Flash fiction is the darling of the online creative writing community. Flash fiction ideas are everywhere. Are you writing flash fiction and didn’t even know it?
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As a TA (teaching assistant), I taught creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh from 2004 to 2006. I was a graduate student in the writing program and part of the agreement I signed for my fellowship that paid for my education and gave me a generous stipend to live on was to teach one class of writing to undergraduates each semester of my second and third year. I had no teaching responsibilities my first year.
My second year I taught composition; but my third year, which was my final year, I taught short story writing. I knew nothing about “teaching” short story writing; but I knew a great deal about writing flash fiction.
A 50-page manuscript of flash fiction stories had gotten me accepted to the graduate program in the first place. The 50 pages were part of a 150-page manuscript I’d been working on for over 15 years. So, what lessons had I learnt working on all those flash fiction stories for all those years? What advice and tips about writing short fiction could I pass on to my students?
First, what is flash fiction? There are many definitions of the very short story. Most of the definitions have to do with word length. Most editors, publishers and writers would agree that a flash fiction story is between 250 to 1,000 words long. Some people would go a little lower and some would go a little higher. The one thing everyone does agree on is that no matter how long a flash fiction story is, it is a complete short story. It has all the elements in it that the regular length short story contains. It has a distinct beginning, middle and ending. It has development and tension. It has characterization, description and resolution. The average regular length story is between 2,000 to 5,000 words long.
So, the advice and tips that I gave to my students about writing flash fiction and short fiction in general included several things. First, the content of a flash fiction story could be about anything that a regular length story could be about. The flash fiction story was just shorter. There must be no unnecessary words and adjectives and adverbs were usually unnecessary words. The flash fiction story captured a “significant” moment in time. I had my students write a lot of flash fiction.
And guess what? If you’ve been writing short stories that are only a few hundred words long, you’ve been writing flash fiction, too. Tainted Love is a perfect example of the flash fiction story.