Flash Fiction isn’t just a flash in the pan. These short, short stories that usually range from 50 to 1,000 words are turning up everywhere. What began as a literary experiment has now turned into an official genre. A number of print and online litmags are publishing them, and so far at least ten anthologies have been released.
These brief stories wear many names, including fast fiction, sudden fiction, mini-fiction, and immediate fiction. The shortest of the short stories are often called minute fiction, postcard fiction or micro-fiction. These are usually limited to 50 words or less.
In addition to being fun to write, flash fiction boosts your writing skills.
- The limits of the form can spark your creativity as a prose writer, just as haiku and sonnets do for poets. The challenge of staying within the word length engages your inner critic and allows your creativity to come out and play.
- Reading and writing flash fiction helps you internalize a solid sense of story. Far from being slice-of-life vignettes, short-shorts must contain the basic elements of story: a character or characters, a challenge and a resolution.
- Writing flash fiction forces you to cut the flab, including adjectives, adverbs and explanations–the main pitfalls of beginning writers. As you trim your prose, you’ll find it becomes more powerful.
- Word choice is critical in this new genre. Writing short-shorts requires you to be mindful of every single word you put on paper. While you may be able to get away with using mediocre words in longer fiction, flash fiction insists that you use the absolutely best word every time.
- Focus is critical in flash fiction. Not only do short-shorts demand that you keep it simple by sticking to one theme, they also push you to zoom in on one scene. If you are writing micro-fiction, you’ll need to zoom in on one telling moment. Telling moments are the core of fiction of any length.
- At the same time, the limits of word length don’t allow you time to meander through a long and tedious background in order to set up your story. If you don’t jump right into the action, you can’t write flash fiction.
- Flash fiction encourages you to center your work on one evocative image that telegraphs mood and setting.
- Writing tight requires you to revise more extensively than you do with longer works, but the fact that you are only revising 50 to 1,000 words makes the process less daunting.
- Because flash fiction is fast to write, it encourages risky writing. Spending two hours pushing the envelope on a piece that doesn’t work out is much less discouraging than spending two days on a full-blown short story that refuses to gel.
- Unlike many other writing exercises, flash fiction has a market. Not only do you hone your skill as a writer, you can publish your stories.
Resources for Writers
Flash Memoirs Writing Workshop is a free online group that focuses on writing and critiquing memoirs of 1,000 words or less. Find out more at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FlashMemoirs.
Pamelyn Castro has posted a good article on flash fiction at http://www.heelstone.com/meridian/meansarticle1.html. This page also includes links to good examples of flash fiction.
Camille Renshaw has posted another good how-to article on the pif magazine site. While you are there, read the micro-fiction that pif has published and check out their writers’ guidelines. http://www.pifmagazine.com/SID/313/.
The monthly newletter, the Flash Fiction Flash, covers publishing news, marketing and contests. Subscribe at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FlashFictionFlash/.
Flashquake by Debi Orton runs both flash fiction and flash nonfiction. Read their Pushcart Prize nominations for good examples of the genre at its best.