top of page

How to Write Flash Fiction


Begin with a thing. Make it a sparrow. A sparrow clinging to the stem of an Easter Lily. Make the sparrow silent. We don’t want too many voices this early on. Let the lily speak for itself.


Now, enter. This is how things get going. You need a dog. This dog is red but the top of its head is blonde, bleached by the sun. The dog swims every day. Get that dog moving! Don’t forget about the sparrow. The blonde dog looks at the sparrow.


Your palms should sweat! But not too much, remember this is flash fiction. The bird is small, remember that. It is frightened of the dog and might leave the lily, remember that. How are your palms? How’s it going?


You don’t have time for this. Why does this dog swim so much? It’s an Easter Lily, but in July? Get out of this place as fast as you can.


By now you should have thought of this. An old man wants something. Between him and that: a silent sparrow. How will he get that? I don’t even think the dog is his, so that won’t help. Oh, this is getting good.


This is where there is more. I don’t know what to tell you. More please.


You should look at all these creatures. How much competition for the heart! The old man has a stained shirt and has almost got something. The blonde dog is barely an inch from the sparrow. The tiny feet pierce the lily’s delicate skin.


Give us a second to catch our breath. We are tired, and full.


I’ve taught you well, haven’t I? Flowers and animals, the sky, how it all will fall. You’re falling—now. Put your last period. You’ve done everything you could.

Setting in Flash Fiction

There is a summertime forest. It’s been a wet year and the moss on the trees is a florid green. In the bright day, each tree leaf is a cupped-hand of shade, blue-black against the sun-blue sky. Green, black, and blue.

In the distance a stream bubbles. It is the idiom of things that were once here: Rusted Model A deep in the muck, stone-piled walls, dooryard of periwinkles.

It smells like stone. It smells like things that cannot, will not, move. That and a distant threat of rain.

The tall grass is blades, of course. And the hidden insects, worms about the roots. The grass is soft—knives—soft again, the tiny cuts as the wind shifts.

Then, with the storm, the pressure of the birds, the bowed fiddleheads. The stream is in disarray.

The fawns in the underbrush shout for their mothers.

Character in Flash Fiction

Don Stella Herb Guinevere Thanh Warren Jesus Omar Fred Mahamadou Josephine Maria Arjun

Robin Nuthatch Starling Jay Chickadee

Spot Champ Princess Ellie Rover Goodboy Cocoa Mellie Rob

You Me Them Her Us

Rock River Sky Glen

Industrialist Waitstaff Driver King Phlebotomist Underemployed Dentist

Elbow Heart Enamel Toe Humerus Hackles Tongue

Pyramid Church Hut Mall

Hack Rube Dipshit Aleck Greenhorn Mark Narc Cheapskate Pig Goat Get

Snake Wolf Vampire Sabretooth Bear

Universe Multiverse Verse

Twelve Fifty Pi Thousand Zero Googol Half

Lily Oak Ivy Moss Kudzu Mayapple Wort Alfalfa Carrot Duckweed Aloe Peyote Milkweed

Saint Bodhisattva Angel Beloved Sweetie Seraph

Sign French Pidgin Swahili Khmer FORTRAN Secret Latin Academic

Death Life Bardo Walmart

Perspective in Flash Fiction

A woman looks out her window: On a hillside dowsed in flowers a man plays cat’s cradle. He plays for hours and in endless configurations: x and X and x. He will not eat or drink, though he will wipe his brow and mark the place where the sun sits in the sky: _ or — or \

The woman looks out her window: Her daughter sits in the garden surrounded by gardenias. The child smells a flower and smiles: :). She smells another flower, which might be the same flower but from a different glance, and smiles: ;)

The girl and the man are daughter and father, or father and daughter, depending on where you stand. To the woman at the window they are despair or love, depending on where she sits.

A woman sees outside her window: A child or a man. Twisted in a daughter’s string, a father’s smile, they can’t know which is which: ox xo

Time in Flash Fiction

Start with a woman drinking whisky. Have her drink for an hour. Darling, she’ll slur, marry me. Live for me always.

She is a little girl. Her dog has been lost somewhere in a field. That field is a thousand acres of yellow flowers, each a sun that sets on the seconds that the little girl cries. Darling! she shouts—the name of her dog.

The woman has a baby and she is drunk. The baby can’t stop crying. She thinks, This baby is my life forever! She hates the sun that will never stop falling on her baby’s face.

She is an old woman, about to die. Her daughter stands beside her hospital bed. The daughter’s legs ache and she wants to go home. Her mother whispers, Please remember me always.

End with a teen and her can of Sprite. Have her sip for a second. Her legs are sleek and long, hirsute with a golden fuzz. Baby! she’ll bark, the older boy who never leaves her alone.


Originally published in New World Writing.

{If you like what you read}

Recent posts

bottom of page