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Writing memorable micro fiction

What is a micro fiction? Is it still flash fiction? Are the two any different? Essentially, no. But, as the name suggests, micro fiction is at the really short end of the flashy scale.

During the micro fiction online course I run at Retreat West with Mary-Jane Holmes, we set word count goals ranging from 75 to 275. The Bridport Prize flash fiction contest has a word limit of 250 and doesn’t even call itself micro so there’s no definitive rule about length or what qualifies a story as flash or micro.

I regularly read entries for micro fiction competitions, including the ones we run at Retreat West and the one that is currently open here on Lightbox Originals. As a judge, there are certain things I look for in the form and ways to make your stories stand out.

Tip 1: Have an inciting incident

All stories, no matter how short they are, need an inciting incident. Some action or event that gets the story going, the call to adventure, the hook. They are how you get the reader interested, how you create intrigue, drama and tension.

Tip 2: Get your story arc in there

If you haven’t got a story arc in there, you’re writing vignettes. Without an arc it doesn’t feel like a complete story as there’s no sense of change by the end. Even though the word count is small, narrative structure still applies and something needs to be different in some way because of what’s happened in the story.

Tip 3: Use your title

When your story word count is very limited, the title can really do a lot of work for you if you use it well. Make it hint at something more that the story doesn’t have room for, use it to point the reader in a certain direction, or turn it into a real attention grabber.

Tip 4: Leave room for interpretation

You’re creating whole worlds compressed into tiny tales and the power of the story lies in the things you imply but leave unsaid.

Tip 5: Don’t go with the first idea that comes to you

Most micro stories come from prompts or themes so let your mind play with these for a while before you commit to the story. Often the first one that comes to you won’t be the right one as we tend to have writing tics that mean we default to writing about the same kinds of things, in the same kinds of ways. By not going with the first idea that comes to mind, you can break away from these and find fresh approaches to your writing.

Tip 6: Take notice of how it looks on the page

White space matters in micro stories. Use sentence and paragraph length to have maximum impact. How you lay it out can provide drama, suspense, intrigue and real emotional resonance.

Tip 7: Write a lot of micro fiction

Every time we write, we get better at writing. So keep creating tiny stories as often as you can. Vary your word counts so that you get better at all the tips above for stories of different lengths.

Tip 8: Read a lot of micro fiction

Every time we read, we get better at writing too. Check out the micro stories that win competitions and get published in journals and anthologies. See how they have done all of the above. Read the stories for pleasure first, then read them like a writer to learn from them.

Looking for inspiration? Take a look at some of short fiction we’ve recently published.

About Amanda Saint

Amanda Saint is the author of two novels, As If I Were A River (2016) and Remember Tomorrow (2019). Her short fiction collection, Flashes of Colour, will be published in 2020. Amanda founded and runs Retreat West, providing writing competitions, courses and retreats as well as Retreat West Books, an indie press that publishes short fiction, novels and memoirs and won the 2020 Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher.

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