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What is Flash Fiction?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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Flash fiction is type of short story, also called micro or sudden fiction. It is a complete story that is usually told in around 500 words. There are many flash fiction stories that are no more than 100 words. The shorter the complete story, the better.

Flash fiction story writing is an art in itself. To be able to construct a complete story with characters and a plot within this word count can be incredibly difficult, but it can also be a way of evolving a story idea in a short space of time. The ability to tell a story in 100 words that has an impact on the reader is just as impressive as the ability to write a novel.

In today’s fast moving world, where people may no longer have the time to read novels, these very short stories have gained popularity. There are many literary webzines and some print magazines that focus solely on this type of fiction. The stories can cross all genres and can be read in a few minutes.

With flash fiction, the ability to construct meaningful, yet concise sentences is a major factor. Every sentence is important. A short piece of flash fiction should contain a collection of great lines.

The term flash fiction is thought to have originated in 1992 with the anthology Flash Fiction, written by Denise Thomas, James Thomas and Tom Hazuka, but the origins of micro fiction can be seen as far back as the Greek storytellers. More modern practitioners of this form of writing include Ernest Hemingway and Franz Kafka. With the advent of the Internet, flash fiction has exploded in popularity. There are classes on how to write good flash fiction pieces. There are even competitions, such as write a flash fiction story on a beer mat.

The plus side to writing this type of story is that anyone can try it. You do not have to commit yourself to the story as you would when writing a novel. Although it may sound very difficult, some people have a natural knack for telling a tale in a very short space, and basically anything goes.

Although the story should have all the elements of a longer short story, such as characters, plot and so on, how you tell the story is up to you. Think of a reporter writing a story within a set number of words; this could be seen as the basis of flash fiction. If you don’t feel up to the novel inside you, why not try out a few different flash fiction stories and see how they evolve.

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Discussion Comments
By Engelbert — On May 11, 2011

One of the most famous examples of flash fiction is Ernest Hemingway's boast of being able to write a story in six words. And he did it, too: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Very clever!

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