Flash Fiction

What is called “flash fiction” is not new. The term “flash fiction” seems to have been around since at least 1992. If one accepts the definition of “flash fiction” as stories ranging from a few to three hundred (or one thousand) words, however, then flash fiction has existed since storytelling began. Aesop, for one, wrote flash fiction; so more recently did Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. among a number of others. The popularity of the shorter-than-short story has seemed to increase, proportionately and simultaneously with the ability of authors to self-publish their work as eBooks. The argument has been made that because people don’t want to invest the time in reading a novel they might be inclined to read much shorter works on a regular basis. There is some logic to that — one baked potato versus a bag of tater tots comes to mind — but I am not sure if the argument holds up.  I have read a number of flash fiction collections. Some are quite good, such as 420 CHARACTERS by Lou Beach (yes, it is based on a gimmick — 420 characters, I am told, is the limit for a Facebook status post — but what an interesting and disciplined gimmick it is); others bring to mind the observation that just because anyone can do something does not mean that everyone should.

Have you read any collections of short, short stories, otherwise known as flash fiction? Have you actually purchased any of those collections, as physical books or eBooks? Do you know of anyone who seeks out these collections and stories? And have you read any flash fiction you consider worthwhile, or do you consider flash fiction to be the eReader equivalent of bathroom books? And for our authors in the audience, whether not yet published or otherwise…have you turned your hand to short, short stories? Have you been happy with the result?

25 thoughts on “Flash Fiction

  1. Good morning, Joseph. Hope you’re having a splendid Saturday, my fine friend.

    I’ve learned to appreciate the difficulty in telling a short, tightly written story. It has to be layered with a sensory suggestion to draw the reader in quickly and not disappoint at its conclusion. Twists are fun to write. I’m partial to a twisted ending that leaves the reader thinking or feeling something they hadn’t expected, so there’s a thought provoking end or imagery that lingers. It’s an art if done well.

    It can be a great writing exercise or a way to get a writer’s creative juices flowing. Or it could be an interesting character study. I love flash fiction.

    • Good afternoon, Jordan, my day has been fine so far thanks, and is better yet by your appearance here! Thank you! And how is your weekend going?

      Nice summary of what constitutes a great story of any length! I don’t read a lot of flash fiction, but I like a lot of what I’m reading.

    • Superb, Joe. I’m finishing a new novella (a sexy comedy) & have been asked to join an exciting anthology project with a time travel theme. I’ve always been intimidated by historicals, but I firmly believe that, for me, I learn most when I’m out of my comfort zone—a mode I am embracing this year. So I’m excited as hell.

      Hope life is serving up cake for you. A cyber hug from Texas.

    • No cake, Jordan, but the young ladies in the car pool made my week by bringing me a box of Timbits one morning this week! Hugs back to you and hope all is well with you and yours!

    • Indeed, Jim. While “Arena” isn’t flash fiction, it remains one of my favorite stories of any length, any genre. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I was just on the faculty of a writing conference with a man who has founded a magazine (three, actually) based on the concept of “flash fiction.” When I got home, I looked at a short story I’d written a year or so ago, tried to whittle it down to 1000 words, and began sweating bullets. It’s hard to do.
    To answer your question, I haven’t written any flash fiction, and all the short stories I’ve read are longer than this, but my attempts to emulate the genre have left me with new respect for those who write it and do it well.

    • I have been working on some flash fiction, Richard, and it’s not as easy as it would seem. It’s a great exercise in painting a picture and trying to keep it simple. Thanks!

  3. I am forever indebted to the flash fiction site, “Every Day Fiction”. They published both flashes that I submitted, and without the positive comments from other writers, and appreciative readers, I would not have been so encouraged to progress with my writing.

    They used to put out an anthology of readers’ favourite stories, and they keep assuring their audience they will do so again, but I believe 2011 was the last collection. I’m guessing they didn’t sell well.

    • Amanda, thank you so much for mentioning the “Every Day Fiction” site, of which I was unaware. I’ll definitely check it out and urge everyone to do so as well.

  4. I am a big reader and writer and lover of flash fiction. My favorite is the 100-word story. From about 2005 – 2007, I was regularly published in FlashShots, a “daily dose of flash delivered to your inbox.”

    Like haiku, I consider it an art form. Pure distilled story.

    Agent Janet Reid regularly conducts her summertime flash fiction contest where she gives prompt words (usually in honor of one of her writers) and gives books (and the shower of glory) as a prize. Competition is fierce. A pro-level-worthy collection of entries is the result every time. I treasure my own win because of the level of the competition.

    One of the things on my to-do list is to gather all of my 100 – 1000 word flash into a little self-pub anthology.

    This was one of my favs, adapted for the contest. This one didn’t win, but made the finals.

    The prompt words were:



    Jocks are such losers. Chum the waters with girls in librarian glasses and their wallets fly out of their pants.

    Cal Poly costs a bucket of cash. Bartending here dropped my GPA to 3.98, but it’s worth it. My tech degrees are paying off.

    These uncredible hulks don’t realize that every time they flip their credit card I hack a buck into my account.

    Hang on.

    “Ten beers? VISA or Mastercard? Yeah, I’m from Poly. Wow. You’re funny.”

    Where was I?

    Revenge is sweet and profitable. It’s not my fault they’re too dumb to beware of geeks bearing grifts.

  5. Thank you Terri, for the informative comment and sharing your story with us. “Geeks bearing grifts,” huh? That is fabulous!

  6. Richard,

    Yes, working an entire story arc in under 1,000 words IS hard. It’s also great discipline.

    Check out Fabula Argentea, which regularly features both traditional short stories as well as flash fiction. I have a piece there entitled “Cameron Obscura,” which was a joy to write and a bear to whittle down.

    • We’ll all definitely check out Fabula Argentea and “Cameron Obscura.” Thank you for giving us yet another web-based reading source.

  7. Love flash fiction, and a lot of mine has been done right here in the comments at TKZ over the years.

    Gives voice to all the characters that live in my head but I’m not ready to novelize yet….or they’re just not public consumption material.

  8. Good afternoon, I have not yet read an e-book of short stories, but I enjoy reading them in many publications. I especially enjoy the fiction short stories in the Saturday Evening Post.
    I began to write flash fiction, and other short stories in 2011. I’m grateful that some have been published. I consider it a challenge to write a story in just so many words. I also feel that it is good training when I’m brave enough to venture forth with my first novel. I find The Kill Zone a valuable resource for newbie writers like me! Best wishes, Frances

  9. Thank you, Frances, for your kind words and for visiting us frequently. We’ll keep an eye out for your flash fiction and please let us know when your first novel is published.

    • I agree, Elaine. There is definitely a place for brevity side-by-side with longer works. I love and re-read LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL, but not everything has to be that long. Enjoy!

  10. I am a reader and writer of novel-length fiction. Never had an interest in shorts. My reading pleasure derives from lengthier stories that I can get absorbed in over several days.

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