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The 5 Ss that Will Help Get You Published

by Katey Schultz

Katey Schultz

Flash fiction and flash nonfiction stories are often called “Stories of the Moment” or “Postcard Stories.” Think small, but fun, significant, and engaging.

The challenge with flash form writing is how to write a compelling story that feels complete when you only have about 750 words to get the job done. One thing I like to use when I’m trying to figure out how to do that is what I call “The Five Ss.”

You can watch the video instructions here.

The first S is Setting. Pretty simple—your story needs to happen somewhere. It can be as simple as a sidewalk or a bedroom or a park, but events have to take place somewhere.

The second S is a Situation. Something needs to happen to your character (or you, in the case of memoir). Usually, the way that manifests is that there’s some sort of desire that gets thwarted. Whatever situation you come up with or are remembering, make it short, sweet, and try and get it into the first or second paragraph.

The third S is Sensory Detail. You have three pages to make the world feel absolutely vivid to your reader. The fastest way to do that is to evoke the five senses. Have fun with it, get a little weird and creative with your descriptions, and see how much you can pack in. (And there’s a follow-up lesson to this point, which I teach in my online classes, and it has to do with how writers can determine which details to leave in, which details to leave out, and WHY.)

The fourth S is a Simile. This could also be a metaphor of course, but the point here is that you make a comparison using like or as. This will enliven your sentences and it will also make the world appear more three-dimensional. It will reveal things about you or your character that maybe you didn’t even know until you wrote them down.

The fifth and final S is the Shift. It’s the most challenging, but it also has the highest payoff. Your character needs to shift or change by the end of the flash. Usually, that’s an internal change; it has to do with whatever desire that character has that’s been thwarted or that’s been rewarded. You want to make sure that you’ve got that shift in there to bring your story to some sense of a conclusion and allow it to speak to the larger human predicament. This is often also called the “so what factor” or, in some circles, writers say this is how we take the specific and make it universal.

When you’re all done, first—celebrate! That’s the best part; you’ve written a complete flash piece, you’ve got a nice first draft on your hands.

Exhale and then go back to the beginning. Try reading it out loud to yourself. I always recommend that. Once you’ve done that, read it again to yourself. Go ahead and mark in the margins with your favorite pen, too. See if you have The Five Ss, and if you don’t, ask yourself where you can fit them in. Conversely, if you’ve got tons of sensory detail but your setting isn’t very clear, consider the balance of The Five Ss in your story and make adjustments accordingly.

After you’ve gone through that, share it with a friend, teacher, or writing group. Read some great examples in online magazines like SmokeLong Quarterly or Brevity and see what you learn. Take a deep breath. Let time pass. Return again. Work with your story until it feels complete, then send it out for publication!

Katey Schultz’s story collection, Flashes of War, was awarded IndieFab Book of the Year from Foreword Reviews and received a Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America. She has won more than half a dozen flash fiction contests, been awarded writing fellowships in eight states, and is currently working on a novel. Ten years ago, Katey founded Maximum Impact, a mentoring service that provides transformative online curricula for the creative writing process, helping writers articulate precise language and authentic meaning in their work. Explore her resource guides, ecourses, and writing at