A Flash of Inspiration


[Updated 11/17 to provide links to Book View Cafe and stories.]

Sudden fiction. Micro fiction. Short-shorts. People have come up with many names for very short stories. My favorite is flash fiction. Maybe it’s the alliteration.

There are at least as many length rules for flash fiction as names: Under 250 words? 500? 1,000? Sometimes a contest goes even higher.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are extremely short stories. The Canadian magazine NFG runs what it calls the Great 69er contest, where all the stories are 69 words long. And Wired got a bunch of SF/F writers to contribute 6-word stories.

Bruce Holland Rogers is a master of the genre. He tends to vary his lengths quite a bit in the stories he sends to subscribers via email. But they’re definitely short — a few minutes to read, though sometimes you’ll spend hours contemplating them. Definitely a nice break from spam, political solicitations, and all those email reminders that you promised to do things.

Flash fiction isn’t just an English phenomenon. Quimicamente Impuro is a blog of “minificciones, microcuentos, hiperbreves, relatos cortos” — they have a problem coming up with one name for the genre in Spanish, too — edited by Argentinian editor and writer Sergio Gaut vel Hartman. The rules here are 40 – 149 words.

The key to flash fiction is that in addition to being short, it must be a story. Of course, writers frequently argue about what constitutes a story, too.

I got hooked on flash fiction years ago in a writer’s group. Someone had discovered a no-fee writing contest for stories that were one page long, double-spaced, normal-sized type — about 250 words — and we all decided to enter.

We came up with some great stories. Some were funny, some disturbing. (You’ll be able to read a longer version of mine — “St. George and the Dragon” — on this site on November 30.) We were sure one of us would win.

Alas, none of us did. We lost to something allegedly literary. We all said it was a vignette and not a real story at all. Plus it was boring.

I don’t think anyone else in the group ever took the sub-sub genre of flash fiction seriously after that, but I’ve been writing very short stories ever since. I just love the challenge of trying to tell a story in the fewest possible words.

I’m planning to post flash fiction on Book View Cafe pretty much every Sunday through 2009. Some stories will be reprints, but most will be new. For purposes of this project, I’m defining flash fiction as under 1,000 words. I don’t think any will be as short as six words, but you never can tell.

Occasionally I’ll post something longer, just to shake things up. (As it says in my story “Thirty-One Rules for Fulfilling Your Destiny” — which you will see on Book View Cafe in early 2009 — “Break all rules, including these.”)

My first offering,”The English Major’s Revenge,” which appears today, is one of the longer ones: It clocks in at just under 800 words.

But it’s definitely flashy.



A Flash of Inspiration — 4 Comments

  1. I went over and read “The English Major’s Revenge.” Very cute story. Loved the style. I don’t get the title though. I’m quite sure I read too fast and missed something. I think you should create a link here to your story or at least the front page of the site.

  2. Yard Dog Press has done an anthology of Flash Fiction — a maximum of 1000 words, the proceeds to go to the YDP medical fund. Probably a majority of the stories are humorous, some disturbing, almost none vignettes, and all are “Stories to be read in one sitting.” It’s a contribution to powder room reading material!

    I think flash fiction is a great way to train your “getting to the point” skills without losing the flair that is your alone. I’ll reward myself with your story after some work is done.