View Full Version : Naming Characters in Flash Fiction

Glass Valkyrie
12-12-2015, 12:17 AM
When writing such short pieces, do you name your characters? If there is a conversation between two people, do you bother coming up with names for them or just descriptors? Do you use characters from some of your longer works?

12-12-2015, 07:53 AM
I've done all of those things. You can do anything you want. The technical name of it might just change to something like "experimental" flash fiction, prose poetry, vignette, etc. However, in most of the publications I've seen that include flash fiction don't bother with the distinctions. If they like it, they accept it.

Glass Valkyrie
12-12-2015, 11:28 PM
So, in cases of using pre-established characters you have, how much do you put in about them for such a short piece? That's something I really struggle with. I like writing little snippets with some of my characters, but I never know if there is enough in there for a reader to get the piece as a stand alone (and I'm biased since its my own stuff and my husband is of no help on the matter!)

12-13-2015, 12:24 AM
With flash fiction, imo for the best chance at making it interesting, something small and off-beat, something different, unexpected, a little over-the-top. It seems the flash stories with the "Big Moments" in life are most likely to be boring. Unless you do something unexpected with them, then keep on twisting.

The minister said, "You may now kiss the bride."
The groom [put in strange action here].
The bride (or someone else) [put in strange action or dialogue here].
Rinse and repeat.

Flash fiction is fun to play with and delightful imo when it goes in a way that is unexpected.

Those are just a couple of possibilities out of many but most of the flash I've seen that imo wasn't very good was, to me, too straightforward. With such a tiny space, you need to have something much more snappy than if it was just a short scene in a novel.

Also, one idea for tying it together is at the end, go back to the beginning, if you get stuck on it. Perhaps even repeat a line that was said at the beginning, or repeat an action from the beginning or the opposite of the action.

Reading a bunch of flash fiction is a good way to get a feel for it, too. Good luck.

12-13-2015, 01:32 AM
Most of my flash pieces have names for the characters. When I don't name them, I feel like there's a danger of them being caricatures instead of people.

12-14-2015, 04:55 AM
I've only worked on one flash piece* and I referred to the MC as "the girl", and the one other character started out as "the voice" (the character was hiding and the MC could only hear him, not see him) but when he revealed himself, he became "the stranger". The two characters went exclusively by those titles until the end of the story when they gave each other their names. The whole story is about the first meeting between these two people, so I thought that worked pretty well, in my extremely humble and inexperienced opinion.

*Full disclosure: That flash piece is currently on hold because I wasn't sure the story was doing what I wanted it to. Also, when I pick it back up, I have a feeling it may end up being at least a little over 1,000 words and may no longer qualify as a flash fiction. Maybe. I'm not sure. I'm horrible at estimating these things. But it will still remain a very short story nonetheless.

12-14-2015, 08:52 PM
I've done a mixture of both. In some of my pieces, I've left names out, and even descriptions of the MC were vague, it was more about the story/moment. In others, I've made character names, and offered descriptions of the characters...It really has varied on the type of story I was telling. Some stories I felt would benefit from names and descriptions, others I felt the reader could fill in what I left out, allowing me to use my precious words for other things.

11-29-2016, 11:23 PM
The discussion of whether to name or not name our characters reminds me of my own advice regarding titles of poems: Parents wouldn't send their children into the world without a name, so poets shouldn't send their poems into the world without a name.

Some writers say we should name our main characters, even in flash fiction, but I'm finding exceptions to that advice and most of them make sense in the context of the story--what the character wants and how s/he struggles to get it. A humorous and inspiring example is Johnny Cash's A Boy Named Sue.

I tend to choose a name that fits my...

Character -- Alex or Ashley?
Time -- Emily or Emma?
Place -- Arizona or Arkansas?
Genre -- Novel or flash? Romance or sci-fi?

11-30-2016, 12:11 AM
I usually name my characters, even in flash, since a first name doesn't use any more words than a pronoun. But I just looked up the shortest thing I ever wrote, which was 70 words--third one down (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/3663990.stm)--and see that I didn't use names there. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't.

As far as reusing characters from longer works, I have written a few short stories featuring characters from my novels. I don't think any are flash length, though.

The Urban Spaceman
01-23-2017, 10:43 PM
Some writers say we should name our main characters, even in flash fiction, but I'm finding exceptions to that advice and most of them make sense in the context of the story...

I do agree with this, that there can be exceptions (and sometimes should be exceptions) to what some writers say about naming protagonists. I've read plenty of flash-fiction (in the form of flash and drabbles) in which characters are not named. Sometimes, characters are not even human. Sometimes, they're not even alive in the traditional sense (though anthropomorphised, perhaps). I read one that was told from the POV of a house, and it really worked quite well.

Sometimes, the lack of a name can lend an air of mystery to a character. Sometimes you want the reader to be unsure of the character's gender, or age, or you want to leave clues about their identity by the way the character moves and speaks. I love to read a "mystery character" and try to figure out who or what that character is by the way the author writes it.