Flash Fiction

For sale baby shoes never worn

Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity.

There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction. In one particular format, established by Steve Moss, Editor of the New Times, the requirement is 55 words; no more and no fewer. Another, unspecified but frequently held, requirement is that the title may be no more than seven words.

Other names for flash fiction include sudden fiction, microfiction, short short, and postcard fiction, though distinctions are sometimes drawn between some of these terms; for example, one-thousand words is considered the cut-off between ‘flash fiction’ and the slightly longer short story ‘sudden fiction.’ The term ‘flash fiction’ may have originated from a 1992 anthology of that title. As the editors said in their introduction, their definition of a ‘flash fiction’ was a story that would fit on two facing pages of a typical digest-sized literary magazine.

Flash fiction has roots going back to Aesop’s Fables, and practitioners have included Saadi of Shiraz (The Gulistan), Bolesław Prus, Anton Chekhov, O. Henry, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, Yasunari Kawabata, and Ernest Hemingway. New life has been brought to flash fiction by the Internet, with its demand for short, concise works. Ezines and hypertext literary spaces offer writers a ready market for flash-fiction works. However, flash fiction is also published by many print magazines.

55 Fiction and nanofictions are complete stories, with at least one character and a discernible plot, exactly fifty-five words long. A Drabble is a story of exactly one hundred words, excluding titles, and a 69er is a story of exactly sixty-nine words, again excluding the title; it was a regular feature of the Canadian literary magazine ‘NFG,’ which featured a section of such stories in each issue. Unlike a vignette, flash-fiction often contains the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution.

However, unlike a traditional short story, the limited word length often forces some of these elements to remain unwritten – that is, hinted at or implied in the written storyline. Different readers thus may have different interpretations of the flash fiction. This principle, taken to the extreme, is illustrated in a possibly apocryphal story about a six-word flash reportedly penned by Ernest Hemingway: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ The Micro Award was established in 2007 by author Robert Laughlin to recognize outstanding flash fiction of both print and electronic media. Eligible stories must not exceed 1000 words in length.


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