The last class I taught at Blue Ridge was how to write explosive short fiction. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart. As an editor of The Citron Review, an online literary journal specializing in flash and micro fiction, I wanted to be able to explain what I look for as an editor, that is, what exactly makes for great short fiction.
Some time ago, I did a blog post on this exact subject, but it bears repeating. There are several different forms of short fiction, ranging from one sentence to twenty-five pages or more. Micro fiction is generally limited to about 60 words. Flash Fiction is usually limited to 1,000, though those numbers vary from place to place. And while traditional short stories of five to twenty pages have all the elements you’d find in a novel (just more compacted), micro and flash don’t always have time for resolutions. The traditional story arc is more alluded to than fully explained. The fundamental element of fiction is conflict, and that’s what you get with the best short fiction—immediate, complex conflict. Remember, the resolution (though alluded too) doesn’t need to be clearly shown. In a longer story, however, it should be.
The other way to write good short fiction is to have engaging characters. We should still get a sense of of who the character is, though we won’t get their entire back story. We may get a bit of it, but not the whole thing. We don’t need the whole thing. Only what’s vital to the story. So it’s very important to find the one or two details that will suggest their entire history—the scar that has defined their life. Or, more importantly, what the character desires. Without character desire, there is no conflict. What do they desire, and why? We should get a sense of it right from the start. There is no time to waste.
Also remember to limit the amount of characters. You shouldn’t have anything more than two primary characters in a flash fiction piece. One for a micro-fiction. There’s just no time to do them justice. You may refer to them, but they probably won’t get much “screen time” so to speak. And that’s okay. They don’t need it. They’re bit players, extras.
Keep these few ideas in mind when you’re crafting your next short. Start fast. Limit characters. Focus on only the scenes that matter. Every detail has a price. Make sure your details earn their place in your story.