of Inverted Pyrimid Style getting to the point was key.

Cutting out too many descriptions, characters, events, so that everything was said that needed to be to create one story, complete in itself.

With the advent of the Internet, Flash Fiction has become the new, and perhaps sharpest venue for the writer.

An entire story needs to be told in under 500 words. Some are three hundred words. The story is to have all the features of a novel; characters, plot, location, point.

Yet so compact that every word must justify its existence.


Usually most successful in Science Fiction writing, Flash Fiction dispenses with everything that can be removed. The first is often the 'landscape'. One word of reference is sufficent. One doesn't labour to create the scene, one states it.

One doesn't dig into the characters, either they are vehicles for the action or an aspect defines them.

If one were going to write Romeo and Juliet as Flash Fiction the story would begin just before Juliet kills herself and end when she does.

In fact, the last page of most novels is where one would begin the story.

Can You Do It?

Stephen King, among others, always made the point that when he began writing his second draft was longer than the first. As he became more experienced his second draft was much shorter.

When you write your Short Story go over it to take out everything that isn't essential. Focus on one point. No need to give backgrounds, let the story say everything that is needed now. "I havn't spoken to my mother in ten years." is enough. One doesn't need further explanation

Let Hemmingway's mantra; "For Sale -- Baby Shoes -- Never Worn." guide you.


Watch one of those dramas on T.V., the kind that is episodic and does not have a story arc beyond the characters and their roles. Write down the plot in short sentences.

For example, a body is found on the street, the police car comes up, the detectives arrive, the investigation begins, various suspects are interviewed, one is chosen, and the Court drama begins; there's the trial, a conviction/acquittal or a plea.(basic Law & Order plot).

As you can see from the notes above, that's the story.

You can start from the jury going out, have a few cogent lines said by the prosecution/ defendant to reflect on what the case was about, and then the verdict.

Or, you can go inside the perpetrator's head, something like, "I told her she should keep her mouth shut." Then go into the police finding the body, (reported on the News) a knock at a door....

As you can see, the key feature is nothing but the pearl in the oyster.


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    • qeyler profile image

      qeyler 4 years ago

      Thank you

    • profile image

      Ghaelach 5 years ago


      Excellent info.

      As you say nothing more needs to be said.

      LOL Ghaelach