Joseph Young ~ How to Write Flash Fiction


Begin with a thing. Make it a spar­row. A spar­row cling­ing to the stem of an Easter Lily. Make the spar­row silent. We don’t want too many voic­es this ear­ly on. Let the lily speak for itself.


Now, enter. This is how things get going. You need a dog. This dog is red but the top of its head is blonde, bleached by the sun. The dog swims every day. Get that dog mov­ing! Don’t for­get about the spar­row. The blonde dog looks at the sparrow.


Your palms should sweat! But not too much, remem­ber this is flash fic­tion. The bird is small, remem­ber that. It is fright­ened of the dog and might leave the lily, remem­ber that. How are your palms? How’s it going?


You don’t have time for this. Why does this dog swim so much? It’s an Easter Lily, but in July? Get out of this place as fast as you can. 


By now you should have thought of this. An old man wants some­thing. Between him and that: a silent spar­row. How will he get that? I don’t even think the dog is his, so that won’t help. Oh, this is get­ting good.


This is where there is more. I don’t know what to tell you. More please.


You should look at all these crea­tures. How much com­pe­ti­tion for the heart! The old man has a stained shirt and has almost got some­thing. The blonde dog is bare­ly an inch from the spar­row. The tiny feet pierce the lily’s del­i­cate skin. 


Give us a sec­ond to catch our breath. We are tired, and full.


I’ve taught you well, haven’t I? Flowers and ani­mals, the sky, how it all will fall. You’re falling—now. Put your last peri­od. You’ve done every­thing you could. 

Setting in Flash Fiction

There is a sum­mer­time for­est. It’s been a wet year and the moss on the trees is a florid green. In the bright day, each tree leaf is a cupped-hand of shade, blue-black against the sun-blue sky. Green, black, and blue.

In the dis­tance a stream bub­bles. It is the idiom of things that were once here: Rusted Model A deep in the muck, stone-piled walls, door­yard of periwinkles. 

It smells like stone. It smells like things that can­not, will not, move. That and a dis­tant threat of rain.

The tall grass is blades, of course. And the hid­den insects, worms about the roots. The grass is soft—knives—soft again, the tiny cuts as the wind shifts.

Then, with the storm, the pres­sure of the birds, the bowed fid­dle­heads. The stream is in disarray. 

The fawns in the under­brush shout for their mothers. 

Character in Flash Fiction

Don Stella Herb Guinevere Thanh Warren Jesus Omar Fred Mahamadou Josephine Maria Arjun 

Robin Nuthatch Starling Jay Chickadee

Spot Champ Princess Ellie Rover Goodboy Cocoa Mellie Rob

You Me Them Her Us 

Rock River Sky Glen

Industrialist Waitstaff Driver King Phlebotomist Underemployed Dentist

Elbow Heart Enamel Toe Humerus Hackles Tongue

Pyramid Church Hut Mall

Hack Rube Dipshit Aleck Greenhorn Mark Narc Cheapskate Pig Goat Get

Snake Wolf Vampire Sabretooth Bear

Universe Multiverse Verse 

Twelve Fifty Pi Thousand Zero Googol Half

Lily Oak Ivy Moss Kudzu Mayapple Wort Alfalfa Carrot Duckweed Aloe Peyote Milkweed 

Saint Bodhisattva Angel Beloved Sweetie Seraph

Sign French Pidgin Swahili Khmer FORTRAN Secret Latin Academic 

Death Life Bardo Walmart 

Perspective in Flash Fiction

A woman looks out her win­dow: On a hill­side dowsed in flow­ers a man plays cat’s cra­dle. He plays for hours and in end­less con­fig­u­ra­tions: x and X and ´. He will not eat or drink,though he will wipe his brow and mark the place where the sun sits in the sky:  _ or  —  or 

The woman looks out her win­dow: Her daugh­ter sits in the gar­den sur­round­ed by gar­de­nias. The child smells a flower and smiles: :). She smells anoth­er flower, which might be the same flower but from a dif­fer­ent glance, and smiles: ;)

The girl and the man are daugh­ter and father, or father and daugh­ter, depend­ing on where you stand. To the woman at the win­dow they are despair or love, depend­ing on where she sits.

A woman sees out­side her win­dow: A child or a man. Twisted in a daughter’s string, a father’s smile, they can’t know which is which: ox xo

Time in Flash Fiction

Start with a woman drink­ing whisky. Have her drink for an hour. Darling, she’ll slur, mar­ry me. Live for me always.

She is a lit­tle girl. Her dog has been lost some­where in a field. That field is a thou­sand acres of yel­low flow­ers, each a sun that sets on the sec­onds that the lit­tle girl cries. Darling! she shouts—the name of her dog. 

The woman has a baby and she is drunk. The baby can’t stop cry­ing. She thinks, This baby is my life for­ev­er! She hates the sun that will nev­er stop falling on her baby’s face.

She is an old woman, about to die. Her daugh­ter stands beside her hos­pi­tal bed. The daughter’s legs ache and she wants to go home. Her moth­er whis­pers, Please remem­ber me always. 

End with a teen and her can of Sprite. Have her sip for a sec­ond. Her legs are sleek and long, hir­sute with a gold­en fuzz. Baby! she’ll bark—the old­er boy who nev­er leaves her alone. 


Joseph Young lives in Baltimore. He has released three books of fic­tion, the microfic­tion col­lec­tion Easter Rabbit(Publishing Genius Press, 2009), the vam­pire nov­el NAME(Union Street, self-pub­lished), and Always Never Speaking: 50 Flash Fictions, with com­men­taries by the author (RowHousePress, self-pub­lished). His sto­ries have appeared in such mag­a­zines as Corium, FRiGG, Mississippi Review online, SmokeLongJukedExquisite Corpse, and many oth­ers. Visit his web­site at