Learn to Write in a Flash

Guest Post by Rebecca Blevins


Rebecca Blevins is from the Midwest, land of tornadoes and cows—hopefully not mixed together. She began reading before she can remember, so books have always been part of her life. She has fond memories of borrowing more than thirty titles from the library at a time, and her mother stated: “Rebecca sat down to read and didn’t stop until she was done with the whole bag.”

As an adult, Rebecca discovered a fondness for telling stories. Now she writes books for children and adults. Her middle grade adventure, Captain Schnozzlebeard and the Singing Clam of Minnie Skewel Island, was released in April 2015, and Keeping Christmas, her first published romance, releases December 20th, 2015, as part of Trifecta Books’ Christmas Countdown collection. Visit her online on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.rebeccablevins.net.


One of the greatest writing tools I’ve come across is something I first did as a fun exercise. I didn’t realize its positive effects on my storytelling until years later, and it’s been invaluable for teaching me how to tighten my writing. I touched on it in my article from February 2014, but it’s such a good tool that I want to expound on it a little more.

What am I speaking of?

Flash fiction.

Before you scream and run away (because I’ve gotten nearly that reaction from those who swear they can’t write short fiction), hear me out.

My dear friend Karen Hoover ran a biweekly flash fiction contest several years ago. Each time, she’d announce a few prompts, then we had to write a story using those prompts in any fashion. Our only rule was that our stories needed to be one thousand words or fewer, written start to finish in an hour or less.

By creating these intensely focused stories, my internal editor was forced to shut up, left grumbling in her dusty garret about sentence structure. I had to write fast, putting my fingers on the keys and letting them go wherever they wanted. Then I let the editor out for the few minutes left, and she had a field day.

Every single word counted. There was no room for words that didn’t earn their place. Having a strict framework forced me to analyze every choice I made, and I became hyper aware of what each word did.

Some of my entries were terrible. But since flash fiction was just for fun, and everyone involved was in the same canoe, we didn’t mind so much if we tipped over. Occasionally, there were characters that surprised me by how much I loved them—such as an alien who spoke like a surfer dude, or a dragon who preferred gardening to eating people.

As time went on, I found that writing on a microscopic level influenced my larger manuscripts. Since I’d worked on description, story arcs, and structure in a focused, simplistic way, I began recognizing them more easily in my own writing. Story elements were the same, whether they were fit into in a hundred words or fifty thousand—only flash fiction was stripped to the barest of those elements.

So I’m issuing you a challenge: write a flash fiction story up to three hundred words. It doesn’t matter how great or awful the story is. Please don’t spend hours editing. Have fun with it, and share here in the comments or on the Facebook post.

Your prompts: pumpkin, the sound of a train whistle, and fuzzy socks. Use them in any way you wish. And I’ll put myself out there too and write a short one for you.

Orange Sunrise

Jenella entered the large room and stood just inside the doorway, smoothing her pumpkin-colored dress as she searched for Milborne. There he was, sorting orange leaves between two baskets. She’d watched him collect the leaves from the pile yesterday morning, bright as flames, the only sound besides his rustling grocery sack a distant train whistle. He’d clutched his haul tightly, the bulging bag nearly as big as he was.

She walked over and knelt in front of him, then handed him a small gift. “Hi, Milborne. This is for you.”

Milborne dropped his handful of leaves and took the gift, struggling to open the tape. Jenella slipped a finger under the edge and lifted it up. He caught a glimpse of the present inside, then giggled as he pulled out a pair of fuzzy socks, as orange as the traffic cones she’d passed on the way there. He hugged them to his chest, then held them out to Jenella, pleading. “On?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, then knelt and slipped the socks onto his bare feet.

He tiptoed around the room, as the other children watched in silence. Then Milborne spun then raced to Jenella, throwing himself into her arms, nearly bowling her over.

“Like leaf,” he whispered into her ear.

She swallowed hard, keeping calm, wary of frightening him. “Yes, like leaf.”

Jenella held him for a few moments and blinked, eyes stinging. A flash of laughter, and Milborne whirled away and spun again, enthralled by the orange blur of his feet.

He had hugged her. For a few fleeting moments, but it was a start. A good omen, for tomorrow, when Milborne would become her son.

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.