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“Flash fiction”, “micro fiction”, “short short stories”: Depending on the source, these terms all have both general and specific definitions, but the main idea is that the story is a story, but is also extremely short: sometimes a few words or a sentence, sometimes a paragraph or even a page or two.
The length can vary: to qualify as any form of “flash fiction”, the work needs to be a story. It needs to have a plot, which means a conflict and some kind of resolution.
You can have a very short chunk of prose, but it isn’t necessarily a story. If it doesn’t have a plot, and focuses more on feelings or impressions, it is probably a prose poem.
In addition, there are many types of short-short narratives that aren’t necessarily “flash fiction” or “short shorts”: I define the difference as coming down to whether a short short story works in either written or oral form, or is mainly meant to be read.
Fables and parables, such as those from Aesop or The Bible, could be considered short-shorts, but they were originally told, not read, and work in either form. Same for an anecdote: an anecdote is a story that usually appears in a speech (oral) or essay (written) to illustrate a point.
For something to work as “flash fiction”, there must be something about it that makes it only work when it is written down and read, whether silently or orally. Sometimes, it is the specific title of the story, which often needs to do a lot of work in a short-short. Sometimes, it is the way the story is laid out.
Regardless, “flash fiction” (or any of its siblings) is a great way to get a little literature into your life when you don’t have much time to read, so if you didn’t know about it already, I wanted to share.
In writing this article, I have gotten more excited about it myself. As I explore authors, I will share them on The Lois Level, so please keep an eye out!
This article in Abdul Fatir’s Blog was written to a reference to W. Somerset Maugham’s* famous short-short story “Appointment in Samarra” in an episode of the television show “Sherlock”. A comparison of Maugham’s version with those from the Talmud and Islamic literature show you the difference between a parable and a short short story.
The cover photo of this post is Samarra, Iraq in 1970. More about W. Somerset Maugham below.
Flash Fiction Online is an amazing journal with loads of free content.
As I was researching this article, I found myself getting a little frustrated by the tone of many of the stories I read: the authors are making me work too hard for the “payoff” I was getting. This charming online magazine seems to get the balance right between being literary and being enjoyable.
When you are on the site, click on “Past Issues” to get a list of topics (it’s slightly confusing), and choose your interest from there. Options include humor (there isn’t enough humorous literature, imo), crime and horror, among many others.
Also don’t miss Flash Fiction Resources under the “how to” tab. The articles on this page are great nonfiction short reads on “how to”, or “how not to”, get your own flash fiction published. The titles alone crack me up.
You can read a substantial number of stories online for free, subscribe and receive ebook versions e-mailed to you one a month, or buy individual issues for kindle directly on Amazon for a very reasonable cost.
Here’s an anthology to get you started:
I usually try to find something more interesting than Wikipedia, since I think everyone already knows about it, but in this case, it’s by far the best article on Flash Fiction I have found, with suggested authors in numerous languages.
I am excited to find out that there are a lot of options for the this form in Spanish, which is my second best language after English. I hope you are encouraged to do the same with your other languages as suggested authors for quite a few languages are listed.
*If the name W. Somerset Maugham seems familiar, it may be because two of his books have somewhat recently been made into movies.
Cover photo: Samarra, Iraq in 1970. Wikipedia, By Mouliric – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26650348