All writers need writing practice, right? Flash fiction based on a photo or other prompt is a great way to expand your creativity and maybe even break through writer’s block. And it can build confidence, too, especially if you’re a beginner. The best part is that it doesn’t require a big time commitment.
Flash fiction, also called short shorts, sudden fiction, and microfiction, is a general term for complete stories under 1500 words. Most often, flash fiction means a story of fewer than 400-500 words.
Why write flash fiction?
Composing an entire story in such a short space requires careful structuring, plotting, and word choice. Plus, you’ll get practice “showing” action rather than “telling” what happened while keeping descriptions to a minimum.
And opportunities to enter contests and get paid for your efforts are plentiful. A search with keywords like flash fiction contests or flash fiction submissions 2018 will turn up plenty.
Starting today, every Friday will be Flash Fiction Friday. This week’s theme is “uncertainty.”
Based on the photo prompt provided, write a 350-word story with the theme “uncertainty.” Post your completed story in the comments. If you’d rather not post the story itself, you can join in by sharing a synopsis and any challenges you had—or how easy it was!
I’ll make a few comments on each piece. And don’t worry. Any honest effort is bound to be good even if it needs a bit of revision (all writers revise!). And who knows? It might be the start of a novel or even a non-fiction essay.
You have one week. Comments will be closed on the following Friday, and a new prompt will be posted.
1. Set aside some uninterrupted time. Fifteen to thirty minutes is good, but try to give yourself an hour, at least, so you can relax. Grab your favorite beverage, do some stretches, take a few slow, deep breaths, and kick back.
2. Take a good look at the photo above. What do you see? How does it make you feel? What does it remind you of? Examine it for a few minutes, then start writing.
3. Write anything that comes to mind. Don’t worry about typos, grammar, or punctuation just yet.
Nothing happening? No worries. Here’s how I often start writing with a photo prompt.
What is that house doing on that…thing. What is it, a building or something? What happened? Was there a tsunami or a flood or what? The house is small. Looks like a cabin almost. Or maybe it’s a prefab thing built for fire survivors in California or somethign and then the mudslides… Trnado? Hmm. Maybe a small family. A man woman and baby.
And now I have an image in my head of what happened, who was involved, and how it ends. It might change, but it’s enough to get started. The combination of asking questions about the photo plus the familiar feel of a keyboard gets me going.
Read more here: How to Use Photos Prompts for Writing
4. Don’t get hung up on a particular detail or scene since you only have 350 words. It’s okay to go over the limit in your rough draft—that’s what editing is for, after all. But don’t let things get out of hand. A maximum for a rough draft might be around 500–600 words. Then cut it down to 350 words or less during revision.
Confession: I like to torture myself and write exactly 350 words or whatever the limit is. No more, no less. It forces me to write only what’s needed yet make maximum use of the word count.
5. Keep structure in mind. One way to go is with three acts, like in a play. In Part One, establish the setting, the characters, and the problem or goal. In Part Two, introduce the complication or barrier to resolving the problem. In Part Three, present the resolution to the problem or the outcome.
You can play around with structure, of course, but be aware of what you’re doing and keep it simple. Remember, each of three sections has only ~116 words, though of course it can vary.
For example, I tend to end flash fiction with a crash and very little in the way of explanation. For me, Parts One and Two might use 150 words each whereas Part Three gets only fifty. You can read some of my own flash fiction here and here.
After you’ve written a rough draft, give it a break for at least a few hours. Better yet, come back to it the next day or several days later. You’ll see it more clearly than if you get right to work with revision and editing.
5. Revise and edit. When your story is fully fleshed out, build it up here and cut it back there. Does it move along at a steady pace? Does the pace pick up as needed for fast action? Will the reader understand everything?
If you have trouble cutting down to 350 words, remove adjectives and adverbs and choose stronger nouns and verbs. Rework prepositional phrases: “the roof of the house” becomes “the house’s roof.” And recast sentences overloaded with small words (fewer than three or four letters).
6. Copyedit and proofread. Check the rhythm by reading out loud. Rephrase sentences you stumble over. Check grammar and punctuation as well as spelling.
7. Take a break. Return to your fabulous piece of flash fiction and read through one more time. If you want to make changes, go for it. But be sure to proofread once again.
Ready? Go! Write a 350-word flash fiction story based on the photo above and the concept of “uncertainty” before next Friday.
Have questions before you get started? Share in the comments. And remember, other writers will have similar questions, so don’t hesitate.
PS #1 No, you may not use a different prompt. Discipline, people. Discipline. 😀
PS #2 Does it have to be about a house? No. The photo might remind you of something else uncertain or tottering on the edge. Something blue, maybe.
PS #3 Could it be about a different house? Sure. A cloudy sky? Yes. A person? Absolutely. A monster? Of course. Write whatever comes to mind as long as the photo inspires it and the theme is “uncertainty.”
PS #4 No, you may not use a previously published or already written story.