Flash fiction may be the hardest type of story to write. It can also be incredibly fun. I’ve shared a few here on my site – some are good, others just okay, and some probably suck to be honest! Often, I search the internet for prompts to get me going. So, I decided to devise a list of my own flash fiction prompts for myself and to share with others.
First, let’s talk about what flash fiction is. The main way to define it is by length. A flash fiction story generally runs to about 1,500 words or less. I’ve always tried to keep my flash fiction below the 1,000-word count, though Reedsy says 2,000 words is probably the max (until it becomes a short story).
Flash fiction stories should have a beginning, middle, and end, which is hard to do when you’re so limited to the amount of words you can use. Because of these tight constraints, every word counts and the best flash fiction typically moves fast and doesn’t spare a sentence on something that doesn’t advance the plot.
In the world of flash fiction and very short prose, there are different types that writers and websites like to specialize in. For example, Sudden Fiction is max 750 words, a Drabble is max 100 words, a Dribble is max 50 words, Twitterature is limited to 280 characters, and there’s six-word stories. (Note: Check out the WP blog, The Drabble, for good examples of micro-fiction that’s max 100 words).
On to the prompts! Here are 5 prompts to use for flash fiction or any variety of micro-fiction you so choose. I’m going to write stories based on all of them and then share them on the site. Have fun!
In ancient Ireland, bards and poets were powerful figures right alongside the druids. I read in a book of Celtic mythological stories that bards would sometimes threaten others with an áer, essentially a poet’s curse that could ruin the person’s reputation or even worse. Write a piece of flash fiction where a powerful poet or bard threatens someone with a poet’s curse. Or, if you prefer, just use the phrase “poet’s curse” as inspiration!
I’ve been thinking more about climate change lately (as many have), and I recently read this in an NPR article:
Right now, the world is on track for an increase of 3 degrees Celsius, a level that ensures more destructive wildfires and hurricanes, devastation for coral reefs and rising seas flooding the coastlines.“How Fast Will Biden Need To Move On Climate? Really, Really Fast” – NPR.org, Feb. 2, 2021
In 2020, we witnessed more massive wildfires and devastating hurricanes in the U.S., so climate change wasn’t far from many peoples’ minds. Write a flash fiction piece about climate change and how you perceive it. Can you notice it in your daily life? Does it feel real, but you’re not feeling the effects yet? Use your imagination!
Do you want answers?
Many times, I use short sentences or bits of poetry to help me as prompts (always credit the author, though). I’ve done this a lot with W.B. Yeats and other books I have lying around the house. Recently, I also started using the Psalms in the Holy Bible as a poetry prompt. Here’s a line that jumped out at me from a poem I was reading recently:
Do you want answers? You have come to the wrong place.“How I Pray in the Plague” by Kwame Dawes, Source: Poets.org
Write a flash fiction piece inspired by that line in the poem. I could see the line – “Do you want answers?” – being good as a quick bit of dialogue to open a story!
A sudden violent wind
Another go-to for me when looking for prompts is Merriam-Webster Online’s Word of the Day. I usually browse their site and pick a word or two, and then try to use those words in a poem. The site is great because it also gives a brief history of each word and its origins.
M-W’s Word of the Day for March 12, 2021, was “williwaw,” a noun that means a sudden violent wind. The site explains the word was first used in the 19th century by English sailors and seal hunters to describe fierce winds in the southern tip of South America. So, there you go! Write a flash fiction piece about a sudden violent wind – you don’t necessarily have to use the word “williwaw,” unless you so choose!
Gettin’ High in the Future
I haven’t read much science fiction over the years, but I’ve read enough to know there are tons of novels and stories where the authors have created imaginary, futuristic narcotics. Tor.com has a good list that rounds up the best ones, including Soma in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Substance D in Phillip K. Dick’s Scanner Darkly.
Write a flash fiction piece based on an imaginary drug in a science fiction world. Given the scale of drug abuse in American society, it’s probably not too hard to think of an idea for this. And also given the ingenuity of big pharmaceutical companies here in the States, I’m sure you can think of something!
So, those are my prompts. Like I said, I’m going to write five flash fiction stories based on these prompts and share them. Hopefully, these prompts sparked your imagination! Happy writing!