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The History of Flash Fiction

Many flash fiction stories became classics in the field.

The term Flash Fiction, to describe a story of considerable brevity, arose quite recently in the realm of story telling and writing. The flash fiction format, however, enjoys a surprisingly long and venerable history.

Aesop's Anecdotes

One of the more ancient originator's of microstories, Aesop, lived as near as historians can determine between 620 and 564 BC. The short tales promulgated by Aesop earned him the sobriquet fabulist. Most of Aesop's fables dealt not with humans, but with animals. Nevertheless the stories treated with very human-like attributes, failures and morals. Aesop's tales indeed became known for the morals they promoted.

The fables included all the elements of a good story: recognizable characters, forward moving plots and satisfying conclusions, all in compact, quickly read or told renditions enjoyed by young and old alike. Repeated year by year, century by century, they have come down to us in endearing compilations as everyone's favorite form of reading entertainment.

Biblical Brevity

The Bible abounds with microstories. Repeated over and over as moral instruction pieces, many incorporate the requirements of a modern flash fiction story. They present graphic illustrations of human moral values, family relationships, individual failings and international intrigue. To list but a few of those wonderful writings, consider these: The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, Daniel in the Lion's Den, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho.

Though related to other events featured in the Bible, these ancient flash fiction stories stand alone. Each has the literary requirements of a short short story: a beginning, a middle and an end. With a minimum of words, they offer the reader vivid details having a picturesque background, involve fast-paced action and as often as not provide something in the way of a surprise ending.

Flash Fiction, as a mode of story telling, seems destined to continue into the distant future.

Ancient Anecdotalists

Undoubtedly, many other ancient raconteurs, now scarcely remembered, held audiences captive with stories and anecdotes of short duration in the telling. As with some of today's flash fiction stories, the precise length of these mini chronicles mattered not just so long as they remained scant of verbiage. The origins of the flash fiction style of recounting a narrative remains largely lost in the dim reaches of time prior to that of recorded history.

Gathered around a crackling fire at end of day, members of the clan would hunker down to enjoy the latest offerings, perhaps rendered by more than one story-teller, each vying for a place at the podium. In such circumstances, none dared unfold a rambling story that stretched far into the night; the short story admitted multiple participants.

Contemporary Chroniclers

The Flash Fiction genre today, firmly founded upon the story-telling traditions of yore, with all too many come lately practitioners of the art having no inkling of its distinguished history, enjoys a veritable bewildering number of outlets. These include books comprised of anthologies, science fiction and literary magazines and online publications in the form of so-called e-zines.

Flash Fiction?
Flash Fiction?

It likely would prove impossible to pinpoint the modern-day storyteller who wrote the first story one could refer to as a clear example of flash fiction. Was it Ray Bradbury? Ernest Hemmingway? Anton Chekhov? Arthur C. Clarke? Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.? O. Henry? Fredric Brown? Each of these writers, and many more, have authored works known for their brevity, adherence to plot line and unexpected conclusions. Some well may have written in the flash fiction mode without fully realizing it. Many of their stories have become classics in the field.

Future Fabricators

Flash Fiction, as a mode of story telling, seems destined to continue into the distant future. Perhaps later generations will single out a contemporary producer of flash fiction stories and compare him or her to the so far unequaled Aesop.

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