What makes a flash story?

Flash refers to a very short story. Think of them as elevator stories – a quick smile or flash of diamond, a peek of thigh and whiff of cologne. Read in five minutes, but remembered for a lifetime.

You’ll find varying definitions of the length of a flash story, but 300-2000 words is common; a nice fit between micro stories (5-300 words) and short stories (3000-5000 words).

When I read a good flash story, I get the same tingle I felt many years ago when I opened The World’s Shortest Stories of Love and Death anthology to page 33. It was delicious. Potent, like a chocolate truffle. I had to have more. And it brought the revelation that this is what I had been writing my whole life but didn’t know it.

If you have never written a flash story, I urge you to try it. Whether you stick with it or not, I promise it will make you a better writer. For both fiction and nonfiction, keep these traits in mind:


  • Begin in the middle of the action to grab your reader’s attention immediately. The preamble, if necessary, can come later.
  • Stick to a tight storyline. You won’t have room for detours.
  • Make every word count and every sentence load-bearing. Seek distinct, descriptive nouns and verbs to help you economize.
  • Imply some details and context as if your reader already knows a bit of background. Having to fill in some blanks makes the story more engaging for readers and saves space.
    See the Letter to a Friend writing exercise for help with this.
  • Use active voice – although this is the first rule you can creatively break when you get good at writing flash.
  • For extra credit, add a punch line or surprise. This is the lagniappe of great flash stories.


In case you’re wondering, these traits do not preclude storytelling maxims around good characterization, tension building, etc. You have to do those too – hence the challenge of short writing.

Flash also lends itself well to alternate formats, such as a story written in the form of a letter, or recipe, or list. Take that challenge too, it’s quite fun.

For more on writing in miniature, don’t miss 25 Rules for Keeping It Short and Snappy.

You might also like:
Sample flash stories
How to craft the twist
11 editing tips

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Categories: flash basics

9 Comments on “What makes a flash story?”

  1. June 21, 2014 at 5:26 am #

    Thank you. I really like your advice! Same, I cannot help the feeling that Flash stories just telling a nice story even with a twist are not ‘in’ at all. Darkness, bad feelings, bad endings, bloody, etc. – Well, the negative voice seems to be en vogue … Not my voice unfortunately. Have a nice summer solstice!

    • June 21, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

      They’re definitely in around here! Thanks for stopping by, Barbara, happy solstice to you too.

    • June 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

      Thank you Chris. I look forward to reading them! Have a nice evening.


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