The secret to good flash fiction

Do you ever write flash fiction? I highly recommend it. It’s a great tool to hone your writing and pare it down to the essentials. There are lots of fun forums and competitions for flash fiction, including on the amazing writing forum that is

But how does it work?

The rules vary, but usually you have to write a full story in less than 100 words. Sometimes, there are prompts or words that must be included.

The trick? Every story needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. And this is where many flash fiction writers fall flat. I’ve read so much flash fiction that is basically just a scene, not a complete story in itself.

I came first in a fiction writing contest with the following flash fiction story. Let’s take a look:

Prompts: Diamond/Fountain/Red
Word Count: 99
Title: Heera Mandi

Madame Bhatti peers from the balcony. She tugs at her red sari. The phone still hasn’t rung, no visitor has knocked on her door.
A man hurries past the crumbled fountain. “Sir,” she calls. “Would you come up?”
The man smiles, shrugs, walks on. Madame Bhatti sighs. Diamond Market is quiet these days; the only sound the distant roar of cars.
She closes her eyes and remembers. The smell of spices, the silk pillows. Women laughing, and the twangs of the sita. Her singing, glorious, enticing. Fit to attract a prince.
The prince came. But he did not stay.

Photo by AaDil on

Let’s dive in

The story has a clear opening: the first paragraph. It introduces our main character, gives us a glimpse of their personality (she fixes her sari), then immediately presents the story conflict (she is worried because no one has called today).

We then get the main meat of the story. She calls to a man, who ignores her. Then she remembers her glory days. There are few descriptions here, but the ones that I used evoke a sense of place. Crumbling, quiet, distant. All these attributes help the reader feel engrossed in the story.

The prince came. But he did not stay.

The final sentence is the cracker that makes this story work. It sums up Madame Bhatti’s whole life story. It also provides a resolution: the good times were fleeting, and they will never come back.

When writing flash fiction, you really want to focus on the ending. You need to deliver an emotional kick, as well as wrap the action up. A story is only a story if it is concluded properly.


  • Open the story with a proper opening
  • Keep the action brief, the descriptions to a minimum
  • When you do use descriptions, make sure they evoke a sense of time and place
  • Make sure youre story has a distinct beginning, middle and end
  • Deliver a kicker ending line
  • Make every word count. If a word does not contribute to your story, kill it