After a few weeks of misses, The Prediction has (finally) bounced back with a prompt I want to run with. I love flash fiction in general, and I truly believe writing based on prompts will make you a better writer. It gives you a place to start and a creative challenge to boot. But flash fiction prompts have to walk a narrow line to be useful.

First, there has to be an element of specificity. “Write a story about a dream,” is a horrible prompt. It’s way too broad to get the creative juices flowing. It’s like handing someone a map and saying, “Go somewhere.” For a flash fiction prompt to contribute to the story telling process, there has to be a destination. Something solid enough to drive the story. 

On the other end of the spectrum, prompts that require the inclusion of rarely used words (as I mentioned last week) or too-specific plot elements are just as bad. That’s like handing someone the same map and pinpointing a precise square inch to which they should travel, along with a painfully specific non-direct route. There’s no joy in that journey, I can assure you.

Good flash fiction prompts (of which there is a dire shortage online these days) stand in the middle. Like the prompt below, they give a direction without hemming the writer in. In this case, the direction is simply three words and a word count limit. That’s it. But it’s enough to allow for a creative response, and even nudges the author in the right/write (see what I did there?) direction.

If you choose to write flash fiction (you should), and if you choose to use prompts (you should do that, too), make sure they’re good prompts. The Prediction is one place to find them. While the authors no longer post weekly prompts, you might also dig through the 500 Club archives over at The Parking Lot Confessional. The majority of my initial flash fiction attempts were spurred on by the PLC gang. And, of course, a simple Google search will yield all kinds of other sources for flash fiction prompts, but the results vary. You’ll need to use discretion.

Here’s the litmus test. When you read a prompt, does your mind immediately start trying to formulate a story, or do you just think, “What the hell am I supposed to do with that?!” If it’s the first, good prompt. If the second, move on.

On to my flash fiction for the week, courtesy of The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘barrel’, ‘plural’, and ‘scant’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.


“You’ve got me over something of a barrel.” Her clothing was scant–just a bustier and underpants–but that wasn’t what she meant.

“Sorry, Miss Belle. We didn’t have no choice.”

“So you lead him here.”

The tall one shifted his weight. “Not him. Them.”

“Them? Plural? How many?”

“Six, best we could tell.”

Belle sighed. Six hungry cambions headed for her estate. She slipping on her petticoat and skirt. Her revolver, however, remained on the table.

“Miss Belle, won’t you be needin’ your gun?”

“No,” she said, already reciting the first incantation in her head. “Just my words.”