For aspiring writers, knowing what to write about is one of the hardest parts of the creative process. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have any good ideas, wonder if you have any credibility to be an author, or even ask yourself why anyone would care about what you have to say.
If you’re looking for a way to get started, flash nonfiction might give you a genre to experiment with and discover your voice.
After all . . . for a lot of creative people, the first step to becoming a real writer is writing your own story.
Flash nonfiction is a genre of writing that captures a moment of life in a short, vivid essay.
This type of writing requires writers to use detail and description to make the most out of a limited word count. This means you’ll get practice not just coming up with material from your own life but editing as you work to trim it down.
So, what is flash nonfiction, and why should you try writing it? Flash nonfiction offers a creative challenge for writers looking to tell a story concisely, with the bonus of allowing the writer to explore a wide variety of topics without getting bogged down in too much detail.
Plus, since the stories are so short, they can be easily shared and read by a broad audience. This is especially crucial in our time of soundbites, social media posts, and short attention spans.
So, why should you try writing flash nonfiction? Let’s dig into why it might be the right fit for your writing process.
What is Flash Nonfiction? A Deeper Definition
Flash nonfiction is a unique genre of writing that captures the essence of a moment or experience in a concise, impactful way. Unlike traditional essays or memoirs, flash nonfiction focuses on the power of brevity, using vivid details and descriptions to convey a story or idea in a short piece.
While there’s no real set word count, I’ve found in studying this genre that the essays can run anywhere from one sentence to around 1,500 words. Regardless of length, flash nonfiction challenges writers to distill their thoughts and emotions, requiring them to choose every word carefully for maximum impact.
Flash nonfiction is not bound by a specific topic or theme, allowing writers to explore a wide range of subjects and ideas. Flash nonfiction allows writers to experiment with different narratives and storytelling techniques, whether it's a personal anecdote, a reflection on a significant event, or a thought-provoking observation.
Additionally, the short length of these pieces makes them easily shareable and accessible to a wide audience, allowing writers to connect with readers on a more intimate level.
Creative Benefits of Writing Flash Nonfiction
Flash nonfiction offers writers multiple ways to refine their voice, find their material, and capture readers’ attention. By focusing on brevity, writers must choose every word carefully, resulting in stronger writing overall.
Additionally, flash nonfiction allows writers to experiment with different narrative styles and techniques, allowing them to expand their creative repertoire. As you experiment, you write pieces that pique your interest and make you want to keep on creating. However, you may write others that you decide to set aside for later.
The fact that you are working with shorter pieces makes it easy for you to experience the rush of quickly refining a selection of your work. This will likely make you even more excited about your writing and inspire you to create even more.
As a result, writing flash nonfiction can boost confidence. Since these pieces are shorter, they are less intimidating to tackle compared to longer forms of writing. This can be particularly beneficial for writers who are just starting out or struggling to develop ideas.
How to Get Started with Flash Nonfiction
If you're interested in trying flash nonfiction, what are you waiting for? Here are a few tips to help you dive in.
The first step, of course, is to mine your life for ideas. Look for moments or experiences in your own life that have left a lasting impact. Consider small details that can be explored and expanded upon in a concise essay. Jot down notes and observations, allowing yourself to immerse in the memories.
It’s important to remember that these ideas don’t necessarily have to be about huge life events—in fact, it’s better if they aren’t. One of my favorite flash nonfiction authors, Beth Anne Fennelly, describes her writing ideas as a treasure box where she gathers up small things she notices and images that have impacted her.
Centering your piece on a particular image instead of an event with multiple turning points will make writing something short and punchy easier.
Next, start writing. Don't worry about perfection or word count just yet. Let your thoughts flow onto the page and focus on capturing the moment’s essence.
Remember, flash nonfiction is all about brevity, so be selective with your words and use vivid descriptions to paint a picture for the reader.
Once you have a draft, revise and edit. Trim any unnecessary details or words that may detract from the overall impact of your piece. Make sure every word serves a purpose and contributes to the larger story you're trying to tell.
Quick Tips for Writing Engaging Flash Nonfiction
Crafting engaging flash nonfiction pieces requires attention to detail and a focus on capturing the essence of a moment or experience. Here are some tips to help you create compelling flash nonfiction:
· Begin your piece with a “hook”— a captivating opening sentence or paragraph that immediately grabs the reader's attention. This could be a vivid description, a thought-provoking question, or a powerful statement.
· Instead of simply telling the reader about an experience, use descriptive language and sensory details to immerse them in the moment. Show them what it felt like, looked like, smelled like, and sounded like, allowing them to experience the story alongside you.
· Be concise. Flash nonfiction is all about brevity, so choose your words carefully. Eliminate unnecessary details and focus on what's essential to convey the heart of the story. Every word should serve a purpose and contribute to the overall impact of your piece.
· Create an emotional arc. Even in a short piece, strive to create an emotional journey for your readers. Take them from one emotional state to another, whether it's from laughter to contemplation or from sadness to hope. The emotional impact of your story will make it more memorable and resonant.
· Experiment with structure: Flash nonfiction offers the opportunity to play with structure and form. Try using fragmented sentences, nonlinear narratives, or even experimental layouts to add depth and creativity to your writing. I’ve seen flash nonfiction written as emails, grocery lists, and essays with very short sections.
· Edit ruthlessly. I know. This part isn’t fun, but when working with short pieces, it becomes especially necessary. Once you've written your piece, revise and edit with a critical eye. Trim any excess words, clarify your sentences, and make sure the pacing is tight. Remember, every word counts in flash nonfiction.
By incorporating these tips into your writing process, you'll be able to craft engaging and impactful flash nonfiction pieces that leave a lasting impression on your readers.
Want More Flash Nonfiction Tips?
At the end of this month, I’ll be holding a FREE webinar called Snapshots of Memories. This webinar will be a workshop that explores the genre of flash nonfiction.
You’ll find out how to incorporate powerful details, come up with ideas, and even leave with the beginning of a flash nonfiction piece of your own.
It’s the fastest, easiest way to learn how flash nonfiction can help you reach your full creative potential so you can impact and inspire readers.