A Brief Introduction to Flash Fiction

What is flash fiction, and how does it differ from a regular short story? This is a short introduction to the medium.

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© 2015 Flash Totty / Used With Permission

I love writing flash fiction; I don’t know why, I just do. However, until recently I wasn’t sure if I knew exactly what flash fiction is, only that often the word count limit is quite low.

Luckily through Thanet Writers I attended a flash fiction workshop run by the Margate Bookie. It was a great session with plenty of discussion and a chance to share with other like-minded writers. The workshop was led by Rachel McGill and Melaina Barnes, both of whom write flash fiction alongside their other work.

This is what I learned.

It is quite difficult to define exactly what flash fiction is, other than it is short and may differ from poetry by rhythm and narrative, although respecting that you can have very good narrative poems.

In terms of length it can cover anything from a handful of words, such as the well-known example ‘For sale, baby shoes, never worn’ often accredited to Ernest Hemingway; through low figures such as 50, 100 or 200 words; right up to approximately 1,000 which could meet the criteria for a short story; or even as high as 2,000 words, although flash fiction this length is less common.

We all agreed there needed to be a sense of a narrative, along with characterisation, although a lot was left to the reader to supply. Maybe a hint at backstory, but with very little detail, along with small, key character traits, to accompany the plot; however the mood and feel of the piece is often more important than a traditional three acts structure. After all, you may only have 50 words!

I think that if a story is short and open-ended, but still gives the reader enough so as not to be frustrated by it, then a flash piece will work best, but that may just be me. A concept was suggested that it was like the flash of a camera, a snapshot, a point in time.

Here is an offering, where the brief was to write precisely 50 words, excluding the title:

Never Too Late

Violet wiped the condensation from the window, and thought she saw a young man staring.

But no!

It prompted her to think back to the boy she had lost.

As she sat, the knock interrupted her daydreaming.

‘I think I may be your grandson,’ he said, standing at her door.

Whatever flash fiction is – and I am sure the debate will continue, as flash fiction seems to be quite popular at the moment – it is fun to write and words, like flowers, have to be picked very carefully.

Fi McKinlay is a writer, poet, facilitator, mentor, coach and business change agent.

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