How to Make Flash Fiction Stand Out

I discovered the exciting world of flash about two years ago. And before your minds wander, you dirty people, I’m talking about flash fiction.

Flash pieces are typically 500 words or shorter, and there are numerous online magazines and competition which accept them. Flash is different to short stories, not only in length but with its own set of rules and expectations. Every word counts, and it’s a fantastic way to hone your writing skills.

I’ve learnt a lot since I first started writing flash (and still have a lot to learn) but I’ve had several pieces published, including on Reflex Fiction, Spelk Fiction and Ellipsis Zine. I seem to have a knack (or maybe just a lucky streak) for 100 word pieces and have won Retreat West’s micro competition twice.

I’m also the judge for WriteMentor’s quarterly kidlit flash fiction competition. This has given me great insight into ‘the other side’ and understanding what makes a flash stand out amongst all the entries.

For those of you thinking of entering the next WriteMentor flash fiction completion (and, of course, for all other flashers… stop it, you with the dirty mind, I see you), I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve learnt.

So what’s makes a flash fiction stand out?

ORIGINALITY – Yes, this is in capitals on purpose. In my opinion, this is the number one most important thing. No matter how good the writing is, if it doesn’t have an original concept, it just won’t pique the judge’s interest, particularly if it’s entered in a competition with a theme. I advise you don’t go with your first, second or even third idea.

Last line – The last line can really make or break a piece of flash. Sometimes, I’ll be reading a great entry which is then let down by the ending. A perfect last line brings some conclusion to the piece whilst at the same time leaving it to linger. And keep it subtle so the reader has to do the work.

Title – In flash, the title shouldn’t be a one or two word summary of the piece. It can bring a whole new dimension to the piece – sometimes the flash might not even make sense without the title.

Check out this great piece by Stephanie Hutton, for example:

‘You Don’t Have to Talk about Your Daddy in Counselling If You Don’t Want To’

The flash world loves strange, long titles, so, if it works for your entry, have a go at making it quirky!

Flash can still do well if the title is not super duper amazing. But it can turn a good Victoria Sponge into a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate gateau with an unexpected kick of whisky.

Structure – Flash doesn’t have to be a simple paragraph of prose. It could be a list or even a receipt, for example – as long as it still tells a story.

Check out this piece by Amanda Saint:

‘Things to Sort for the Funeral’

Story arc – Ideally, flash should contain some sort of a story arc with a beginning, middle and end. What changes?

Character depth – Have a think about what your character has experienced before this story – how does this give them depth? How does this affect the way they act in your flash?

Senses – Despite the low word count, try and include more than one sense. What can your character smell/hear/taste as well as see?

Subtlety – Don’t tell the reader what’s happening, show them. Flash should provide jigsaw pieces and get the reader to make them into a puzzle.

Imagery – It’s not vital but including a repeated metaphor can be a good way of standing out.

Read widely – Lastly but far from leastly (apparently that’s not a word but I’m sticking with it), read, read, read. If you’re entering the WriteMentor competition, there seems to be little MG/YA flash out there at the moment (hence this competition!) but you can find great adult flash at Reflex Fiction, Spelk Fiction, Retreat West, TSS Publishing, Virtualzine and many more.

So there you have it. Hope this helps and I’d love to know any additional tips you might have in the comments.

WriteMentor’s next flash competition closes on 17th July 2020. You can find all the details here:

Write Mentor competition

I look forward to reading your entry!

7 thoughts on “How to Make Flash Fiction Stand Out”

  1. Hi,

    I have just read all the flash fiction listed on your page and I wanted to say thankyou.

    I am very new to writing. I thought about it quite a bit but did not do the work required. However, I have made a start, am writing every day and can see a tiny bit of improvement. Thanks to your inspiration, I am definitely going to write some flash fiction.

    Many thanks,

    Steve Garnett


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