Don't Beat Around the Bush

Flash fiction tips from Michelle Elvy

Jump right in. Don’t beat around the bush. Start in the middle, or even at the end. Make the first line count: it can make or break a story.

Surprise yourself and your readers. Experiment. Play. Remember that what you omit is as important as what you say. There’s beauty between words—in the space you create, at the edges of the story.

Let it simmer. Don’t rush. Walk away and come back; let your work breathe. You may find a gem lurking—something glinting on Thursday that you didn’t see on Monday.

Don’t go for gimmick. Dump the aha ending. An amateurish stunt won’t replace quality prose. Clever or funny does not mean “gotcha.” Please, no.

Don’t worry about how much you write; focus on how well you write. In the case of flash (and at the risk of stating the obvious): less is more. Same goes for your output: one excellent thing is worth a hundred mediocre things.

Edit. Writing is fun, yes, but writing takes work. Don’t be lazy. One small story may be reworked many times, and a tiny story can be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written.

When you think you’re done, cut it in half. That’s right: 50%. Every sentence phrase, every word should get deserves your full care. Every word counts. This was 500 words yesterday. Go on, try it: you’ll be amazed by what you can do.

Also: read your work aloud to see if it sings.

And finally: read, read, read.


Michelle Elvy is founding editor of New Zealand’s literary journal Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and also fiction editor at the international journal for poetry and flash Blue Five Notebook (other online projects listed here). You can also find Michelle conversing with writers in a monthly column at Awkword Paper Cut and curating the Editor’s Eye series in the online writing community Fictionaut. She has judged numerous competitions, including short story, flash fiction, collaborations and poetry. She teaches editing, grammar, flash fiction and advanced writing.

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