Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Flash Fiction

For those familiar with fiction, you know there is a surprising variety in the length of these works.  Length, of course, isn't actually based on the total number of pages, which can vary based upon the font size, margins, and the like. Instead, length is a matter of word count. While there is some debate about these definitions, generally for science fiction and fantasy, word counts divide fiction into four categories:

However, these categories leave out one other important classification of fiction: flash.

Here again, there is no formal definition of flash fiction, but generally the word count will be no more than a thousand words. In fact, most proponents of this type of fiction would constrain the word count to somewhere between 300 and 500 words, and sometimes even lower. In any case, flash fiction is unique in that this form still attempts to include all the elements of a story: a protagonist, conflict, and resolution. Naturally, the extremely low word count makes this difficult to pull off successfully. This, then, is the beauty of flash fiction: crafting a fully contained story in as brief an account as possible.

Perhaps the most cited example of flash fiction is a piece commonly attributed to Ernest Hemingway: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Like any good piece of flash fiction, a great deal of the story elements are not explicitly written but instead implied. Think about the questions that arise from reading these six short words:
  • Who is selling the baby shoes?
  • Why is he or she selling them?
  • Why were the shoes never worn?
  • What happened to the original owners?
One could easily craft three or more stories, each with a different take on the scenario described with these six short words.

Next Tuesday, I will be crafting my own piece of flash fiction, and talking about some of the flash-fiction contests that have become increasingly common around the Internet. But today, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this question: can you really tell a good story in 300-500 words?

Thanks for reading.


  1. HAHAHAHA! YES! You're going to write flash??? Awesome! I can't wait! :) And yes, you can write a good story in less that 500 words. It's hard though. :)

  2. I think you can tell a good story in under 1,000 words. An entire generation of writers raised on the word-count constraints of Twitter should make this a very popular and well-developed artform. Personally, I'm far too long-winded for it.

    Oh, and I think Hemingway takes care of the baby shoes questions in his short story "Hills Like White Elephants" :-)