Loaded Moment: Great flash requires a feeling of dramatic urgency—something we, the reader, sense in every word.
Trust the Reader: The quickest way to lose a reader’s trust is to tell them what you mean. Anton Chekhov said it this way: “Don’t tell me that the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
The Senses: The five senses are our best tools! Sensory detail is the key to making flash come alive. Try to bring a great deal of unique sensory detail into each story.
Read Poetry and Flash: Flash fiction isn’t narrative, it isn’t a “shorter short story”, therefore it’s hard to learn how to write flash by reading traditional length short fiction. Reading poetry and great flash fiction is a terrific way to learn the importance of specific detail, poetic language, metaphor, compression.
Something Subtle Must Change: Here is the one clear thing flash has in common with short stories! In great flash there is often a subtle pivot, a surprising juxtaposition, and the end often leaves the reader breathless rather than ‘completely satisfied’.
Unusual Details: Make characters out of obscure traits, for example, how do they greet their cat? What is their favourite film…and why?
Make it Itch: Dismay your characters, provide a good deal of trouble. Don’t let them get there easily, if at all.
Don’t Avoid What’s Hard: When we try not to write about something we are often writing about it anyway. Avoidance can be costly.. also, it doesn’t work. For example, I try not to write about the death of my mother, but somehow my mother is always there next to me. She pops in unexpectedly when I’m trying not to think about it too much about her. My suggestion is to give yourself permission to write what hurts. It will help your fiction, and will feel like shedding a skin.
Obsessions : Use your own obsessions and worries when creating characters and situations. Sometimes working with much earlier obsessions (having emotional distance) can be more productive than using current ones…
Sexy Elf Logic: If there’s an elf in your story, go ahead and make them sexy, but give him some issues. I mean, if you are a sexy elf, you’re going to come with some psychological baggage. No matter how fantastical a character is, make them real.
Woe Is Me: Readers don’t like characters who sit around feeling hurt by the world and wallowing in it. Instead, they care about characters who are finding ways to cope. We like to know how people get through life’s hardest moments.
Crisis/Advantage: When something very hard has happened in your life, use it. Let something similar happen to your character. Disguise it. Dismantle it. Here we can finally make use of the stuff that hurts. This will help your fiction.
Sex in Flash: A character’s unique relationship to sex is far more interesting than writing about lusty characters having sex all over the place. If there is sex in a story, don’t hit us over the head with it.
Messy Love: Follow the trail of messy love wherever it takes your characters, even if the love is invisible to the eye, and especially if it makes no sense.
The Ridiculous: Cultivate a sense of the ridiculous and a sense of the absurd. Everything that really matters to your character is also somewhat ridiculous when looked at from a different perspective. Don’t take yourself (or your characters) too seriously when writing fiction. Even in the most dramatic, dire circumstances. The human brain creates levity in order to cope. That’s what makes us interesting. Show us the coping mechanisms. Make the stakes high, but let a ray of humour shine through.