Dan Nielsen, "Flash Fiction and Online Press Prestige" July 26, 2016


On Writing Flash Fiction
Internet literary journals are better than print literary journals—the writing is as good, they are  free, and you can comfortably fit hundreds of them in your pocket.

A rejection is better than an acceptance—if it results in a rewrite. A successful story requires five rejections/rewrites.

The main function of a story writer is to help editors make amazing magazines.

“Prestigious” online journals receive too many submissions. This is a burden for them. Take pity. Send your best work elsewhere.

Simultaneous submissions are great—three is best—five is max. When a startup is putting  together their first issue, and accepts something of mine in a day or two, I am thrilled. It’s way better than being “In Progress” on Submittable for a year. And what better kick than informing Tin House that, once again, they’ve been beaten out.

FLASH is the only prose I write. Modern life, when we’re lucky, affords us the luxury of self-imposed constraints. I love the idea of telling a complete story—3rd person—past tense, where something transformative happens to believable and compelling characters who move the plot through dialogue. All in fewer than a thousand words. I get excited just thinking about it. 

Online fiction writers belong on Twitter. I’m saddened when I read something I love and I cannot immediately contact the author and hundreds of potential readers while providing a link for instant access. This should always happen. Because it’s magical.

The Process
Begin with the name of a character. Don’t make it up. Find it. The first sentence is action.
Rewrite the sentence. Rewrite that sentence. Write another sentence establishing place. Add another about what the character wants. And something explaining why this is not likely to happen. Rewrite everything. Rearrange. Eliminate anything overly clever. Find better, simpler, and more specific words that allow no hint of unintended ambiguity. Introduce another character. Here comes the conflict! 

It’s FLASH, so at any point you can change something that necessitates changing everything.
And that’s fine. Because it’s fun. It’s what we do.

When you hit 1100 words—stop! Read it aloud while marching in place, and then again while marching around the room, and yet again while marching around the block. This should get you down to around 800 words. Concentrate really hard until the counter is at 750, and you’re done. 

Send it three places—Duotrope works best for me—and hope for speedy rejections so you can make it better, and better, and better.


Dan Nielsen spreads his limited talents thinly so as to cover writing, music, art, and stand-up comedy. Old credits include Random House and University of Iowa Press anthologies. Recent work has appeared in The Ottawa Object, Lockjaw Magazine, The Fem, Semaphore Magazine, and Minor Literature[s]. He has a website: Preponderous.

Read Dan's flash fiction S
cratch-offs and Monster Truck.