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What Is Sudden Fiction?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated May 23, 2024
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Sudden fiction is a type of creative writing mostly characterized by its significantly low word count. This kind of short fiction can take the form of a short story, prose poetry, or other kinds of creative writing. Often, it is referred to by several other names, including flash fiction, micro fiction, and postcard fiction. Since there are not yet any hard-and-fast rules regarding sudden fiction, it is usually up to the publisher to determine the word count and even the exact name used. Writers who wish to publish short fiction can look for literary magazines and publishers hosting submission calls and contests, or even consider self-publishing.

Sometimes, sudden fiction is called by another name solely because of the publisher’s preference. Publishers might call for submissions or contest entries asking for flash fiction, micro fiction, smokelong fiction, postcard fiction, or short-short stories. Also, it is not unusual to see calls for short stories referred to as short shorts. Usually, writers know these are all just different names for a similar kind of short fiction. To fully understand what a publisher is requesting when he asks for a certain kind of short fiction by name, the writer must read the submission guidelines.

Typically, the main difference between sudden fiction and other kinds of fiction is the word count. Pieces of this kind of fiction have significantly fewer words than pieces of other kinds of fiction, and sometimes this even includes most kinds of short stories. Still, writers must remember that not all types of sudden fiction require the same word count. Some publishers consider short stories of fewer than 1,000 words to be short fiction. Others are more specific, calling for short fiction that does not exceed 55 words.

Generally, there is not as high a demand for sudden fiction as there is for longer types of creative writing. Still, writers can publish their short fiction pieces in many of the same ways they can publish other kinds of creative writing or prose poetry. For example, literary publishers often compile short story collections and sell them as anthologies, and writers might see calls for submissions. At the same time, a literary magazine might accept submissions of short fiction for regular publication, or might even hold contests for publication and other prizes. Some writers of flash fiction choose to compile their own collections and self-publish or market them all at once in a book format.

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Discussion Comments
By summing — On Jan 25, 2012

The shortest flash fiction contest I have ever heard of was for 6 words. I guess people have been using this particular number of words for years. There is a famous one by Hemingway that goes - For Sale. Baby clothes. Never used.

It's a powerful piece of writing and you see immediately how much effect just a few words can have. I have made my own attempts on a number of occasions but never with as much success as Hemingway.

By Mammmood — On Jan 24, 2012

@everetra - There are a number of flash fiction writing contests you can apply for online. I don’t know what the awards are, but simply seeing your name in print in an anthology is all the award you need if you’re starting out.

I agree, the compact size of flash fiction opens up a world up possibilities. In many ways it seems that flash fiction was tailor made for the Internet with its focus on bite sized information and limited attention spans.

By everetra — On Jan 24, 2012

@SkyWhisperer - I am a programmer and sometimes I do some basic animation too. I discovered a piece of flash fiction that had won one of the flash fiction competitions.

It was a great story about a girl getting called into the boss’s office and being told that she had been fired. I won’t give away the details but it had originally been published in the Saturday Evening Post many years ago.

It was short fiction, under 1,000 words.

Well, I took the basic story and put it to animation. It took several months but I was able to pull it off. The reason I was able to do it was that it was simple. It was just an office scene with two people talking, but there was conflict and resolution, all in one setting.

The animation lasted three minutes and I posted it on Facebook. I got some pretty good feedback from other viewers.

By SkyWhisperer — On Jan 23, 2012

@MrMoody - You raise a good point. I’ve seen flash fiction with as little as fifty words. Of course at that low of a word count, you have to seriously ask yourself if it’s a story. It’s more of a parable or an analogy maybe.

But that’s part of the creativity of it. There really are no hard and fast rules. Another appeal of this kind of fiction writing is that just about anyone can do it.

Get a story idea, focus on the central conflict and dialogue, and start typing away. Without needing to spend a lot of time fleshing out setting and back story, you can get to the point right away and tell your story. You probably won’t win any awards, but I think it’s a good way to whet your chops in fiction writing.

By MrMoody — On Jan 22, 2012

I love flash fiction! I discovered it about a year ago and began reading a lot of flash fiction online. What I like about is that it’s compact and yet tells a story.

Really, flash fiction – or sudden fiction – makes you ask yourself the question, What is a story? Story is about conflict. Flash fiction focuses on the conflict and resolution.

There’s not a big buildup, there’s little description; it’s all about conflict and resolution. Imagine the climactic moment in a film for example.

That one scene or scenes can be the meat of a flash fiction story. You don’t know all the background but it’s inferred by the action. Above all, flash fiction makes you think too. Sudden fiction stories are quite philosophical in nature, from what I can tell.

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