Writing Flash Fiction – Finding The Rhythm

Every word counts when it comes to flash fiction, and nailing the pace and rhythm of a piece can really transform your writing. But rhythm isn’t just about the way your sentences sound – it can also help shape your story’s structure, create urgency, build tension, and add extra dimension to your narrative voice.

For example, short staccato sentences often emphasise emotions such as anger and bitterness, while long, fluid sentences might give your flash a dreamlike quality. You can even contrast the rhythm with the action of your story to create a striking dissonance, such as a laid-back, matter-of-fact voice in the midst of a crisis, or a hurried, anxious train of thought during a moment of silence.

Think about how you want your readers to feel when they read your story: comforted, unsettled, nostalgic, curious, pensive, sympathetic, terrified? Or perhaps your flash conjures up more of an abstract feeling: spiky, languid, manic, drifting… How can you convey that feeling and atmosphere with your word choice, the length of your sentences, your tone, and the structure of your story? Even the way you use punctuation can have a huge effect on the way your story reads!

The rhythm of a piece is made up of all these elements, and it ties into the feeling (and meaning) of your story. For example: a breathless flash made up of one carefully-crafted sentence will feel entirely different to a flash made up of short, sharp lines.

One of the most useful techniques to use when finding your rhythm is to read your story aloud. Hearing a story often reveals so much more than reading words on the page and helps you gauge the pace and flow of your story—does it zip along or is it slow and lyrical? What about the tone? Is that feeling and atmosphere coming through? Are there any clunky sentences that interrupt that all-important rhythm?

Here’s a quick but effective exercise to help you practice creating rhythm and atmosphere in your writing.

First, choose a location, eg:

  • a forest
  • a beach
  • a car park

Next, choose some weather, eg:

  • a dry summer heat
  • a torrential rainstorm
  • a frosty morning
  • a thick rolling mist
  • a howling wind

Spend 5-10 minutes sketching out a scenario using your chosen setting and weather. Play with pace and tone and language to convey the mood of the situation.

Then try using the same location again but change the weather to something completely different.

When you’re done, read both drafts aloud. How does the pacing and language differ in each piece? How did you create the appropriate atmosphere for each version? How did the change in weather affect your word choices?

Rhythm is such an important aspect of flash fiction, it’s worth taking the time to read your story aloud and get a real sense of the flow – because when you find your rhythm, often the rest of the story falls into place!

This guest blog was written by Jo Gatford from Writers HQ.

Writers’ HQ runs a free flash fiction challenge, Flash Face Off, where you can hone your flashy skills with weekly prompts, a private writing forum for peer feedback and workshopping, and a live open mic event every Friday where a handful of flashes are chosen to be read aloud by their authors. In fact, one of their regular FFO writers, Fiona McKay, won the latest Cranked Anvil contest, with three other WHQers on the longlist!

Writers’ HQ also has a huge catalogue of online writing courses, webinars, workshops and resources, and the very best writing community in town to help you find your literary home and develop your writing with a team of friendly cheerleaders.

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