Flash Fiction

An overview of what flash fiction is, how to recognise it, and the rules of writing it.

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Flash fiction is one of the shortest types of fiction out there, with a usually-accepted count of between 100 and 1,000 words. Mini-sagas and micro-fiction are even shorter, but they’re conversations for a different piece—each style has its own skill, and to write a story of 50 words is a challenge I have yet to complete successfully!

But flash fiction is growing in popularity and has been around for a long time—Aesop’s Fables could be considered in this genre—and more are produced in different formats every year. New technology—smartphones, tablets, streaming—coinciding with the rise of even-further-commutes on the train that give people the time to fiddle with their devices means that they’re looking for something to do and read during that enforced sitting-down twice a day.

Whilst there are a number of journals dedicated to flash fiction—such as Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and the Vestal Review—the internet is really the place to be these days. Online journals are devoted entirely to the style and pings into your inbox almost as regularly as you want, such as SmokeLong Quarterly, Flash Fiction Online, and Flash Fiction Magazine.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

That is the entirety of what has been described as a six-word novel, making it an extreme example of what is called flash or sudden fiction. Although it is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the link to him is unsubstantiated; however, isn’t it a powerful story all of its own? Our brains—naturally creative pieces of organic technology—create an entire world around that piece, and it’s evocative entirely by itself.

The narrator says nothing at all about the circumstances. He does not tell you anything much. He simply makes a statement; actually, it’s nothing more than a simple advert advertising some as-new shoes. But at least some of the power of a well-done flash is in the emotion: you, the reader, fill in what isn’t said.

In fact, we as readers of flash fiction are a required component of the flash fiction piece; we are need to add in something important—the space in between the letters, the words, the undertone.

Crafting an exquisite piece of short fiction—and being forced into a 1,000 word limit—isn’t an easy thing. You still need to craft and design the story just as you would any style of fiction; be it a short story of 3,000 words, a novella of 20k, or a full-length story of 80,000+ words. Flash fiction isn’t easier because it’s shorter; it still requires creativity, emotions, structure, and planning. The most effective pieces should be just as scrutinised and respected to communicate the merest hint of an idea that lures people in; in a piece this long, every word really does need to earn its place.

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Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.

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