This post, by Jason Gurley, originally appeared on Writing-World.com.
If you’re anything like me — the traditional short story writer — then perhaps you’ve had the same reaction I exhibited when I first heard of something called “flash fiction.” I stopped, stared, then turned to a writer friend of mine and said, “What?”
Flash fiction has been around for years, but has become increasingly prevalent in the literary community. Once the obscure little sister of the conventional 2,000 word story, flash fiction has shrugged off that obscurity to accept its new position: the intellectually challenging blurb. Dozens of literary publications, both print and online, have shifted their focus to include (or focus exclusively upon) flash fiction.
So what is it?
A Flash in the Pan?
In brief, flash fiction is a short form of storytelling. Defining it by the number of words or sentences or even pages required to tell a story, however, is impossible, for it differs from writer to writer, editor to editor. Some purists insist that it is a complete story told in less than 75 words; others claim 100 should be the maximum. For less-rigid flashers, anything under 1,000 words can be considered flash-worthy. And there are even a few who stretch their limits to 1,500 words.
Not only is the definition of flash fiction unstable, but the name is as well. Pamelyn Casto recounts its various titles in her article Flashes on the Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction:
Other names for it include short-short stories, sudden, postcard, minute, furious, fast, quick, skinny, and micro fiction. In France such works are called nouvelles. In China this type of writing has several interesting names: little short story, pocket-size story, minute-long story, palm-sized story, and my personal favorite, the smoke-long story (just long enough to read while smoking a cigarette). What’s in a name? That which we call flash fiction, by any other name would read as bright.
So we’ve now got a fairly blurry idea of what flash fiction is. The question now: How can one write it?
Flashes of Inspiration
Though the form is by definition extremely short, it is not a medium that tolerates fragemented storytelling. The challenge of flash fiction is to tell a complete story in which every word is absolutely essential, to peel away the frills and lace until you’re left with nothing but the hard, clean-scraped core of a story.
Do not make the mistake of assuming that such bare-bones writing is less than elegant or beautiful. Sometimes beauty, or even inspiration, can be found in the simplest of things.
What makes a complete story? Lila Guzman, author of “Ask the Author”, once told me that a complete story is “A beginning, a middle and end.” How difficult is that?
When it comes to cramming such things into less space than the back of a playing card, it can be very difficult indeed.