Micro Fiction For Your Writer’s Brain

by James Scott Bell

Want to have some fun? Write micro fiction.

Micro fiction is a story under 500 words (some put the limit at 300, but there is no governing authority calling the shots). Flash fiction is up to 1,000 words. After that, we’re into short stories.

I love all three forms, but micro is the most fun.

First of all, it doesn’t take that long to write. You don’t have to make a major investment of creative energy (which you mostly want directed at your full-length work).

It also trains your writing muscles. It teaches you to get into a scene in medias res—in the middle of things. That, in turn, will sharpen your skill at chapter openings.

It makes you characterize immediately, primarily through dialogue, a skill every writer should have.

And the best micro story has a twist or snapper ending. That skill comes in handy not only for the end of a novel, but also for scenes and chapters as well.

Getting Ideas

There are dozens of ways to get ideas for micro fiction. A few I’ve used are:

  • Writer Igniter 
  • Storymatic
  • Reading a news item, adding a weird element, and asking “What if?” (especially good for playing with spec fiction)
  • Opening a dictionary to a random page and riffing off the first noun I find
  • Jokes

Writing Micro Fiction

Usually, a micro story is going to have:

  • One setting
  • 1-3 characters
  • Action focus
  • Minimal description
  • Lean sentences

Take your idea spark and think about a set up, what characters might be involved, and a central conflict. For example, I just now took out two random Stroymatic cards: attention-seeker and reunited. I thought about it for five seconds and came up with: what if an attention-seeking narcissist is reunited with his high school girlfriend at the 50-year reunion, and she doesn’t remember him?

At this point I prefer to think of a possible ending, and write toward it. Of course, you can start writing and see if an ending presents itself (I call this “micro pantsing,” not to be confused with the mini-skirt craze of the 1960s).

But here’s the nice thing: whatever course you choose you will reap the benefits of writing micro fiction. And you haven’t invested a lot of time.

I can already hear a rumbling out there. It sounds like Why not use ChatGPT for all this?


I say this not as a Luddite; the uses of ChatGPT have been widely discussed, here and all over the place.

The reason I don’t recommend it for micro or flash fiction is that the whole purpose of these forms is to work your writer’s brain, keep it supple and creative. If you let a machine do the creating for you, you gain nothing. Indeed, your proficiency in that arena will begin to atrophy.

But it you do the work yourself, your mind will develop the capacity to do some wonderful things.

Like the other day, I was just walking through the house when an idea—unbidden and fully formed—popped into my head.

I sat right down and wrote it. Then published it to my Patreon community.

(Pause for commercial. It’s free to sign up and gain access to all my content on Patreon, and there’s no contractual commitment. So I say, give it a look risk free!)

What to do With Micro Fiction

There are places that pay for micro and flash fiction. You can check some of them out here.

My short fiction goes to Patreon, always free to my members.

I’m also thinking that in the future I might publish micro fiction to my email list.

You could also use micro fiction as a regular feature on your blog, or as a reader magnet on your website.

But again, the main benefit is what it does for you personally. And it’s fun, like doing the daily Jumble.

Here’s the micro story that came me complete. It’s 217 words.

The Confession

Bob looked at Ed. Ed looked at Bob. Bob hated the way Ed looked at him, with that penetrating gaze. They’d been walking along the beach. The day was cold and misty. Bob had stopped to pick up a piece of driftwood.

And now, with Ed’s inquiring eyes, Bob knew he couldn’t keep it in any longer.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll spill it. I have to. Just listen. Let me get it out. I did it. I killed her. I took a knife and I did it. Was it a fit of rage? I tell myself that, Ed, but I know deep down I’d been planning it for months. After I did it, I wrapped her body in plastic, I tied ropes around her and attached two cinder blocks, put her in the boat and went out beyond Anacapa Island. Right out there, I can point to the spot. And that’s where she is now. I set up an alibi, somebody to lie for me, but I can’t lie to you, Ed. I never could. So there it is. And hey, you know what? I feel better now. I really do.”

Ed just stared at him. Those eyes!

“Okay,” Bob said. “You win.”

Bob hurled the piece of driftwood into the waves.

“Fetch, boy!” Bob said.

What about you? Ever play around with micro or flash fiction?

29 thoughts on “Micro Fiction For Your Writer’s Brain

  1. Great post, Jim!

    Some years ago, I wrote flash fiction. It was an excellent brain exercise to boil characters and stories down to their essence. Every single word had to count, no flab or slop allowed. Plus, unlike a novel, it didn’t take a lot of time to have a finished piece.

    I read several examples on SmokeLong Quarterly that started the creative juices running.

    Lately, I’ve been hitting roadblocks in my WIP. Maybe writing a couple of micro-flash stories will reset my brain.

    Thanks for this exercise and your terrific story!

  2. I love flash fiction. I used to write flash or micro fiction all the time for my blog, which I compiled into a collection, added a cover, and published it. Not sure why I stopped. Even had a piece published in Flash Fiction Offensive (I forget what the magazine is called now). Great idea to write micro fiction for your email list! I may do that as well. Thanks, Jim.

  3. Great post, Jim. Thanks for the information and the ideas for micro fiction use.

    I used to write some flash fiction, even won a contest once. I’ve been struggling with ideas for starting a new series. Using micro fiction would be a good way to explore some new characters and new situations. And I like the ideas you mentioned for using micro fiction in blogs and newsletters.

    Thanks for the nudge.

    • Steve, great idesa. I can see flash or micro fiction as a great way to explore or create a series character. It’s sort of what the pulpsters did with short stories, writing several characters (as Gardner did) until one clicked above all (i.e., Perry Mason).

  4. I read your Bob and Ed story when you published it on Patreon. The twist ending was great and caught me by surprise. Glad you posted it here.

    I’ve written a couple of flash fiction stories, and you’ve convinced me to give micro fiction a go. (You’ve also given me an idea for a future TKZ post. Thanks!)

  5. Love this, Jim. I made my fiction sale with a flash fiction piece, and have published a number of them, both in various online magazines, and also for my newsletter.

    The one thing about flash is that I usually wrote to 1000 words, which does carry the “risk” of investing more time than you might want in it.

    I really like the idea of micro fiction as a warm-up and a way to further hone one’s creativity (and also as a giveaway), and working as a deliberate “constraint” on time invested, because it is so short.

    Thanks for a very fun post!

  6. I’ve dabbled in flash fiction with a friend since 2014. Some pieces, I put in my anthology, Tales for a Blue Moon. A few examples:
    Rocks That Move: Humans from an ant’s POV.
    The Seven Times Recut Stone: A planet loses its language.
    Investment: A red-neck learns what matters.
    The Day the Library Died: The death of the last librarian.
    Incense Summer: A young coed learns about incense.
    Blessing of the Animals: A church’s annual celebration: “Folks, next Sunday, October 4th, will be our third annual ‘Feast of St. Francis Blessing-of-the-Animals.’ There’s a lot of interest again this year. We’ve already received forty or fifty phone calls and a dozen anonymous notes shoved under the rectory door. I’ll try to allay your concerns. First off, I’m sure there will be no repeat of last year’s problems. We’ve set some new guidelines, and if we all follow them, we probably won’t need the paramedics again . . .”

  7. The local writing group I’m am part of hosts a quarterly flash fiction competition among ourselves. Each person takes turns being in charge of setting the guidelines for that quarter and finding the judges. Our last one had a word count limit of 325 words to which there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth (and possibly the banning of the person in charge from ever being allowed in charge again). But, we all agreed it was actually a blast once we did it. And since we’ve started doing these challenges, we all agree our writing has improved. Thanks for this post that I’ll be sharing with my group.

    • That’s great to hear, Lori, esp. the report about improved wrting. A nice confimation of one of the benefits of micro fiction. A “competition” is also an excellent idea. Crit groups ought to consider it.

  8. I’ve written a fair number of Drabbles – 100 word stories.

    It’s amazing how much you can pare down a story if you have to. Good discipline. No explaining – it either works for you or doesn’t.

    Here is one:
    Percentages Are In My Favor

    I look for people like her, alone on the night train, and then, outside the station, apparently abandoned by whoever was supposed to retrieve her.

    Everyone else leaves; I stay, make myself non-threatening, ask for help. Now we’re friends.

    Timing’s crucial: if her driver’s a single woman, I wave, look forlorn. They usually offer me a ride. Idiots.

    When I’m in the back, I choose hostage, playmate. A garrote around the passenger makes the driver pliable. My destination’s prechosen. Confiscate carkey, dispatch hostage, take my time with playmate.

    The police taught me – it happened to my sister.

    Easy prey.
    They’re under ‘Short Stories/Drabbles’ on my blog at liebjabberings.wordpress

  9. I like to think of my songwriting as a form of micro-fiction… occasionally somewhere between micro and flash-fiction – word counts are usually well under the five hundred range – but the challenge of putting the story into a regular, or at least “singable” rhythm and rhyme takes a bit longer than a “flash…” and therein lies the challenge.

    Sometimes the whole story comes “in a flash” – but usually it’s a chorus or sometimes a verse or two… stitching them together in as seamless a way as possible keeps the “boys in the attic” churning while I’m doing mindless things like the dishes or raking leaves or sitting in staff beatings or driving (HA!) in rush hour traffic…

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