Writing Flash Fiction

Whether you already love flash fiction or are intrigued to know more about it, here’s a wonderfully informative guest post by Gail Aldwin, whose new collection, Paisley Shirt, is freshly published and gathering admiring reviews. Welcome, Gail! 

What is flash fiction?

For some writers, flash fiction provides an opportunity to write a story from start to finish in one go. Using prompts such as pictures, single words, or lyrics from a song, the story is committed to the page ‘in a flash’. Although some stories in Paisley Shirt, my new collection, published by Chapeltown Books, did leap onto the page fully formed, others took more honing.

In this way, flash fiction is a distilled version of a longer story that includes characters, plot, dialogue and theme but these are presented by suggestion rather than written in detail. The words leave room for the reader’s imagination.

Flash fiction sits alongside short stories and longer fiction but does not attempt to replace them. In a busy life with increasing demands, flash fiction offers readers the chance to enjoy a bite-sized piece of fiction that can be enjoyed between train stops, during a coffee break or while a child naps.

The length of the story is one of the constraints and delights of flash fiction. In UK publications it is generally agreed that anything from as little as 50 words up to 500 words constitutes flash fiction but in American literature it can be up to 1000 words.

Ideas for writing flash fiction

A famous example of a piece of flash fiction comes in the form of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Although the account of how he wrote this on a napkin to meet a challenge set by friends is now believed to be apocryphal, the story itself is not diminished.  

For compulsive readers of classified advertisements, other stories come to mind, For sale: wedding dress, never worn. It’s worth scouring this section of your local paper for ideas, think about using the following columns to inspire short writing: missing, wanted, situations vacant. Another way to tackle flash fiction is to use phrases that immediately provide the context for a story. Try writing a story that includes one of the following: ‘open wide’ or ‘tickets please’ or ‘you’re welcome’.

Using photo prompts

Photographs or images in magazines and brochures are used as a stimulus for many different types of writing. Although this isn’t a new idea, flash fiction provides the chance to step into the shoes of a photographer and view portraits of couples and families with new understanding and insight.

Images presented in a photograph represent a moment of being. It’s interesting to reflect upon the relationship between the photographer behind the camera and those captured in the image to create a story.

Paisley Shirt spread[14161]


These are just a few of the techniques and strategies I used to stimulate stories that now feature in Paisley Shirt. My collection is one of a series all presented with the same cover format but using different coloured borders. I chose a copyright free image from Flickr to give the central image of a paisley shirt for my cover. Mandy Huggins, who is also published by Chapeltown Books, used her own painting as the cover image for Brightly Coloured Horses.


If you would like to find out more about writing flash fiction, I am delivering a workshop at Waterstones in Dorchester on Sunday 13 May from 1:30–3:30pm. For more information and to book go to the Dorset Writers Network website and look under the events tab.

About Gail Aldwin2017 Gail Aldwin[14160]

Gail Aldwin is a prize-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. She works as a visiting tutor to creative writing students at Arts University Bournemouth. Gail’s new collection of flash fiction Paisley Shirt is published by Chapeltown Books. The Kindle Edition and paperback can be purchased from Amazon or buy the paperback from bookshops including Serendip, Lyme Regis, Gullivers, Wimborne Minster, Waterstones, Dorchester, The Swanage Bookshop, Swanage and Octoberbooks in Southampton.

You can find Gail at:

Twitter:        @gailaldwin

Facebook:     https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/

Blog:              The Writer is a Lonely Hunter

Chair DWN:  http://www.dorsetwritersnetwork.co.uk

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