What is Flash Fiction?

Do you enjoy reading stories, but don´t have much time?  Perhaps flash fiction is the answer for you!  Flash fiction can be any fictional work from a few words to around one thousand.    According to legend, Ernest Hemingway wrote a six-word tale as part of a bet with some writer friends.  The story was “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn”.   Nowadays,  there are many contests challenging writers from around the world to create short stories, such as the Bath Flash Fiction award which has a 300 word limit, the 50 Word Fiction Competition by the Scottish Book Trust and a myriad of other competitions which can be found on the Internet.   In the U.K., there is even a National Flash Fiction Day, where workshops, events and readings are organised. There are also entire magazines dedicated to flash fiction, such as Flash Fiction Online: http://flashfictiononline.com/main/.

What are the characteristics of flash fiction?

Many writers agree that flash fiction should have a beginning, middle and end and often a twist at the end of the story.  It can include any kind of genre from science fiction and horror to comedy and romance.  Kathy Fish, who teaches flash fiction to many different nationalities says that “it seems certain stories are universal. We all care about, worry over, are obsessed by, the same joys and heartbreaks. The themes are universal but there are always new ways in, fresh takes, etc. Countries have their own particular miseries and upheavals of course, that sometimes assert themselves into the stories.”   

Some examples of Flash fiction

Below I have selected some examples of flash fiction so that you can become more familiar with it and, hopefully, it will whet your appetite to read more!

The first ones are all winners from the Scottish Book Trust Competition and are 50 words long.  

Mr Mint is highly allergic to fur, so Mrs Mint keeps a secret dog at work. Whenever Mr Mint is being unreasonable and waspish, she smuggles the dog home in her rucksack to moult and then Mr Mint is bedridden for days. She feels it’s less hassle than divorcing him.   By Anna Doherty   In a cottage in the forest there lived a witch. One day a Prince rode by. “Fantastic neo-gothic architecture – I must have it!” He offered ten times the market value. She relocated to a city penthouse and amused herself turning frogs into traffic wardens. And everyone lived happily ever after.   By Emma Sibthorpe   “But what about the five twenty-five?” “It’s never on time,” he’d said and jumped down on to the tracks. Retrieving his father’s watch which had slipped from his wrist, he looked up at me, triumphantly, waving the heirloom high. “See, five twen-”   By Jakki Henderson   http://scottishbooktrust.com/writing/love-to-write/the-50-word-fiction-competition/previous-winners  

The writer of the next story had clear instructions to include various prompts in her flash fiction story.

PARADOXICAL NEIGHBOR Prompt: Write a story that includes a wristwatch, a beehive, and a hammer. I was in the middle of a sweet dream when a noise startled me. Bam! Bam! It sounded like a hammer pounding on a tough nail. Bam! Bam! BAM! Who could be hammering at three in the morning? It must be Charlie again, making another invention. Just as I was putting on my slippers and bathrobe, the noise changed. I sat at the edge of my bed and listened. Tick! Tick! Tick! It reminded me of my first wristwatch. Its regular tempo had always helped me fall asleep. I started dozing off, dangerously leaning to the left, when the ticking stopped. It was now replaced by a buzz, similar to the noise coming from a beehive in midsummer, only louder. I shivered. I’m allergic to bees! Even just thinking about it or hearing a bee-like sound makes me swell. “That’s it!” I shouted, now wide awake. “I can’t take it anymore!” I marched to the next apartment and knocked. My neighbor immediately opened the door. His curly brown hair was sticking up every which way. He wore puffy lilac striped pants and a loose raspberry shirt. “Hi, there, Lucy!” he chimed. “What’s up?” I pointed at my noiseless watch. “Do you know what time it is?” He grabbed my arm and glanced at my timepiece. “Oh, my! I didn’t realize it was that late. I’m busy working on a machine that can cure insomnia. It’s almost finished. You wanna see it?” I should have known. His last invention was supposed to annihilate bad smells, only it was powered by rotten eggs. By Annie McMahon (https://letterpile.com/creative-writing/flashfictionforeveryone)  

The next story is 300 words long and is about road rage.

CONSEQUENCES “Beep, beep,” Amanda tooted her car horn shyly so as not make a huge fuss. On the other hand, she was late and the driver in front had stopped abruptly as he had caught sight of a car leaving a parking space. A louder honk could be heard from the vehicle behind. Joining forces with her ally, she sounded her horn more vigorously this time huffing with impatience. “Go to hell!” barked the middle-aged man in front. “Can´t you see I´m waiting for a place?” “I´ve got so many things to do,” Amanda thought to herself while hearing the abuse leave the uptight man´s mouth. Images of post-it stickers went back and forth in her head while sitting in this mayhem of road rage. Pick Sophie up from school at 3.30pm, take her to the babysitter´s house over the other side of town, interview a teacher at 4pm to substitute the one who was fired yesterday, send a quote to a local company who needs English lessons and so on. Finally, the irate driver in front gave up waiting, slammed his foot hard on the accelerator and sped off. She caught a glimpse of his dark locks of hair springing up and down violently in tune with his exasperation. Amanda was now free to go on her way. Turning on the classical music radio station, she tried to relax and take everything in her stride. “What do I have to do first?” she said aloud, “Sophie!” After picking her 5 year old up, she headed off to the babysitter´s. Soon after, she was at her place of work. The school secretary informed Amanda that the candidate had arrived and introduced him to the director. There was no mistaking that bouncy hair. “I believe we´ve already met!” Amanda said shaking hands. by Jane Godwin Coury

Where can I find more flash fiction?

Flash fiction is very popular nowadays all over the world.  There are hundreds of websites and books where you can find  stories of all shapes and sizes. If you are up to it, you can even try your hand at writing a story and enter a competition.

Here are some websites where you can find flash fiction and competitions:

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