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What Is Flash Fiction?

What is flash fiction? A simple question that is difficult to answer. One of the attractions of flash fiction is that it is fluid and flexible and means different things to different people, and even different things to the same people at different times. We hope the flexibility of the form shows in the stories we publish at Reflex Fiction. As flash-fiction fans, we’re just grateful that flash fiction is.

Flash Fiction Definitions

Below, some flash-fiction luminaries describe what flash fiction is to them. Click the sources for more information.

In cooking there is a term called “reduction,” which means to reduce a sauce, from something of a greater quantity, usually more liquid, down to a thicker, more intense flavor. This is the heart of what makes great flash fiction, in my opinion.

Richard Thomas, Storyville: How to Write Flash Fiction, LitReactor

You don’t need fireworks, bells, whistles; you don’t need a large cast of characters, but tell me a story that can only be told in 250 words, not something longer that has been cut, compressed or squeezed.

Tania Hershman, 2014 Judges, the Bridport Prize

Flash fiction for me is just the container for a much bigger story.  Not only will the flash have a couple of stories within it—the one the reader reads and the one that lies underneath—but it will also have a beginning that stretches back before the story began and goes on way, way into the future.

Kit de Waal, 2017 Judges, the Bridport Prize

Flash is its own form, uniquely suited to innovation and experimentation. It is not bound to the same rules as the traditional short story. That’s what makes it so exciting to read and write. Flash fiction, done well, can be so mind-bending and fresh.

Kathy Fish, TSS Flash Fiction Interview: Kathy Fish, The Short Story

At their best, these stories will make you pause, tilt your head and say, “oh”, providing a tiny revelation, a new way of seeing, or a new way of saying something you have seen and been unable to articulate.

Sam Ruddick, quoted in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, Rose Metal Press

Flash fiction is an umbrella term used to describe any fictional work of extreme brevity, including the Six-Word Story, 140-character stories, also known as twitterature, the dribble (50 words), the drabble (100 words), and sudden fiction (750 words).

Wikipedia

A great piece of flash fiction creates a complete world in very few words, draws you in, and makes you complicit.

Vanessa Gebbie, Flash Fiction, Writers & Artists

Every word, every comma, every line break is crucial in these tiny fictions. While their extreme brevity allows for a looser definition of the beginning-middle-end story structure, these are not “fragments”, they are complete unto themselves.

Tania Hershman, What is flash fiction??, Tania Hershman . . . making things up

In the end, a flash is simply a story in miniature, a work of art carved on a grain of rice—something of import to the artist or writer that is confined and reduced, either by design or outcome, into a small square space using the structural devices of prose line and paragraph form with the purpose of creating an intense, emotional impact.

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, Rose Metal Press

Flash fiction, once used to label anything even briefer than a short-short, has become the catchall term for any miniscule narrative. The results can be provocative, amusing, hard-hitting, or enigmatic. Does size matter? Paradoxically, leaving out material can make a piece of fiction feel more expansive.

Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, Columbia University Press

Flash fiction is about finding the keys to a much larger story, and using them to tell it in 360 degrees, high-def, technicolour 3D, without going all the way to the end of the page. It’s about immersing your reader in a moment and making all of their nerve fibres tingle. It’s about moving one small stone and causing an avalanche.

Calum Kerr, All About Flash, National Flash Fiction Day NZ

In my world a flash has about 500 words and is part poem, part story. Plot is not as crucial as atmosphere and significant detail, and, for me, language is paramount. Though short on words, the flash story is long on depth and should sting like good poetry. Punchy, succinct and surprising, the best flash will shift the reader’s heart but also keep it beating hard.

Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Word for Word: The rise and rise of flash fiction, The Irish Times

Flash fiction can be as wee as two birds on a fence—but they can’t just be sitting there; they have to be shifting, or chatting, maybe even singing. Singing may be too much—trending toward the expected thing birds would do. But they must be doing something. That’s what makes it a story.

Michelle Elvy, Four Vignettes on Flash Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly

What is flash fiction? Exact definitions can vary by specific market, but generally, complete stories of fewer than 1,500, 1,000, 500 or even 300 words can be classified as flash fiction.

Robert Lee Brewer, Flash Fiction FAQs, Writer’s Digest

Now you know what flash fiction is, learn how to write flash fiction.


Picture: I, flash. by Axel Naud under CC BY 2.0