Reprinted with permission. First appeared online at Nothing in the Rulebook, March 16, 2022.
If you’re a writer, chances are the challenge of writing microfiction stems from figuring out how to pare your story down to the essentials, rather than how to fill up the space.
What is microfiction?
First of all, if you’re not familiar with microfiction, flash fiction, or microstories, all you need to know is that they’re different ways of saying writing that is very short. Like anywhere from 5 to 5,000 words short.
What we love about writing teeny pieces
We love tiny writing because the length is very doable. It’s a fun way to challenge yourself as a writer. Watching your story change as you simplify it is enjoyable and gives you a unique perspective on what the soul of your story is really comprised of.
Plus, entering microfiction contests is a great way to submit your writing that doesn’t take too much time, energy, or financial commitment. And writing teeny pieces reminds you that you are still a writer, even if you’re not currently writing an entire novel.
How do you tell a compelling story that impacts the reader in so few words?
Here are some of our favorite tips for writing in this unique style:
- Show, don’t tell: When you show something with your writing instead of simply telling the reader about it, you invite the reader into your story in a more vivid, visceral way that allows them to experience what’s happening rather than reading a summary from the outside. This brings the story alive and deepens the impact.
- Write with your five senses: Focusing on sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell is a quick way to bring the reader into the story.
- Evoke images, elements, colors, or emotions: This helps the reader see, feel, and remember your story after they’ve put it down.
- Write from a place of emotional connection: Writing is typically easier and the story more electrified when the writer’s emotions match those of the character they’re currently writing about. So if your character is discouraged in the scene, but you’re joyful and light-hearted, it could be difficult to write convincingly about the character’s struggle.
How are you feeling right now? Angry, exhausted, relieved, hopeful, silly? What’s a situation that you can create about a character with that same emotion? Or, if you already know what emotion your character is feeling, wait to write about it until you’re also experiencing it.
- Be simple and concise: Distill your story down to just the basics. Cut the fluff.
- Tell a complete and compelling story: Give enough background to set the scene, engage the reader, and create a framework to tie it all together. Create character depth succinctly. Figure out what the reader needs to know about your character and focus on that.
- Adhere to contest requirements: If you’re submitting to a contest, be sure to adhere to contest guidelines. This includes things like the theme or genre, word limit, whether the title is included in the word limit, payment, and submission instructions. You know—basically, read the fine print.
- Always, always be true to yourself: There’s a reason you want to tell this story at this time. Listen to that.
- Check your stereotypes: When you’re writing such a short piece, it can be tempting to rely on stereotypes to fill in the details. But remember that your writing not only validates how you see the world, but also reflects what other people think is possible and ultimately shapes the way the world will be.
So look for your biases. Are they intentional or implicit? Do you want to leave them there or change them? You have precious space, so which characters get priority? How would your story look if you changed a character’s gender, race, or body type? How would the reader’s experience be different? How powerful would it be for us to see more examples of diverse characters?
Curious what this all looks like?
We are currently hosting the award-winning Tadpole Press 100-Word Writing Contest. Use these tips to create your own mini masterpiece and submit it to our contest by November 30, 2022. First place is $1,000 USD.
You can view past examples of winning stories from the Tadpole Press 100-Word Writing Contest here.