A little while ago I ran a course on How to Write Flash Fiction. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about Flash Fiction in case anyone else finds them helpful.
They also apply to short stories.
The opening sentence is the first thing a competition judge sees. If it doesn’t grab their attention they may not read any further. It must be good, especially in very short fiction.
Hooking your reader
Set up a question in the reader’s mind. One way of doing this is to begin with your character in an intriguing situation so that the reader will want to read on to find out what happens next. Starting with a controversial sentence also works very well.
Throw the reader straight into the action by starting with a piece of dialogue. Overheard conversations are always fascinating.
Introduce at least one character. Readers want to read about characters, not long pieces of description.
There is not much time for scene-setting. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there. Thread it in with the action.
As with any short story use a style appropriate for what you are writing. Short sentences build tension. Think pace. You don’t have time to waffle.
Things to avoid doing
Don’t introduce too many characters. Focus on one or two (maximum) until the reader is sufficiently interested in them to want to carry on reading.
Don’t give too much information too soon. Too much information can make the narrative very dense and difficult to read.
It’s probably best to stick to one viewpoint, or use a narrative style. More than one viewpoint is hard to pull off in a very short piece.
Once you have finished the story, re-read the first sentence in isolation and ask yourself if it’s intriguing enough to make someone else want to read on. If possible, read it to a writer friend and ask them. If necessary, rewrite it.