What makes a good flash fiction piece?

Originally appeared on author Christine Rains blog

What makes a good flash fiction piece?


To answer that question, we need to understand what flash fiction is about. It is a short story under 1000 words, generally right at or around 500 words. Flash fiction is the length of one short scene with emotional IMPACT using shocks, twists, irony, OR something deeply meaningful to end it.


Anything less than 500 that is Micro Fiction, which has several sub-categories, or more than 1000 words which would still be considered a short story, not flash fiction. The purpose of micro fiction is to express interesting ideas or tell a brief story in as few words as possible differing it from flash which depicts a scene or a “moment or realization” in the life of your character.


  • Flash fiction should have all the qualities of good story craft and scenes with a character having one problem. (This is hook & inciting incident for another term)
  • At least 1 or 2 possible conflicts to carry the story forward. (Forward Action) (Brevity-keeping it simple)
  • And a brief ending, creating an overall satisfying capsule of the story. The short word limit only has room to capture a meaningful or powerful moment in the character’s life.


Flash fiction should give the reader some satisfaction with its ending. The more complete and self-contained the story the better.  I try to create a “semblance” of the 3-arc structure when I write flash fiction keeping it loose with word limits.

  • One or two descriptive words for character e.g. nervous typist, sarcastic officer, disillusion magician
  • One or two descriptive words for setting, e.g. windy sidewalk = city, snowy incline or anything from hill to Everest or ski resort.  Sweltering heat = anything from the beach to desert and so on.  Let the reader use their imagination to interpret your word picture. Hint, don’t spell it out to save words.

The key is to use strong, actionable single words to knit a body of descriptive and action passages together to evoke emotion, forward action, plus intriguing and interesting conclusions.

Flash fiction is so brief the end can at best trigger or create an emotional response in the reader or leave questions in their mind or possibilities.  It is only meant to be a window of time or moment in the characters life, not the whole story.


  • Conflict=Action Taken.  The action has immediate consequences for the character.  It is not just a random sequence of unrelated events happening to the character. Especially in flash fiction. Limit words normally around 500.  
  • Everything, every word, included in flash fiction has one of three purposes or all: 1. to progress the story’s forward momentum 2. or cause a change in the character 3. or reveal something important that gets a reaction from the reader.

Make the character responsible for his choices and actions.

  • Action=Reaction  Don’t forget conflict has real consequence for the character to deal with or accept, a lot of times with compounding effects that the character has to deal with in some way now or in the future.

Personally, I prefer flash fiction that engages me, evokes a reaction, makes me think, a twist that sparks curiosity without leaving me hanging, irony, and/or the shock factor.

The shock factor must be meaningful, or I won’t read that author again. It must intrigue or raise a question, not make me feel bad or disappointed. It must be consistent with the tone of the story.  I love when they make laugh with irony.



Check out Storytime Blog Hop flash fiction by several different authors around the world in 2015 & 2016 & 2017

Dragon Smoke & Wind by Karen Lynn (This one is one of my favorite from July 2016 blog hop.)

Check out my post on Medium. Drop by, leave a comment.  Views count.



Holly Lisle’s Free 3-week Flash Fiction Course

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