Flash Fiction

Characteristics of Genre:

Task: Tell an effective, engaging, powerful story in the fewest number of words possible.

Purposes:

  • To entertain the reader
  • To make the reader think and feel
  • To explore the power of words and language
  • To practice communicating complex ideas or themes in a minimal amount of words

Audiences:

  • Social media users, especially Twitter or Tumblr
  • People who enjoy fiction stories or narrative nonfiction
  • People with short attention spans

Characteristics:

  • Flash Fiction is a modern and evolving genre of writing that has exploded along with the Internet
  • Flash Fiction is very broadly defined; there are different ideas about what can and should be considered Flash Fiction
  • Generally, Flash Fiction is significantly shorter than a ‘short story,’ and often pieces stick to specific word counts, which can change depending on the writing contest or publication. Some common Flash Fiction word counts are:
    • 140 characters (inspired by Twitter)
    • 6 words
    • 50 words (sometimes called ‘dribbles’)
    • 100 words (sometimes called ‘drabbles’)
    • 500 words
  • You can start by choosing a word count and then trying to write a story that fits, or you can start with a story and try to fit it into a specific word count
  • Because words are limited, word choice becomes incredibly important, as do:
    • connotation (what does the word imply to the reader; what associations might the reader have with this word, positive or negative)
    • denotation (the word’s literal meaning)
    • symbolism, where a word or object is used to represent a more complex idea
    • allusion – relying on a reference to a different story, character, or concept to fill in blanks in a Flash Fiction piece or do most of the story-telling work
      • Example: C.A. Chancellor’s contest-winning Twitter Fiction: “Odin scowled. ‘What do you call this? The end of the world?’ Loki shrugged. ‘I dunno, looks like a good party to me.'”
      • This piece requires the reader to know who Odin and Loki are, and in using this allusion the story of these characters are called to mind. By using these allusions, Chancellor says, “I was able to shortcut the story and save space by assuming that the reader has some familiarity with these mythical deities.” (Source)
    • prior knowledge – relying on what the reader already knows and creating situations where readers infer what happens in your story based on their prior knowledge
      • Example: The classic six-word Hemingway piece: “Baby shoes, for sale, never worn.”
      • This piece draws on the reader’s background knowledge about who owns baby shoes, why someone might be selling baby shoes, and why the shoes were never worn. Ultimately the reader can infer that someone has likely lost their baby or miscarried.
  • Because of the brief length, your story may or may not have a strong, clear-cut beginning and end in the way a traditional short story might.
  • Often in Flash Fiction, stories are very open-ended and much is left open to the reader’s interpretation
  • Flash Fiction requires readers to infer much of what is happening based on a minimal number of details
    • Example: Cristopher Ryan’s Twitter Fiction: “‘At the height of this city’s might the King boasted that ‘no foreign power would ever topple us.’ He kicked a bit of rubble. ‘He was right.'”
    • Readers are given the following details here: We’re in a city, there’s a king who boasts about the city’s power against foreigners, there’s rubble, the speaker is a male (“He kicked…”), the king’s prediction was right.
    • Chancellor explains: “This story reveals a lot by suggestion: the fact that the city was toppled is revealed by the presence of rubble [note: a great example of connotation], while the statement “He was right” implies that the city’s fate was self-inflicted. I really admire the way [Ryan] captured the essence of a grand story in just three short sentences.” (Source)

How to Get Started:

  • Option 1: Pick a word count, pick a genre, theme, or tone, and then craft a story that fits those two things. If you need inspiration for a theme or tone, put on a song you love and jot down some feeling words that fit the music. This can give you a jumping-off point.
  • Option 2: Write a short story, then pick a word count and figure out how to tell the same story inside of that word count. To practice, try doing this with other people’s stories, such as well-known fairy tales. Figure out how to retell Cinderella or Snow White in six words, or 140 characters, or 100 words.

Mentor Texts:

Six-Word Stories and Memoirs:

These memoirs were all written by teens:

  • “Everyone: ‘Do you ever stop talking?'” by Dyp_Tries_Their_Best – Punctuation adds effect here and provides a narrator (or in this case, lots of them). We can also infer a lot about this person from just one sentence.
  • “Born to be the bigger person” by EstefanyMendoza – A bit of alliteration here adds interest. Also interesting is the author’s use of ‘bigger person’- is the author referring to the idiomatic idea of sticking to her morals and beliefs in spite of others trying to drag her down, or is she talking more literally about her body size? Perhaps both?
  • “I’m indecisive and frightened it’s evident” by xadrian – Stellar example of powerful word choice. This author packed a lot of emotion and relatable feeling into six words. Consider this alternative sentence: “I’m unsure and scared you’ll see” Same exact idea, but which sentence has more power? Why?
  • “short and sassy since the start.” by itsizzieyo – Alliteration adds an element of fun to this piece. The lack of capitalization may or may not have been intentional, but it works here because the lowercase ‘s’ compliments the ideas of ‘short.’
  • “millionaire with nothing in my pocket” by villa – A smart use of metaphor with the word “millionaire.” What constitutes a “millionaire” is left up to the reader to decide, but “nothing in my pocket” tells us we aren’t talking about money.
  • “Screaming Inside: just with good insulation” by Cried0a0river – A highly effective use of punctuation for effect.
  • “I’m sorry. I need more time.” by proby – Another example of punctuation adding effect by forcing the reader to stop and breaking up the sentences. Look at this piece with a comma instead of a period in the middle, and consider how the punctuation change alters the tone and feeling of the whole piece: “I’m sorry, I need more time.”

140-Character Stories (Twitter Fiction):

  • Nanoism #809 by Chelsea Fredrick – Notice Fredrick’s playful use of the “walking on eggshells” metaphor here.
  • Nanoism #795 by Lydia Stevens – A coming of age piece about the costs of ‘beauty.’
  • Nanoism #792 by Molly Mullen – Another coming of age piece. Notice how Mullen uses a common experience for many people to create a relatable story.
  • Nanoism #771 by Michael Snyder – A social commentary on attending live events in the modern age.
  • Nanoism #768 by Miguel Paolo Reyes – A piece that forces the reader to infer several things to figure out what’s happening. Various readers might interpret this piece differently. By providing minimal details, Reyes creates a lot of intrigue here by all that is left unsaid.

50-Word Stories (Dribbles):

  • First Week of School by Ann Kennedy – An amusing story about the fleeting nature of crushes. Notice Kennedy’s word choice, specifically her verbs and how they allow her to create a picture of action in the reader’s head with few words.
  • Rain by Michael A. Yarranton – This story is an example of an extended metaphor – think of what “rain” might symbolize, and think about what people’s reactions to the rain represent as well. Notice also how the sentence structure in this piece contributes to the movement. Yarranton’s “people” move faster in the second paragraph because of his use of short phrases strung together by commas, causing the reader to keep accelerating toward the end of the sentence.
  • Butter Me Up by Ran Walker – In this ‘imperfect crime’ story, Walker uses an amusing setting and situation (butter sculpting at the Iowa State Fair) to create humor.
  • Green by Hannah Whiteoak – This piece could be characterized as dystopian or science fiction. It could also be considered an allegory (symbolic piece) for the idea that older people feel like youth don’t appreciate “the good old days,” or that generational differences affect the way we react to things like art and music. Whiteoak creates this idea by contrasting the narrator’s reaction with the son’s reaction.
  • Truth or Dare by J. Bradley – Sometimes in Flash Fiction, as in poetry, the title of the piece becomes part of the story. This is true in Bradley’s fiction about an incident with a tornado- the title is required for the reader to infer fully what has happened in this story. Also notice how Bradley uses personification here- by applying human action verbs to the tornado, Bradley is able to create vivid imagery with fewer words.
  • Aloud by Erica Root – Notice how Root is able to provide a wealth of background information and context to the reader using only three words: “Unhappiness. Divorce. My father.” In fact, the rest of the words in this piece are devoted to setting the scene and capturing the narrator’s feelings, so these three words are doing most of the story-telling work in this piece.
  • Pizza Night by Maura Yzmore – An example of an open-ended story that requires inference on the part of the reader. Notice how most of the story here is told in the very last sentence of the piece. Notice also the tone and emotional impact of the line, “The boys chew in silence.”

100-Word Stories (Drabbles):

  • The Test by Gordon Lawrie – A great example of an ending where the reader has to infer what is happening.
  • Drabble Troubleby Gordon Lawrie – A humorous piece about word counts in Flash Fiction; pay attention to how Lawrie uses irony to create humor, especially with the ending.
  • The Price of Greed by Judith Garcia – This is a nice example of a piece where the reader does not need to do much inferring and is told directly what has happened. This piece also shows more of a distinctive beginning, middle, end.
  • Millions of Views by Delvon Mattingly – Delvon’s piece is another one that does not require any inference on the part of the reader. Pay attention instead to his word choice, especially in the first paragraph, which highlights how choosing stronger words adds to the tone but also allows more to be said in less space.
  • Marketing Whiz by Don Tassone – One could argue that this story is an example of a fable with a lesson to be taken away. But regardless, Tassone’s humorous piece gives us a full and vivid picture of an entire suburban summer in only 100 words, while also creating a strong character in the reader’s mind. Pay attention to how he does this by choosing to include certain details about character and setting.
  • The Red Bridge by Don Tassone – Another piece by Tassone shows his mastery at creating a vivid setting in the reader’s mind with only a few carefully-chosen details. When you read this piece you feel as if you are on the bridge with Lisa and the narrator on this summer evening.

500-Word Stories:

  • War of the Clowns by Mia Couto – A dark, dystopian allegory that rings in at 571 words, Couto creates a symbolic story for the ways in which violence emerges in our society. An allegory is story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning. As you read this one, think about what or who Couto is using the clowns to symbolize. Think about why the townspeople react to the clowns in the way that they do, and who or what those townspeople symbolize. Then, see if you can can connect these ideas figure out the hidden meaning of the piece.

Other Resources:

Places to Publish:

  • 50-Word Stories – Accepts submissions of 50-word stories from anyone between the 1st and 15th of every month. The best submissions are published on their website. You may submit one piece a month, and you must include a short bio (3-5 sentences is plenty). YOU MUST USE YOUR TEACHER’S EMAIL, and please use only your first name and last initial or a pen name.
  • Friday Flash Fiction – Accepts submissions of 100-word stories from anyone. You may submit up to one piece per week. YOU MUST USE YOUR TEACHER’S EMAIL, and please use only your first name and last initial or a pen name.
  • Nanoism – An online zine of Twitter Fiction accepting submissions via email of pieces up to 140 characters in length. You may submit up to one piece per week. You must include a one-sentence author bio, written in third person, up to 134 characters. (Example: “Ms. Burrows teaches 8th graders, attempts to bake macarons, and plays the saxophone.”) YOU MUST USE YOUR TEACHER’S EMAIL (I will email the piece on your behalf). This is a paid submission- you can make up to $1.50 for accepted work!
  • Six-Word Memoirs Contests – Each month, Six-Word Memoirs hosts a new contest centered around a particular theme. Contest winners receive a prize! This site is specifically geared toward teens.
  • Flash MagazineFlash is a magazine of Flash Fiction printed two times a year. They will accept submissions from anyone of up to 360 words, and you may submit up to four pieces to be considered for the same issue (issues come out in September and April). If you work is selected, you receive a free copy of the magazine. PLEASE be sure to READ the website, as Flash has highly specific submission guidelines!
  • Foliate Oak MagazineFoliate Oak is a magazine run by students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They accept submissions from anyone and publish a monthly magazine via their website.
  • Toasted CheeseAn online literary journal that publishes four times a year. Make sure you pay careful attention to the submissions guidelines on this one- they do not allow simultaneous submissions, which means that any writing piece you submit here can NOT be submitted to other journals or contests.