Flash fiction, sudden fiction, micro-fiction, micro-story, short short, postcard fiction, short short story…it goes by many names. But the purpose of them all is fiction of extreme brevity. In other words, short. I mean, really short.
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. 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, Ernest Hemingway, Julio Cortázar, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Fredric Brown.
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 six-word flash story reportedly penned by Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
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. Markets specializing in flash fiction include Flash Fiction Online and Vestal Review. The Micro Award, created in 2007, is the first award dedicated solely for flash fiction.
Essentials of Micro-fiction
Camille Renshaw wrote an article for pif Magazine about the essentials of micro-fiction. Micro-fiction, by nature, is defiant. It defies length, boundaries, and expectations. Such tight, provocative writing requires analysis and editing. Taking an idea and distilling it into a “micro”- cosm of its original self is challenging – the purpose of micro-fiction. So what are the essentials of Micro-fiction (for more detail, read Renshaw’s article)?
- Length and form obviously matter.
- Be willing to edit and re-edit.
- Use soul-stirring language.
- Use imagery to carry the thread of the story.
- Make it tight and concise.
- Play against expectations.
- Key requirement of a literary short fiction is Implication.
- Use a directive last sentence that gives narrative insight or opinion.
- Make rereads necessary or at least inviting.
- Close with a phrase that sends the reader back into the story.
- Know when you’ve made your point.
Examples of Micro-fiction
Here’s an example, a work of “microfiction” by Ana Maria Shua:
I have nothing against fried eggs. They’re the ones who look at me with amazement, terrified, wide-eyed.
Here’s a prose poem from Charles Simic’s Pulitzer Prize winning collection, The World Doesn’t End.
The stone is a mirror which works poorly. Nothing in it but dimness. Your dimness or its dimness, who’s to say? In the hush your heart sounds like a black cricket.
Amy Hempel’s story “Housewife” is a prime example:
She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting, “French film, French film.”
(yes, this is Hempel’s story in its entirety)
Give it a try.
With a nod to spring, Gotham Writers’ Workshop has partnered with Writing.com to present The ‘Write’ of Spring Tweet Writing Contest. Following the Twitter craze, they challenge you to dazzle them with a piece of writing that is no more than 140 characters (characters = letters, punctuation marks, and spaces). You may write on any topic and use any form—fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. As Strunk and White say, “Vigorous writing is concise.”
The winning tweet will be published in the next Gotham catalog and online at WritingClasses.com. The winner will also receive:
- 10-week Writing Workshop
- Premium one-year Writing.com membership
- $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card
- 12-month subscription to The Writer.
- Bragging rights
Practice, Exercise, Become a Better Writer
Feel like your writing is meandering all over the place? Need a way to rein it in? Micro-fiction is an excellent practice for a writer. It forces you to work on forming tight, clear, cohesive sentences and telling a story in the most powerful, shortest, to-the-point way as possible.