Fiction in a Flash: Art of the Very Short Story

Write complete stories of under 1,000 words. Option 2 writers submit two stories for each unit instead of one and also receive instructor critique. Start with the six-word story and increase word count each unit. Flash techniques include focused scenes, plot essentials, credible characters, tight writing, and smart surprise not just at the beginning or final twist but everywhere. Take away publication tips for today's flash markets and receive individual feedback with each unit.

At a glance

What: Fiction in a Flash: Art of the Very Short Story

When: Start anytime, complete within 1 year

Where: Online

Cost: Option 1: 2.0 CEUs, $175 | Option 2: 3.0 CEUs, $200

Instructor: Angela Rydell

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For additional information, contact Angela Rydell: 608-262-3982

Flash fiction is hot. It’s popular online, in print, and on public radio. It sparks new writing contests year after year. Readers of the very short story are hungry for surprising twists and powerful truths. This online course takes an in-depth look at strategies and tips to help you say more with less without robbing the reader of a good story well told.

Discover how to plot in miniature, hook a reader from the start, write tight, compress with poetic language, craft twist endings that don’t feel trite, and more. Try your hand at over a dozen exercises and experience the instant gratification of drafting a story in a single sitting. Depending on which option you choose, you'll submit up to two stories per unit, each receiving a professional critique that explains what you’ve mastered and where you can improve.

Flash fiction isn’t just fast fiction

Writing the very short story deepens your understanding of how a complete story works. Its brevity lets you solve the story problem—everything from beginning, middle, and end—in short bursts multiple times. Pulitzer Prize Finalist Lee Martin says, “Write a sudden story and you ‘suddenly’… feel the way a story moves: a bobsled frantically shoved away from the starting gate, riders hopping aboard and ducking their heads as the sled gathers speed, tips and angles as it slings through a turn.”

Who this course is for

  • All writers who want practice writing tight
  • Writers inspired by exercises that spark a story in a sitting
  • Anyone preparing a story for today’s growing flash markets — whether literary journals, popular magazines, public radio, or writing contests
  • All writers seeking to cut to the heart of what makes a story matter
  • Beginning or intermediate writers who want practice crafting a complete story arc in short bursts
  • Advanced writers energized by experimenting with compression
  • Poets pushing the boundaries of the prose poem into fiction
  • Writers looking to hone dozens of essential craft skills
  • All writers who yearn to finish what they start

Course content

Units and level options

  • Unit 1. The essence of plot: shaping the very short story
    Levels 1 & 2: write 2 stories of 6-100 words
  • Unit 2. The economy of surprise: saying more with less
    Level 1: write 1 story of up to 300 words; Level 2: write 2
  • Unit 3. The role of character: simplifying without flattening
    Level 1: write 1 story of up to 600 words; Level 2: write 2
  • Unit 4. The innovation of constraint: crossing boundaries
    Level 1: write 1 story of up to 750 words; Level 2: write 1 story of up to 1000 words or 2 stories of up to 600 words


  • In-depth analysis of successful flash stories by dozens of established writers
  • Discussion of elements essential to all good stories, including character development, dialogue, point-of-view, scene building, showing rather than telling, and more
  • Precision craft techniques such as subtext, understatement, metaphor, and what Quick Fiction editor Jennifer Pieroni calls “smart surprise”
  • Strategies for revising ruthlessly
  • Framing devices (like a single scene or central image) to help focus your ideas
  • Inspiring quotes from writers who’ve mastered the form
  • Advice from flash editors seeking new work
  • Helpful links that expand on tricks of the trade
  • Revision techniques and checklists to keep key concepts in mind
  • Tips on how to submit your work & publish in today’s flash markets
  • Bonus resources: You’ll have access to an extensive appendix featuring model stories and direct links to flash markets looking for new work, plus lists of excellent web pages and revitalizing prompts that will keep you writing long after you’ve finished the course

How the course works

You can start this course anytime, and there are no required hours to log on. It’s all done with one-on-one correspondence with the instructor using email. You can read and print course materials in the course website, which you can access at your leisure with a password that we provide. We have writers from around the world participating in our workshops. A lot of great writing gets accomplished via email. Because of the one-on-one nature of this online course, you’ll find it an excellent coaching/mentoring situation that will keep you going. And if you want to just work on your own—hey, that’s fine too. Of course you can do the suggested exercises on your own without the feedback if you’d rather do that. We’re also here throughout the year if you have questions.

Review the current technical requirements for students in Learn@UW online courses.

Contact: For more information about Fiction in a Flash: Art of the Very Short Story, contact Laura Kahl at or call 608-262-3982.