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The BEST Formula for writing Flash Fiction and Pulp Stories

Ok, wordsmiths, let's talk today about what I've found to be the essential element of writing short-form fiction. This also works for longer pieces (novellas, novelettes, and novels), but I've seen it particularly effective writing flash fiction or pulp stories.
With the limited word count, you need to get in quick, hit the reader with some quality haymakers, one two three, trash the place a bit, leave an impression, then get the hell out before the reader knows what happened.
I've read many books on writing, listened to a ton of writing podcasts, thumbed through a few books on flash fiction and a couple of books on pulp stories. I've watched some video classes, took an online course or two, and have finally developed my recipe for what I've found is a common thread in all of these lessons:
The formula is this:
  1. Stimulus creates change (15%)

  2. Characters change and adapt (80%)

  3. TWIST (5%)

You see, friendos, it boils down to a simple chemical reaction. First, something stimulates a change in the world of the story. IMMEDIATELY, the protagonist springs into action to deal with the stimulus. EXAMPLE: a soldier at an outpost must defend against an attack by aliens. The world of the story (boring outpost on a distant planet where nothing happens) is disrupted by some foreign stimulus. Now, this can be a completely alien stimulus (like an alien) or something more mundane (maybe she discovers that the oxygen tanks have malfunctioned and has to get a message to the eggheads to fix it before they all run out of air)


THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT is that the story has to start with a stimulus creating a change to the world. IF YOU DO NOT IMMEDIATELY HOOK YOUR READER with an exciting world and stimulus to that world, they're not going to stay around. You're marketing your story, selling your story with the opening stimulus, so give the reader a good one and make sure they're strapped in when you tear out of the station.
The following 80% of the story is just how the protagonist deals with the changes. Either they want to return everything to normal or ride it out and end up with a happier outcome than they had in the beginning. That depends on your story. This is the soldier fighting the aliens or struggling to get the comms relay online before the oxygen runs out.
Finally, you get to the TWIST. Your protagonist has grown and changed and dealt with the threat, and at the end of your limited word count, you can finally sit back and relax. That's when you leave the reader with a twist so ingenious, they go out and tell all their friends to buy your stuff. The aliens were just a vanguard for an entire fleet, an entire ARMADA! Or, the scientists SABOTAGED the oxygen tanks in the protagonist's sector to see how they would react to the crisis. It's just a closing shot, you cannot put the twist too far into the body of the story, or it just becomes another plot point to be dealt with.
No, leave the reader and the protagonist thinking they've won, that they can relax and take a breather, and then give them that closing shot.


Remember wordsmiths; if you're writing flash or pulp, your reader knows what they are in for. Fast stories with punch and pizzazz. Please don't get bogged down in the weeds sending your protagonist on mental meandering where nothing happens so they're forced to look inward and take long reflecting walks through the garden.
Hit em right off the bat with a stimulus creating change to their world!
Make them fix it to return the world to normal or change the world for the better!
Flip em off in the rearview with a quality twist!
Follow this formula and you will become a great writer of flash or pulp.
Thanks for reading! If you've enjoyed this post, leave me a comment. See you in the trenches!
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