How To Plot Flash Fictionbyoggbashan©
Copyright Oggbashan May 2008
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
Flash fiction and particularly the variant 50-word fiction that I write requires a plot even though there are very few words available. This is a very short introduction to how to produce a minimal plot.
A simple plot for a short story is an introduction followed by some development and a conclusion. Even that may be too much for flash fiction. There is little space for development in 50 or 100 words.
The first sentence must establish the setting or premise of the story. Here are some examples:
A. "The bride swung her unaccustomed wide skirts."
In seven words that sentence sets a scene. The bride, so a wedding is in the story, is dressed in her bridal gown. "Unaccustomed" tells the reader that she doesn't normally wear large skirts so the story isn't set in the 19th century.
B. "The courier dismounted from his steaming horse."
Those seven words give some clues. Couriers don't arrive on horseback in the 21st Century so the story is set in the past. If the horse is steaming it has been ridden hard so there is some real urgency in the message the courier is bringing.
Flash fiction requires a neat ending preferably with a twist that is unexpected. With such a short story there is little scope for development between the beginning and end so the next part of the plot that must be considered is how the story will end.
The end of any flash fiction story must relate closely to the beginning and be relevant even if unlikely. Before the short story can be started the author must have a good idea of the ending even if the exact words are not written yet. In some respects thinking of a suitable ending is more important than any other part of the plot.
Taking the example A above, it could end with some of the bride's words:
"I'm wearing the trousers in this marriage."
That contrasts the skirts of the first sentence with "trousers" in the ending. That ending is suitable for the beginning but others are possible. The bride may hate being dressed so formally. Or, for the first time in her life, she might appreciate being dressed for an occasion. The groom might not turn up for the wedding. There are a number of possible endings given the start of story A. The art of plotting flash fiction is to think of several endings that could suit the beginning and then choose the one that has most impact.
From the start of B, some possibilities are that the courier has come to the wrong place, is delivering the message to the wrong person or the courier has been forestalled by an earlier message so the speed was unnecessary.
Development has to be very limited in flash fiction. There just isn't room for it. If the plot has a strong beginning and ending the development is restricted to how the author gets from one to the other. It can even be eliminated.
In story A if we start with the bride and end with her statement we could just expand on the setting until the last few words. The story might go like this:
The bride swung her unaccustomed wide skirts. In front of the long mirror she tossed back her veil, staring intently at her reflection. Her eyes glittered and she jutted her chin. "Whatever he may think," she said aloud, "I'm wearing the trousers in this marriage."
Is there really any development? That version just continues the setting until her statement concludes the story. It isn't yet a fifty-word story. If it were to be a 100-word story there might be room for him to respond and him to react. That would be development, but in 50-words such complexity is difficult.
It is possible to include development.
The bride swung her unaccustomed wide skirts. The flying hem caught her father-in-law's prized Chinese vase sending it to shatter on the floor. The bride burst into tears. "Never mind," her new mother-in-law said, hugging her, "I've wanted to lose that thing for years."
The implication is that the bride and her mother-in-law have started a relationship.
Flash fiction requires a strong ending. There is no room for excess words or unnecessary sentences. If you have thought of the beginning and the end then getting from one to the other is about all you can do in the space available. If you think of the ending first you are well on the way to a plot for a flash fiction story.