Flash Fiction – changing the status

Some pieces of a few hundred words provide a vignette, a view into a moment in a world. But to turn it into an effective story, something in the text must indicate change by the end: a change in circumstances or status, or a change in the reader’s perception of what has gone before.

Requiring an ultra short story, like flash fiction, to offer an idea of a world and then to create some kind of active change in that world or our perception of it seems a mighty big ask of a teeny tiny story, but a well-crafted story can be told in a few thousand words; a few hundred…

Or even just six words.

Consider the shortest known flash fiction ever told, attributed to Ernest Hemingway.

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

This six-word tragedy is flash fiction perfection. In six words it sets up a scenario (young couple, new baby) and then inverts your expectation (not grown-out-of shoes; unused, the terrible loss).

Short as it is, it shifts both the status of the subject and the perception of the reader. We learn of the tragedy and all the grief it implies only at the end.

When writing ultra short stories, consider your scene – but also what within it can either change, or how it may end to change the reader’s perception of what came before.

I’ve written a number of flash fics during various lockdown, on my Mortal Words website. Feel free to take a look and see where the change takes place (the twist in the story, or the change in perception for the reader) and please – feel free to share some flash fics in the comments!

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