Flash Fiction Spread


I've been taking a course on flash fiction (usually defined as ≥1000 words, but in this course, defined as ≥500), and I found the usual short story spreads were just giving me too much information. I'm used to longer forms of writing, so really getting to the essence of the thing, and then getting out, was a challenge, and 'more' for a plot outline wasn't helping. So, since I use tarot cards for outlining anyway, when stuck, and this set of stories was tarot themed, I decided to try my hand at my first tarot spread -- and right off the bat, it helped me nail my Popess / High Priestess card story. Thus, I finally decided to stop lurking and share something with you lovely folks, since so many of the spreads on here have (for longer projects) proved life-savers.


1) Protagonist's motivation; his/her/their/it's desire, need, or goal. I put it face down in the center, not because it's hidden, but because it's the underpinning of the entire story, and that was the easiest way for me to visualize that.
2) Protagonist; placed face up atop 1
3) Setting
4) 1st complication / obstacle; Crosses 1&2 on the lower left corner
5) 2nd complication / obstacle; Crosses 1&2 on the upper right corner
6) Ending or Resolution

I'm a native English speaker, so it was natural for me to put the early-established, relatively unimportant setting card at the bottom, and arrange the cards left to right, in a rising action. If your language is written right to left, or vertically from the top down, putting the third card on top and the fourth on the right upper corner might be more intuitive. This spread is meant as much as a visualization aid for the structure of the story as an outlining tool.

I'd love to hear if other people find this helpful, and if it can be consistently applied.


I only wish I could fit two obstacles/complications into 500 words. :p That said, I'd need a card for an (external) antagonist in many cases, so for really short flash fiction, I might be inclined to swap one of the obstacle cards to represent that character.

This looks very interesting; next time I have a few minutes to play with, I'll give it a whirl and see what I can get from it. Thanks for posting! Always love writing-related spreads. :thumbsup:


Two complications

Yes, the complication absolutely can be an antagonist, or even two things the antagonist does that causes problems for your protagonist.

It can be that a kidnapper demands too much ransom, then moves up the deadline. Or it can be a girl wants to go on a date, but her cat knocks her keys down the airconditioner vent, then puts a hairball in her lucky pumps. Or even someone giving the protag good advice the protagonist refuses to heed (1st complication, someone saying 'don't do that' or 'not that way') because someone else is giving them conflicting, poor advice, and they realize too late which is which (2nd complication, the protag's action plan is DOA).

Aside: The course I've been taking is called "How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn't Suck" by Holly Lisle; it's free, if you sign up for her newsletter, and has really helped me cut the fat from my writing. This spread is largely influenced by her technique.

Note: I am not getting any royalties from her, I don't know her personally, I'm not plugging this for profit, this is not meant as a marketing advertisement; I'm mentioning this as a resource for writers to check out if they're so inclined.