Flash fiction used to be a popular writing and reading medium. However, the term disappeared for a while, though the concept appears to have continued. It is possible, probable, these brief tales are frequently identified as short stories, though in reality there is considerable difference: flash fiction consists of just a few hundred words or less whereas a short story will occupy several pages. Whatever the situation has been the format now looks like it is regaining some popularity, possibly due to Twitter’s original limit of one hundred and forty characters.
This article will consider: what flash fiction is; it’s purpose and advantages; and how to go about writing it.
‘Fiction of a type characterized by being very short, typically consisting of only a few hundred words.’ (Oxford Dictionary)
‘A genre of fiction in which stories are characterized by extreme brevity.’ (Collins Dictionary)
‘Flash fiction is a brief tale that is told in very few words but still contains discernible characters, plot, and action.’ (Unknown)
‘A tiny story that packs a large wallop.‘ (Unknown)
Essentially these are self-contained tales, though they may hint at a larger story. However, they should not be confused with short stories that by nature are more extensive literary works. The self-contained structure also means they are not appropriate for serialisation. By rule of thumb these tales comprise one plot and one theme and are often presented from on viewpoint.
Opinions upon how many words these brief stories should be limited to vary. General concept tends to be less than one thousand. However, there are multiple styles which may have an impact:
Six-Word story – 6 words
Dribble or Mini-saga – 50 words
Drabble or Micro-fiction – 100 words
Sudden Fiction – 750 words
Flash Fiction – up to 1,500 words (Some suggest up to 2,000).
Flash fiction has its roots in folklore, fables, fairy tales, and parables.
Purpose and Advantages
These differ for reader and author and will therefore be considered separately.
Many favour flash fiction because it:
- can disclose truths and human emotions in just a few paragraphs;
- has the ability to immediately impact their own emotions;
- requires them to concentration (may easily miss a point if they do not);
- makes them think;
- encourages the use of their imagination;
- enables them to surmise what is going on in the gaps;
- gives them a fast action tale;
- may be read in a short space of time;
- provides an insight into the author’s style.
These are simply some of the advantages an author may experience:
(How to write flash fiction is dealt with in the next section.)
- may be written between other ongoing works;
- comparatively quick to write and publish;
- can help break so called writer’s block;
- requires discipline (all action occurs in short space);
- teaches how to fine tune their writing;
- speedily engage readers;
- could serve as an introduction to a larger work;
- help build their reader base.
First thing an author should note: Flash Fiction tales are NOT pared-down short stories. They are standalone concise tales to be enjoyed within a very short timespan.
Because they are very short, usually less than one thousand five hundred words, it does not mean these are easy to write. In fact the opposite is true. They can be very difficult due to having to get all the action into just a few short paragraphs. For most authors the concept goes against the grain because there is no room for detailed explanations, background, or development. Everything has to be implied in an immediate format.
There are various opinions upon how to go about structuring flash fiction. Some suggest commencing at the beginning of the action, others to jump in at the middle. Whichever method an author decides upon, there is one consist truth that applies to most stories: there has to be a beginning, middle, and end. Here are some of the elements the majority agree upon:
- ensuring the tale is self-contained and not intended to be part of a larger collection;
- must not be too many events;
- all stories require a hook, some conflict, and a sensible ending;
- the outcome should not be obvious;
- all crucial information should be introduced early on;
- ambiguity should be avoided;
- the tale may comprise an up close component of what is potentially a larger story;
- best written from one viewpoint;
- preferable to comprise just one plot and one theme;
- present tense better than past tense;
- ensure there is an emotional impact for the reader;
- avoid cliffhangers (to comply with self-contained ethos);
- not to worry about word count at draft stage (may be cut down later).
Many suggest before attempting to write a flash fiction tale, the author should first map out, as they would for any other book:
- commencing point;
Not to prepare may lead to the author meandering through the tale and thereby failing to formulate the immediate impact such tales should comprise.
Suggestion is each sentence should comprise movement and the exposing of an element that was not visible beforehand.
It is important to remember a flash fiction tale is NOT a short story even though some have a tendency to refer to them as a story in miniature. Confusion may also arise because magazines and journals, that publish such tales, also tend to refer to them as short stories. However, as has been emphasised throughout, they are not.
There are distinct advantages in flash fiction for both reader and author (as related above).
Due to its nature, poetry does not lend itself to being published as flash fiction. It is a genre all of its own.
Irrespective of anyone’s opinion, writing flash fiction is not an easy option for most authors. Nevertheless, it is a style worth consideration because of the discipline required that may subsequently bear fruit in the author’s other writing.
Just to help put matters into perspective it is worth considering other styles. The short form ones have been outlined above but there are also the generally accepted word counts for:
Short Stories – 2,000 to 5,000 words
Novelettes – 7,500 to 17,500 words
Novellas – 17,500 to 40,000 words
Owing to the popular Flash Fiction title it may be surmised the style only lends itself to fiction however, that would be a misconception. There is no reason why true accounts may not also be written in flash form. Obviously these are not as common but that does not mean it is impossible.
Authors are encouraged to try their hand at flash fiction, if for no other reason than to experience the discipline required.