Characterization in a Flash by Annmarie Miles

Please welcome back Annmarie Miles for another month with Writer’s Fun Zone. In today’s article she discusses the importance of intriguing characterization from the start in flash fiction. Enjoy!


Many writers agree that writing short stories is often harder than writing a novel. You have to tell an equally good tale with a limited word count; and the best of these are an art form. I’m just getting into learning this art. I’ve found that a key element of the short story is to excite interest in the character in as few words as possible.

There’s no doubt that in a novel, the writer must work hard to keep the attention and interest of the reader right to the end. It isn’t so hard to do that in a short story, but at the end the reader still wants to have been entertained, they don’t want to be disappointed by an inane glimpse at a situation. Even with flash and micro fiction, you want the reader to immediately be interested in your character and have questions about them….

Who is this person?
Why did they do that?
How did they end up in this situation?
What will happen next?

In flash fiction you don’t have time to develop back story or quirky character traits, so you need to inspire interest quickly. That solid piece of writing advice – ‘show don’t tell’ comes in to its own here.  One of the great ways that you can do this is to paint a picture of something usual in an unnatural setting, or alternatively do something unusual in a natural setting.

Here are two examples that I’ve very quickly put together.

Mary stood at the bus stop; she was tired after her long day. It was a warm sunny evening but Mary didn’t trust the sun and as usual regardless of the weather, she was wearing her full-length coat and warm woolly hat.


The door swung open and every eye turned and looked at Roger. The bikers who had been arguing with each other were now on the same side and all stood up together. Roger’s flip-flops slapped his feet as he walked to the bar, “Can I have a bottle of light beer and some peanuts please?”

So there you have two scenarios that don’t quite fit. I’ve written them very quickly so they need some work, but the idea is that the reader is interested and intrigued enough to know why Mary doesn’t trust the sun and how Roger would fare trying to buy a drink in a biker bar.

I’ve said it before flash fiction is a great disciplinarian. It doesn’t allow you to waste words and demands all the elements of a great story condensed in to a short one.

I regularly take part in the flash fiction challenges and competitions and next month I’m going to bring you a whole host of options where you can do the same.

But for today I’d like to set you a challenge if you’d like to take it up…

I’d like you to tell me the first few sentences of a story – no more than 100 words, using your character to hook me to want more. Add it to the comments or write it on your blog and add a link to it in the comments. I’ll pick my favorite and give it a mention next month.


Annmarie Miles is 40 something, Irish, Christian, married, and proud to be all of those things. She loves words, music & chocolate. She mostly writes about the things that life has thrown at her and how she has tried to learn, love and laugh at it all along the way!

Where to find Annmarie:

Facebook page: Google+ auntyamo
Twitter: @amowriting
Personal Blog:
Fiction Blog:

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  • Carol Anne Olsen Malone says:

    Do we leave our challenge sentences here for Annmarie? If we do, here’s mine:

    “Gees, Trevor-Ann, you need to have an MRI,” Heather said, shaking her spiked, black-shoe-polish-colored hair. Her nose, lip, cheek and ear rings glittered in the sunshine. “You’re brain must have taken a vacation. What kind of a fool would accept the marriage proposal from the practical-joke-playing, daredevil bad-boy with a death wish over that sweet-tempered, hot, hunky fireman wearing nothing but those heavy-duty fireman pants and a loop-sided grin?”

    Trevor-Ann’s back stiffened, she gritted her teeth. “Scan me.”

  • Annmarie Miles says:

    Yes, this is the place Carol Anne – good job 🙂

  • Brandon Moore says:

    Kendal stepped off the bus and made her way through the Kennedy High campus, the breeze playing at her rainbow-colored tunic and shimmering curtain of hip-length blond hair. An ornamental butterfly that she had tucked into the hair above her ear flapped its metallic wings as she walked in glittering, red shoes toward the front door. Her fellow students gawked, pointed, and snickered as she passed, as they had never seen anything quite like her, but Kendal was blissfully oblivious to it all. She was unaware that today would be the start of a long and difficult school year.

  • Annmarie Miles says:

    Great job Brandon! I’m sorry, the other column was finished before you posted here so I didn’t get to mention this. But it’s a great start and I think you should finish that story…! 🙂
    thanks, Annmarie

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