Flash Fiction: Literature In Miniature
Mark S. Bacon
It's taught at Stanford, Brown and Cambridge universities. More than 300 print and online publications are devoted to it. A day of national celebration is named after it in New Zealand. Writers from Ernest Hemingway to Raymond Carver to Margaret Atwood have excelled in the genre. Yet no one, it seems, can define it precisely.
It's flash fiction.
Ultra short stories have caught on as a social phenomenon, a literary discipline and as an attractive and rewarding - albeit fleeting - read.
I became attracted to it when a friend was using 100-word stories as an exercise in a writers' group he was leading. It seemed a daunting assignment to write a complete story in only 100 words. But I managed it. Packing in an intriguing beginning, a protagonist, a challenge and a satisfying conclusion made it all the more challenging to write but also more rewarding.
Although there are a multitude of names for very short fiction, flash fiction seems to be the most widely accepted title. The English Dept. course at Stanford University is called Topics in Intermediate Fiction Writing: Flash Fiction. At the University of Cambridge it's Flash Fiction, Unlocking the Writer Within. Brown University offers a course for high school students preparing for college. It's simply called Flash Fiction.
If you're interested in sampling this relatively new genre, Duotrope.com, a website that matches writers with publications, lists more than 300 journals and magazines that publish flash fiction.
I don't know if New Zealanders are more enthralled with flash fiction than other English-speakers, but every June 22nd is National Flash Fiction Day. Sponsored by the New Zealand Society of Authors and supported by bookstores and the Auckland Central City Library, the event includes workshops and a national writing competition.
For centuries authors have been writing short stories so it's difficult to identify the first example of flash fiction, simply because no one can agree on how short (or long) a story must be. The authors listed above created flash fiction, but did Poe, O. Henry or Twain write something short enough to fit the category?
A 100-word limit seems to be common. It's the length I chose for my book and the length required by many online publications. But editors at dozens of other flash fiction publications have different ideas. Some ask for 50-word stories. For others it's 55 words, 66 words, 75 words and one limits writers to 460 characters. At the other extreme, some anthologies and flash fiction contests look for stories under 1,000 words, and some editors consider a 2,000-word story to be flash fiction. Certainly you couldn't read that in a flash.
If you're interested in signing up for a flash fiction class at Stanford or Cambridge, you'll no doubt discover how long professors think the stories should be. For all others, check out the list of popular flash fiction publications on my website.
About The Author:
Mark Bacon began his writing career as a southern California newspaper reporter covering police and general assignments. Since then he's written several business books, one selected by the Book of the Month Club and printed in five languages. His articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers and most recently he was a regular correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.
BUY THE BOOK: Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words
Book Description: Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words
Can you imagine a mystery being created and solved in 100 words? That's the purpose of Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words, a new short ebook of flash fiction. The book contains mini mysteries, mini puzzles with satisfying, unexpected endings.
Seven stories in this collection have been published recently in five different fiction magazines: Stymie Magazine, MicroHorror, 100 Word Story, Flashshot and 101 Words. Most stories contain a protagonist, a challenge and a resolution.
A woman makes a daring escape after robbing a bank - with help from a passing cop. Two con men run into each other again - with unusual results - when they're both working the same resort hotel. A detective sergeant surprises his inspector by solving a murder at a snowed-in manor. These are some of the seemingly complex stories begun and resolved in exactly 100 words.
Crime / mystery / police stories make up about half this book. Also included are love stories, humor, dramas and speculative fiction.
Book Excerpt: Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words